Meng 1/35 Vs.Kfz.617 Minesweeper Build Review
By Michael Benolkin
|Date of Review||March 2012||Manufacturer||Meng|
|Kit Number||SS001||Primary Media||Styrene|
|Pros||Interesting subject||Cons||See text|
|Skill Level||Experienced||MSRP (USD)||$79.95|
For some background on this subject, look at our in-box review here.
I'd been looking for a simple project to get back onto the bench and get back to building. I also wanted something that would help with an evaluation of Italeri's acrylic paints and this unique minesweeper looked like just that project. I ran through the instructions so see how I'd need to rearrange the steps to suit my approach. More on this later.
I started with those huge tracks. Each of the track pads has a metal plate that has the plastic shape molded around it to provide additional weight. When you get the track run assembled, it certainly does have weight! The first step was to clean up each of the links. Each wheel uses ten links and ten pads. The links have mold lines that run lengthwise through the part so I used a micro-file and cleaned up two links. When I dry-fit the links together, I noticed that they didn't want to go together smoothly and that was a result of some seamlines inside the links that needed some attention. Once I understood the steps to clean each link up, I cycled through all 30 links, test-fitting each one along the way. Most of the track pads had no sign of a mold stub but a few did need a quick touch of the micro-file.
With the parts all cleaned up, I assembled the tracks per the instructions. Simply slide two links together, slide the track pad over the link holes, and insert track pins on either side of the pad. You add a spot of glue to each pin to hold it in place but not so much that it will flow into the link and glue the whole link together. Ten links and nine pads later, the first track run was completed and I set it aside along with the tenth pad until I was ready to assemble the track around its wheel. When I had completed all three track runs, I cycled back through each one and manipulated each linkage. Sure enough, a few had some glue get into the links, but carefully manipulating each link I was able to get every one to move freely. All three track runs were set aside.
Next comes the top of the main hull. The first step was to add small lift hooks. The instructions have you glue together a hook to its mounting bracket and mount that assembly to the hull top and this is repeated a number of times. I looked at the parts tree and saw nothing but (as Cookie Sewell would say) RPP - Right Puny Parts. I congratulate Meng for being able to cast such small parts with their injection molding process, but I had no desire to multiple tiny parts, so on to the next step.
Each of the overhead hatches need hinges. Each hinge is also a tiny part which has two molded-in rivets on the top side and an alignment stub on the underside. Unfortunately these parts are so small that the mold stubs which also attach to the underside create large obstacles that require removal. I carefully removed two stubs from each of the ten hinge parts. With the help of my Optivisor and a pair of tweezers, I was able to install all the hinges without losing one in the carpet.
Installing the hatches finally brought forward the realization that Meng has done something I've not seen with many of the other model companies. Clearly they're using CAD technology to develop these molds, but they're working to such tolerances that the slightest imperfection will adversely affect parts fit. The hatches fit into their openings and slid into the hinges with precision. Even assembling the two louvered hatches was a work of precision. Very nice. With the hull top completed, I set it aside.
The lower hull needs two holes drilled into end for the steering chains. There are two spots clearly molded into the hull and I used a pin-vise to create pilot holes. The instructions don't indicate how large the holes need to be but I used a round file to gradually increase the diameter until the metal chain included in the kit would fit through. There is a plate that mounts to the rear of the hull and a small enclosure that mounts to the front.
The front enclosure mounts every snugly to the front of the lower hull and encloses the lower portion of the driver's compartment. The instructions show what appears to be a light bracket that mounts to either side of this enclosure and once again looking at the parts tree I see two tiny parts that make up each bracket. Really? This bracket couldn't have been molded as a single part? I installed the brackets as well as the steering indicator onto the enclosure. Meng should consider making some of these tiny assemblies more user-friendly and not force the modeler to waste time trying to manipulate such small parts. I installed the four heavy lift rings, tool boxes, and exhaust pipe before setting the lower hull aside with the other assemblies.
The wheels go together easily but here is where my approach really deviates from the instructions. Meng wants the wheels assembled to the lower hull at this stage and I opted to put them on later. If you do it as instructed, the fit will be solid but it will get in the way of painting which is why I left them off.
