Lima Models was founded in 1946 as a parts supplier for the Italian state railway (F.S. Italia) When the railway started producing it’s own parts, Lima switched it’s aluminium casting capability in 1948 to producing toys (boats, trains and cars)
In 1953 it started manufacturing a low budget and quite primitive model range. This gradually improved in detail by the late 50's. By 1962 it was providing French, Belgian, Dutch and German models. Less than 10 years later, Lima was one of the largest model manufacturers of the world serving the modeling needs of the USA, Australia, Britain and South Africa. In 1977 the British model range switched to 00 gauge.
From 1982 Lima gradually moved into the higher quality market in mainland Europe with the introduction of better mechanisms such as Central Can Motors, flywheels and all bogie power as well as catering for niche markets.
Lima focused heavily on the British range in the late 1980s which had expanded hugely due to the privatisation and diversification of the then state carrier British Rail. This was possible because of their capability to do small production runs (c.500), in contrast to their main UK rival, Hornby, who required a minimum run of 4,000. Consequently Riko International, Lima's UK Distributor, were able to provide models within weeks of rollout of the actual prototype.
By the mid 1990s Lima had a swollen UK product range of over 300 models, some of questionable quality, while still producing new variations at a rate of five or more new schema a month. A clearance campaign ran in ’95 with a mass sale of the entire range of existing stock. While this stimulated sales, demand subsequently shifted to the now considerable second-hand market. There was also an attempt to compete with Hornby and Bachmann by introducing new paint schema on existing 1980s steam models. The distributor, Riko International went into receivership in 1999 and their replacement, The Hobby Company, commenced by commissioning further repaints and a new model, the Class 66. In early 2000 Lima finally delivered an updated Class 67 to match the improved standards in the market. However, the much-improved motor did not compensate the many other faults and failed to make an impact. This turned out to be the last completely new model from Lima and the company subsequently folded, being bought out by Hornby.
The demise of Lima in 2004 left a significant supply gap for some of the key classes of the British Diesel and Electrical locos range. However, this has been well filled in the intervening 24 months. Hornby now provide updated models of the Class 08, 31, 50, 52, 60, 67 and 92 also, re-releasing many of the much sought after Lima originals such as the class 73 and 156 dmu. Bachmann produce Classes 20, 40, 57 and the Deltic 55 (Two Tone or BR Blue). Danish Manufacturer Heljan manufacture Class 33 (Cromptons), Class 35 (Hymeks) and Class 47s.
Lima produced a variety of HO models for the North American market. Initially, the quality was on par with other brands of the era, but competitors' improvements in detail and running characteristics soon relegated much of Lima's product to near toy status. At least one round of improvements was made, but Lima never quite caught up with its competition.
The company also entered N scale fairly early in the game, producing at first Continental and British outline stock, some of which was fancifully decorated for North American railroads and sold in the States under the A.H.M. brand. Eventually, Lima developed a small assortment of distinctive American equipment, including four diesel locomotives, heavyweight passenger cars, several freight cars, and a caboose. Generally, the N scale line suffered from the same lack of improvements that plagued the North American HO offerings.