Fool Me Once

Last year I wrote a post about the expensive kit myth where I compared prices of kits from over 30 years ago.  The summary was that the comparison is very difficult because the kits from today are entirely different products from years ago.  As a bit of an update, I came across a very interesting Atlantis Models blog entry that is well worth a read.  It discusses the purchase of Aurora molds back in the day:

…. By 1976, Monogram Models’ two largest customers were K-Mart and Toys-R-Us. These two firms accounted for more than 50% of the annual kit business for a number of years. The annual volume derived from these two customers was driven by allotted shelf space for each hobby kit supplier and the rate of sale ( or “turns”) on a monthly basis. Holding or slightly increasing shelf space by inserting new product while closing out dated product and increasing the rate of sale per SKU (stock keeping unit) were the metrics that were crucial to these two customers. The main buyers expected the very “best product” on their shelves.

My takeaway:  If inventory turnover and rates of sale are key considerations, then you had better not have product that takes months to complete.  Models need to be cheap and easy to build to get customers coming back regularly.  Also, you need to develop new kits regularly because customers can only build so many Spitfires and Mustangs.  Also, things like detail, engineering and perfect fit were probably not prime considerations.

The Bias Begins

This is the era (1980s) where I got my start.  Most of my models were bought at department stores and toy stores.  I remember building kits that left me disappointed in that I could never achieve what the thing was supposed to look like; at least according to the pictures on the box.  They were crude; had gaps; and decals that either fell apart or never stuck.  These kits were MPC, Hobbycraft, Monogram, Lindberg, Revell, Matchbox and my forever unfavourite: Airfix.

Oh God… did I just write that about one of the most beloved and (at times) the most irrationally defended model brands of all time?  Now before I get cancelled, let me explain.  It isn’t that I wish Airfix any particular harm.  I have seen the documentaries and I am pretty sure there are passionate people behind these products.  However, passionate or not, they are just not for me.

The new ownership, the “red box” and the cool new CGI box art have not convinced me.  I remain skeptical of their quality.  This stems from past experience.  Maybe, like those other mass market-oriented kits back in the day, these kits were not meant to be anything more than a few hours of solace for my parents while I mashed them together.  Some model builders look back at those simpler times with happiness and warm memories of Airfix.  I remember disappointment, fuselages that would never line up, intakes with steps and landing gear that was wonky on the best of days.

Now there is Model Buddy Ian who has no fear slaying dragons.  He’s had kits where he had to scratch build an entire replacement chassis or spend hours cleaning up endless mis-molded components.  But MBI will never buy an Academy kit.  Reason?  He built a few 20 years ago and the build experience was awful.  It will always be a “fool me once” sort of thing for MBI and Academy.

But I tell you: MBI is dead wrong!  Oh, sure in the past there have been some real dogs and some releases of concerning model design provenance.  Since then Academy has come such a long way and their latest stuff is top notch.  Just look at this K2 I built back in 2018.  What a perfect build – not a single issue with it.  It fell together and it is one of my few tanks that I am proud to call my own:

Academy K2: I’m no armor modeler but that went together like butter.

Sure, Academy still re-releases decades old models in updated boxes.  Sure,they sell a -4B Corsair that has some weird shape issues.  However, they have also released some excellent kits in the form of their latest K2 tank, and their F-4s, B-1Bs, AH-1Zs and the like.  They even have re-boxed Accurate Miniatures marvels as well.  Yup, Academy is far better than it was back in the day and because of his unbending bias, MBI is really losing out on some excellent models.

