Well, this is when the tank is starting to take shape, and resemble an AFV. The top of the turret was glued in place finally, hiding a lot of the details in the interior. (I was tempted to do a “cutaway” version, but I could not find a part I was comfortable cutting away; the whole of the interior is crammed with things.) The turret roof is a very thin piece of plastic; I think MiniArt made it pretty close to scale thickness. (I don’t have the instruments to measure it accurately, though.)
The interior of the turret is quite busy, and frankly brilliant. The fume extractor, the small lights, the radio, the turret cranking mechanism, all the other details are just great. You do get the fan for the fume extractor, but it will be hidden by the PE cover. The periscopes are made out of transparent plastic. The commander’s cupola has the very fine teeth where the cupola’s turning mechanism is meshed to; small details like this make the model really shine. I was worried about installing the PE holders for the pistol gun port plug, but they snap on surprisingly easy (considering how small the pieces are). I think there might be a chain holding the plug itself in the real tank, but it was not included; if you want to depict them open, you’ll need to add the chains.
Once all was done inside the hull, I started to add the armor plates protecting the front and the top. The frontal, angular plate fitted perfectly. (I would suggest leaving the splash guard off until the front plate is in place.) The top plate is probably scaled so that it’s scale thickness (it’s noticeably thinner than the side or frontal plates), however, there were some fit issues with it. Nothing that some patience could not solve: I went ahead and did what I did with the hull and the mudguards, and glued it on section by section, while holding the hull in place with clamps. Once the model was reasonably ready, I added the extra bits which I left off. I usually attach the tools, headlights, etc. last, so that I don’t damage them in subsequent steps of the build.
I chose to attach the mudguards before I installed the running gear; I think it would be better to do the other way around. The detail is pretty good, and the assembly is straightforward to build. The problem is that the attachment to the hull is somewhat problematic. First of all, there are no locating holes on the sides for the little pegs on the mudguards; you either drill these out, or cut the pegs off. Once everything is on, the PE straps “holding” the external fuel tanks need to be installed. These are two-part assemblies each: one metal strap and one tiny U shaped part that is originally welded to the hull, and used to fasten the strap to.
Before installing the road wheels and tracks I’ve painted the side of the hull green, and muddied it up with several layers of pigments dissolved in white spirit. I used light brown colors first on the side, and then went darker and darker, making sure I cover smaller areas with the subsequent layers. I also used a clean brush moistened with white spirit to adjust the layers once they dried.
The road wheels are simple to assemble, however, the peg that supposed to hold each wheel is tiny (about 3 mm long…) In theory you can assemble the wheels so that these pegs can rotate, but I did not bother with this; they were glued in. I also used epoxy glue, as I said, to make sure the wheels stay in place once attached to the swing arms –and since I will display the model on a flat surface, I also glued the torsion bars in place… Leave the return rollers and the drive wheels off; the tracks will be simpler to attach if you attach them together. The tracks are really nice; the detail is very good on them, but as I mentioned, they are not “workable”. You will need to glue them on. I could not put the whole 70+ link assembly together without it coming to pieces, so I just assembled sections, applied thin model glue to the joints, waited an hour, and then put them in place. Once the tracks were dry, I removed them (I left them in two large pieces on each side), painted and weathered them, and glued them in place for good.
The tracks were painted dark grey first, and then I used similar dark brown pigments diluted in white spirit to add rust and dirt. I keep seeing incredibly muddy tracks on models, where the pattern is essentially hidden by the caked-on pigments, which is not very realistic. (Well, there ARE instances; the spring/autumn mud in Russia would put a lie to this statement.) Nevertheless, I opted for a relatively clean set of tracks, as any movement would wipe and shake most of the dirt off. In fact, five-ten minutes of movement would polish the tracks shiny, and free of rust.
For green I started with Tamiya’s Dark Green. I fogged it onto the black primer, and then added subsequent layers lightened with yellow. The color will be further modulated with yellowish filters, and then with the dot filter method.
Now it looks like a tank…
There is one major problem with the turret ring: the turret does not fit well. As usual with tank models, the turret is attached by sliding two little pegs into two corresponding openings, and then rotating it. This should lock the turret in place. The problem, as far as I can see, is that these pegs are very tiny, and simply do not hold the turret (or cannot click into place to begin with). Gluing a bigger piece to the turret to hold it better might solve this issue. The problem is for me is that the tank was ready when I ran into this, and it’s difficult to play around with it without breaking parts off. To be honest I was thinking about displaying the turret on a stand to show off the interior better, so I might side-step this issue; it would be a shame to glue it in place, as it would hide all the interior details.
Final small parts added… I try to leave these off until the very end- not to risk breaking them.
The upgraded tow cables; I used the hooks of the plastic part, and replaced the plastic part of the wire with metal.
