German Main Battle Tank Leopard 1A3/A4
What’s In The Box
- 13 sprues of green plastic parts
- 6 sprues of brown plastic parts for the link by link tracks
- 1 sprue of clear plastic parts
- 1 x main upper hull part
- 1 x main lower hull part
- 1 x turret shell
- 1 sprue of poly plastic wheel caps
- 2 x rubber track units
- 2 x PE frets
- 17 page instruction booklet plus separate 4 page color and marking guide
- Length of string for two tow cables
The modeler should first start the build process by carefully reading the instructions in order to familiarize themselves with the four different options available in this kit. Each color and marking option has appropriate alternative parts including different drive sprockets, rear upper hull engine deck options, and main gun sighting options. So check these options out, and mark your instructions accordingly so as to avoid any possibility of a mix up during construction.
Construction starts with the lower hull assemblies (Section 1 through 4), including the torsion bar suspension system, which allows one to have the road wheels positioned at different heights for a vehicle going over rough terrain. The road wheels on the Meng kit have some “issues” if one is looking for complete accuracy. Firstly, there is spurious detail on the back side of the inner road wheels. There should be bolt detail back there, while Meng gives you something similar to a large brake drum, but a brake drum with zero detail. The brake drum look is completely wrong. But it is the back of the inner road wheel, so not overly serious in my opinion.
The other issues are a little more serious, as they occur on the front face of the outer road wheels. Firstly, the main road wheel hub is too large. Secondly there is a shape issue with the inner rim of the wheel. The rim is at too abrupt an angle, rather than tapering at a more gentle angle towards the wheel retaining nuts. Check out a good photo of a Leopard road wheel and you will see what I mean. For the fanatical Leopard fan this might be upsetting, but for me it wasn’t an issue, as I plan to toss on a decent amount of built up mud in this area a little later. Mud covers a multitude of sins!!
For the tracks, Meng provides the modeler with the option of very nice injection molded hard plastic link by link tracks, or for those wanting an easier option they provide the traditional “rubber band” style of tracks. The former are a little more detailed than the latter, but the rubber band option I am sure will be acceptable for most modelers as the detail is perfectly adequate. One thing to note when assembling the link by link tracks: since the Leopard 1A3/4 has hull “side skirts” that cover the upper section of the tracks, you can get away without assembling and installing the top run of tracks (Section 7).
Assembling the upper hull parts, Section 8 through 11, is fairly straight forward. I attached all the parts to the main hull part at this time with the following exceptions. I left the driver mirrors off, as they are very finely molded and thus fragile, and I could see them being knocked off as I handled the model in later construction steps, and being eaten by the carpet monster. You should also leave off the clear headlight lenses, T3, until the model has been completely painted. Paint the headlight inner hollow section silver, and then attach the lenses with canopy cement later.
Parts B1 and E2, the hull side engine exhaust grills, is another weak feature of the kit. They should really have been molded in two pieces I believe. They are very clunky, bordering on toy like, with almost no depth to the slots. I am sure the aftermarket PE sets will address this issue, or you could attempt to grind them down from the underside, and open them up a bit together with a little scratch building? I left them as is, and added some heavy dark wash to give them some appearance of depth.
The main gun assembly is very nice, Section 14, and is a three part affair: two part barrel split lengthwise, with a nice end cap with rifling. There a number of alternate parts for the turret, depending on which color and marking choice you make, so again, study the instructions carefully and mark them accordingly. Regarding the smoke discharge “candles”, parts J11 and J12 in Section 18. I would advise gluing the mounting racks, parts H3 and H5, to the main turret in Section 20. Once the glue has dried thoroughly, I would then advise the modeler to position the smoke dischargers one at a time, carefully test fitting the guards, parts H7 and H9 which appear in Sections 21 and 22. This way you can more easily get the smoke dischargers at the correct angles, both relative to each other, and in relation to the guards themselves.
Once everything was assembled, the parts were given a coat of Mr Surfacer 1200 to provide a uniform surface for the paint over the plastic and PE parts. Checking the separate color and marking guide shows the kit comes with decals for four vehicles. Option A: a mid 1980’s three color scheme for a West German Army Leopard 1 A3, 304th Panzer Battalion. Option B is an overall green West German Army Leopard 1 A3, again from the 1980s, the 301st Panzer Battalion. Option C: West German Army Leopard 1 A4, overall green, 1980s, 293rd Panzer Battalion. Option 4: a four color scheme for a Hellenic Army (Greece) Leopard 1 A4, unit unnamed. Decals are by Cartograf, so you know they will be in register, with good color saturation, and will go down well with a little decal setting solution. Colors unfortunately are only provided for the acrylic Vallejo paint line, which I don’t use, and I am sure aren’t nearly as popular as the Tamiya, Gunze Mr. Color or Model Master ranges in many countries.
I chose Option C, because I didn’t want the hassle of another multi tone hard edge camo masking job following my recently completed Meng Models FT-17! I utilize Tamiya paints for almost all my models, so went with a suitable Dark Green, lightened with XF-60 Desert Yellow for the panel fading. Frankly with armor, which drives through dirt and mud, “close enough” usually is as far as I am concerned. With the addition of filters, washes, and other weathering, the original hue always changes, so sue me if I got it “wrong”!! Decals went on over a coat of Tamiya XF-20 clear gloss, then, when dry, another sealer coat of clear gloss was applied.
The pioneer tools actually were painted with Vallejo paints, their New Wood color, and then a smear of burnt sienna oil paint dragged over the wood parts, and then mostly rubbed off to darken it up a bit. Looks good to me! Finally, a coat of Gunze’s Mr Color Flat Clear was airbrushed on to dull everything down. Following this, suitable oil paint pin washes were applied to pick out the rivet etc detail. Lastly, install the driver mirrors!
So what’s the verdict on this kit? For me, it was a pretty nice kit, which assembled with great ease, though with a couple of less than ideal areas of detail: road wheel detail/accuracy, and the hull side engine exhaust grills. Neither is a deal breaker for me, and you can improve the grills with a little grinding and scratch building, or get one of the inevitable aftermarket PE set that are bound to come out for the kit. The wheel issue can be ignored, or again, aftermarket parts are already out there for replacements for previous Leopard 1 kits.
Meng’s Leopard 1 is clearly far superior to the ancient Tamiya kit and many aspects of it are better than the decades’ old Italeri kit, especially the crisp engineering and fit of the parts, despite the two issues mentioned above. So a tad disappointing after the wonderful FT-17, and Char 2C for me, but still warmly recommended for anyone wanting a Leopard 1A3/4 in their collection! As you can see from my photos, a very nice model can be produced with this kit. My sincere thanks to Meng Models for providing IPMS USA with the review sample.