Thursday, April 28, 2016

Old Classics and Elbow Grease

We’ve all done it, I’m sure – spotted a bargain and gone for it, only to realise that saving a few bob can lay you in for a lot of work.

When Zvezda reboxed Dragon’s Pz. III/F I was more or less ready for a struggle, but the reviews mentioned the firm had tooled out new vinyl tracks so I would not be contending with L&Ls, and when a Moscow trader offered it for a song I shot off an order. In a very reasonable time a package arrived from Russia and I was able to check out the state of this particular art.

Well… I discovered recently that this kit was not actually a Dragon tool, but one of the Gunze “Hi-Tech” series from the late 80s, and to say the moulds are showing their age is an understatement. Separation lines, thickening and softening – maybe the tooling was cut in brass, which tends to blur with use. And flash, loads of flash. Even wheels with axle holes heavily flashed over, requiring drilling out… Gunze were big on sprue-gates, suggesting they were working with low-pressure moulding. To give some idea: including the spare wheels, there are 112 sprue gates to be cut and cleaned up on the roadwheels alone!

Fit is middling poor (I think pegs that go correctly into holes at the first try can be counted on one hand), and almost every part needs not just cleanup but actual modification with a file to engage even half-way with its fellows. Gunze seem to have been going the Dragon route in persistently moulding separately a plethora of small parts. Every leaf of the towing lugs, fore and aft, is a separate part, and none of them fit worth a damn. Superglue to the rescue, as ever. Fortunately the soft-ish grey styrene works quickly and responds very well to all glues, which is just as well, as it also breaks under much tension at all – ask me how I know...

The engine screens are poorly moulded plastic parts, so I replaced them with Aber brass, which fits close enough to do. Likewise the main gun barrel was so imprecise that I did not even attempt to assemble it, but ordered up an RB turned steel replacement. It was meant for a different kit and I had to drill out an aperture through four thicknesses of plastic right back into the turret to mount it, but there was no real difficulty in that, and it looks the part. The turret ring has no lock-in lugs to engage the cutaways in the receiver ring of the upper hull, but it does have a small pin which prevents the turret sitting down flush with the hull – I cut it off, of course.

By the time construction was done, the model looked acceptably like a Panzer III. This would be my first Panzer Grey paintjob, and I went the mixed route, the classic recommendation of Tamiya XF-24 Grey, and XF-8 Blue to provide the cool hue missing from XF-63 which they pack as Panzer Grey. Maestro Tony Greenland recommends adding “20% blue” to the grey, but whether that refers to a ratio of 1:4 or 1:5 is a mystery – it can be read either way. I went with 1:5, being conservative as to the hue. One thing I was sure of, I did not want to go the way of the modern trend toward a blue-grey so washed out and faded it looks like a pair of cheap jeans. Some folks are using Tamiya XF-23 Blue-Grey as their base colour and, at least to me, this cannot be right – the German name for the colour was schwartzgrau, “black-grey.” It is by definition a dark colour.

I did, however, use XF-23 for the fade coat. I always intended to do a full modulation job, so for the paler value I used a 5% solution of the pale blue-grey and misted it onto the upper surfaces. With that out of the way I could concentrate on the wash and drybrush phase, working with oils in enamel thinner as always to streak on dirt and rust (dark brown), condensation streaks (white); then unthinned oils for dirt spots and old rust (black and brown) as well as new rust (orange) and profiling all edges in pale grey (a mix of Payne’s Grey and white). Bare metal was drybrushed in silver enamel. The wheels were completed using the stencil method, which allows a distinct difference in shade between the tyre rubber and the grey hubs, though the running gear and lower hull all received a going over with a 5% solution of brown to suggest road grime, built up gradually, and this pretty much destroyed the visible difference between tyres and hubs.

Zvezda’s soft vinyl tracks have raised ejector pin marks all over them which are impossible to clean up. I shrugged and went with it, after all, if memory serves, I only gave $12 for this kit! The material does not hold paint well, acrylic flakes off with minimal abrasion, so the idea is to handle them as little as possible. In their favour, the detail moulding is very good indeed, with fine apertures clean through the tracks between the links, something I’ve not seen from vinyls before. Mounting the running gear is a process of logic, as nothing is meant to roll or turn, there are no retaining caps or whatever, so feeding the tracks around the wheels last, as I typically do with Tamiya flexibles is not an option. Forcing them past fixed wheels would strip the paint, so I joined the tracks off the model and got the drives and idlers inside the run, so as to attach them with superglue in one go, then ease the tracks to add each roadwheel separately, and finally the idlers at the top. Fiddly, but okay… Surprisingly, once all axle holes were drilled and filed out to fit at all, everything slipped into place readily and stayed put without glue – I did a dry run and the tension of the tracks, which were just the right length for a snug fit, held everything in place. Only the return rollers were glued in, everything else actually turns!

The decals are Zvezda standard – very good indeed. They free off in twenty seconds in cold water and are very thin, snugging into the surface without complaint, and their very flat finish blends them into the paintwork without need of clear coats. Applying the decals was the simplest part of the whole project.

I now have a schwartzgrau Pz III F in markings for the 2nd Panzer Division, in the Barbarossa era. It sits between Tamiya kits and looks very good on the shelf. Maybe I overdid the pigment work – too much rust? The beauty is, I can wash it off if it starts to bug me, and redo it more subtly. But for now, I think it looks quite the part, and I certainly got my money’s worth with this challenging project that resurrects some classic moulds for another airing.

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