The cable is held by folding PE holders; it does not need to be glued in place.
The extra track links are also held by PE parts; the installation went on without a problem.
And here is the tank -all done with the building. Still prone to lose it’s head easily -something I’ll have to figure out how to fix-, but ready for weathering. Next step: Windex chipping
Once I did the gray primer base, and assembled everything to the level I thought was necessary to start the painting process, I used several light coats of white enamel paint on the interior parts. (The tank was painted white in the inside, as most AFVs are.) The key is to use several light coats, as white is a notoriously difficult color to work with. Once the paint was cured, the bottom of the hull was painted in a grey-blue color, which I mixed up using Tamiya paints, and sprayed onto the white base coat. (I used a youtube video of the interior as a reference, as the instructions would have you paint the sides completely grey. It is possible that both versions are correct, but I went with the video.)
I should have left the engine stand out, as it would have been perfect to put the engine on for display…
The finishing of the rest of the interior is a very straightforward process. All the pieces can be built, painted and weathered separately, yet I would suggest assembling the lower hull as soon as possible, and once it’s finished, only then proceed with the rest of the details. I decided not to add too much rust and streaks to the interior, as most tanks I’ve seen on photos and in real life were relatively clean in the inside. I did add some dirt, and some rust, but I tried not to go overboard. (I worked on the floor plates a lot more though. I did apply some serious wear-and-tear to them, as to the horizontal surfaces of the bottom of the turret.) I got Lifecolor’s liquid pigments on Ebay to try them out; so far they have not been a complete success… If you apply them onto completely matte surface, they’re fine. Anyhow, some of the rust spots have been made using these liquid pigments.
Well, there were some fit issues here. Most of it is easy to deal with if you are patient, and go section by section. I started from the back, and went forward, clamping and gluing the hull in sections. There were some minor gaps remaining (see photos). These were easily filled, and would not really be visible anyhow once the running gear was in place. Nevertheless it was not a “shake the box and done” affair; this is why I suggested to start with this step before you assemble and paint the interior.
Driver’s hatch. The transparent part looks like an angry Tiki God from this angle.
I built a somewhat accurate (but not very accurate) driver’s station using an AM set for the T-55 by CKM (some parts I adopted, some –like the pre-painted instrument panel- I left alone). It’s not accurate, but at least there is something there. (The basic outline of the T-44 and T-55 driver’s station are similar enough, though.)
The instrument panel has a completely different shape; I decided to put it in nevertheless. (This is the first ever pre-painted instrument panel I’ve used, and I did not feel like trying to fabricate one myself.)
The grousers for the tracks are mounted on the back on a special rack. The straight poles that are holding the grousers however are very difficult to clean. The parts are tiny and thin, and the sprue attachment points make it really difficult to make them smooth enough so that they fit into the holes cut into the grousers. First of all, it’s worth slightly enlarging these holes. (photos 60-61) Second, it’s very easy to snap these thin parts when you try to clean them up, so it’s better just to cut them off completely, and use styrene rods. (see photo 64) I apologize for the quality of the photos; it took those with my phone instead of my camera, and the white balance was somewhat off; you can see it on some other photos as well. Lesson learned: DSLR only from now on.
There’s also a slight mistake on the last set: only three pairs of grousers need to be put into one holder; I went overboard and did four… (I guess I was happy that I found a simpler way than to try to clean up some fragile piece of styrene, and just kept going.) It would have been very nice if MiniArt had shown how to apply the grousers to the tracks; I’ve very rarely seen these in use on models.
The gun is a really nice, multiple part assembly, and the plastic gun barrel is perfect (it’s easy to find a metal replacement should you want to, but it’s not necessary). One word of caution: once you install the gunner’s seat, you will be in constant danger of snapping it off… You will find the same problem with the top of the turret: once you add the little PE peg on the commander’s cupola that indicates the front of the tank, you cannot put the turret down upside-down, either… (Talking about the commander’s cupola: make a note where the notch for the PE peg is; it’s easy to glue the cupola on in a different orientation.) All the hatches are workable if you are careful with the glue.
I used steel from the same paint range for the breech of the gun, and it did adhere better than to the ammunition (coming up in a minute); the difference was the base coat I think– the gun was painted with Tamiya matte acrylics first.
Since there is an interior provided, there is the task of painting the ammunition… MiniArt provides a lot of extra pieces, so make sure you don’t do extra work, unless you really enjoy painting ammo casings and shells. The instructions give an extensive guide to paint them; there are several colors needed to be used on the shells themselves. I was a bit lazy and only painted the pieces of ammunition which would be visible completely; the rest of the shells received only the green overcoat, and the copper color for the casings. (They would be covered by the fully painted ones once installed into the racks.)
