Introduced: late 1967
This E8 model was released at the same time as the Atlas/Rivarossi "C-Liner" model, and (for better or worse) represent Atlas's introduction into the N scale locomotive market. And how Atlas managed to survive despite their association with these abominations is a mystery to me. These models were marketed for a fairly short period of time and had long since vanished from the market by the time Atlas and Rivarossi severed their ties in 1977.
Oddly enough, the shells proved quite popular and wound up lasting a whole lot longer than the late (and unlamented) mechanism. Circa 1984, Con-Cor used these same Rivarossi shells on a new Kato-made mechanism. Circa 1992, chassis production was relocated to China, but the shells were still Italian. The Con-Cor models were ultimately retired in 2005. And as if that weren't enough, in 2000 Arnold/Rivarossi released an E8 model (sold in powered/dummy A/A sets) using a new Arnold mechanism and these same old Rivarossi shells. That particular model was fairly short-lived and pretty much vanished in 2006 when Rivarossi went bankrupt and was subsequently liquidated.
The mechanism has so many deficiencies it's hard to know where to start. First off, pickup is provided solely by the forward truck (with current from one rail ferried back to the motor via a wire and with current from the opposite rail actually travelling through the metal chassis itself). Propulsion is provided by just two of the axles on the rear truck (with 2 out of the 4 wheels being equipped with traction tires). All the gearing is metal, and the "uh oh, it melted" Rivarossi motor is actually mounted vertically over the rear truck. Non-directional lighting is provided by a gigantic lightbulb that looks like it came straight out of Thomas Edison's 19th century workshop.
These locomotives probably ran well enough "back in the day" (or so I've been told), but they certainly haven't aged well at all. I have yet to find one of these that ran worth a darn. Yeah, they can generally make it around a circle of track without tipping over, but the pickup scheme is pretty horrible and stalls at anything other than full-throttle are common. Worse still, the bizarro Zamac frames don't much like heat and, as such, are prone to warping, cracking and out-and-out crumbling over time.
Ironically, I'm told that the shell contours are fairly accurate and might in fact represent the closest anybody's ever come to correctly capturing the E8's distinctive "bulldog" nose. In fact, if they'd gone with separately applied horns (as opposed to their mold-them-right-into-the-shell solution), they might just have had something here.
This model remained pretty much the same over its short lifespan, although it did receive a couple of minor truck modifications along the way. The forward truck had a couple of spring-loaded contacts added (in a vain attempt to improve pickup), while the rear truck had a small metal plate added (which served to hold the truck to the worm, and replaced the tiny c-clip used on the earlier version).
(Thanks for truck pictures, Doug)
Unlike their C-Liner, Atlas/Rivarossi never offered dummy versions of this model. Also, Rivarossi never made any E8 "B" units. The "B" units eventually marketed by Con-Cor used Roco-made shells.
Reviewed: 2/68 Model Railroader ("Atlas's first piece of N scale motive power is an EMD E8 2250-horsepower passenger diesel. The proportions and general appearance are close to those of the prototype. (Some variations were made for design reasons and are not distracting.) The body is a one-piece molded and painted plastic casting with clear plastic windows, headlight and number boards. The headlight is illuminated by a lamp in parallel with the motor. The frame is a single metal casting. The 3-pole 12-volt DC Rivarossi motor is mounted vertically over the rear truck... Two wheels have plastic tires for increased traction... The drive is reasonably quiet. The wheels are flat disk type with flanges .025" wide and .035" deep. Wheels scale about 42" compared to the 36" diameter of the prototype but the overall appearance is good. This is the first N scale locomotive we've seen that approaches a good low speed. Most models run in the 15 to 25 SMPH speed range. The maximum speed is high, but the model can be controlled, reaching a scale 85 MPH at a little better than midthrottle... This is a neatly designed model made for Atlas in Italy. The ready-to-run model is available with B&O, PRR or SF paint. Price: $12.98")