The Fuji Story
by Adrian Duncan
- Chapter 1—Historical Background
- Context and Scope of the Study
- The Early Post-War Japanese Modelling Scene
- Fuji Production Commences
- Model Identification
- Chapter 2—Fuji Corporate History
- Chapter 3—Fuji in the '50's: The Classic 099 Series
- Chapter 4—The Classic Fuji 099 Series in the Sixties
Model engine enthusiasts who have been close eBay watchers over the past few years may have noticed a trend that has been quietly developing lately—the steadily rising world-wide interest in the early products of the pioneering Japanese model engine manufacturers. Not so long ago, interest in these engines was largely confined to Japan itself. Elsewhere you could scarcely give these old Japanese engines away, but that's all changed. The marketplace is speaking and it's been telling us with growing clarity that the early products of the Japanese model engine industry are ever more widely seen as desirable collector items on a par with their American, Antipodean, and European counterparts.
This is especially true of the early offerings from the more obscure Japanese manufacturers who became active during the pre-war and early post-war years but never achieved true mainstream status. However, the awakening interest certainly extends to the early products of even the more mainstream producers.
A striking example of this rising level of interest is apparent when considering the line of model engines which were sold for many years under the Fuji trade-name. I can recall a time not so long ago when the mention of these "consumer-grade" engines from the "classic" era generally produced little more than wisecracks or raised eyebrows from other "vintage" modelling types. In fact, a good few of the younger fliers didn't even know what you were talking about!
But no longer. The keen bidding which almost always takes place whenever a classic 1950's or 1960's Fuji in reasonable condition is on offer is a sufficient testimony to the increasingly serious attention now being paid to these engines.
The inevitable consequence of this has been a steady rise in the prices commanded by the earlier Fuji products. Not so long ago they were more or less "give-aways", but those days are now over! As of mid 2011, almost any 1950's-vintage Fuji which was complete and in anything like reasonable condition would fetch a price in the vicinity of $100 or more with prices pushing well into the $200 range or even more for near-mint or NIB examples of the rarer early models. Even the 1960's models were starting to generate increasing interest.
This growing attention doubtless stems in part from the relative scarcity of the early Fuji engines by comparison with the contemporary products of their more successful and hence better-known Japanese competitors such as Enya and OS. Although the Fuji engines were marketed world-wide (albeit with varying degrees of intensity) and have remained on the market for many decades through several changes of manufacturer, the range did not really achieve mainstream status internationally until the mid 1960's and even then was not involved in the performance race which was in full swing at the time. Instead, the makers of the Fuji engines focused on producing well-made low cost engines of modest design pretensions to meet the needs of sport fliers who then as always far outnumbered their serious competition-oriented colleagues.
Consequently, the Fuji marque never quite matched the stature and market presence of its more famous Japanese competitors. Although they attracted sufficient sales attention from the sport-flying community for the range to survive well into the "modern" ABC/Schnuerle era which began in the 1970's, Fuji engines from the "classic" era of the fifties and sixties are considerably less common today outside Japan than other contemporary Japanese products, leaving the door open for supply and demand to exert their inevitable influence.
An additional reason for the interest now being shown in the early representatives of the Fuji line is doubtless the substantial dose of design originality with which those models were endowed. Everyone is attracted to something that is "different" and the early Fuji's were refreshingly out-of-the-rut designs with a number of highly unusual features which set them well apart from the rest. While this did not translate into any remarkable levels of performance, it did give the early Fuji designs a degree of design individuality which greatly enhances their attraction for today's engine aficionados.
The final "selling point" which adds to the attractiveness of the early Fuji models is the fact that, in common with other contemporary Japanese ranges, the engines were very competently constructed despite their relatively low selling price. The early models may have lacked the external finish and design sophistication of some of their contemporaries, but from the outset they were very well made where it counted. Despite the challenges imposed by the limited availability in Japan of suitable materials during the first post-war decade, the long-wearing qualities of the early Fuji's are legendary, and it's actually rare to find even a well-used one that is anywhere near worn out. The quality of the engines was maintained and in fact steadily improved throughout the long life of the Fuji marque.
