Monday, 17 September 2012

Build Review - Matchbox 1/32 Tiger Moth

Well here's an old friend! This kit came out more years ago than I can remember (and that is a lot of years, believe me). It's been reboxed by Revell and others since but this is the original, complete with multi colour sprues and pilot figures that look as if they have been chiseled out of rock. Admittedly, a bit of a departure for me as I normally concentrate on military planes, but a very good customer of mine wants one with personalised markings as a gift for a family member and I love doing this kind of commission.

The customer provided the kit, which had obviously been one of the original issues by the state of the decal sheet, and on opening the box, the first thing that strikes you is the colours! Matchbox were well known for producing sprues in different colours in a vague attempt to make the model look sensible with no painting. This may well have satisfied impatient schoolboys back in the 70s but for a serious modeller, it just makes it look like a toy. But to be fair, it's actually not a bad kit. Whilst the refinement you might expect from the latest toolings is missing, the moulding is accurate, pretty clean, and sharp. There is even some very respectable detail in some areas such as the engine. But I am determined to bring the end result to modern standards and that will involve some scratch work. There are no third party sets available for this model so I am very much on my own.

I started with the engine. As mentioned, this is actually a very credible representation of the Gipsy Major that compares well with what you might find in many modern offerings. But after painting up in satin black and picking out some of the details I added push rods, tubes and wiring using my favourite medium, guitar strings. I just hope I don't break a top E string in the immediate future as I'll be stuck until I can get to the music shop....
That came up rather well, or so I thought, so I moved on to the cockpit. The kit provides a basic floor, joysticks, seats and instrument panels. They are well moulded, but basic. So I added some etch seat belts from a WWII RAF set I had in my spares draw and also constructed seat cushions from Tamiya tape. The instrument panels were painted in orange brown and streaked with dark yellow and buff to simulate a wood effect which worked a lot better than I had hoped for but now came the challenge. The dials are provided as decals but the decal sheet looked looked it had fossilised to me and I was doubtful I would be able to use them. I cut out a couple of the dials and thought I would try anyway as it would save some real hassle. Sure enough, they disintegrated almost immediately. Fortunately, there are two sets for two identical panels. I scanned these in, cleaned them up digitally and printed them out at maximum DPI onto thin photo paper. These were then cut out and glued in place, then sealed in with Tamiya Clear to simulate the glass covers. Worked perfectly!

I sprayed the interior of the fuselage in interior green and picked out the rib detail provided. Next in went the instrument panels and I added some black wire to simulate the intercom cables. I considered adding rudder bars as they are not included but on checking it was clear they would not be visible so I left that alone. Before attaching the seat assembly I added some wires to the side walls to add some interest in there, and then glued the seats in place. The fuselage then closed up nicely with minimal filling and smoothing. I left the engine assembly off for the time being until after painting.

I added the tail pieces with no problem, they clicked into place nicely but I had a little trouble with the struts. They were badly bent in the kit and in my attempt to straiten them one promptly shattered into several pieces. After considering my options, I decided to repair it and carefully glued the parts back together. It was never going to be perfect but it would be very tricky to accurately scratch build a replacement.

Next the wings were built. All wing parts assembled remarkably well with a really nice fit and considering the vintage of this kit, they are very nicely moulded with a good representation of the ribs and fabric. The top wings attach to the fuel tank to create a single part and the bottom wings were kept separate for painting before attaching to the fuselage.

I stuffed the cockpits and front of the fuselage with wet tissue to mask them and proceeded to the first painting stage. This involved a good coverage of Tamiya fine grey primer partly to prepare the surface for the required silver finish and also to cover the bright yellow plastic that the wings are made from. I do not normally do pre shading as I think it does not produce authentic results, but in the case of a fabric and rib structure as found on biplanes it is worth creating some shadows so I shaded the indentations between the ribs with dark grey. This was followed by two coats of Alclad aluminium and I also painted the wing struts, undercarriage parts and engine cowlings in the same manner at this stage.