I’ve tried AK Interactive’s metallic wax colors to paint the shell casing, but it took ages to dry. When I tried to polish it, the paint simply rubbed off even a week after application. Perhaps a completely matte base paint would help the paint stick to the surface better next time; the finish is not as smooth as I hoped it would be.(I will need to figure out how to use these paints properly. Normally I use Citadell’s gold/shining gold/copper colors to paint shell casings.)
It’s safe to say that the preparation and painting of the ammunition took almost as long as the assembly of the rest of the interior; having a good podcast to listen to is very useful in this situation.
The turret is a very nice piece of affair. Good fit, great detail both interior and exterior. The casting texture is great, and the parts are made in a way that the fit will be hidden (in most cases) by the welding joints. The only exception is where the two sides of the turret meet on the back; with some careful filling of the gap resulting, you can avoid damaging the casting detail. I simply used white spirit to wipe off the excess, hence did not have to sand it down. Only two ejector pin marks needed to be filled in the interior; the rest were hidden by the gun. The turret grab handles are very delicate, and unfortunately they broke on sprues as I tried to remove them. It was easier just to replace them with wire. It’s worth waiting with this step to the very last stage, so that I don’t break them off while working on other parts.
The turret roof is scale thickness- and the hatches are movable if you are careful with the glue.
The Luchs was the final version of the veritable Panzerkampwagen II series, and was designed to serve as a reconnaissance light tank. It differed so much from any of the previous versions, it could be argued that it was a completely different design. In fact, I do argue it is a completely different design; it shares practically nothing with the original Pnz II. It was equipped with wide tracks, a torsion bar suspension, and large overlapping wheels which account for its good cross-country capabilities, and relatively high top speed. The tank was produced by MAN from 1943 to 1944; a total of about a hundred vehicles were made (from the original 800 planned). A version armed with a 5cm cannon was also in the plans, but this tank was never produced. (The word “initial” on the box hints that this version is in the works, too.) The chassis was developed by MAN, and the superstructure and turret was developed by Daimler-Benz, based on the VK 901 experimental vehicle. The engine was a 180 HP Maybach HL66P engine. The total weight was 13 tons, and the vehicle had a top speed of 60km/h, with the range of 260km on road, and 155km cross country. The tank had a crew of four (commander, gunner, driver and radio operator.) Being a light tank with the role of a reconnaissance vehicle, it was armed only with a 20mm Kw.K 38 cannon, and an MG34 machine gun. The vehicle was surprisingly well-armored for a light tank. The main weapon of the Luchs were the FuG12 and FuG Spr Ger F sets.
It served on both the Eastern and the Western Front in reconnaissance detachment of both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS. The vehicles serving on the Eastern Front were supplied with additional frontal armor. The experience on the field was mixed; there were issues with reliability, and the concept of the light tank was already outdated by the time it arrived to the front, so after the first batch of 100 vehicles the production stopped.
As a side-note: this is one of my favourite tanks in World of Tanks; the amount of fun you can have when low-tier is just insane. If you play the game, get this gem in-game.
Flyhawk seems to have abandoned the previous high-tech super-packages their previous models were shipped. The model arrived in a fairly large, rectangular box, with the sprues packaged in cellophane bags. (Interestingly there are two types of cellophane used in packaging…) Some parts became detached from their sprues during the transit, as the bags were free to move about in the large box, but nothing was damaged. This is a minor point; but I really liked the previous version of packaging. It gave the model a feel of having a very polished, very advanced product in your hands… kind of like the “Apple feel” you get when you pick up a brand new gadget they sell.
Nevertheless, this is the least important part of this review; after all, most of the packaging will end up in a landfill, so minimizing it makes sense on the environmental protection point of view, and not the least because it helps keeping the cost of the model down. The box art is a painting depicting the tank, with a map as a background.
The number of parts is relatively low, and we get a nice, comprehensive PE sheet along with the plastic. There is no metal barrel provided with the tank. (Which is a shame, because I prefer to use them, especially in the case of a fragile 2cm cannon. The plastic barrel is perfectly adequate, however.) The plastic is very flexible, and quite pleasant to the touch (and great to work with); cleanup is minimal, as there is almost no flash. (There are some large plastic chunks on the underside of the mudguars where the plastic was injected into the mold, but they can be cut off without any problems whatsoever.
I only had one issue: part N10 snapped into two when I tried to remove it from the sprue (it snapped when the touched it; it was probably either too thin, or already cracked). It is not a problem to replace it with a wire bent into shape. The detail is really nice (for example the padding on the interior of the turret hatch is shown; I opted to close it, though, as there is no interior detail provided.) The roadwheels are detailed very nicely, even on the side that faces towards the tank’s hull.
