If you are building something – anything – that is passing time and you are enjoying it, it matters little if it is a 50-year-old dog, or a brand-new Tamiya kit that will fly together.
You can picture the scene. A modeller, excited with a latest purchase has decided that they will take a picture of the kit and then post it up on their favourite modelling page.
“What do you think of this?” they enquire. “Has anyone built the kit and if so, any pointers?”
“Yeah mate, chuck it in the bin! LOL”, comes the reply, “LOL” spelled out in capital letters to hide the less than passive in plain sight, a barbed attack reduced to a nudge and a wink, all wrapped up in a bow emblazoned “only kidding!”
Yeah, we’ve all see those replies from modellers to whom the idea that anyone could want to build anything less than the latest and greatest, is something to ridicule. The kit and by association the modeller, reduced to a binary choice between the ones to admire, and the zeros to ignore. Yeah, we’ve all see those replies.
Taking to one side any discussion about the actual kit for a moment, my biggest issue with this kind of discourse is that oftentimes, it’s simply rude. When a modeller tells me that they have bought a kit my first thought is not to tell them it’s rubbish and therefore not worthy of their time. My first thought is more often than not to talk about the positives, how they will approach the kit and if there is anything that they are going to do to it during both construction and painting. I remember, or told outright, that the person in front of me is a beginner, a potential addict that is far from fully formed. An enthusiastic participant within the hobby that I love and that ancient kit that they are holding in their hand, the one that they’ve bought and are now excitedly planning to build, is their gateway drug.
But beyond my innate desire for civility, I genuinely don’t believe that any kit is unworthy of your time. If you are building something – anything – that is passing time and you are enjoying it, it matters little if it is a 50-year-old dog, or a brand-new Tamiya kit that will fly together. If you are enjoying the build and time is passing by, then great: job done.
Though these comments are not exclusive to older kits, they more often than not, are. Which brings me to my next point: why do some think that they have to be a gatekeeper to your hobby? This is genuinely something that has always perplexed me, the idea that you have to be the one that tells other modellers they are making mistakes though a simple choice, as if expressing an opinion is inherently wrong. An opinion can only ever be subjective and what is unacceptable to one, will certainly not be to another, no matter how set in stone yours may be. Older kits receive more than their fair share of brickbats simply because in the eyes of the few, they have been surpassed by the more accurate, the more detailed, the more acceptable. Your hobby is a rolling program of improvement whether you like it or not, and there is always someone that will tell you when that is the case and when change should be embraced for the good of all.
Over the last 18 months I’ve made something of a name for myself thanks in no small part to my desire to build older Tamiya kits, to see how far I can push them using similarly ancient ideas and techniques. Running alongside my day job, during which I build brand-new kits that frankly anyone could tackle, they given me the chance to build something that is uniquely mine. This may well be as the result of a diorama, some additional detail that is made from scratch, or a paint job that’s more cut loose, than cutting edge.
Though these kits are built from a nostalgic view point (I am by design a very backward-looking individual who seeks comfort from the past) many are built simply because they are there and to me at least, seem relevant within the general scope of my job and the hobby that forms its foundation. I admit that now, it has become something of an obsession, a desire to complete models using my current skill set that as a child would simply have been unthinkable. Can I make these models look good despite their failings? Will they fit in with my other work and could their subsequent display raise smiles to overwhelm the sneers, that sometimes follow my choice of ancient over modern?
The answer to all of these things is I think, yes.
Several years ago I was asked my Marcus Nicholls, he of Tamiya Model Magazine fame, if I would build the then very new, Tamiya 1/35 Panther Ausf.D, the results of which you can see below. Of course I agreed to do just that – after all, who ever turns down a new a Tamiya kit – and set to work. The kit is lovely. It’s beautifully moulded, finely detailed and super-accurate. Even from the box it looks great; add detail and it’s as good as anything that you will find elsewhere. I loved the build and though it didn’t exactly set my world on fire, as I only liked the completed model (as a result of which, it has yet to be displayed or indeed removed from the packing box in which it lives). I liked it, but certainly didn’t love it.
Fast forward to 2021.