Unfortunately the rising status of the classic Fuji models as collectibles has not been matched by a comparable increase in the level of accessible knowledge regarding these engines, at least in the English language. Worse yet, there is a substantial amount of erroneous information out there. It is our hope that the present series of articles will at least represent a first step towards rectifying this situation. We've certainly learned a great deal as a result of going through this exercise, and we sincerely hope that others may do likewise and build further upon our efforts to date.
By far the most commonly-encountered classic Fuji's today are the various members of the .099 cuin series. This displacement category received a great deal of attention from Fuji during the "classic" era. The number of variants is unusually large, and sorting out the various "classic" Fuji .099 models is a daunting and at times frustrating task. Still, we'll have a go, someone has to!
Before proceeding any further, a few acknowledgements are very much in order. First, I must pay tribute to my friend and colleague Mel Reid of Harrogate, Yorkshire, England. Mel has spent countless hours researching Google Japan for information on the various corporate entities which guided the fortunes of the Fuji marque. He has also been most generous in sharing information gleaned from his own extensive collection of Fuji products as well as reviewing drafts with a critical yet always constructive eye. I freely acknowledge that I could not have completed this series of articles without his help.
Secondly, I must thank David Owen of Woolongong, Australia, for his ongoing support and his unfailing help in researching serial numbers and providing images and other data from his own Fuji collection. David has never let me down, and he came through again in fine style on this occasion. Thanks, mate!
Finally, having acknowledged the considerable assistance that I received during the writing of these articles, I must emphasize that the responsibility for any errors and omissions is mine and mine alone.
Context and Scope of the Study
In order to place our study of the "classic" Fuji .099 series in its proper setting, it's important that we clarify the context and scope of our work. We define the "classic" Fuji's as being those which used ferrous materials for the piston/cylinder combinations and which did not employ Schnuerle porting in any form. This period ended in the mid 1970's when Fuji introduced their "Inner Bypass Schnuerle" style of porting and began to use ABC piston/cylinder construction. Our studies will be confined to the models which preceded those changes. We leave the documentation of the later models to others.
We will also confine our present attentions to the model aero engines marketed under the Fuji banner. Although this was not readily apparent to observers outside Japan, the range of model products offered under the Fuji name was amazingly broad in scope, encompassing both aero and marine engines as well as speciality items such as glow-plugs, outboard motors, a range of model tether cars, a glow-engined R/C motorcycle, and even a glow-engined "flying saucer"! Once again, we leave these products as research subjects for others.
The balance of this introductory chapter will summarize the background to the start-up of the Fuji model engine manufacturing business. Chapter 2 presents this material in more detail, mainly for the benefit of those who may wish to carry our research further. Those who merely wish to read about the Fuji .099 engines themselves are invited to go straight to Chapter 3 at this point. Others, please read on...
Based on the attention paid to the .099 displacement category by Japanese model aero engine manufacturers during the first post-WW2 decade, it would appear that the .099 cuin displacement category enjoyed a very high level of customer support in the Asian markets in which the Fuji engines initially competed. Indeed, the .099 category seems to have come to occupy the same major market niche in South-East Asia which the .049 models did in the 1950's American market. Certainly, a surprising number of Japanese makers were early in the field with .099 glow-plug models, notably Mamiya in addition to Fuji and the makers of the almost-forgotten Boxer range. OS actually started in 1936 with a spark ignition .099 model and re-joined the .099 party in 1950. The Kondo brothers added their own KO design to the list in 1953 and Enya was actually a Johnny-come-lately among Japanese manufacturers in this displacement category, waiting until May 1954 to launch their own initial .099 model, the excellent Enya 09 Model 3001.
By contrast, the .049 displacement category was largely ignored by Japanese manufacturers in the 1950's. Only Fuji and the ultra-obscure ROC and Haru companies produced .049 models during that period and of these, the Fuji models were by far the most popular.
Being fortunate enough to have direct or indirect access to a fairly representative selection of the various Fuji .099 models offered during the marque's first two decades of existence, we're probably in as good a position as anyone outside of Japan to make a reasonably well-informed attempt to document the development of these intriguing little engines during the "classic" era. In doing so, we will take full advantage of the attendant opportunity to document the general history of the company during that period.
As far as we are aware, this is the first time that anyone has attempted to present an in-depth survey of the early years of the Fuji range in the English language. It hasn't been easy, and we recognize that there are sizable gaps in our knowledge as well as some matters about which our assessments are far from confirmed. However, it seems better to present what we do know (or think we know!) than to do nothing. And if our fellow engine aficionados find something of interest in such information as we can offer, we'll be well rewarded.