I now applied the decals directly on to the Aclad finish, decals were provided by the customer and represented a personalised marking scheme. These were very easy to apply since there was not much to do. The whole model then got a coat of satin varnish to seal the decals and even out the finish.

Next came the really tough part. Attaching the wings. But before so doing, I drilled a number of small holes in the wing surfaces to received the rigging wires that I would be attaching later. The bottom wings fitted nicely into the fuselage but anyone who has built a biplane model will dread the next stage, placing the top wings. I carefully glued the struts into the lower wings and onto the nose section and left to partially dry, so that there was still some movement. Now comes the hard part, where the top wing section was carefully aligned to the struts and glued in place. I would love to say this all went perfectly but of course it did not. Just when you have got half the struts in place, the others pop out and/or collapse and this process went on for a good half an hour with much cursing before I could claim that everything was in place. It is vital to support the structure whilst the glue dries as until then the whole structure is incredibly fragile. The other problem is the wing alignment and of course once I had everything in place the top wing was determined to sit about 20 degrees out of true from the lower wing. My technique to deal with this is to re-apply a small drop of glue to each strut point to loosen it slightly, then use tensioned masking tape to force things into line then leave it alone overnight to dry. Fortunately, this held and by morning I had what appeared to be a nice rigid structure

The next parts to go into place were the engine and undercarriage. Both parts fitted nicely into their respective locations although I had to re-position the exhaust pipe array on the engine to make it sit correctly in place. The instructions are slightly misleading on this matter, so beware.

So now that the basic "out of the box" parts were largely complete, time for the detail work that would drag this kit into this century. The first and most traditional extra to be done is the wing rigging. Without them any biplane model just doesn't look right! I again used guitar strings for this purpose - they are actually an excellent medium for detailing work. They are naturally straight, but can be bent where necessary either sharply or in curves and they keep their shape thereafter - what more could you want? However this is never a quick and easy task. Each wire needed to be cut to precise length to avoid bowing and the ends bent to fit the holes in the wings. Suffice to say that when I had finished there were many rejected bits of wire that I had trimmed too short or bent in the wrong place. Each wire was placed "dry" into the holes until I was happy with the length and appearance and then a drop of super glue placed in the holes to secure the wire in place. All in all this took a few hours to do!

The next bit of detail is something often overlooked by modellers on biplanes, especially if they are fed up after doing the wing rigging, and that is the multitude of control wires that link the cockpit controls to the tail planes and rudder. These are usually external and highly visible. The kit parts include attachment points on the tail for these which are slightly over scale and thick, but I went with them anyhow since to replace them with anything smaller would probably not be strong enough to support the wires. I scratch built fuselage patches to represent the points where the wires exit the fuselage and applied more guitar strings to represent the appropriate cables.

A couple of detail pieces remained. Firstly I built and bent a fuel line into shape to feed from the fuel tank down into the engine bay, painted it brown to represent copper and glued it in place which added a nice touch. Finally, I chopped off the hopeless and formless lump of a representation of pitot tubes provided on the starboard wing strut within kit and replaced it with two small sections of styrene rod and added a fine cable into the wing made from wire.

Any now for some final weathering. I did not want to go to town too much on this since as a privately owned plane, it would have been kept in reasonable condition. So I dry brushed around the edges with dark grey to give a slightly worn appearance. I also dry brushed the ribs on the control surfaces to bring them out, before applying a little black/brown pastel work around various points to represent staining.

So, proof, I hope, that an ancient kit can be brought up to standard with a little care and effort and I have to say I am very pleased with the result. Of course, it helps to have a solid foundation, and this kit is actually not at all bad if you can see past the rather toy like appearance of the sprues. Some of these old Matchbox kits get a bit of a bad rap these days, but compared to what the likes of Airfix were producing at the time I think this one is a winner. This has also been as much fun I have had with a build in many years, despite a couple of seriously frustrating bits, mainly because of the transformation I have been able to get from the initial expectations.

So I may be seeking out more Matchbox vintage kits soon....

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