Last year I spent a lot of time building all of Tamiya’s top-5 best sellers. Within that collection was their ancient, 50-year-old ‘German Panther Medium Tank’ or more pithily: Panther Ausf.A. Many of you will already have built this kit, so it perhaps does not bear repeating that it is a very poor replica of the Panther, if not entirely, a bad kit. Detail is sparse, accuracy more miss than hit, whole areas are ignored or simplified and tracks, though supplied, have the superficial air of a design that is more function, than form. It is to put it bluntly: horrible. But there it was, the final kit in the cluster of 5 that I needed to build, so I put it off until I could decide what to do with it in order to make something that drove past the acceptable, if not entirely stopping by to pay a visit.
It took 8 months for me to open the box and then only the acceptance of a ‘Ten Day Challenge’ from Jonathan Mock forced me to finally start work on the kit. Though I have talked about this in my new ‘Legacy’ book in far greater detail, here is an excerpt from the text that outlines the changes I made to this kit over the 10 days of that challenge:
- Zimmerit was added to all surfaces.
- The lower hull was assembled and then all openings around the sponsons and belly plate, covered in with plasticard.
- The overly textured armour was sanded smother using wet ’n’ dry.
- Gun barrel was replaced with a length of aluminium tubing. Though not entirely accurate, this was far neater than the kit parts. The muzzle brake was used, but only after some careful clean up…
- Cupola was reworked with MG ring and scratchbuilt MG34 mount, all parts being built up using Evergreen rod and strip.
- The engine deck was reworked with accurate circular vents and then vent screen imitated using VP mesh.
- Undersides of the open vents were blocked-in with black plasticard to remove their see-through appearance.
- Ribs were added to the front mudguards using fine Evergreen strip.
- The missing lamp’s bracket, was added from plastic tubing of various sizes work not entirely correct, but close enough!
- A full set of side skirts were added. Though I considered making individual plates, time precluded such lofty thoughts, so they were made in two long lengths, scribed lines and raised details, hinting at a more complex structure. Brackets were built up from small lengths of Evergreen channel with punched rivets hinting at retaining bolts and other details.
- All tool brackets and their mounts were replaced with plasticard details. Time precluded the replication of the tools, something that I was happy to go with given the late-war setting the model would end up in…
- The gun cleaning rod tube was another part rebuilt using aluminium, the kit’s end caps and then plastic strip brackets finishing the job.
- The exhausts were drilled out and then their mounting brackets thinned out to more accurately reflect their construction.
- Though the kit’s wheels and tracks were used, an attempt was made to add the missing wheels that form the central run. This was a waste of time as it turned out, several hours being taken up with parts that are invisible inside the tracks and behind those skirts!
Though this was a lot of work, the project took on a life of its own and once complete I had a model that I knew was nowhere near as accurate or as detailed as the Ausf.D, but was actually, far more pleasing. You see, I had created something that was entirely mine, a model that was unlike anything that anyone else had. A reflection of my personality. A build than encapsulated my approach to these kits and their place in mine and seemingly others, affections. Indeed, as you are well-aware if you follow my thoughts on here, now that it’s housed in a diorama, it has become one of my all-time favourite models and the diorama, one that I cannot wait to show off. I genuinely love the resulting model. And the Panther D? That’s still packed away…
Ancient kits will always be cursed by the idea that relevance can only be the result of modernity. Everything is superseded by the super-detailed, but that’s not always the case and in my world at least, often provably so. To me they still form an important function, allowing a modeller the chance to perhaps reminisce over times gone by, remember simpler projects that take less time and clear those dusty boxes from the loft that would otherwise remain forgotten. And as a result, I will continue to builkd them and show off what is possible from each one. A remember, 20/30 years from now, all those kits that you now see as the very best, they’ll be replaced as well – will you ignore those box as much as you may now be ignoring others?
So the next time you come across an old kit that you deem unworthy of your time, give it a look, you never know, that ancient relic may well be your new favourite kit and the resulting model, one that you too, are happy to show off. Who knows, you may be cursed by a desire to build more! Now, where did I put that Monogram B-17..?
