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!