Category:Betta Bilda

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Betta Bilda

1961 - 1974

The Betta Bilda plastic brick construction system from Airfix appeared in 1961.

Starting out as a simple Lego-inspired brick system, the system was constantly expanded through the 1960s to include more parts such as wheels and two types of electric motor, and was joined by two further sub-brands – strut-based ("big plastic Meccano") parts, and larger bricks esigned for toddlers.

The Betta Bilda range was ambitious, and its roof tiling system wasn't the only area where the system scored over Lego: the Betta Bilda Castle accessory pack parts were particularly useful, including bricks with cross-shaped arrowslits, and even a full drawbriadge. When it was realised that some of the Betta Bilda vehicle designs were somewhat lacking in realism with regard to the front windows, Airfix realised that they could solve this by creating one-piece plastic cabs as single parts, and include these in new Betta-Bilda truck sets in smaller and larger scales (Teeny Trucks and Big Trucks). In 1969 there was even a dedicated space-rocket set, to take advantage of public interest in the 1969 Moon landings.

Three compatible systems

Betta Bilda eventually ended up with three different (but interoperable) sub-vranded systems: The "Standard Range" (quite similar to Lego), Betta Bilda Engineer (broadly similar to Plastic Meccano and Lego's Bilofix), and Big Bricks (broadly similar to Lego's Duplo system).

Towards the end of the 1960s, Airfix began to increasingly promote this as their unique selling point: While Meccano had a large plastic strut-based system that was interoperable with standard Meccano, they didn't have a plastic brick system ... and while Lego had both "standard" and "Kiddie" bricks that worked together, their Bilofix strut-based system was made of wood and wasn't intended to work with their other ranges.

This let Aifix position Betta Bilda as The Integrated Building System.

1968: "Betta Bilda Makes the Most of Playtime" – "BettaBilda - The Integrated Building System"


MAKES THE MOST OF PLAYTIME All the way from toddler to teenager, Betta Bilda gives hours of absorbing and constructive play. Starting with easy-to-handle Big Brick sets, through the standard range, and on to Betta Bilda Engineer. Clean, colourful, educational – that's Airfix Betta Bilda!

The "Standard Range"

The main colour theme for Betta Bilda buildings was initially white walls with red windows and doors, and green roofing. Later on, more red bricks appeared, notably some very long studded struts that could be used in conjunction with angle bricks to make red angled girders (with the red referencing the red oxide primer typically used to paint structural steelwork).

The addition of curved pieces (almost identical to Lego's) worked well with the new "castle accessories" parts, and were great for building castles and forts with rounded towers.

Betta Bilda also ended up with not one but two electric motors: a simpler unit suitable for powering model windmills and other mechanisms, and a four-wheel drive motor suitable for making electric-powered model vehicles. For cars and lorries, the Betta Bilda Engineer range also included a particularly useful grey "chassis" block with holes around the periphery to take wheels.


Betta Bilda is chiefly remembered for its solution to the problem of how to build slanted roofs using a block-based model.

Manufacturers of early plastic building-block sets usually "cheated" when it came to roofing, and supplied folding pieces of printed card for the roof ... while Lego ended up using chunky angled versions of standard blocks for roofing, Betta Bilda's approach was to invent their own dedicated roofing system, using angled blocks for roof supports, but to make the roof itself from more realistic plastic roof tiles that clipped together using a peg-and-hole arrangement that was not too dissimilar to real tile fixings.

Two sheets of roof tiles could then be connected together with "spine" tiles, and the whole structure carefully set down on the rest of the building.

~1962: Manufacturer's description:


The Betta Bilda Sets are suitable for children of all ages and all components are scaled so that buildings may be produced for inclusion in H0 and 00 Scale Railway Layout.

The No. 4495 Starter Set (packed in acetate tube size 2 38 inches diameter × 6 38 inches) is suitable for making simple buildings such as the Cottage illustrated overleaf.

The No. 4500 Building set (boxed) has sufficient parts to build a range of houses and buildings of which the Bungalow and Detached House and Garage shown on this leaflet are typical examples.

With the addition of the Betta Bilda Accessory Sets unlimited larger buildings may be constructed.

Bases included with the Betta Bilda can not only be used as bases of buildings, but can also be used as Balconies, Flat Roofs and Internal Flooring.

1966 advertising description:

Hours of pleasure with AIRFIX BETTA BILDA

Making models with Betta Bilda gives trememdous scope for the imagination. The colourful plastic pieces lock firmy together to make fascinating buildings in an endless variety. Parts dismantle easily too, and the building begins all over again.

Thee's a choice of five complete sets at 6/6, 10/6, 22/6, 32.6, and a huge set with over 1,850 pieces for only 50/. Twenty accessory packs enable you to make even bigger and more exciting buildings – 1/8d each.

— , Airfix Products Ltd., , Full-page advert, , Hobbies Annual, , 1966

The demise of Betta Bilda

Betta Bilda seems to have survived the failure of the Airfix Group in ~1971, and persisted until around ~1974.

According to Jeremy Brooks' excellent book, "Forty Years of Airfix Toys'" the Betta Bilda range may have been wound up because, as a large and ambitious range, it may simply have been too demanding in terms of the time and effort demanded of key Airfix personnel.

The Airfix core business was their plastic kits, and the company was experiencing a certain amount of business turbulence – including the failure of the larger Airfix Group, that had taken over Lines Brothers range, shortly after Lines had themselves taken over the failed Meccano Ltd. Trying to run, promote and expand a non-brand-leader range that was in direct competition with Lego (and that required Airfix to spend a certain amount of time "looking over their shoulder" at Lego-related legal rights issues) may simply have been too much hassle.

If Airfix were looking at ways of focusing on the success of their much more important "kits" range, then dropping Betta Bilda to give the kits their full attention may have been a sensible business move.

See also:

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