Friday, February 18, 2011

Doing It (Not So) Tough

I had thought that I would be calling this “Doing It Tough,” but in the end it wasn’t that hard. I bought Italeri’s M110 SP Howitzer (#291) on sale from Squadron probably 12 years ago, certainly not less than ten, and had a go at a few parts many years ago. It ended up back in the stash because I had nowhere to store a finished model at that time.

I seem to be enjoying a run of completions on old projects lately, and there are a few more to come. This one took a fair bit of effort but nothing out of the ordinary, and a few concessions to the kit’s failings as well as acknowledging my own skills and where they were either not adequate or where I was unwilling to invest the time, eyesight and elbow-grease to achieve that extra standard of realism that is the grail of the hobby.

Italeri comes in for some flak, and not without reason, but that doesn’t mean all their kits can be pigeonholed easily. In recent years their packaging and breadth of subject matter have been impressive, as have their claims to realism and accuracy. Older kits suffer the same maladies no matter what company one considers, and, as with Hobbycraft and early Dragon, Italeri’s kits are best assessed on a one by one basis. Verlinden produced a conversion set (#423) to build the early (short barrel) A1 or late (long barrel) A2, plus stowage boxes, to be mounted on the recoil spade, that Italeri did not include.

The M110 is dated 1996, but the molds may perhaps be older. Certainly the chassis is in common with the M107 which appeared in a couple of editions from the same firm in the 90s. The parts breakdown is fairly normal, though the large number of small parts can be off-putting for some. Here and there were structures that were never going to work, such as the shell trays on the recoil spade bearers: there is insufficient room between their swivel points and the rear of the hull to fit them in their standard orientation.

Construction was generally straight forward, the dark green plastic reacted well to glue and worked well when I dressed the long seams of the barrel with adzed superglue and filler. There were many small, fiddly parts around the gun cradle and tail end, and the instructions were not terribly clear, the illustrations drawn rather small and difficult to see, so that things that should have been obvious were mysteries almost to the finish.

That said, the model went together in an entirely normal fashion. The gun swivel dropped in the same way as a tank turret but the tolerances were very close, even with the surfaces masked to preserve plastic-to-plastic sliding contact they needed filing a bit to get them to seat properly after painting. The small parts, handles and projections, were quite fragile, one had to be repaired twice.

The installation of the drive wheels was not engineered in a foolproof way and I ended up with one frozen in position. That’s no biggie, it’s not as if the tracks are ever going to roll, but having them mobile during track installation eases things. The tracks themselves were well-detailed both sides and took paint well. Italeri tracks are often criticised for lacking detail and being too stiff, but these were quite acceptable, though of course, like any vinyls, are never going to lie down along the top of the roadwheels like the tracks on the real thing. Perhaps someone makes a replacement set for this chassis, but buying tracks that cost more than the kit tends to stick in my craw.

The paintjob was all acrylic, Tamiya XF-62 Olive Drab, with shade and fade coats as per standard, then black and brown oil pinwash and enamel drybrushing in lightened olive and bare metal silver. Orange enamel was pinwashed here and there for bright rust, and MiG Europe Dust pigment was liberally applied last of all.

Italeri made a number of concessions to simplicity, such as molding in the hydraulic and electrical cables around the gun cradle as solid, raised detail, and not all of them are there either. I had considered using fine wire to replace the kit details, but after reviewing every reference picture I could find on the web, as well as some taken for me at a US exhibit, I decided not to. I either would not know where to begin, or where to stop, and in the absence of a Dremmel the idea of carving away all that raised detail added up to (probably) just sore fingers and a mess.

Decals are another area of contention. The Italeri decals are quite matt, and provide markings for four countries, all over standard Olive Drab, but the stern plate of the vehicle is a very cramped place to put markings. Either the model crowds the details too much or the decals are too big, because there was no way the German markings would ever fit into the space available. I used the US marking option and even they barely fitted.

But on the whole, the model had few surprises and was well within my capabilities to produce a decent, if simplified here and there, rendition of this important piece of Western allied artillery from the Cold War to recent times. Examples change hands on eBay for sometimes steeper prices these days, less perhaps because it’s a particularly great kit than because it may be the only kit. I would love to see Tamiya, Dragon or Trumpeter tackle this subject matter!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

It’s Good To Finish

The Italeri Corsair is done, which unless I am mistaken constitutes my first finished Italeri kit ever. In some ways it was excellent, in some ways a PITA. The wing alignment defeated me long ago, but now it was nothing to break a sweat about. All the same, this kit had a way of fighting me right to the finish.

Such as… Why are the holes for the drop tank pegs too small, so you have to file them out after the paintjob has been so carefully applied? The pitot tube was moulded with the wing, and there was no way it was going to survive the years. .020” microrod to the rescue, and a little superglue. Same with that row of antennas around the fuselage, it might make sense to fit them before painting but the handling that comes from that point onward is still enough to do for them. They were finagled back into place with CA at the finish, and one which disintegrated before it could even be installed with replaced with 7mm of .020” rod. The original was a blade antenna, this one is rod. Tough.

The canopy masked nicely, but I could have wished it unmasked a bit cleaner. What is it with clear plastic and its ability to gather scratches?

The gear bays were masked after main painting and sprayed with a homebrew interior green (Tamiya XF3 and XF5 at 3:2, works every time), then overspray was touched up on the hull (yes, there was overspray no matter how much masking I used… Like this: )

The tires were brush painted in NATO black, the rim is moulded high enough to guide the brush and inconsistencies are invisible against Dark Sea Blue. Another problem, the main gear seemed to want to sit a bit knock-kneed, so I cut a 50mm spacer bar from styrene strip and braced them apart while the gel CA set up overnight. Now they stand straight...

The gear bays were given a quick black oil wash, then I added a little MiG dust in them, and did the exhaust streaking with their Black Smoke and Vietnam Earth pigments; only the red earth shows up, as you might expect. Hmph – and why is it that you discover when you’re finished that you could use MiG pigments to take fingerprints, because they certainly only show up on the model as you’re putting the finishing touches to it!

One day I might get around to chipping paint with silver but for now I’m just happy to have the project somewhere I’m willing to call the finish line. It’s great to call a completion, file the unused decals and plans, bin the empty sprues and bags, and wipe down the bench ready for the next kit, it brings a sense of progress which few other moments do. This is my first completed Corsair in many years, but I’m sure it won’t be the last, the bent-wing bird is way too much fun to leave alone for long!