Thursday, September 30, 2010


SMN report
With the news of an Earth-type alien world being found - the exoplanet Gliese 581g - it’s worth remembering the physicist Stephen Hawking’s warning that intelligent ETs might not be friendly. And that of course was the theme of English author HG Wells’s masterwork The War of the Worlds.

Music and Martians
So when Mat Irvine’s colleague Nick Argento of Glencoe Models sent a link to a stop-frame animation of this classic invasion story, we had to look it up. What a hoot, and the classical music scores fit well with the subject too. The humans are ringers for Action Man and Co, while the Martian tripod models (you can see them in action at the 4:03 timing mark) are pretty convincing, and a reminder of the splendid artwork printed in Classics Illustrated many years ago.

See Glencoe Models here.

View a Pegasus Hobbies Martian here.

Visit the Classics Illustrated War of the Worlds graphic novel here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


David Jefferis reports
The modelmasters at Tamiya are excelling themselves these days, and for 1:48 scale model fans, here are some items heading our way that are well up to scratch.

Tamiya Fairey Swordfish
The first is an absolutely jaw-dropping Fairey Swordfish floatplane, to add to the existing 1:48 examples in the Tamiya lineup. This one seems to have outperformed everything else that the company has produced along these lines. The 250 mm (9.8 in) long British World War II naval aircraft is packed with detail that includes excellent crew figures, a centreline torpedo, hardpoints for underwing stores, and a pair of beaching trolleys for those shapely floats. There’s also a metal-etch fret set available for adding the rigging neatly, though the less than super-dextrous (aka DJ) may be best to leave that alone.

Tamiya Jagdtiger
Matching the Swordfish for scale is a German Jagdtiger heavy tank, with a length of 219 mm (8.6 in). The kit includes three figures, though these are torsos only - it’s likely that keen AFV fans will want to add some ‘whole body’ German troops for a realistic diorama look. It’s fair to say that AFVs can suffer a bit detailwise at 1:48 scale; nevertheless Tamiya has really gone to town on this one, with the lumps and bumps of the metal casting around the nose and gun mantle very finely reproduced. Tamiya has always made a point of crawling over real examples to make sure kits are accurate, and we’d say this has to be true of this little gem.

Heavy hitter
A note on the Jagdtiger itself, strictly speaking a tank destroyer. It was the heaviest AFV of World War II, tipping the scales at nearly 72 tonnes and carrying a crew of six (yes, six!). A late-war entrant, the Jagdtiger saw service on both the Western and Eastern fronts, from 1944 until the war's end. Despite the massive 128 mm (5 in) gun and 250 mm (9.8 in) armour, its story was as much about technical problems and lack of fuel as knocking out Allied tanks.

Both kits will reward the experienced modelmaker with museum-quality replicas - recommended.

The Tamiya Swordfish floatplane hasn’t arrived in the stores yet, but the exotic transparent version is well worth a look here.

And there’s a range of Tamiya AFV kits here. (Yes please, we'd like the lot).

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  Tamiya Swordfish.
2  Photo-etch fret for the plane.
3  Matching scale Jagdtiger tank.
3  View inside a real Jagdtiger's engine bay, this one on display at the UK's excellent Bovington Tank Museum.
Model pictures courtesy Tamiya; engine bay photograph by Hohum.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Mat Irvine reports
Mike Mackowski is a long-time space modeller and one of the main members of the online Yahoo ‘Space Modelers’ group. Over some years now, Mike has compiled seven hardcopy books especially for modellers on spacecraft topics, including titles for Gemini, Mercury and two volumes on Apollo, one for the Command Service Module and one for the Lunar Module. Now he has produced his first ‘Tech Report’, a series intended to be shorter and to be available only as a download, thus having the advantage that they can be in colour.

Skylab details
Tech Report #1.0 (TR1) is on Skylab, prompted by Mike’s particular interest in America’s first space station. Mike worked for a time at McDonnell Douglas in St Louis, where Skylab’s airlock module was built. Previously he had spent time as a student at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where the Skylab trainer was housed. He was also at Marshall when Skylab was actually launched in 1973.

