Just before the outbreak of World War II, Nicholas Kove, a Hungarian living in Britain, was making inflatable rubber toys. He called his company Airfix.
In 1947, Airfix bought an injection moulding machine to make plastic combs. Then, in 1949, Ferguson’s ordered a quantity of plastic model tractors for its sales reps to give away. Subsequently, Airfix also sold some in kit form to Woolworths.
Encouraged by the interest, in 1952 the first of many bagged model kits were produced – the first kit was of the Golden Hind. The first aircraft model was a Spitfire, released a year later.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the company expanded as the hobby of model-making grew in popularity. The range expanded to include vintage and modern cars, motorcycles, figures in both 1⁄76 and 1⁄32 scale, trains, model railway accessories, military vehicles, famous ships, rockets and spaceships, as well as an ever-increasing range of aircraft, most created at the scales of 1⁄72 for small and military aircraft and 1⁄144 scale for airliners.
Airfix also launched a monthly modelling magazine, Airfix Magazine, from June 1960 to October 1993.
In 1963, the Airfix slot car racing system was introduced. Airfix produced cars with front-wheel Ackermann steering and, later, conversion kits so that normal Airfix 1⁄32 kit cars. The first set had Ferrari and Cooper cars and an 11-foot figure-of-eight track: it cost £4/19/11d. Always in the shadow of the Scalextric range, the Airfix version attempted to progress with the higher-end Model Road Racing Company (MRRC) range but eventually the venture was abandoned.
The 1960’s also saw the introduction of an extremely popular line of boxed 1⁄72 scale military figures.
The mid-1970s were a peak time for Airfix. Releasing as many as 17 new kits a year, Airfix commanded 75% of the UK market with 20 million kits per annum. The company also introduced an addition to the very popular plastic soldier boxed set line with a 1⁄32 scale version.
In this period, apart from model kits, Airfix also produced a wide range of toys, games, dolls and art & craft products. It was still producing other plastic products such as homewares at this time.
Airfix Industries group faced financial pressure in the 1980s with losses in Airfix’s other toy businesses. Attempts to reduce costs were met with industrial action and the company declared bankruptcy in 1981. Airfix was bought by General Mills through its UK Palitoy subsidiary and the kit moulds were shipped to its factory in Calais, France.
Four years later General Mills withdrew from the toy market to focus on its core food manufacturing business. At one point it looked as if the Airfix range might die out but eventually, in 1986, it was bought by the Hobby Products Group of Borden, Inc (also the owner of Humbrol), which had tried to buy the range in 1981.
On 31 August 2006, Humbrol went into administration and Hornby Hobbies Ltd acquired Airfix and other assets of Humbrol for £2.6 million, relaunching the brands the following year. Under the management of Hornby, Airfix was revitalised. Old ranges were re-issued, and Airfix launched several new kits annually (manufactured in India with the design and packing taking place in the UK).