Naturally, if someone comes up with a model with which we're presently unfamiliar or can clarify a few dates or events for us, please send the details along—no-one will be better pleased than we, and any input will be acknowledged.
Of course, the .099 models were not developed in a vacuum. Context is always important, and as we follow the .099 series through its various development phases we will have occasion to refer to other contemporary Fuji products from time to time as well as those of a few of their competitors. But our focus will be on the Fuji .099 series since it was there all along, it's by far the most complex and hence most instructive of the various Fuji product lines to sort out and it's the series which we're best able to document. We intend to publish similarly detailed articles on other classic Fuji displacement series in due course—stay tuned.
In common with most of the pioneering Japanese engine marques, the origins of the Fuji engine line are rather obscured in the combined mists of time and Oriental inscrutability. There can be no doubt at all that the evolution of this range is well-documented in the pages of the post-war Japanese-language modelling media. However, until some kind soul takes pity on us who is fluent in both languages, has time on his hands and has ready access to such documents, we'll have to make do with what can be inferred from the relatively few references to be found in the English-language modelling press as well as what can be deduced from a close study of the engines themselves.
The English-language modelling media offers very little help. The Fuji marque never achieved a high level of international brand recognition during the first decade of the "classic" era and even thereafter was generally (and perhaps justifiably) viewed as a second-tier "economy" range. Consequently, it was always of lesser interest to model engine commentators in the English language modelling media, at least during the period with which we are concerned. There are references, but they are relatively few and far between.
We have so far been able to find only two published references regarding the start-up date for the Fuji range. One is to be found in Mike Clanford's useful but often unreliable book, A Pictorial A to Z of Vintage and Classic Model Airplane Engines. The other reference appears on the Fuji page of the website maintained by the present-day owners of the Fuji trade-name, the Model Engine Company of America (MECOA), which manufactures (as of 2011 at least) a line of modern engines under the Fuji banner along with a number of other lines which they have acquired.
Fortunately, and perhaps not coincidentally, both of these authorities agree on the date. The Fuji page on the MECOA website is headed by the slogan "Fuji is an innovator of Model Engine design since 1949". Thus the date 1949 is officially recorded by MECOA as the year in which Fuji engines first appeared and presumably, they ought to know having bought up the rights to the Fuji name and model engine business! Clanford supports this date without clarifying the basis upon which he does so.
The 1949 date is consistent with the fact that we are presently unaware of any reported examples of an unquestionably original factory-made Fuji spark ignition engine, although later owner retro-conversions do exist—page 84 of Clanford's book illustrates just such an engine, which is incorrectly described as a 1955 Fuji 29 (it's actually a 1958 Fuji .099). It would thus appear almost certain that the line originated after the commencement of the glow-plug era in 1948. The 1949 date is also consistent with what we know from other sources about the chronological evolution of the Fuji range. Hence there appears to be no basis for challenging the date in the MECOA slogan unless or until someone conclusively proves it to be wrong!
The brand-name Fuji is not derived from any direct association with the famous Japanese mountain of that name, which is some distance from Tokyo. There is however a connection nonetheless. Mount Fuji has great cultural significance for the Japanese people and is held in deep respect as the "peerless mountain". Accordingly, the name "Fuji" applied to a product or a business denotes "quality" or "peerless" to the people of Japan. It thus comes as no surprise to find that the name is very commonly used by Japanese commercial enterprises wishing their name to impart a sense of quality to their products or services. There's even a highly-regarded Japanese apple that bears the Fuji name.
However it came into existence, it seems clear that the Fuji model engine line had its origins as a very small-scale manufacturing operation. Reports from Japanese sources have indicated that the company's original premises were located in the Kyobashi district of Tokyo. Today this is part of the fashionable Ginza shopping district—a most improbable location for a precision engineering company—but things may well have been very different back in 1949 during the period when Tokyo was still recovering from the damage sustained during World War II. It is certainly true that the company's advertisements from the late 1950's were still citing the Kyobashi location, although this was very likely merely an office location by that time, with the actual manufacturing taking place elsewhere.