What’s in the TR1 pdf
TR1 contains images of the actual Skylab (perhaps surprisingly, not that many were taken) and many drawings showing schematics of what was a very complex object, especially when it came to the Apollo Telescope Mount (ATM) that once in orbit, had to rotate 90 degrees from its stowed launch position.

Making a 1:96 scale Skylab
TR1’s end-section has details of Skylab models that have been available (not many) with reference to my own Creating Space book, and then a chapter on modelling a Skylab in 1:96 scale. In all, you get 22 pages as a pdf download, well worth the asking price of $6.00 USD.

Visit Yahoo Space Modelers group here.

For Tech Report #1.0 and previous books, check out Space in Miniature here.

See Creating Space here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  TR1 download cover.
2-3  Space in Miniature hardcopy covers.
4  Mike Mackowski (left) with Mat Irvine at the 2002 US IPMS Nationals held at Virginia Beach, US.
5  Logo for the Yahoo Space Modelers group.

Friday, September 24, 2010


SMN report
Italeri’s latest 1:35 scale nautical kit is the neatly produced Biber (‘Beaver’) one-man midget submarine from World War II. To this big military-model standard scale, even the Biber works out to a fair size in model form, in this case some 186 mm (7.3 in) long. It comes with two well-sculpted figures, as well as decals for three different subs, and a small etched-metal fret with super-detail parts.

Biber on view at the Imperial War Museum
There are quite a few Bibers on display in military museums across Europe - the one pictured above is on view in the UK’s Imperial War Museum, London. It’s a place well worth visiting, and if you build the Italeri Biber kit, seeing the real thing complete with its quota of lumps, bumps, scrapes, dings and dents, will allow you to add those extra details to take the Italeri sub from smooth-but-a-bit-dull ‘stock’ to knocked-about-and-real ‘superb’.

Biber armament
In service, the Biber could carry two 530 mm (21 in) torpedos or a pair of mines, but the tiny U-boat was introduced late in the war and never became a big threat to its primary target, Allied coastal shipping. It had a limited range of some 185 km (115 miles) and could manage a speed of less than 10 km/h (6.2 mph) underwater. Over 300 Bibers were built, but they met with little success in combat operations, and most were damaged or sunk by Allied forces.

One-man Biber operations
Spare a thought for the man at the Biber’s controls - military operations generally lasted for one or two days, and the pilot-operator had to stay on combat-alert throughout the mission. To help do this, he refuelled on a diet of caffeine-boosted chocolate, or downed tablets of D-IX, a cocaine-based drug brewed up by Nazi scientists to keep him wide-eyed and awake. Apparently, earlier tests with D-IX on full-pack carrying troops had resulted in non-stop marches for anything up to 90 km (55 miles) before total collapse.

SMN note - A couple of the pictures look somewhat squashed, which is a software issue... we'll see what can be done. Meantime, if you click on any pic, the usual enlargement will show it undistorted.

Visit IWM London here.

See the Biber here.

View other Italeri military kits here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  Italeri kit box.
2  Cleanly-pressed injection parts.
3  Italeri supplies details for three different subs.
4  Accurately printed decal sheet.
5  Biber mini-sub in the Imperial War Museum, London.
IWM picture courtesy Conny Liegl.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


SMN report
It’s one thing to enjoy a beautiful collector’s item dating back 70 years or more, but you have a tale of doom and gloom if it starts falling apart before your very eyes. And it can happen, thanks to the curse of ‘zinc pest’, a form of corrosion that can affect diecast toys manufactured anytime from the 1930s to early 1950s.

Zinc pest explained
Zinc corrosion is caused when the metal has been mixed with impure lead, and it may be accelerated by damp, and big changes in temperature. Once the pest hits, it’s unstoppable, and over time the affected item cracks, buckles, and eventually falls to pieces. There’s no cure as such, because the fault lies in the zinc-lead mixture itself. The only real answer is to steer clear of any model that shows the slightest sign of it.

