Thursday, November 14, 2013

Recently Completed: Tamiya’s King Tiger (Retool)

From time to time there are kits that you fixate on, or at least keep them tucked away at the back of your mind as one you really, really want to do, and Tamiya’s King Tiger with the Porsche turret, released in 1993 as part of their program of retooling and refining older subjects, was just such a kit for me. I saw the high quality factory job in the commercials of the day and longed to open that box. Unfortunately it was one of those kits which at the time I referred to in an article as “exotic mega-kits at exotic mega-prices.” I had no hope of affording it in those days, and it still sells over the counter in Australia for around the $70 mark. I picked one up on eBay for a lot less several years ago, and held onto it for a long time, savouring the moment I would finally slit the shrinkwrap.

The catalyst was probably buying the old hardback edition of Tony Greenland’s Panzer Modelling Masterclass, a classic of the hobby, and seeing the job he did on this subject. I had the kit, I had a turned barrel for it, I had Tony Greenland’s recommended paints, and I had MiG pigments to substitute for his famous chalk pastel weathering technique, so it was game on.

What can I say that has not already been said? Nothing, I should think, but I can tell you what I feel about the kit. The engineering precision is everything you would expect from Tamiya, the “old master” of armour makers. Not over-thought and painfully finicky, that’s Dragon’s gig; just straightforward building pleasure, and most of the details of the real tank are represented down to a fine level of resolution. Maybe some details are overscale, such as the AA MG mount; the engine deck grills were absent, but Alliance Modelworks’ etched steel set provided a full set of grills that went on without trauma. I wired the headlight with some soft detailing wire, a first for me, and again there were no particular dramas.

Some would say an etched set overall is a necessary upgrade but I have never had either the patience or the “anality” to demand it (or the eyesight, in all probability!) and I was happy with the tools and clamps. Instead of raked putty for the zimmerit, I used Cavalier’s resin set, which was wafer-thin and went on easily, with the exception of the transom piece, which called for the slicing away of most details, a task too radical for me. I pieced it together by removing a few details and adjusting the zimmerit around the rest, flushing it together in multiple tiny pieces and even some raked putty here and there. Same with the gun mantlet, I used Cavalier’s supplied rake tool and created zimmerit in areas indicated as necessary by Tony Greenland’s research but not supplied in the Cavalier set. Cavlier provide a cast resin mantlet to go with the Tamiya gun, but I was using an Eduard turned barrel which was designed to go with the kit mantlet, not Cavalier’s, thus some modifications were needed.

The real thrust of the project was the camouflage scheme. I followed Tony Greenland’s research for a King Tiger in the French campaign of late 1944, possibly surviving as late as the Bulge in December though this is my speculation only. Tiger 334 was finished in the green, brown and yellow stripe scheme found at the time, though without the windblown “leaves” of the “Ambush” scheme. This called for what is probably my best fineline airbrushing to date, using high pressure and low flow to replicate the almost floral writhings of the stripe edges. Then I used the standard approach of fade-and-shade coats to tie everything together, oil pin wash and rust streaking, and pigments to finish off with as dust and dirt. The running gear uses pencil graphite worked extensively into the rims of the resilient steel wheels, and the vinyl tracks are perfectly acceptable behind the skirt armour, as their lack of proper sag is simply not visible.

I was very happy with the result. It was challenging in some ways, a breeze in others, and I was able to get to grips with the painting and weathering without being caught up in too extensive a build job. It looks proud on the shelf, squat, powerful, menacing, just as a King Tiger should.

This is one of those kits deemed “good in its day” by those for whom refinement out of the box is everything, but I’m more than satisfied with the texture and look of the finished article, and have no plans to update in the foreseeable future. I would recommend the basic kit to anyone with a few tanks under their belt, and if building without the extra bells and whistles I’m sure a beginner could return a pleasing result too.

Thankyou, Tamiya, for building pleasure which did not let down the years of anticipation I had for this project!