We also get the tiniest plastic parts I’ve ever seen (the lifting hooks for the turret), and you literally will need a magnifying glass to figure out what position they need to be glued on. You also have an option to make these hooks out of PE… We’re talking about a two-part assembly, which is smaller than a pinhead. (I took a look at them, broke into uncontrollable laughter, and decided that although I do like challenges, this time I’ll go with the plastic parts.) If you like workable hinges in 1/35 scale, you will have no problems whatsoever with these guys.
As usual, you also have the option to use PE parts instead of several plastic parts, like grab handles and the antenna, should you prefer to. (Again –see previous point… I’ve decided not to shave off the moulded on grab handles and lifting hooks from the hull, but I’ll definitely use the PE antenna for the radio.)
As an extra, we get a reclining resin figure of a tanker by Rabbit Club in his own little box.
The instructions are really nice; they are well laid-out, and use color to help the modeler with understanding the assembly very effectively. I have to say Flyhawk has some of the best instructions I’ve ever seen so far. (The English is sometimes a bit clunky, but since I’m not a native speaker either, I’m not going to start throwing stones in this particular glass-house… I do say this, however. I helped with the text on Flyhawk’s Aurora cruiser, so if you did not like the grammar there, that’s on me, and me only.)
We only get one option for finishing; a late-war three tone camouflage, but the painting guide does not say from what unit the vehicle is from. (This case I’ll build a historical model, though; but as soon as the version with the 5cm comes out, it’s going to bear the proud colors of, well, me. I’ll paint it as my in-game tank.)
I only received the tank a day ago, but I could not resist building it. It’s pretty much finished, apart from the tools, the antenna, and the running gear and tracks. (Those will be installed after much of the painting and weathering is done on the lower hull, and I’ll leave the antenna until the very last step is finished.)
In short, the assembly was a breeze. The instructions are logical and clear; I really appreciated the fact that they contain a drawing of the finished area if it makes it easier to understand what part goes where. (This is a constant problem in many other companies’ manuals…) Clearly, a lot of thought went into designing the instructions.
The fit is perfect -I did not realize at first that the sides and the bottom of the hull are two different parts, as they were already fitted together when the model arrived, for example. Despite of my initial misgivings, I had no problems handling the small parts, either. (Good tweezers are a must, though.) The only issue I ran in was the detachment of some delicate PE parts from the sheet; the metal was difficult to cut with razor blades without warping the part. A dedicated PE cutting tool is probably the best to handle these situations.
The first two steps detail the assembly of the main parts of the hull, which is followed by the suspension, and the running gear (along with small tidbits added to the hull). Step four details the assembly of the rear parts of the mudguards, and five-six details the assembly of the turret. The colors for the painting guide are given in Mr Color and Tamiya codes.
The running gear is made out of an overlapping wheel system, and a set of link-and-length tracks. There are individual track links for the drive wheel and the idler, while you’re supposed to carefully bend the straight part of the tracks to shape. The instructions provide a really clear (and colored) diagram of the track assembly.
The assembly of the turret is quite straightforward as well; I was worried a bit about the PE jerry-can holders, but they went together like a charm. There are no markings on the turret side where they are supposed to be attached, but that should really not be a problem.
The assembly to this stage took about two hours; as I said it’s not a very complicated kit to build. (The next steps will be priming, painting, fixing the tools in place, weathering, adding the wheels and tracks, weathering, mounting onto a base, and adding the antenna. I’ve managed to damage one of the width indicators already, so no more delicate, easy-to-break part will be added until the model is secure…)
I have to say, it’s been a pleasure to build this kit. I’m not sure how long it will take to finish it, as painting and weathering always takes longer than the building steps, but I shall publish the second part of this review as soon as I’m done. (The T-44 takes priority, though, so it’ll be a while.)
I was really excited when MiniArt offered me a review sample of this tank. It’s been hyped quite a lot -a never previously available tank with interior details, working suspension… What’s not to love?
When arrived, the box did contain a LOT of plastic; however, compared to the D7 dozer, the assembly is simpler. One thing I did not notice at first is that it does not have a full interior – the driver’s compartment is missing, and only the engine is included. The rest of the engine compartment and the transmission are not included. I’m not sure what the reason behind this decision by MiniArt, but it certainly left some gaps in the model. Including them would have elevated the model into mind-blowingly amazing from simply “really damned good”. (Here’s an in-box review; the photos of the instruction manual will come handy later on if you want to check the issues in Appendix. I think I have the first ever blog with an Appendix, by the way.)