Dinky Toys Empire boat
The 1930s-era Dinky Toy shown above, a Short Empire flying boat, displays the sad destruction wrought by the pest - as you can see, it’s nasty stuff! Luckily, modern manufacturing processes, which are far more precisely controlled than those in the past, have made the pest largely an accident of history, and later diecasts (a range of mid-1950s Dinky Toy aircraft are shown above) are largely free of the problem, leaving collectors to consider more mundane issues such as bent propellers or missing parts.

And not forgetting the nasty tin pest
For tinplate collectors, there’s a similar-sounding but different condition called ‘tin pest’. Here, low temperature is the villain, and it’s possible for a tin toy to end up dissolving into nothing more than a pile of grey powder. Hmmm... I think I’ll bring those rare and wonderful tin robots out of the garage and tuck them up in my nice warm loft!

Diecast Toy Aircraft book
You can learn about collectible diecast aircraft by leafing through the 352 pages of Diecast Toy Aircraft by Sue Richardson. The book was written in 1997 but is still regarded as the authority on the subject. It makes an utterly fascinating read, although you may have to track down a used copy, as fresh ones are presently in short supply.

See Diecast Toy Aircraft here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1-2  Dinky Toys Short Empire flying boat, with closeup.
3  Dinky aircraft featured in a 1954 brochure.
Pictures of the Short Empire boat, courtesy Andy Dingley.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


SMN report
There’s little doubt that in these difficult financial times, it pays to have some form of savings scheme beyond a bank account and a pension company. And for model fans that can be a pleasure, combining financial commonsense with a hobby, for unbuilt kits and diecasts represent pretty decent items to have in your portfolio.

Rare Dinky Toys
Of the two, diecasts show the most spectacular prices, with auctions regularly achieving astonishing levels - even in a recession, or perhaps especially in a recession, prices hold firm and there have been bidding wars between individuals and fund managers at some salerooms. Dinky Toys in particular are a high achiever where values are concerned, with models from small production runs being very highly prized. Examples include the Avro Vulcan jet V-bomber, of which only 500 or so were released, or virtually anything from the mid-1930s to 1943, when Dinky production stopped for three years until after the end of World War II.

Dinky prices at auction
There’s no real price peak in sight, as ‘they aren’t making them any more’, and in March 2008 a Type 22 Delivery Van fetched £19,975GBP ($31,080USD) which was a record for a single Dinky Toy, though boxed sets achieve much more. For many present-day collectors, the 1950s and 1960s are a happy hunting ground, for there are more Dinkys available in this period and generally in fair to good condition, too. The brochure cover we show above represents a nostalgic boyhood piece for many collectors, and is reckoned as the company’s golden age, before the onslaught of competition from Corgi Toys, a range that was launched with the catchy phrase: ‘The Ones with Windows’.

Dinky Toys - our take
However, collectible as Dinky Toys are, it’s still best to buy them because you like them. Prices can go down as well as up, so if you enjoy them just as items of miniature model art, then you get pleasure whatever the current value - but if prices are on the up, and your collection also boosts your savings, so much the better!

Have a look at a nice book on Dinky Toy collectibles here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  Dinky brochure from 1954.
2  Lineup of Dinkys from the same period.
3  Record breaking van in the markings of W.E. Boyce.

Sunday, September 19, 2010


David Jefferis reports
I was at a literary get-together at Blenheim Palace, near Oxford, UK, on Friday - and one of the few men in an audience of ‘ladies who lunch’. It was actually quite a treat, especially the joke-cracking platform speakers, a trio of high-powered TV comediennes who opened doors into a female world I barely knew existed... ‘size zero’, ‘control pants’ anyone?!

Battle of Blenheim
But Blenheim’s real story is a military one - the place was built from 1704-1724 to commemorate the Duke of Marlborough’s victory at the Battle of Blenheim in Bavaria, Germany (incidentally, they spell it ‘Blindheim’ over there). So it was a pleasure to find cases of beautifully executed military modelmaking after the chick-lit ladies had finished. There were dozens of miniatures to drool over, and even my companion Jules was impressed with the workmanship.