A LITTLE VULGAR SELF-PROMOTION!
Here’s the link!
I am currently in the process of finishing off a new book that will be printed within the next few weeks. Covering the first part of my ‘Legacy Collection‘ from last year, the book will cover the construction and painting of four 1/35 dioramas. If you would like to know more, and perhaps even buy a copy for your library, please take a look at my earlier update by clicking the link above where you will find plenty of additional information. I look forward to hearing from you!
As a relative newcomer to the hobby, I can say that I sometimes enjoy the challenge of an older kit and seeing how I can make it better than I would have done six months or a year ago. Some have been a real test of patience, some I’ve done and thought I could do better next time, each one has stretched and improved aspects of my limited skills. None of them have I regretted attempting once completed, even if the journey was hard and the result was not as good as I hoped, but merely better than I initially feared. And with a classic Tamiya Panther tucked away in my stash, I am looking forward to giving it a crack and borrowing some of the ideas you and Jonathan showcased with your builds. I know mine will not be as good as either of yours, but it will be a lot better than if I tried it last year and infinitely superior to just being a pile of plastic parts in a cardboard box!
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Oh boy, have you hit the mother of all nerves with this….. I am the poster child for old kits, because I am perverse and evil….. I have in fact been called out by an old friend, one of the best, and best known, armour modelers in the world, for my slavish devotion to the old Monogram and Airfix 1/32 armour kits. Now, I have built Dragon 1/35 stuff for IPMS group builds and I do have some left, but I prefer to build a “standard scale” and 1/35 is a “box scale” that Tamiya standardised. In fact, the Panther ausf A kit you love so much is the very kit that established 1/35 as the scale Tamiya chose for its future models (even though some are closer to 1/32 anyway, but I digress). I much prefer 1/32 for two reasons – first, it is the scale for almost all large scale aircraft, so there is compatibility, and second, the selection is limited and forces me to contain my nascent OCD and ADD and build what is available….. For more selection, my main scale for armour is 1/48 – since I build resin kits I have very nearly the same selection in 1/48 that 1/35 armour modelers do.
Here is the thing – some of us derive a great deal of pleasure in wrestling an older kit to the workbench and achieving a successful build. There are very few kits that cannot be built – there are some that possibly are not worth the trouble it takes to get them together, but then that is the modeler’s individual choice, isn’t it? And some of these older kits do look great when put together well, like the infamous Monogram B-26B Marauder, or that tempting B-17 (which overall is more accurate in shape than its more recent and much more expensive “replacement”). All it takes is “true grit”.
An additional consideration is that due to cheaper tooling costs way back when, some of the early kits had detail you don’t find that often now – for example, the ancient Revell 1/32 Spitfire Mk I from the 1960s. This old kit had the best surface detail to be found until fairly recently – flush rivets on the flying surfaces and forward fuselage, all tiny scribed circles, and then mushroom rivets on the rear fuselage behind the cockpit, just like the real Spitfires into Mk IX production. And the panel lines were all scribed too, on that kit. So yes, I have a slew of these old warbirds, and all my Mk Is through early Mk IXs will be done from the old Revell kit. Gull wing missing? There’s resin. Cockpit not up to modern snuff? Roy Sutherland. Wheel wells a tad open? Evergreen. With elderberry wine, all things are possible (H/T to the late Fred Henderson).
Hey Bruce – would you be up for letting me use that as guest editorial?
Absolutely – have at it! I’m afraid you hit a nerve – a LOT of old kits are well worth the trouble of the extra test fitting and putty (though I find using thin Evergreen sheet works better). They do need more prep, but you know, a lot of those old kits were done by people who had researched the actual subjects and they got the shapes right. And as with my beloved Spitfires and those Monogram Shermans, extra details from aftermarket suppliers or the spares box and styrene sheet will dress up even the most naked older models. And maybe Steve Z. will even forgive me for my Monogram obsession…..:-)
I’m very much of the “every kit should be built” ethos, and tend to relish the challenge of an older kit even more than fondling the latest piece of Tamiya perfection. There’s almost no better way to grow as a modeller than to spend some time developing your skills on a selection of old kits. I wouldn’t recommend it to absolute beginners, but for intermediate modellers looking to “level up”, this approach can not only be highly edifying, but highly satisfying, too.