Ok, I know what you are thinking:  Its the same thing with Airfix!  They have a new tool Sea Fury!  A huge Hellcat too!  There is a world beating new-mold Vulcan due any minute.  They too have come such a long way:

Bias can lead to hilarity

It doesn’t take long on the internet to discover I’m not the only one with bias.  When looked at objectively, biases can often lead to hilarious paradoxes:

  • How often have we seen rants that a given HobbyBoss or Trumpeter kit as a fatal flaw rendering it ‘unbuildable’ when those very same ranters are quick to defend identical flaws on their preferred brand kits?  Things like “Simple fix!” or “basic modeling skills required” (and variations thereof) fly about during those discussions.
  • How about brand loyalty despite obvious shortcomings?  Tamiya does make the best kits but their decals?  Well, these have issues.  Same with Hasegawa.  MBI swears by Dragon kits despite the instructions being an exercise in frustration.
  • When its our brand, its not a problem: its a challenge!  Yes, even the best kit makers out there can’t make a perfect kit.  When we run into one of those problems, we stick to it and apply our considerable modeling skills.  Run into a similar problem with a ‘lesser’ brand kit and best case it would be bias confirmation and validation that the entire kit lineup is crap.  Worst case is the model is chucked without any benefit of the doubt.

Final Thoughts

The mass market was one key aspect to the model kit market back in the 70s and 80s – maybe even earlier.  But there were also hobby shops catering to those interested in bigger and better models.  My guess is this is why Monogram, Hobby Craft and some other ‘mass market’ makers also developed ‘premium kits’ with some photo etch and/or resin bits thrown in the box. Maybe this covered both the casual and serious builders and these advanced kits were probably not seen in Kmart?  I am not sure.

So,what, if anything, do we do about bias?  I fully stand by the adage that life is too short for crappy kits.  I get it.  One only has so much time on this beautiful blue planet.  If someone had a negative experience while trying to enjoy this hobby, it makes sense to move on and avoid it in the future.

But our age old bias might prevent us from having a good build experience too.  I acknowledge my Airfix bias is silly considering this new age of model kits.  Maybe instead of ignoring boxes with that logo, I should give them another chance.

How about you?  Do you have a manufacturer that you steer clear of no matter what?  Why is that? As usual, I’d like to know your thoughts in the comments.

14 thoughts on “Fool Me Once

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  1. I don’t avoid brands necessarily, but I usually avoid old kits as my experience with them often meant less detail, more flash and more little issues to overcome when all I want to do is put together and paint a model without having to fight its slipshod construction or design.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just love building. Yeah, the kits were crap that I used to pick up from the newsagent in the 80s, but I didn’t care then and I don’t care now.

    The top quality kits that almost build themselves are a pleasure and the rough old ugly kits are an exciting challenge.

    At the end of the day, I’m grateful that anyone’s making any kits at all.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Vintage kits are a crap-shoot in my opinion, there are some gems and there are also some lemons. Some of my favourite kits from my youth are MPC’s reboxed Airfix kits, Monogram and the old Testors/Hawk kits and while they were simple, some built up nicely considering their lack of detail…others…not so much! I’ve dabbled in Tamiya (mostly armor with a couple of planes thrown in for good measure) and found them to be a joy to build, even the kit decals worked for me!
    The new Airfix kits are impressive to me, although I haven’t actual built one yet, my son has a couple started and they seem to be leaps and bounds over their ancient stuff. For a pure stress-free quick build, it’s still hard to beat their old Mk Vb Spitfire or Typhoon Ib, which reminds me…I have a couple of those Spits in the stash!

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  4. I don’t have a manufacturer I shy away from, although Dragon’s 1/32 North American P-51D Mustang was a huge disappointment for me. What promised to be a new mold successor to the very old 1/32 Hasegawa Mustang, was worse in some aspects. But Dragon’s 1/32 Messerschmitt Bf 109E-4 is considered the best in its scale. Like you, I have been reluctant to purchase Airfix kits because of build issues and trench like recessed panel lines, but based on on-line reviews, I picked up their new mold 1/48 P-51D Mustang. Based what I have seen with this kit and on-line reviews, I will most likely acquire their 1/48 P-40B kit.

    I had a habit of purchasing the most recent releases. Now with the benefit of the internet and on- line reviews, I am more patient in reading reviews before purchasing. So many kits to purchase; so little time to build.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I tend to avoid Classic Airframes kits, for no other reason than it reduces my blood pressure and profanity by doing so. I lack the skill and patience to bring them to a level that is on par with why I can with other manufacturers.