The earliest recorded company name attached to the Fuji engines was Fuji Tokushu Kiki Work. This name appears on some of the early engine boxes and leaflets used by the company as well as on at least one of their engines. The term "tokushu" means more or less "special" or "speciality" in Japanese, while the term "kiki" is broadly equivalent to "machinery". The company name thus translates into something along the lines of "Peerless Specialty Machinery Works". This name was to be associated with the Fuji engines until around 1954.
The origins of the Fuji Tokushu Kiki company are very much obscured by a combination of time and language barriers. There are three ways in which the company might have come into existence:
- Establishment as a new company
- Expansion of an established business into the model engine field
- Establishment as an independent offshoot of an existing company.
We have examined each of the above possibilities in turn. For those interested, the results are detailed in Chapter 2 of this study. In the present chapter, we'll confine ourselves to stating a few established facts as well as noting several matters which remain conjectural at present.
First, we know that Fuji production commenced in 1949 but we remain uncertain regarding the manner in which the venture got its start. Our investigations have revealed that there is a demonstrable possibility (among others) that the early manufacture of the range may have involved engineers from one of the wartime aircraft factories which produced the famous Zero fighter among other aircraft. Indeed, this possible connection may provide a clue to the originality of design and simple but functionally effective construction of these engines. We will examine this possibility in detail in the next chapter.
We also know that by 1954, the Fuji model engine business was in the hands of Fuji Bussan, a name well-known to present-day collectors with their colourful, readily identifiable boxes and quaintly-translated leaflets for the western market. However, a number of factors suggest that Fuji Bussan's core competences may have lain in sales and distribution rather than manufacture. Accordingly, the extent of Fuji Bussan's direct involvement in the actual production of the engines as opposed to their marketing remains unresolved at this point. We know for certain that at least one other company took on the manufacturing role at some indeterminate point in time, with Fuji Bussan retaining responsibility for marketing. These facts are likely well-known within Japan but appear to be far less so elsewhere.
The above comments represent the briefest possible synopsis of many hours spent researching the origins and corporate history of the Fuji enterprise. We would urge any reader with an interest in such history to read Chapter 2 of this study since that chapter goes into far more detail regarding the results of our research on this topic. In particular, we would appreciate any and all authoritative additions to the story, especially from Japanese collectors who may be in a position to provide further information from the vantage point of their home country. Somewhere out there, someone knows a lot more than we do and we're the first to admit that!
The Early Post-War Japanese Modelling Scene
In order to fully appreciate the activities of any new model engine manufacturer, it's essential to understand the context in which those activities took place. It's a widely-underappreciated fact that there was a thriving power modelling scene in Japan prior to WW2—indeed, the commercial manufacture of model engines was well established there prior to the Japanese entry into that conflict in December 1941. WW2 put the brakes on such activities, but commercial-scale model engine manufacturing in Japan resumed very quickly following the end of the war.
As of 1949 when the Fuji range appears to have got its start, the Japanese model engine industry was very much back up and running again after the hiatus of WW2 with a surprising number of different manufacturers competing for a share of the market and more joining in all the time. A major catalyst for this post-war resurrection of the Japanese model engine industry was the presence of large numbers of predominantly US service personnel stationed in Japan as part of the Army of Occupation. This large superimposed group of temporary residents possessed purchasing power far in excess of that of the average Japanese citizen in post-war Japan. Japanese manufacturers in all sectors were quick to spot the opportunities represented by this situation.
As one would expect, a proportion of the US personnel stationed in Japan at this time were modellers in their free time. Accordingly, every US forces base had its own hobby shop attached to the base's service facilities. It appears that these shops were encouraged to market local products as part of the effort to assist the Japanese people to rebuild their war-shattered economy. This of course created a ready "overflow" market for Japanese-produced modelling goods, including engines. It also created opportunities for the establishment of personal relationships with Americans who might be influential in promoting or at least endorsing Japanese modelling products upon their return to the USA. Enya's first distribution deal in the USA arose from just such a contact, and OS also benefited greatly from a similar contact with the legendary Bill Atwood.