I switched to 1/72 due to space issues – they simply take up less space, and I’ve been on the move for the last two decades. The other reason is a personal one: a tank model in 1/35 feels “empty” for me. You essentially are building a large model with a lot of air inside. Having interior added actually makes these models come to life – you build a small replica of the vehicle; something that looks like the real thing inside AND out. You get to peek under the hood in a quite literal sense. You get to see the crew stations, get to have a feel how it must have been for them to work in there, you get to see how the vehicle operated. Hm, the transmission is in the front, but the engine is in the back? I wonder why; let’s read about it! Wow, I did not know the Hetzer was so cramped; and how could the commander of a T-34 stand on all those ammo crates, anyhow? I find these sorts of things incredibly interesting, and for me they increase the value of the model tremendously. Hobby Boss came out with their jaw-dropping 1/48 T-34s with complete interiors (and these were cheaper than the Tamiya offerings) AFV Club has issued an interior set for their Sturmtiger (after I’ve finished mine, of course), and had come out with a T-34 with full interior; Trumpeter has their 1/16 monsters; you can buy resin sets for a lot of models to equip them; so I’m not alone with this interest. (Fortunately.) I have a full set of German armor lined up from the Pnz I to the Tiger II with interiors; and building a Churchill is also on the menu. Not to mention I cannot wait for the SU-122 from MiniArt, either.
Anyhow, back to be model at hand. MiniArt has issued both the T-44 and T-44M in plastic; they are quite similar to each other. Despite of the similarities, they are intriguing steps in the evolution of WWII armor into the well known T-54/55, and later post-war Soviet tanks. The turret of the tank is unmistakably from the war; it looks very much like the turret of the T-34/85. The hull, however, already resembles the T-54 -in fact, the T-44 was used as a basis to develop the most successful tank design we know as the T-54/55. The T-44 still is equipped with the war-era external fuel tanks; these are switched to the more familiar flat external tanks on the T-44M; the familiar T-34 tracks were changed to the more modern-looking T-54 style pattern. (A full breakdown of differences are highlighted in MiniArt’s excellent poster.) Even though the T-44 was not exactly a successful design, it was an incredibly important step in the development of Soviet armor.
I’ve started to build all the interior details first; it makes sense to paint everything at the same time, and proceed with the exterior after. (The instructions would have you first finish the hull, then the turret.)
As I said the torsion bars are actually functional; the instructions are not clear if they needed to be glued to the support or not (or if you need to glue them, do you need to glue the end or the whole section), so I did not glue them. The torsion bar units were dry-fitted, and the glue was applied from the outside to the seams; this way I avoided accidentally applying glue to the torsion bars as well.
The engine is quite an intricate assembly, but nothing challenging; it looks nice, but not much of it will be visible, even if you leave the hatches open. Since there is no transmission, and no details in the engine bay, you would have to add those, if you wanted to open all the hatches as if it was undergoing maintenance.
The roadwheels are OK… there’s not much to discuss. They are round, and they look like the original. 🙂
The back of the hull is made up by several panels; one of them carries an abundance of grousers. They can be attached to the tracks for additional grip when the tank is negotiating an icy, snowy environment. They were present on the T-34 as well, and they are replaced by the characteristic log in the T-44M. The thin rods are supposed to go through the grousers to keep them in place. They are extremely thin, and the attachment point are going to be hell to clean up. I think I’ll simply substitute them for evergreen rods.
The hull is assembled in an old-school manner: the “tub” is made out of the sides and the bottom separately. In this case it’s actually quite a good thing, as this allows for proper painting and weathering of the interior before assembly.
The interior is taking shape. The empty space in place of the driver’s compartment will be filled out with a CMK T-55 driver’s compartment set modified accordingly.
The turret -similarly to the hull- is a multi-part assembly as well. There are some injection mould marks, where the parts were pushed out of the mould, but they should not be hard to fill -and most of them are in places where they would not be visible, anyway. The outside of the turret has some nicely-done rough casting texture. (A little criticism: the armor used for the hull of the tank was homogeneous rolled armor; it too had some rough texture. These could have been moulded into the model; if you want to replicate them, you’ll have to use a rotary tool.)
I will take a look at the accuracy of the fighting compartment later; the only scale drawings I found were of the T-44M, hence they might not be accurate for this model. Nevertheless, some detail seem to be missing -electric wires, wall-mounted electronics, protruding rivet heads, etc. These can be scratchbuilt to enhance the interior.
The interior of the turret, however, seems fairly comprehensive; it looks like there are more details included -sans the wires, of course. (I’m not sure how I feel about moulded-on wires, anyway; they are difficult to paint well. If you want them, they can be added easily enough.)
The top of the turret is significantly thinner than the sides; it’s scaled to the real thickness. The hatches can be made workable if you use the glue sparingly. However, the attachment holes need to be enlarged with a thin blade for the teeth of the hatch to fit into them.
Bottom part of the turret with the seats of the loader and the commander.
The sides of the turret, waiting for all the details added. You can pose the pistol ports open, but then you’d need some real thin PE chain to hold the plug.
I also started to assemble the gun… there is no metal barrel included, but if you really want one, there are several available online. Since it’s a review of a model I’ll limit the aftermarket parts only for the missing details, like the driver’s station.