Wide-ranging models
Subjects ranged across the military spectrum, also including a family group of the Romanovs, the royal family ousted by the Russian revolution. It was all absolutely fascinating stuff, and something of a mini-history lesson too. As for Blenheim Palace, it’s a stunner, and is surrounded by rolling miles of landscaped gardens, lakes, trees and much more besides - a highly recommended visit for anyone in the area, as is the adjacent olde-worlde town of Woodstock.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  US 1st cavalry AFV with crew.
2  Royal Marine band in performance.
3  Polishing boots in a mini-diorama.
4  Detailed trench warfare display.
5  Russian revolutionaries.
6  Russian royal family.

Look for military models here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


SMN report
Today is the anniversary of the 1950 Battle of Incheon, a two-day United Nations amphibious assault that was a defining moment in the Korean War, and led to the liberation of Seoul, present-day capital of the Republic of Korea. UN forces were commanded by the famed General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, in an attack that was not the easiest to mount because by 1950, the US Marine Corps had been cut back to about 27,000 troops, less than 10 percent of its World War II strength.

Korean theme
And this year, the Northeast Military Modelers Association has made ‘Korea: The Forgotten War’ its theme for the two-day model show IPMS AMPSEast in Danbury, Connecticut, on September 24-25. The NMMA reckons the show will be the largest model show in that part of the US, and the event will include 80 vendor tables, eight seminars, and the ‘famous monster raffle’ - which sounds great!

Military Museum to visit
There’s also the excellent Military Museum of Southern New England nearby, so making a weekend of it with a day at the show, followed by the trip to the Military Museum sounds a good idea.
Visit the NMMA here.

Visit the Military Museum of Southern New England here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  An F-4U Corsair flies over the Incheon fleet.
2  Colourful NMMA shield.
3-5 Showstopper models created by NMMS members.

Monday, September 13, 2010



SMN report
The Chevrolet Corvette Stingray - we’re not supposed to use ‘Chevy’ according to some recent (and misguided) PR rules, we’re told - has been in production since 1952 (yes, 1952!) and it’s been an all-American performance-car love affair ever since. After six design generations in various body styles, the car is still going strong, and as you can see from the video above there’s no shortage of ideas for many more years to come. Which is great, as it’s one of this writer’s all-time fave road rippers.

This week’s Amazon offer
So it’s ‘yes please’ to this week’s Amazon offer of a 40 percent discount on the Scalextric 1:32 scale race version of driver Steve MacDonald’s 2008 car. To be honest, the ’Vette is not the ultimate best from Scalextric, but for scale model fans willing to put in some effort, it’s definitely a masterwork in waiting, as the basics are pretty much there, with the general shape being captured quite decently.

Adding detail to the Corvette
However, the driver looks somewhat vacant, and details like his straps need some TLC to look convincing, as does the cabin itself. As for the exterior, it’s not too bad at all - you’ll want to carefully hollow out the sidepipe exits though, as well as re-scribe the panel lines to give them some bite and incisiveness. Dulling off the paintwork and muddying the wheel arches with an airbrush will also add authenticity.

And after all that lot, blimey, it goes around a track as well! Not bad at all...

Access Amazon’s 40 percent offer here.

Visit Scalextric here.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


SMN report
Here’s a mouthwatering taste of things to come for science-fiction enthusiasts - Douglas Trumbull, the special-effects supervisor for the 1968 movie 2001: A Space Odyssey is working on a ‘making of’ docu-movie 2001: Beyond the Infinite, which will include heaps of never-seen-before material, plus dozens of star interviews. His interesting video seems to have been pulled from the internet, perhaps for copyright reasons, but Trumbull's own site is packed with interesting stuff that anyone with an interest in the genre should have a look at. The address is shown below.

Orion spacecraft kits
In the model world, the movie has been served less well, especially by the mainstream kit manufacturers. About the only injection kits to be freely available have been of the elegant Orion passenger shuttle, with models from both Airfix and Aurora. Neither kit is perfect, but each will assemble into a reasonably handsome spacecraft model.