    Call me a slacker, but I want the detail without the effort.

    But hey, it is MY hobby after all, so I’ll do what I want. 😄

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I whole heartily agree with all, your points. However in one paragraph you say you’ll never build Airfix but then in the very next paragraph you say MBI should start building academy for the very reason you won’t build Airfix. I agree all manufacturers have those kits that are cringe worthy. Some have more then others. Btw I am not a Airfix fanboy. If anything I’m a Eduard fanboy.


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  7. For me it seems sometimes that my model success or enjoyment seems to be almost inversely proportional to the quality of the kit. I need my glue bombs or my slammers. This hobby is more about self care … I am a Bronze modeler at best.
    However I understand brand loyalty, even if I don’t practice it.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Since I model to themes – which are currently airliners and French aviation – the quality of the kit is secondary to the subject. One model might be a current issue Zvezda kit and the next might be a 1980s vacformed kit or one of the original issue Airfix ‘Skyking’ kits. There are two parts to the modelling process, the build and the finishing. The finishing is the same for all kits but the amount of work that goes into the build varies from kit to kit and that helps to give variety and challenge to my modelling. I feel a little sorry for those modellers who don’t have the techniques to cope with the less-than-perfect kit because that limits the range of subjects they can make.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great article.
    I believe that the ‘bad’ kits most of us cut our teeth on are what helped us become the modelers we are today. As much as I enjoy the much newer, perfectly engineered, no- putty- required, shake and bake Tamigawa kits, there’s still great satisfaction for me in persevering with an older kit (I’m talking pre 2000), adding some scratchbuilt or aftermarket detail, and getting a great result at the end.
    Having said that, would I ever purchase an old Airfix or Matchbox kit from the 70’s if there was a modern Eduard or similar kit of the same subject?…No way.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Great post! I steer clear from kitty hawk because of the illogical way their kits comes together. An excellent example is the fuselage of their 48th scale Super Etendard. It’s broken down into 3 different halves (forward, main and tail fuselage halves) for whatever reason. I too have a beef with where they place the seams. Prime example is their 48th F-35 tail planes. Each tail plane comes in two halves but the seam where they come together is absolutely ridiculous. It’s good that we have so many different companies to choose from.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I will always have a warm spot in my heart for Airfix because those were the first kits I ever built when I was a kid in Australia in the 1970s. Then we moved to the USA and I built a lot of Monogram and Revell kits I bought from the local K-Mart. (And today if I go to the local Michael’s… lo and behold they have nothing but Monogram and Revell.) I just bought some Airfix 1/72 kits as a way to get back into the hobby. These are the “new tool” versions and I hope they’ll be better than the ones from the 1970s.

    I am an old guy now, and I have to say the idea of spending $40 to $70 on a 1/72 kit seems crazy to me. (I certainly want to get better at painting techniques before I drop $100 or more on a kit.) I have also noticed that it’s easily possible to spend more than the cost of the kit itself on aftermarket PE and resin parts, which weren’t a thing back in my day. Don’t want to spend money on that stuff. Maybe I’ll get there eventually, but I’m not there yet. Another thing that’s different about the hobby for me now is painting. Back in the 1970s, my approach was brush on one coat of Humbrol enamel, done. I never had an airbrush. But I just bought one. And I am learning about primer, acrylic paints, base coats, “blending” coats, lots of different special weathering effects, gloss coats, matte coats, etc. Chipping, preshading, postshading, and panel lines weren’t a thing in the 1970s, or at least I never saw a finished model that had that. Without the internet it was hard to tell what “everyone else” did. Sometimes you’d see a nice finished model on display in a store, but that was it. I think I’ve already spent several hundred bucks on my airbrush, compressor, and paints before I’ve even started my low-end Airfix kits.

    Back in my childhood, I would say I liked Airfix first, then Monogram, then Revell, but I didn’t have much experience with other manufacturers. I definitely looked down on Italieri, Aurora, Matchbox, and Testors. There are lots of new manufacturers now that I’m looking forward to trying!


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