Tidbits… there are a LOT of them.
This is some part with a crank affixed to the side of the turret; not sure what it is (perhaps the turret turning motor?), to be honest. Once I figure it out, I’ll let you know.
The fan of the fume extractor.
The gunner’s sight.
The PE work has begun: PE screens, ammo racks for the MG. Although the PE is thin, it’s really difficult to cut with the scalpel.
I started the work on the mudguards as well, adding tool boxes and the attachment points for the fuel tanks.
Well, this is where I’m at now. The interior is being painted slowly. This is the only problem with my fetish with interior details: white is difficult to paint. I’ve used a grey spray paint to set a good base, and I’m going over with several light coats of white.
The other tedious part to do will be the ammunition… removing seam-lines and attachment points, painting the casing to metallic brass, and the projectile to the appropriate colors -many, many times over. I’ll be lazy, and do only the ones that will be in full view; the projectiles covered in the ammo racks will simply be painted without all the tedious preparation. I’ve purchased AK Interactive’s True Metal gold to pain the casings; I’ll be curious of how they turn out.
Well, that’s it. Keep tuned, more will come next week.
Appendix: issues with instructions #1
The instructions are great, however, they are not perfect. So far I’ve run into the following issues:
Step 17, assembly of hull: a part holding the engine is labelled as c8. The color number is superimposed onto the part number; the actual number should be Hc8
Step 41: part G15 is shown to have a small locating peg in the middle to which part De7 is attached. This is not present in my kit.
Well, it has landed on my desk for a review. I think I’ll do an in-box one, and a multi-part build review, just like with the MiniArt D7.
At first glance the model looks more “traditional” than the D7 dozer – nothing stands out as especially challenging (famous last words). The quality is excellent, and the parts -by and large- are not so thin they break when you just look at them. There will be some opportunity to add the wiring to the engine, though. And more importantly: IT HAS AN INTERIOR. Even the tracks look painless to assemble… I think MiniArt has become something of a market-leader in injection moulding. (I’m just finishing an old kit that I’ve left unfinished -the SU-76(r), and the difference in quality is incredible. Even though the SU-76 is a great kit -much better than a lot of models I could name-, but it has its drawbacks. The parts are not numbered on the sprues, the suspension is not well executed, and there are some fit issues. If the T-44 is anything like the D7, it will be miles ahead of MiniArt’s old kits… and on par with anything that is out there. Exciting times…)
Due to personal issues I cannot start this week, but I’ll start the build next week, and see how far we get in a month. This should be great.
This is a multi-part review of the MiniArt Dozer; due to the sheer amount of text and photos I have decided to go with this format.
Caterpillar Tractor Co was founded with the merger of Holt Caterpillar (the makers of the original Holt tractor, the first tracked vehicle ever made), and its competitor, the C.L.Best Gas Tractor company, in 1925. The new company was focusing on primarily of the production of road construction machinery. As soon as the US entered the war in 1941, the War Department started to purchase all equipment deemed essential for the war effort- Caterpillar’s “track-type crawlers” included. The US Army has used several types of the Caterpillar D7 tractors and bulldozers in the Second World War. The tractors were meant to pull artillery pieces and other cargo, and only at the later stages of the war had the purpose-built high-speed tractors started to replace them. These vehicles were not equipped with dozer blades.
Caterpillar bulldozers were on every theatre of war; they have been instrumental in the Allied war effort. (A number of them were shipped to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease program.) They were used to repair roads, and to build new ones, to keep the supply lines open. They have been used to construct artillery positions, to build (and to destroy) tank traps, to clear beaches, to clean up rubble and build airstrips anywhere they were required (in the Russian taiga, on a corral atoll or in the jungle). Not all of the bulldozers were armored (since most of them were civilian models, or modified civilian designs), although they were operating in the front lines quite often. The book The D7 Tractor: A Visual History of the D7 Tractor in US Army Service 1941 – 1953 would be a very useful reference for builders.
Miniart has issued recently the Caterpillar D7 with an armored cab M2, and a hydraulically operated R71 dozer blade in plastic, along with other versions of the trusty D7 tractor. This is a welcome trend indeed, as many of these vehicles are only available in limited run resin kits (if they are available at all). These bulldozers can often be seen in archive photos, and offer a great opportunity for diorama builders. Since they have been in use for a considerable amount of time after the war, they offer almost endless opportunities for modifications and settings.