Orion Cargoship from Stargazer Models
Still, there are people with fresh ideas and angles out there, including Ian Walsh of Stargazer Models, who came up a while ago with a very nifty concept, the Orion Cargoship, complete with wide-opening Space Shuttle-style bay doors. Inside, there’s the orbital satellite as seen in the movie, plus a single one-man space pod. The included decals depict a military craft sporting US Air Force markings - the movie’s Orion was a civil spaceliner in Pan American livery.

Not for beginners
This is a resin kit and not suitable for beginners, but for anyone with a little skill and patience, there’s a fine model waiting to be built. It’s to 1:144 scale, with an overall length of some 445 mm (17.5 in) plus the twin tail antennas.

Visit Stargazer Models here.

SMN reports on other 2001 stuff are here and here.

The excellent Starship Modeler website has a rundown on available kits here.

Visit Douglas Trumbull here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  Poster, painted by famed US artist Robert McCall - who sadly died in February this year - shows an Orion leaving the vast space station that also features in the movie.
2-4 Views of the Stargazer Models Orion Cargoship.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Mat Irvine reports
The Munster Koach is one of the most famous ‘Star Cars’ ever built, and was the main mode of transport for Herman Munster, the Frankenstein-lookalike husband in the 1960s family sitcom, The Munsters. The real-life Koach used in the series was built by George Barris, self-styled ‘King of the Kustomizers’ (his spelling), from three Ford Model T-bucket bodies. It sits on a custom chassis, with hand-formed brass radiator and scrollwork, and stretches 5.5 m (18 ft) in length. Power comes from a 289 cu in Ford Cobra engine, bored out to 425 cu in, with a four-speed stick shift. All in all, the Munster Koach was certainly large enough to transport the five members of the Munster family in style. It still exists too - you can see it at the UK’s Cars of the Stars Museum.

AMT Koach kit
AMT was quick to produce a 1:25 kit of the Koach, which first appeared in 1964 and although one of the simpler kits compared to many of the company’s offerings, it still looked the part when built. In addition to the Koach, there was also Grandpa Munster’s Drag-U-La. Built around a real coffin purchased from a Hollywood funeral parlour, it was powered by a Ford Mustang engine. The car actually worked as a dragster, and could turn in a reasonable elapsed time (ET) down the quarter-mile drag strip. AMT’s kit Drag-U-La kit was issued later in 1964, and had the Surf Slab surfboard as a load, otherwise the kit’s parts-count may have seemed a bit ‘thin’.

The Koach reissued
The Koach has been reissued a few times over the years, Drag-U-La less so. Both appeared as the Graveyard Ghoul Duo, (1970) with no reference to the Munsters at all, then later as a Blueprinter Special (1991) in a plain white box. In more recent years (1999) the Koach had a reissue with a box style closely matching the original.

The latest Koach and Drag-U-La from Round 2
Now we have a brand new reissue of both 1:25 scale kits in one box - or rather, in a tin - as it is one of the new ‘Collector’s Tin’ series, with full-colour artwork and a booklet that features images from the original builds, many likely never seen before. There are also stand-up signs for the nameplates and family. All this neat presentation was co-ordinated and assembled by John Greczula of Xenolab Design for Round 2, the new AMT license holder.

The kit was obtained from Al’s Hobby Shop in Elmhurst, Illinois. Thanks to Jeff Clark.

Visit Al’s Hobby Shop here.

Visit Round 2 here.

Visit the Cars of the Stars Museum here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  The new AMT Collector’s Tin contains both the Munster Koach and Drag-U-La kits.
2  What you get in the new issue: two kits, both moulded in white, with chrome and clear parts; a booklet, and even ‘stand ups’ for display.
3  For the record, the previous issues of the Koach - (from top left), 1964, 1970, 1991 and 1999 issues.
4  The parts layout for the Blueprinter kits. They are moulded in approximate colours for the plastic - black for the Koach, ‘gold’ for Drag-U-La.
5  The 1964 kits as built. The figures come from Jimmy Flintstone and are, strictly speaking, ‘just’ figures of the Frankenstein Monster and Dracula - you make any connection to the TV series!

