by Juan Carlos Rovetta

Old times´ nostalgia and a quest for blue and gold
When reading the February issue of NZFMM I found the contributions of Neil Pluck and John Ince. I coul
d not avoid remembering Alberto Richini, founder and former manager of Exacto, while hand-drawing the gold lines of the cross-hatched plates for the L sets he specially prepared now and then for his special customers. You do not sell many of those, and each set is almost one of a kind. He was an outstanding mechanical engineer and draftsman, and those gold lines displayed all the beauty of their unspoiled and yet vibrant symmetry.
I have noticed that blue and gold has the ability to arouse strong feelings and perplexing enigmas. Many, most I feel, consider it is something to be placed at the acme of Meccano aesthetics. Others always took it for granted that "gold" was nothing but an optimistic way of calling those yellowish greenish and sometimes faded lines criss-crossing the plates. Well, they had been tricked by Binns Road, but not quite as much as some like myself. As a kid I had to bear the sufferings of growing up wondering about those mysterious lines that the manuals showed so distinctly in all the models, ... but had vanished away from the parts! Why was it that mine looked so plain red? It was not until I grew well over 30 that an older and wiser man showed me the truth. It was like an epiphany. Yes, there was something else, glorious and yet unseen! There was a world in which strips and girders were golden like wheat, and plates blue like the deepest sea with their surfaces pierced by rays from the sun. It was the real blue and gold world!
Getting into technicalities
Somehow this was the seed of the quest, and it rested still until last year when we decided to redesign all our finishing processes. Although we considered that Exacto was already offering an excellent finish, we wanted to offer the best finish available, and would not settle for less. Not quite unexpectedly, we put blue and gold in the centre of the project and made it something as the main challenge.
At an early stage of this development we defined our design requisites and determined that certain characteristics should be maximized: corrosion resistance, adherence, flexibility, colour stability, colour repeatability. And, above all, it should be very affordable.
We studied and tested several processes, drawing information mainly from the experience of the car building industry. We concluded that a three-stage process would satisfy all our design requisites. Going from the inside out, it consists of the following layers: electrolytic zinc coating with chromate passivation, wash primer, and two-component polyurethane coating.

Zinc gives sacrificial protection to the base metal when it is exposed and the chromate passivation gives the needed corrosion resistance. Wash primer assures adhesion of polyurethane paint, which is the first barrier to environmental aggression. This coating is of the kind used on luxury cars, and its resistance and colour stability is excellent.
We have been partially applying this process for the first months of 2002, and it will be fully available as from April 2002 for all our new production. We also decided to mark all our new production with the "Exacto" logo as from June 2002, which for some obscure reason we had never done before. In the future our current stock, not subjected to the new finishing process and not marked with our logo, will be sold with a small discount on the FOB prices.
The excitement of colour hunting
So far we had solved the structural aspects of the finishing process, but what about the aesthetic issues?
Colour matching and repeatability were no big technical deal with computerized equipment. In fact, the availability of this process for liquid paints is what decided us against electrostatic powder coating, which offers too many chromatic restrictions.
The real problem was making a decision on the "right" blue and the "right" gold.
After evaluating over a dozen original samples of blue we discarded the paler shades. These were probably more a result of pigments fading due to low stability than a consequence of low ex-factory repeatability. The choice was made for a deep "cobalt" blue, and seemingly many have already fallen in love with it.
For gold it was not quite the same. Choosing from original samples that ranged from shades of molasses brown to copper red was one easy thing if compared to obtaining a natural finish with deep light reflection. We had to try and discard many formulations. They just looked fake, a sad resemblance of gold, a poor plastic imitation. So much for car body painting products. After additional research we turned to the graphic arts industry. The product that we finally selected turned out to be the closest one can get to grounding a gold ingot into powder. Wow! The thing gave a deep glitter and an excellent match with our chosen samples. We had hit the target.
We also found a solution for cross-hatching in the graphic arts industry. Hand drawing was out of the question if we wanted affordable costs and consistent quality. One thing we had in mind was assuring the alignment of the cross-hatching with respect to the holes, so that big models would not be spoiled by shaky lines. After trials and errors we could succeed in adapting to our needs a printing technique that met all these criteria. Furthermore, in order to enhance the results, we decided on two-component epoxy inks in order to assure the highest resistance for the gold lines.
We are aware that a picture is worth a thousand words, and we have had more than a few words already. For those interested, we can e-mail you colour pictures of these finishes if you send us your address. Some pictures are also available at the CMAMAS website too, and will also be at our own website when we finish its set-up (scheduled for July 2002).