You know, for many of us, building model kits is a pastime, and if some want it to be a slog through a thousand parts over weeks or months of assembly and detail painting, mozel tov – what David Parker and others do with the 1/35 and 1/16 kits is incredible and eminently entertaining to me. At 80, I don’t have the eyesight to do that sort of detail stuff anymore. The hands are rock-steady (though the fingers have somehow gotten a lot fatter), but I have double vision due to retinal damage and no reliable close-up 3D vision – I cannot tell just where or when the paint brush will touch the model. It does make for interesting painting sessions….. I can build just about anything – it’s the painting that does me in. So, for aircraft I have plenty of the new painted PE and 3D printed stuff from Eduard, Fox, and Quinta. And I am learning the joys of dry brushing…..shades of Verlinden. In the end, when I shuffle off this mortal coil, my unbuilt kits and finished models will no doubt shuffle off right behind me – I plan to be dead and won’t care all that much, but I will have enjoyed the ride – and that is the point. (I told you you had touched a nerve…..)
For what it’s I worth personally love tackling old kits. I like to see what I can do to them justice and improve them within the limits of my abilities. Partly there’s an ement of nostalgia in revisting old friends, but there’s a psychological issue involved too. There’s a very good chance it will turn out OK; if not… well hey, its an old kit..! In contrast I admit to some fear in tackling the latest wonder kit; even though I might own it, have I the skills to do it justice..? perhaps I should leave it in its box until I have acquired them…? But no qualms about tackling an Airfix Lanc of 1967 vintage and guilding the lily, scratchbuilding the cockpit and whilst I’m at it perhaps I could lower the flaps or open the bomb bay up; and all those rivets wil look great after a gentle sanding back and scribed panel lines. Throw in new decals and decent paint job – for me satisfaction is pretty well guaranteed.
Its also facisnating to hear peoples’ perception of a kit’s quality seemingly based on its age. I was reading a discussion forum where a poster was bemoaning the price of a 1/48 Airfix English Electric Lightning on auction sites (significantly less than a Tamiya F-4B btw) as it is “not exactly a great kit, just rare” and querying if it would be retooled… Yet, I recall these kits were regarded with wide acclaim when released in 1997 and certainly far in advance of anything Airfix had produced at that time and they are still excellent kits.
I have a customer buddy of mine that comes into the shop on Saturdays when I’m working and he always loves taking the old Tamiya kits and beating them into shape. He’s a bit of a cheapskate when it comes to kits but he’ll spend 3x or more the price of a modern kit on accessories and detailing sets to try and bring the old kit up to snuff. Like the old Tamiya T-10 (I think it might even be called a T-10/JS-3 on the box which gives some idea of its accuracy) he spent the cost of the modern Meng or Trumpeter T-10 kits just on a set of MasterClub tracks alone and then stole the wheels out of a JS-3 kit and added a turned aluminum T-10 barrel and a couple JS-3 and T-10 PE sets…. Whereas I would’ve been happy with an ootb Meng or Trumpeter T-10 on the shelf (I even offered to sell him my Meng kit out of my stash when he started the project) I guess he would rather have an old misshapen kit with modern tracks and wheels and gun barrel. To each his own, I guess. I don’t mind building the old kits at all, but I’d rather leave them ootb or maybe add some simple plasticard details rather than spending a bunch of money on upgrades and detailing sets meant for more accurate modern kits.
Seeing that we are talking about the old Panther…
“The Tamiya story”
My good friend loaned me this book to read while I sit in the waiting room when my wife is having her weekly chemotherapy treatment.
It was such a great read that I devoured it in one sitting! It’s the autobiography of Mr Tamiya himself and I thought this extract fascinating:
‘After the success of the Panther I thought it would be a good idea for us to produce other tanks from different countries at the same scale. I measured the Panther and it turned out to be about 1/35 of the size of the original. This size had been chosen simply because it could accommodate a couple of type B batteries. Tamiya’s 1/35 series tanks eventually got to be known all around the world, but this is the slightly haphazard origin of their rather awkward scale.’