Friday, September 3, 2010


SMN report
It’s busy times at Revell at the moment, and two recent releases are 2009-season V8-engined Audi A4 track cars, representing the ones driven by Tom Kristensen (red markings) and Championship winner Timo Scheider (blue). These are neatly produced kits, each measuring 204 mm (8 in) long when assembled, with 126 components to put together.

Inside the box
Revell’s kit engineers have packed in plenty of detail, from the rear spoiler to a complete engine, with access to it when finished via a removable cover panel. Chrome parts are included, though these need to be a little less shiny to look the part in a racer - left as supplied, they’d look better on a street-smart pimpmobile. Still, that’s easy enough to achieve with one light coat of satin spray. The cabin is neatly done, and is fitted with the race-essential roll bar, plus you get very neatly printed decals for two versions, and free-spinning wheels. To sum up, a pair of kits that are well worth adding to any race car fan’s collection. 
The Audi heritage
Today, Audi is synonymous with high-quality autos, from topline executive models like the A8, to highly desirable tyre-rippers like the RS and R8. The name itself was coined back in 1910, when August Horch had to think up a name for a new car company, as he’d been forced out of his own-name brand, Horch, in a boardroom battle the year before. His scholarly son had a bright idea - Horch means ‘hark’ or ‘hear’ in German, so why not call the new company the same thing in Latin, ‘Audi’? It’s the Latin root that gives us ‘audio’, but it also links to ‘proud’, ‘bold’ and ‘daring’, so quite a neat brand name altogether!

Auto Union
In the 1930s, Audi merged with Horch, DKW and Wanderer to form the Auto Union brand, which is when the four-ring logo first appeared. Auto Union’s ‘Silver Arrows’ cars became race winners and famed for their performance; the cars appeared on everything from posters to chocolate bars (see pic above). Today Audi is the ‘quality’ brand of VAG, the Volkswagen Group.

You can buy Revell racer kits, including the Audi A4 here.

Other racers are available here.

Various Auto Union cars are available as diecasts here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  Revell A4 race cars, 2009 season.
2  Auto Union Type C, 1930s.
3  A one-off Type C with special streamlined body.
4  Yum yum! A Rosemeyer chocolate bar with a Type C to tempt German racing fans.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Mat Irvine reports
Recently I looked at the Aoshima 1:32 scale Hayabusa spaceprobe kit, but had to add the rider that as soon as it was issued, it appeared to have been withdrawn. This was a great shame for, as I said then, conventional injection kits of satellites and spaceprobes - as against rockets and manned spaceflight - were extremely few and far between.

Hayabusa in the shops
But it’s now it's back, as reported by Hobby Link Japan, the company that had kindly supplied the sample kit. So for those of you who missed it first time around, you now have a second chance to experience this detailed kit, from the neatly-engraved solar panels and sensors to the thruster engines and antenna dish.

Interesting stand
The asteroid-shaped stand is a bonus too, with the tiny Minerva sub-satellite shown landed on the surface, though this was an event which did not succeed on the mission itself. The stand's shape echoes that of Hayabusa’s target, asteroid Itokawa, a chunk of space rock some 535 m (1755 ft) long.

I built the kit  ‘straight out of the box’, and the pictures show it with just paint, and I covered the bus (the main body of the craft) in gold foil to represent the protective thermal blankets/micro-meteorite coverings. The iridescent look of the panels was achieved by spraying translucent House of Kolor Tru-blue pearl over a bottom coat of silver. It’s a type of paint really intended for painting model cars, but works well for this purpose. The probe's high-gain antenna looks good overall, although the limits of injection moulding mean the real appearance, which is actually a mesh, can only be approximated in this scale.

You can buy Hayabusa from Hobby Link Japan, who supplied the kit used in my build. The HLJ site is here where you can also see a video that shows the probe's meteoric re-entry into the earth's atmosphere.

Other space models, both fact and fiction, are available here.

The pictures show, top to bottom:
1  General view of the Aoshima Hayabusa assembled kit.
2  Solar panels are neatly engraved.
3  High-gain antenna is positioned atop the spacecraft bus section.
4  Peanut-shaped stand with nameplate.
5  Itokawa for real, snapped by Hayabusa on close approach. Picture courtesy the Japanese Space Agency JAXA.