The Osaka-based OS line, which had been well-established prior to WW2, was early in the post-war field. By 1949 designer Shigeo Ogawa had a number of well-made engines on the market, including both .29 cuin and .64 cuin glow models as well as a short-lived .06 cuin diesel based on the Series 1 ED Bee. Enya joined OS later in 1949 with a pair of .63 cuin offerings of their own, which were quickly joined by a sandcast .19 cuin model. Mamiya had entered the fray in 1948 with a fine .60 cuin spark ignition model, which they quickly followed up with their well-made "Chochin" glow-plug models in .099 and .275 cuin displacements. Hope had a .29 cuin model on the market which was quickly joined by a .19 cuin design as well as a limited-edition racing .60 cuin offering. The Kondo brothers, makers of the KO range, also had.19 and .29 models on offer during this period, which they soon followed with a racing .60 of their own. There was also the almost-forgotten Boxer range which was very similar to the contemporary OS line and included both .09 and .29 cuin designs.
Apart from the Osaka-based manufacturers of the OS line and the far more obscure TOP range, essentially all of the name-brand Japanese model engine makers were based in Tokyo, where they enjoyed a unique opportunity. It's an interesting commentary on the levels of tolerance displayed towards the rather noisy business of early post-war power modelling that one of the leading venues for control-line flying in Japan in the late 1940's was an open square in the centre of Tokyo right in front of the Emperor's palace! The raucous sound of control-line models powered by the un-silenced large-displacement engines then in fashion must often have reached the Imperial ears! I've been in that square myself (it still exists), and I can assure readers that anyone trying to fly their Hope Super 60 powered speed model there today would get short shrift!
But things were different in the latter half of the 1940's, and control-line flying at this downtown site was a weekly occurrence and something of a local "event" in those years. Apart from the regular testing and practise sessions that took place, the site was the venue for a series of major contests at which many of the competitors were American servicemen using the latest US-made engines and model designs. This gave the various fledgling Tokyo-based manufacturers such as the Enya brothers and the makers of the Fuji, Mamiya, Hope and KO ranges every opportunity to make contact with and fly against American modellers, study American equipment, research American modelling preferences and design approaches and learn from their observations. Time was to show that they learned well ...
At the time when the Fuji range first became established, the other companies mentioned above were for the most part focused on the mid-sized and larger displacement categories of .19 cuin or greater. This left the door wide open for another Japanese company to enter the marketplace with a simple and compact smaller-displacement model suitable for general-purpose sport flying which could be sold at a lower price than the larger and more complex engines and for which models could be built and operated more easily, cheaply and quietly.
Tokyo Hobbycrafts, makers of the Mamiya range, seem to have been the first Japanese manufacturers to spot this opportunity and take advantage of it by introducing such a model. They chose the .099 cuin displacement category as being more or less free from domestic competition at the time and also being highly suitable for the "average" modeller, who just wanted a compact, economical and reliable engine for sport flying on a budget as opposed to all-out competition regardless of cost. Their "Chochin" .099 cuin glow-plug model seems to have been introduced in the latter part of 1948, together with a .275 cuin offering of similar design.
The makers of the Fuji range lost little time in following suit in 1949 with the first of their own long line of .099 cuin models. This proved to be a sound decision—although OS and Boxer soon followed suit in 1950 with 09 models of their own, the Fuji .099 had relatively little domestic competition in its displacement category at the outset and thus got a good head start in the marketplace. Even after OS and Boxer entered the category, the market was readily able to absorb the start-up production from all four companies.
Moreover, further competition was relatively slow to appear. The Kondo brothers' twin-stack KO .099 glow-plug model did not appear on the scene until late 1953. Enya delayed even longer—they waited until May 1954 to introduce an .099 cuin model of their own. Hope followed suit later in the same year.
As events were to prove, that initial Fuji .099 model helped to lay the foundations of a long-lasting and ultimately successful model engine manufacturing business. Let's take up that story now.
Fuji Production Commences
The commercial marketing of the Fuji range appears to have commenced with their first .099 model as well as a companion .29 cuin model. We shall have more to say elsewhere about the 29 series—for now, our primary concern is with the .099 models. Fuji engines of this displacement remain by far the most diverse and commonly-encountered classic models today. Accordingly, it seems entirely logical to trace the evolution of the range by following the development of the .099 series, with reference being made to other contemporary Fuji models as and when the opportunity to do so presents itself.