The box and general impressions
The kit consists of 759 plastic parts, and 8 PE parts. Miniart has utilized the side moulding technology to its limits (more on that later). The detail is very fine, and very delicate, but the plastic does not feel as good as some other manufacturer’s. (I’m not an expert of styrene, so I cannot really form an educated opinion; it’s just an impression.) Some flash is present, so cleanup will be necessary. There are a lot of very fine parts (pipes, control rods, etc) which are attached to the sprues by multiple thick attachment points. This makes their removal a dangerous endeavour, as you can easily break them (if they were not already broken during transport to begin with). Some of the thinner, finer parts have broken during transit, so fixing broken plastic will be a constant activity during the build. Substituting these plastic parts from stretched sprue or wire is also an attractive alternative.
To remove thin and delicate parts I was experimenting with some success using a scalpel blade heated up in a flame; this enables you to detach the part without stressing it, but one thing I have to stress (no pun intended) is that you cut well away from the part (at least a centimetre away), unless you want it to melt, too.
Cleanup is also going to be risky, as even the gentle force of removing the seams can easily break the plastic; use a new blade, and be very careful. (This is a very prominent problem with sprue C, where most of the engine parts are located, but also with the control linkages under the floor of the cab, and the steering levers.) Sometimes I just left the thin seam lines in place rather than risk breaking the part.
The amount of parts for a small kit like this is astonishing (or horrifying, depending on your point of view); as is the size of some of them. This is a very dense kit: while the inside of most models are mostly made up of empty space, this small kit feels surprising heavy due to all of its 700+ parts being concentrated in such a small volume. (I know it’s not a usual metric in the world of scale models, but it might be a good way to demonstrate my point. This kit weights 97g when assembled, while a similar size Toldi I by Hobby Boss weights 46g.) If you wish to, you can certainly simplify the build somewhat. Studying the instructions it’s possible to determine which parts can be left out altogether. (If you close all the hatches and doors for the armoured cab, you can leave out several dozen parts, for example. Not that I would suggest to do so, because it would not give justice to this kit to cut corners in this manner.)
Some parts are so small you are forgiven to think that they’ve broken off the sprue already… until you take another look. This model is not for the faint-hearted; considerable amount of experience will be needed to assemble it. The detail is incredible, but at the cost of overengineered, multiple-part assemblies. Sometimes you have the feeling the complexity is unnecessarily high; that the same results could have been achieved by using fewer parts.
In certain cases the intricate details are hidden by other parts, and hence they could have been left out, or simplified (I’ll be mentioning this issue a lot); one example is suspension units where all the springs and rollers are exquisitely detailed, then hidden under a cover forever. I think the designers of this kit have decided to create a museum-quality model, and did not make any compromises; the model resembles its real life counterpart as best as possible. It’s also possible that all this was done so that the model can be displayed while undergoing service, or showing damage.
One recurring annoyance was that a lot of subassemblies required parts from several sprues; this meant constant hunts for sprues during the build. I appreciate the fact that you might not be able to place all required parts in one sprue, but it still felt arduous to constantly trying to find a specific sprue among dozens.
Instructions are provided in a very nicely done booklet. They are incredibly well done, easy to understand (for the most part), and easy to follow (again, for the most part… sometimes it’s difficult to tell where exactly a part should fit). Miniart has not holding back on design here, either; the booklet is very pleasant to read.
There is one mixup I should mention: probably because Miniart has issued several versions of the same vehicle, one mistake has slipped in. There’s a toolbox (A35-36 on step38) which is indicated to be glued to the mudguard; this part a couple of pages later then is shown to be glued to the back of the cab. I got a slight panic attack when I realized I don’t have parts I needed; I thought they were lost. Upon more careful study of the instructions you can see that the box from the fender has disappeared. Miniart probably reused the instructions from another version without the armored cab, and forgot to change this step. The box, by the way, would obstruct the door of the cab; this is how I realized something was amiss. (If you look at the photos, you’ll see the box is on the fender for quite a long time into the build.) Since the other door is already blocked by the oil tank, it’d be really difficult to get into the cab if that box staid on the fender.
It would also be nice if the instructions showed the different options the dozer blade can be positioned; only through accident I realized they can be positioned at an angle.
The decals are brilliant. The US Army stars are not just white stars printed on a transparent disk; the carrier film is actually shaped to the pattern, so that you don’t have large surfaces of transparent film on the model with the danger of silvering or bubbles stuck under. One of the stars go onto the hood, which have two protruding parts of the engine going through it- the holes are pre-cut onto the star. I have to stress: they are actual holes in the decal, and not just printed ones on the carrier film. There are some tiny decals (instructions on the engine and gauges on parts C87, C47) which will be covered or not be seen at all; these I did not bother with to be honest.
The painting guide only gives you one option, a dozer used by the 237th Engineer Battalion of the 1st US army, Germany, 1945.