Exacto, a love story with Meccano
Some, tending to be brief, say Argentina is a country founded by Spaniards, and inhabited by Italians that speak English. It is a fact that the cultural and economical bonds with Europe have been much stronger than those with USA through the XIX and XX centuries. Perhaps here lies an origin for the widespread taste for Meccano in this country, to the point that local production was feasible and several attempts took place as early as 1948. Exacto was the first serious and high quality effort to succeed.
Almost half a century ago two young men and lifelong friends, Alberto Richini and Carlos Rovetta, borrowed some money and were able to start a business of their own. They had a taste for mechanical engineering and had acquired experience in metallurgical processes. Import restrictions and an active industrial policy then were an opportunity that
they would not lose, so they set up a small workshop and started the production of car parts for the car building industry, and of Meccano spares. Production and sale of Meccano spares started as early as 1955. Business grew as the market demanded for more and more. By 1966 Alberto Richini controlled 100% of the company and had moved the activities to a location of his own.
Here I would like to quote William Irwin, who presented a faultless brief story of Exacto in July 1999 to a Spanner asking about the history of Meccano and wanting to know where did "the Exacto Argentine plant fit in" and whether it was "always a bootleg operation". William replied: "Exacto SRL was formed … in November 1959 to overcome import restrictions of Meccano into Argentina at that time. Four outfits and about 100 different parts were manufactured. In 1966 an agreement was signed with Meccano Ltd. of Liverpool, and in 1967 they commenced manufacturing under the name "Meccano - Industria Argentina". It was therefore not a bootleg operation, but an officially recognised Meccano factory. They eventually marketed all sets up to no. 8. All parts were stamped "Meccano Argentina". This continued into the 1980s, as the licence was never revoked. However when Marc Rebibo took over the Meccano trade mark in 1985, Meccano S.A., who now owned the trade mark, revoked the license and then Exacto had to drop the Meccano name."
After that, operations have continued uninterrupted until the present day. Quoting William once again, "The quality of the Argentinean parts was top class and exceeded that of both Binns Road and French manufacture. Alberto (Richini) was more attuned to the needs of the adult modeller than any other manufacturer and constantly strove to enhance the system by introducing useful parts such as six-holed helical gears 214b, long couplings, larger flat plates and others. In recent years, since he reverted to the Exacto name, Alberto concentrated mainly on parts manufacture for the enthusiast and expanding the system with innovative additions such as his large axle subsystem".
Past and future
We feel very proud of our heritage. It is almost two years now since Alberto Richini passed away, but the founding spirit is alive and strong. "The main purpose of my life - he wrote in CQ no. 3 - is to follow Frank Hornby's trail, with a profit, if I can, at a loss, if I must."
Now we seem to be the only survivors among Binns Road´s licensees. We do feel uneasy when we are mistaken for manufacturers of reproductions or imitations. Hey, we are the real stuff! We strive to keep up a tradition, and are particularly keen on improving and evolving.
We have a vision to pursue: expanding the system and recovering some of the favour our hobby has been deprived of among the younger generations. To accomplish this we are working on new sets, starting with a crane set similar to the one of the 70s. Progressive sets will follow. New parts and elements for the system will be introduced, and our policy will be to validate such designs with the worldwide Meccano community.
How to reach us
We dispatch to every country worldwide. You can have an Exacto price list and you can submit your orders by mail, fax, or e-mail. This will be also possible in our website soon. Payment can be done by electronic bank transfer to our account. Another safe and economical option is by mailing a bank draft, money order, or travellers' cheques, as "value declared".