Blue Ridge Models
1/700 SS Normandie

Reviewed February 2017
by Martin J Quinn
The SS Normandie was one of the most famous ocean liners of all time. Built by Compagnie Générale Transatlantique (aka "French Lines"), for service on the North Atlantic route between Europe and America, she was the largest and fastest passenger ship afloat for a time. She is considered by many enthusiasts to be greatest - and most beautiful - of all the ocean liners. 

The ship was laid down in 1931, launched in 1932, and entered service in 1935. During her relatively short career, she made 139 westbound crossings from France to New York. She also won the trophy for fastest Atlantic crossing - the fabled Blue Riband - on numerous occasions. Built to a more radical Art Deco design, lavishly appointed to cater to the first class crowd, Normandie was never a real commercial success, and was occasionally subsidized by the French government. 

Her biggest rival, Cunard's Queen Mary, which was launched a year after the French Lines ship, was also well appointed, but built to a more traditional design, with more room for second and third class passengers. As a result, she tended to draw bigger bookings. 

Cunard announced that Queen Mary, when launched, would be over 80,000 tons, which would eclipse the size of Normandie. To keep the title of world's largest liner, Normandie underwent a refit in 1936, adding several thousand tons, mostly due to the addition of an enclosed tourist lounge on the aft boat deck. The record of largest liner was one she held, until the arrival of Queen Mary's running mate, Queen Elizabeth, in 1940. Normandie also swapped her three bladed propellers for four bladed props during this refit, which, along with some structural changes, helped reduce problems with vibrations. 

When war erupted in Europe, Normandie was in New York City - a place she would never again leave under her own power. First interned in September, 1939, then seized by the US Government just days after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Normandie - now named Lafayette by the Americans - was slated for conversion to a troopship. On February 9, 1942, during the rush to finish work, a workman's welding torch ignited life vests, which in turned ignited wood paneling that had not yet been removed. The fire quickly spread, and the efforts to contain it were mishandled. As water was poured in, the ship began to list. A suggestion from her designer, Vladimir Yourkevitch, to open the sea cocks and let her settle in the shallow water was rejected. In the end, she was abandoned and capsized in the middle of the night, crushing a fire boat in the process.

Salvaged and raised by August, 1943, plans to convert Lafayette to an aircraft transport were abandoned, due to the damage to her hull and machinery. She was sold, post war, and scrapped in Port Newark, New Jersey, starting in October, 1946. 

For more information on Normandie, see her Wikipedia page, where most of this information was taken from. You can also find many photos of Normandie in the French Language Navies & Histoire #23

The Blue Ridge Models Normandie

The Blue Ridge Model Normandie comes in a large, sturdy box, adorned with 3D renderings of the ship in her various guises. Upon opening the flip-top box, you'll find the photo-etch (four frets) and instruction booklet (in a plastic insert) taped to the inside of the box top. 

The rest of the kit is beneath a piece of foam. Once you remove this, you'll find more foam, with six pockets containing the balance of the kit. Other companies could take note of how well Blue Ridge Models packs their kits - I found zero broken parts inside the box. 

One of the two larger pockets contains the upper and lower hulls, plus promenade deck, all taped together. Another contains a poster of kit box art. Three more pockets have smaller parts in them, while a final pocket was empty. Inside these smaller pockets are three bags with dark grey resin parts, a small bag with turned brass masts and yards, five small bags with black resin parts (mostly for the Lafayette version) and a small decal sheet. 

The original Normandie checked in at 1,029 feet long overall, 981 feet between perpendiculars. She was 119 feet on the beam. The Blue Ridge Model Normandie scales out pretty much perfectly to these dimensions. 

The hull, as mentioned, comes in two pieces - upper and lower. One thing I noticed right away is that she's BIG. The parts are cast in a light grey resin. The lower hull has bilge keels and the faired in struts for the propellers cast into the hull. The rudder is a separate piece. There is a raised lip on the inside of the lower hull, to help with the fit with the upper hull. There are also intake and discharge ports cast into the lower hull. There is a slight over pour on the bottom of the bow and some resin flash on the prow. Both should be easily removed if you are building the model in it's full hull option. 