So there you go!
Good article, Spencer. I am sometimes tempted to think that negative comments about kits that are not ‘cutting edge’ are actually an unconscious admission that the work involved in bringing them up to scratch as actually beyond the commentator…. But that might be seen as uncharitable. So I try not to think it too often. Try very hard….
I must admit, Tim, that occasionally I have similar thoughts….. The advantage we geezers have is that the early kits had to be forced into alignment, fit, and other adjustments so they could be completed. It was of little or no consequence that we had to beat old kits into submission – in fact, that often was part of the enjoyment of completing them. And sometimes that enjoyment makes a nice break from the slog of the current pursuit of “perfection”….. I will build an old kit if it is reasonably accurate in shape, or if a shape problem is easily fixed. I generally don’t bother with old (or new) kits that are so far off the mark that real work is involved just to make it an approximate replica, though I have done so out of sheer cussedness….. So I will correct the short lower hulls on my 1/32 Monogram Shermans and detail them as best I can, and enjoy every minute. Making silk purses out of sow’s ears used to be the name of the game…..:-)
Yes, if only they had measured the older M4A3E8 or M10/M36 kits, the “corn-fed scale” would have been 1/32, not 1/35…..
I have to admit, I generally come down on the side of “newer is better,” though I have been doing several 25-30 year old Hasegawa kits that do indeed have their “issues,” none of which can’t be dealt with using modern techniques and knowledge (how else do you get a car-door Typhoon or Hurricane IIb in 1/48?). For P-51Ds and Spitfires, airplanes I really like, yeah – Eduard all the way, and I believe in my skills enough to think I do “make them my own.” There’s a guy I know who builds *only* old kits ( mean, like 50+ years old), using modern knowledge and technique. I see them and think to myself “you did all that and it’s still (list of faults follows)?” But I don’t say anything because he really had fun, has lots of enthusiasm about what he did, and still and all it is a nice model. If he mentions he’s going to do something, I do what I do what I do when anyone mentions a project to come – if I have a “map to the minefield” on that, I share it with him. Most people say “thanks,” and some even consult the map and then say “that helped.”
And yes, there is the old saying, “Opinions are like assholes – everybody’s got one.”
I second what tcinla says – despite my preference for old 1/32 armour (for the scale), and my love of some of the old 1/32 aircraft kits from the 1960s and 70s (for the fun of improving them), I do have many newer aircraft kits in 1/32, from Zoukei-Mura, Tamiya, Revell and others, and will love building them as well. Even the Trumpeter 1/32 P-47D high back is a decent kit, and in the stash….. I have a sentimental concern for 1/32 – I did the research and drawings for the old Airfix 1/32 SdKfz 250/3 Rommel’s GREIF kit back in the 1970s, and somewhere around the pad I have the 1/8 drawings for a planned 1/32 Dodge WC-56/57 Command Car for a figure of George Patton Airfix cancelled….. I’ve been afflicted for some time….but for 1/32 armour, there have been no new kits for decades except for a basic example from Bronco (T-34/85)…..
In keeping with what tcinla said, look at the job Spencer did on that admittedly gnarly Tamiya Panther ausf A – it is a generation removed from what was given in the box, and at first glance might be mistaken for a more modern, better kit. That can be part of the modeling equation too – a project to make something old look newer, better, without the goal of “perfection”. The flaws that are inherent will always be there, but the pig has a wonderful application of lipstick…..
Rommel’s half-track? My goodness, I loved that kit as a lad. Rommel himself seemed a little portly, though! Airfix’s 1/32 Crusader tank was another of my favourites. I remember building it on my birthday, sometime in the late 1970s. I’m a big fan of ‘nostalgia’ builds, and I derive as much fun these days from older kits as I do the latest offerings – perhaps more, if I’m honest.
I’m working on the Panther A right now. I had hit a wall building some other kits and just needed to ‘finish’ something, anything really. It has served that purpose well.