The assembly is broken up into 80 steps; I don’t really want to cover them one-by-one, simply give you impressions, opinions and highlight issues I found during the build. Steps 1-38 detail the assembly of the engine, the controls, and parts of the chassis (by the end of which you’ll have most of the engine and the operator’s station ready, steps 38-44 will have you finished the winch and the armored cab, and by step 48 you’ll have the core of the dozer ready. The next steps will deal with the suspension, the undercarriage, and the tracks (49-70). After this you will be able to add the whole track assembly to the dozer, which will immediately transform into something that resemble a vehicle, and steps 75 to 80 will have you finish the dozer blade, and attach it to the D7.
Before doing anything, though, I suggest you start on the tracks right away.
For this reason, I’ll start with step 67 – the tracks. The assembly process is tedious to say the least, and I would suggest that you only added one section at a time between other building steps; this will help making the task less monotonous. (It also makes sure that the glue has time enough to dry.) Another word of caution: you don’t get extra track links at all; be careful not to break any. It’s quite easy to do as they are very delicate, and many need to have the flash cleared out from the attachment holes. One set of tracks will require 36 of the three part assemblies, and Miniart has not given any extra links. (Which is unfortunate; normally model makers supply the builders with some extras.)
I had some issues with how the tracks are assembled. They are assembled just as the real tracks were, but in practice you probably need one or two hands more than you possess. (Unless you are a Hindu deity, because then you’re covered.) One important thing I found was not to follow the instructions. The real tracks are made up by a metal chain, which is driven by the drive wheels, and plates (trackpads? Not sure of the nomenclature) that are bolted to these links, and form the surface of the tracks. The kit’s tracks follow the same pattern. The instructions would have you to put the chain together first (each link consists of two parts, and held together by a pin), and glue the trackpads on after. (I found this series of videos quite interesting about modern Caterpillars.)
The assembly of the chain is fiddly (but doable), and it’s very, very difficult to make it even. Once the chain is ready, then you are to glue the trackpads onto them. The problem is the slightest mismatch in the chain links will cause the tracks look wobbly. My suggestion is to first glue the parts of the chain to each trackpad individually, and assemble the tracks after. This would make the assembly easier, and make them look more even.
Back to step 1…
The engine is the central part of the build. It’s really fascinating to start with the building of the engine blocks, and slowly build up the whole model around it; only at the very last steps will you see the actual vehicle take shape, which was a pretty incredible feeling for me… two months of work suddenly looked like a dozer.
Although Miniart has made every effort to create a model as close to the real thing as possible, it has failed to replicate the four sets of pipes from the governor and fuel injector pump (part C11 -I suspect these are fuel pipes). These pipes are quite prominent on photos of the dozer, and you’ll need to build them using thin plastic or perhaps metal wire.
Once the engine is reasonably finished (you’ll be adding parts to it now and then), you’ll slowly build the lower chassis and the operator’s cabin around it. It is perhaps the best to paint as you build, as many parts will be inaccessible once you finish them; this is why it’s quite handy that the whole vehicle, engine included, is of one color. For the purposes of this review I tried to build the model as much as possible without painting. On step 33 you are supposed to add the long oil pipe (H1); this was already broken in my sample. This is one of those pipes you’d better off making out of wire, as it is very easy to damage it during the rest of the construction. (In general it’s hard to handle the model without breaking something.)
Step 34 shows the finishing of the bottom of the lower chassis; most of the detail will be hidden forever by the armored plates protecting it, unfortunately.
As you build the tractor around the engine, more and more detail that you’ve build with considerable effort will be hidden forever. I have replaced the control rods with plastic strips (as the originals snapped), only to be covering them up with the floor panels. The bottom of the engine will be covered by the armored plates protecting the chassis, and the exquisite detail on the chassis will be covered by the armored couch in the cabin. (These dozers actually had couches instead of seats; I think this makes their drivers the only people who could honestly claim they did their duty sitting on a couch.) The handrests are hanging over too much (step 36); if you intend to install the armored cab, you would have to glue them with less of an overhang. (The couch was designed for the “original”, non-armored D7.) Since most of the interior will be invisible once you glue the cab in place, it’s not much of an issue, really. (I’ve detailed, painted and weathered the cab, though.)
The cab is a simple matter, however, there are some challenges here, as well. (Not surprisingly.) First, I could not pose the armored slits open, because the plastic part representing the mechanism opening and closing them simply broke when I tried to remove it from the sprues. It’s just too delicate. It should not be too difficult to re-create them using thin plastic rods.
. At step 45 you install a lever to the oil reservoir (I think it’s the oil reservoir) that is supposed to reach into the cabin through a narrow slit; the slit is too narrow for the lever to go through. You’ll have to carefully sand some of the lever away
Step 34 shows the assembly of the lower part of the chassis; this is when the towing hook is constructed. I was unsure where parts H18, and H17 go, until I checked the instruction at step 38 –I think it’s better to do these together
Well, that’s for part one. Stay tuned for part two.