The upper hull is overall well cast. It certainly capture the distinctive shape of the Normandie, especially the bow. There is lots of detail in the hull - she has a plethora of portholes on either side. Access hatches are scribed into the hull. Other details include nicely done anchor recesses on either side of the bow and one on the stern, and openings around the quarterdeck, some of which have very minute bollards in them, and windows - lots of windows. The swimming pool is cast as an opening in the hull and is well represented. 

The planking on the deck is - in my opinion - over scale. There is also a large seam amidships that runs across athwart the center of the ship, but will mostly be covered by the promenade deck. 

What I'm calling the promenade deck comes as a separate piece. As with the upper hull, the planking seems to be a bit over scale. The other details look good. Here, as on the hull, you'll find lots of windows. 
The rest of the decks cover the different versions of the ship. There is an early and late forward superstructure for Normandie, three separate decks for each funnel, the deck to cover the quarterdeck and the optional tourist promenade deck, which she received after her 1936 refit. 

The casting it good. There is some flash here and there, but nothing that can't easily be cleaned up. The cast vents in the funnel decks are quite nicely done. 

There are three funnels. The third funnel on the real ship was a "fake", and just there to balance out her looks. All three funnels are smooth, but well cast, with deep recesses. There is detail inside all of them, and two of them have additional recesses, to fit interior funnel vents. These interior vents are cast separately, and are nicely done. 
As with all liners post-Titanic, Normandie carried a large contingent of lifeboats in case of emergency. The life boats come with cast "scalloped" edges on the sides, to replicate covers. The davits are fine, and have photo-etch parts to enhance them. 
There are a myriad of additional small, dark grey resin parts in seven smaller bags. Among these parts you will find winches, vents, stairs, anchors and more, plus a clear resin part representing the "water" in the pool. The "pool water" even has a rough surface to represent wave movement. 

Casting ranges from good to excellent, depending on the part. Some of the smaller parts are quite delicate - be careful removing them from the runner. There are also two sets of props included - both three blades (early) and four bladed (post-refit). There are nicely done. I'm not sure if they are 3D printed are cast (I suspect the former). I thought the resin parts for the stairs (these also have PE parts) were well done. 

There are parts included to build your Normandie as USS Lafayette, the troops transport version she was destined never to be. The parts include 5" and 3" guns, 20mm guns and life rafts. These appear to be 3D printed resin, are all well done. I found the 5 inch guns particular well done. 
There are four frets of photo-etch included - one large fret and three smaller frets. The large fret has rails, davits, funnel inserts, inclined ladders, the Normandie's name "billboard" and more. Many parts have relief etching and are well done. 

Fret two has the inserts for the windows around the ship - there are a lot of these. Fret 3 has vents the go around the funnel decks, while fret 4 has deck chairs. These all look good.

There are two beautiful turned brass masts included in the kit, along with yards and gaffs. The mast has relief detail and tapered tops, while the yards and gaffs both have tapered ends (only one end on the gaffs). There is also photo-etch included on fret 1 to help assemble the yards to the masts. This is an excellent touch.

The kit comes with a small decal sheet, which has the ships name for the sides of the hull, the name and ship's registry for the stern, and decals for the tennis courts on deck. 
The instructions are a small, glossy booklet printed on thick paper. Only one page is on regular paper - it looks like perhaps it was left out of the original instructions. Parts are color coded so you know which version you are working with. These look to be easy to follow and logically laid out. There are painting and rigging diagrams, and a section dedicated to the parts need to build and paint Lafayette. 

Overall, they are of excellent quality. If only more manufacturers put as much effort into their instructions and Blue Ridge Models does. The model also comes with a poster version of the box art, which is suitable for framing. 

SS Normandie was an Art Deco treasure, who's design and beauty influenced the design of later ships such at the Queen Mary 2. While apparently never a huge commercial success, she still captured the world's imagination through her grace and power, and later through her tragic demise. 

Blue Ridge Model's Normandie is a fine replica of the great liner. With it, you'll be able to build Normandie as built, as refitted, or as her American troopship version. The kit is well done and will make a nice addition to your scale fleet. Definitely recommended. 

This is Blue Ridge Model's 1/700 SS Normandie, kit number BRM-70100. It retails for $250.00, and is available from Blue Ridge Models and Free Time Hobbies, for a limited time only. 

This is an in-box review. Your mileage may vary once you start assembly. I'd like to thank Blue Ridge Models for this review sample.