“I have neither the time to build larger kits nor the space to display the results, so more often than not I return back to my first love and that as in obvious now, is 1:72”
I have no idea how old I was, but the first time I ever became aware of a plastic model kit was whilst visiting my grandparents’ house in the very early seventies. There, on a shelf in the sitting room was a half-built Airfix 1:72 Sea King, its white plastic fuselage hanging over the edge of its small box, Roy Cross’ beguiling artwork helping to further tease my young eyes. At the time I had no idea what it was, I’m not even sure now whether I took more time to examine the contents, all I knew was that it looked interesting and that was enough to sow a seed into my mind…
It may have been a few years later that I first had a chance to build my own kit. I reemeber it being an Airfix 1:76 Scammell Tank Transporter, a kit that was assembled with tube glue, all parts being snapped eagerly from the runners – there were no tools in the Pollard workshop back then! Looking back, it seems odd that such an unmitigated disaster should set me off on a path that I’ve followed for over forty years, but it did. There was something about that little green model, all glue encrusted and misaligned, that lit a created a spark that has endured to the present day.
Though my burgeoning career started off with a vehicle, it really wasn’t long before my love of aviation dictated my purchase of kits, aircraft being the predominant choice amongst sporadic detours to armoured vehicles that would later in life, form a major part of both my hobby and working day. But for the time being, aircraft were the first port of call and as such, that meant kits that I could get locally, Airfix and Matchbox and that in turn, meant 1:72. Looking through the catalogues from that period in my life it’s hard to find kits that I didn’t build, only a handful of Matchbox kits not having passed through my hands with Airfix packages, though being perhaps more popular and more readily available, being a close second in my affections. I built them all – almost!
Over the years that have passed since those heady days of the Seventies, I’ve built a huge number of kits, many of them in larger scales. As the hobby has developed and the industry has found new, cheaper ways to create kits, larger scales seem to have predominated, 1:32 being a particularly fertile area for exploitation, with subjects that I would never have dreamed of seeing in miniature, now appearing on a regular basis. And it’s not just the smaller machines that are being replicated in this scale, even four-engined bombers are now being released. Though these massive kits are incredibly impressive, as time has passed, my inclination to build such large models has waned to the point where I now simply hand these builds on – unless they happen to be Harrier-shaped, then all bets are off! I have neither the time to build larger kits on a regular basis, nor the space to display the results, so more often than not I return back to my first love and that as in obvious now, is 1:72. But that doesn’t mean that the results are any less impressive; as with larger scale kit production, technology in ‘72nd has developed to a point where detail and finesse in on a par with larger scales, kits from the likes of Eduard, Tamiya and latterly Airfix, offering projects that though small in stature, are large in detail and accuracy.
But it’s not just the mainstream kit manufacturers that have helped those keen on small-scale modelling to compete with the bigger boys, the aftermarket has made its fair share of strides in this field. Once seen as the poor relation to 1:48 and 1:32, now virtually every 1:72 release imaginable has generated some form of detailing set, masks and decals, to tantalise a prospective builder. Everything from the simple addition of seat straps to complete engine and gun bay features, can now be added. Want folded wings? Done. How about a radar bay? Yep, we can do that as well. Highly-detailed underwing stores created from 3D printed masters – of course! It’s all there and the results, when combined with a basic plastic model kit, can be spectacular.
There is something indefinably special about this classic scale. Something precious. Something that draws you in for a closer look. Large scale models are always impressive, but when a modeller with skill tackles a kit in 1:72 and turns it from a box of indistinct plastic parts, into a scale replica of a real artefact with detail and finesse that matches its tiny stature, that’s something to behold.
As a modeller that works in all scales, there is no doubt in my mind that 1:72 builds are a challenge that I don’t find elsewhere. If a project is in 1:32 or larger, detail can be replicated almost nut for nut, but in 1:72 you have to think about its recreation and find a way to build what’s needed to result in structures that are detailed enough to be correct, but not heavy-handed enough to spoil the illusion of reality. And then once you’ve constructed your model, you need to paint it in a way that once again is in sympathy with the scale. Overworked finishes with definite areas of weathering, darkly washed panel lines and chips that would be the size of a dinner plate, are a real no-no, subtlety and control being watchwords for a successful build.
But it really is the way that smaller scale models draw in the viewer and beg for a closer look that are their real appeal. Place a 1:32 F-15 on a table and you can see it from the other side of the room, display a 1:72 version next to it and it’s asking you to step closer, admire it from a few feet away and then spend time in its company. When I visit a model show and check out the competition, it is almost always the smaller-scale classes that I concentrate on, whether that’s aircraft, armour or cars. There is just something beguiling about the jewel-like nature of these models that captures my imagination and makes me question the builder. How did they build that? Where do those details come from? How was that painted so precisely? They take me back to those halcyon days of my youth and the open-eyed love I first experienced when plastic kits were introduced to me and I can’t get enough of these little fellas as a result.
Though 1:72 will remain my favourite scale, I have no intention of stopping building kits in 1:48 and above, because there are still too many subjects to get the juices flowing. Indeed, I’ve already requested Italeri’s 1:32 F-35 and have another 1:24 Harrier planned, so large scale projects will certainly cross my desk this year. But, when projects become long-winded and the results too large to handle, I know that I can return once more to my comfort zone and to those little kits that open up such wonderful fertile fields of possibility. I can return home.
Now, where’s that Eduard Spitfire IX..?