A Sleeper Build?
Ever pick up a model kit on a whim? It was not on your radar and you may not have known about it. Perhaps you saw it cheap at a show, got it from a buddy or it was on heavy discount at the hobby shop or online. Not expecting much from the kit you find this kit is just falling together. You can’t wait to head back to the bench to build and paint it. Ultimately it becomes one of your favorite and most memorable builds?
That is a sleeper build. Like the concept of the “sleeper car”; A kit with few expectations that ended up being a fantastic build experience. My sleeper build is, without a doubt, my build of Tamiya’s Gekko.
I picked up this kit because my local hobby shop was offering it at a very deep discount. The distributor was clearing these out and the shop got a stack of them with a red sticker price around $16. I was already sold on the idea of a Tamiya 1/48 Japanese fighter for less than $20. So it did not matter that I knew nothing about this kit.
Tamiya’s J1N1 Gekko or “Irving” if you prefer seems to be one of those Tamiya kits that got released with little to no fanfare, promotion or attention. It was initially released in 2001 and this release was quickly followed by two other variants. I say no fanfare because I have rarely seen one built. When it comes to Japanese twins, I have seen a sea of Nicks and Dinahs. I have also seen many a built Betty. But the Gekko is a rare one indeed; Even the Scalemates page is relatively light on information about this kit.
When I opened the box I saw the standard Tamiya plastic. Actually, it looked pretty good. I quickly found Gregg Cooper’s three part build on Hyperscale with excellent build tips and wonderful pictures. More importantly, he was very happy with his kit.
It did not stay on my shelf very long. Three of my model building friends also took advantage of this good deal and they decided to initiate a group build with the goal to display our completed Gekkos at an upcoming show some 9 months in the future.
When I started to build I found this kit to be one of Tamiya’s better engineered kits. Actually, it was incredibly well engineered and molded. There was plenty of detail without millions of pieces. The painting process was very enjoyable in the cockpit. There was a nice contrast of Aotake (metallic blue) with some silver and green bits that really made the cockpit pop. I was quickly sealing up the fuselage and installing the wings without any fuss, fiddling or filler. Since I was planning on competing the model, I made sure every part of this build was level and aligned. Even with that extra effort, it hardly added any time to this build – it literally fell together as it should.
I built this kit so quickly that my building got ahead of my picture taking. So I only have pictures of the finished model:
This was not an out of box build because I wired up the engines and brake lines. I thinned out the exhaust shrouds as well as the tops of the cowls where the exhaust pipes meet the cowls. There is a curious antenna attaching point on the horizontal stabilizer that anchors an antenna wire stretching out to one of the wing tips. I scratched built the missing attaching point on the wing and I added seat belts to the cockpit.
Lastly I painted almost everything except the numbers and a couple stencils on the fuselage. The green is a faded Tamiya XF-70 while the reds and yellows were Tamiya acrylics that were mixed to match the markings on the decal sheet.
It has one of the better kit cockpits out there, the clear bits are crystal clear and easy to mask. As well, the engineering and fit of this kit are right up there with the best Tamiya kits of today. I have no idea why the Gekko did not get any love some 20 years ago. That is definitely an oversight and model builders who have not discovered the this are missing out on a real gem. I highly recommend grabbing one.
Like I wrote above, this was a sleeper build for me. I went in without any expectations but it turned out to be a real joy to build and finish. Do you have any similar sleeper builds stories? Which kits were they? Why they were unassuming? What made them so memorable. Let me know in the comments.