The turret is the last assembly to go together and this fit together as precisely as the other parts in this kit.
I washed all of the assemblies in warm water and dish soap and scrubbed them down with an old toothbrush. This cleaned off any molding agents, fingerprints, and dust/debris from assembly. I set the parts aside to dry.
With the exception of the tracks, I painted all of the assemblies with Italeri 4796 Flat Panzer Dunkelgelb (Panzer Yellow). Just for an experiment, I shot the Panzer Yellow straight from the bottle and I was impressed with just how smoothly the paint laid out on the surface of the model despite how thick the paint is out of the bottle. Note that the instructions tell you to thin the paint before airbrushing, so don't try this at home lest you foul your airbrush. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by the results of the Panzer Yellow so I loaded the airbrush with Italeri 4795 Panzer Schwarzgrau (Panzer Gray) straight from the bottle and started to airbrush the tracks. Foul. I cleaned the airbrush, thinned some Panzer Gray with Tamiya Thinner and tried again.
Like the Yellow, the Gray lays down nicely and doesn't take anywhere near the air pressure needed for the unthinned Yellow. I was careful not to spray the Gray onto the bottoms of the track pads as I wanted to put Tamiya Metallic Gray on those surfaces. The gun barrels were painted Gunmetal and the exhaust stub was painted Rust. With all of the colors drying, I noticed that the Italeri paint is easy to scratch if you're not careful.
When the paint was dry, I glued together the assemblies. First I wrapped the tracks around their wheels and pinned the last pads into place. I carefully touched up the tracks with Panzer Gray in the airbrush.
I did not assemble the rear wheel strut assembly until after painting. With the rear wheel complete, I assembled the strut around it and mounted it to the lower hull per the instructions. I was initially carefuly to leave the pivot free to steer the wheel but I quickly realized the problem I was going to have. Once you install the steering chains onto the strut and run them into the hull, you're likely to break that linkage holding the chain. The weight of the wheel with those track pads is sufficient to break the chain if you're not careful. While I believe the chain is long enough to run from one linkage on the strut, through the two holes in the hull and back out to the other linkage, the instructions have you use some provided wire to connect the end of the chain to each linkage. The problem here is that the wire is thicker than the chain links and won't go together as shown in the instructions. I went to Plan B.
I glued the steering strut so it would no longer pivot. I cut the chain in half and cut two short pins from the wire. I took the end of the chain and put the loop of the last link into the strut linkage and inserted the wire pin to hold it in place. A touch of cyano keeps that link and pin in place. This is repeated on the other side. The chains are run through their holes in the hull and the ends are tacked down to the hull bottom with a touch of cyano.
The upper and lower hulls nearly snap into place. I used my Touch 'n Flo glue applicator to carefully run liquid cement into the seam. The main wheels are glued into place and the turret simply rotates into place. I used some properly thinned Italeri Panzer Yellow and Panzer Gray to touch up the model and I'm impressed again. There is no sign of the scratches - the paint self-levels nicely. The good news is that the Italeri paint is dead flat out of the bottle which really looks nice. Unfortunately I can't use my weathering system over flat, so I shot the whole model with Alclad II Gloss Kote. This provides a solid barrier coat for the torture to follow.
I mixed some Van Dyke Brown oil paint into a cup of Odorless Mineral Spirits and applied the mix to the overall model with special emphasis on molded-in and applied detailing. When it had dried, I brushed clean Mineral Spirits onto any areas that I wanted to balance and set the model aside for a while. The wash had flattened the Gloss Kote, so there was no need for a special flat coat. The only remaining step was to add some WarPigs pigments to the bottom of the tracks and a little on the underside of the hull to provide the look of running through the dirt.
This is a very impressive kit as it demonstrates a nice level of precision between the CAD design, tooling, and molding processes that isn't seen very often (so far). Some of the very tiny details that need to be assembled could be considered a little too extreme and I've adjusted the skill level of this kit to Experienced after this build.
Overall I'm pleased with this model and quite frankly I couldn't put it aside very long. The model is not tolerant of any mold-lines, mold stubs, or other imperfections in its assembly so take the time to dry-fit and make sure of the fit before you run into a problem later.
My sincere thanks to Stevens International for this review sample!