Before moving on, the possibility must be acknowledged that there may have been an earlier version of the Fuji 29 than the generally-accepted model illustrated above. We have in our possession a sandcast 29 of superficially similar appearance but very different internal design which some have claimed to be an early Fuji product. Unlike every other Fuji product of our extensive acquaintance, it has no serial number and does not carry the Fuji name. The sole point in favour of the Fuji identification is the fact that it bears a cast-on emblem which is generally similar to the "Mount Fuji" rendition which appears on early Japanese-language Fuji leaflets. A rear disc valve version of the same engine is also known to exist.
The internal design of this engine is so different from that of the production Fuji 29 that it is extremely difficult to see it as a prototype. Accordingly, we regard the identification of this engine as a Fuji product to be presently unsubstantiated and will cover it in detail in a separate article to be presented later. It may however be a forerunner of some kind, and accordingly we include it here for completeness.
During the initial production period starting in 1949, Fuji's monthly production figures were undoubtedly quite low. This is consistent with the fact that the earliest Fuji's feature sand-cast crankcases and do not carry particularly high serial numbers—certainly nowhere near five figures. Presumably at the outset the fledgling company lacked the required combination of established consumer demand, technical expertise and financial capability to engage in the production of the rather intricate pressure die-castings for which their products were to become notable in later years.
As events were to prove, there were to be no fewer than seventeen distinct Fuji .099 cuin models during the "classic" era. Keeping track of these will be very important as we proceed. Accordingly, before moving forward into a detailed description of the various Fuji .099 designs it seems worthwhile to pause at this point and consider the important question of model identification.
One factor which has greatly assisted our research is the fact that from the outset all "classic" Fuji engines carried serial numbers. There was no particular system involved—the engines sharing a given displacement and design configuration were simply numbered sequentially starting from 1 as they came off the line. When the design configuration was significantly altered, the sequence was generally re-started from 1. Hence there were duplicate numbers within all of the various displacement categories in which Fuji competed, as well as duplicate numbers between engines belonging to different displacement categories. The secure identification of a given engine thus requires that the serial number, the displacement and the particular design configuration within that displacement series all be known.
In some cases a letter was added in front of the serial number, sometimes apparently without restarting the numerical sequence. The full significance of this is not presently understood, but it appears to have been used to distinguish between specific production series, perhaps when a minor design or production change was made that needed to be highlighted in case of a request for spares or service. We may gain a better understanding of this point as the available range of reported serial numbers increases.
While the serial numbers are extremely useful indicators, they were unfortunately not accompanied by any other means of model identification. Unlike Enya and OS who began to assign model numbers (Enya 09 Model 3001, etc.) or series numerals (Enya 19-IV, OS Max-II 15, etc.) quite early on to distinguish their various design evolutions, Fuji continued throughout much of the "classic" era to identify their engines simply by the Fuji name and the displacement. When a given design changed substantially, they re-started (and/or letter-coded) the serial number sequence but the engine's name remained unaltered. It was only in the mid-1960's that Fuji began to follow the lead of their competitors by applying a series numeral to their engines.
Naturally, this creates difficulties both for the researcher and the reader in remaining clear at all times regarding which particular model is under discussion at any given time. When we consider that there were no fewer than 17 variants of the Fuji .099 during the classic era and that all but three of these were simply called the Fuji .099, we may begin to appreciate the problem.
Accordingly, it appears to us that the establishment of some kind of identification system would be of great benefit to collectors of these engines. The numbering system established by Tim Dannels in the Engine Collector's Journal for the McCoy range, for example, has been of the greatest service to collectors of those engines, being in common use worldwide.
For this reason, we have assigned model numbers to each of the .099 variants to be described in subsequent chapters of this study. It's crucial to note that these numbers are ours, not Fuji's, and are assigned purely for convenience in specifying the model(s) to which reference is being made. We will apply the same approach to the other Fuji displacement categories when we come to consider them in detail. The assigned numbers will indicate the displacement followed by the position of the variant in question within the design sequence of models having that displacement.
As an example, model number 099-4 will identify the fourth variant of the Fuji .099 cuin series. Similarly, the 29-2 designation will be applied to the second variant in the Fuji .29 cuin sequence.
Having set the scene and established our study parameters, we're all set to begin our detailed examination of the various Fuji .099 models. But before we do so, it may be helpful to those readers having an interest in such matters to take a little time to review the somewhat convoluted corporate history of the Fuji venture. We will do so in the next chapter. Readers having no interest in this topic are cordially invited to proceed directly to Chapter 3 at this point.