Another well thought through post Spencer. One though, that goes to show that we each get enjoyment out of the hobby in our own way. I myself have no interest in tackling older kits unless it’s a subject I cannot get through a newer release.
I cut my teeth on all those old airfix, frog and matchbox kits and undeniably they provided me with a valuable foundation in kit construction techniques, but the past is where they will stay. I see no point in revisiting that old airfix Spitfire IX to see what I can make of it now. I know I’m a better modeller than I was then, so I will do another JE J for nostalgia, but it will be the Tamiya 32 kit I use to showcase my skills. I can still make it my own through added detail and finish should I desire. I have limited spare time at the moment and too big a stash to get through to get bogged down with beating old kits into submission. Obsolete kits get replaced by newer kits, even though they may have slight inaccuracies. Buildabilty is my driver and what gives me most enjoyment. That said, there is no denying the enjoyment gained from making a silk purse from a sows ear, and I do love looking at others achievements in this area. There is a lovely monogram Marauder on Britmodeller at the moment. I’ll wait in hope that ICM release one though, it’s not thst I don’t have the skills, just in the time it takes me to get the old monogram kit up to scratch, I could build 3 other better kits.
I work in the medical field, so my profession is constantly changing ways of doing things and technology to improve outcomes, perhaps that is reflected in my kit choices, as your love of older kits is also based on your character.
I am very much looking forward to reading your book though and seeing the delight you get from these older kits
Great discussion! I’m 75, so I have been building models for over 68 years. I must admit I have recently tackled some pretty complex, high parts count kits (e.g., Dragon’s M1A1 AIM and Tamiya’s 1/32 A6M2 Zero), and it is almost a relief when I finally complete one of these: the tiny PE parts on some of these kits are painful to attach if your eyesight and fine motor skills are getting to the point mine are! But thanks to Atlantis, I am now able once again to build some of the kits I built when I was a kid (and I can do this without sacrificing a vintage kit out of my kit collection). Eureka! Using current modeling techniques, some of these kits build into very presentable replicas of the prototypes. To date, I have finished Revell’s B-52 w/X-15, B-36, B-25, and their F-94C. I have managed to turn all of these into rather attractive display models, and it has been a nostalgic trip in the process. In the future, I plan to tackle some of the Aurora armor kits Atlantis is re-releasing. I also recently built all of Monogram’s 1/48 scale Century Series aircraft, which were amazing kits when they were released, given their prices. All of them hold up extremely well when compared to their more expensive counterparts (where available), especially if you are not overly bothered with raised panel lines!
I’m in that group of modelers who like to take a kit and make it work. The Classic Airframes P-43 Lancer is one of those kits that was hardly ever built and when built, it is a bear. Furthermore, it has inaccuracies in shape and size. Well, I have a completed one setting on my display shelf with a rather interesting history. Purchased in the 90’s, sat in my stash for years. We moved, had all of our belongings stolen when the moving van was stolen. Recovered some of those items, including said P-43 kit. But the kit had been opened and partially damaged when items had fallen on it.
I had accumulated quite a bit of research material and spent considerable amount of time determining what I was going to do with this kit. It needed a plug in the fuselage for length, a scratch built prop, cowling intake, and cockpit, a repositioned vertical stabilizer, and after market decals. I had originally planned on building it as a photo recon bird and had opened up the fuselage for a camera, but later changed my mind and had a devil of a time repairing the damage. But eventually it was completed and I consider it one of my better accomplishments (if not necessarily one of my better models).
The Hobby Boss 1/48 P-38L kit comes to mind. Somewhat of a nice kit but lots of inaccuracies. Cowlings slanted too far back. But I liked the idea of a complete upper and lower half for the fuselage and boom/wings arrangement. I converted it into a P-38M Night Lightning using a few parts from the old Monogram P-38 kit and it’s been a blast to build.
So building for me is all about trying to make something of a replica, not worrying excessively about accuracy or detail, but doing enough that I feel proud to have it on my display shelf.
Great article Spencer. Thanks for posting.
I feel the same way about painting styles. Your style is your own, and who cares if self-appointed gatekeepers trash it?