In my “Are we Builders or Finishers” article I discussed a lot of things about model kits of today vs. those of the past. For the most part, today’s kits are well engineered and will provide for a trouble free build with little to correct. We can gleefully put these kits together quickly and end up with bullet proof canvases for all of our painting and finishing desires.
However, a steady diet of moose tracks ice cream and challenge free building can sometimes lead to bloating, boredom and emptiness. As well, despite the fact we are living in the diamond encrusted platinum age of scale models, manufacturers have not released new or updated kits of every model we might want. Sometimes we just want to mix things up with a ‘value’ priced kit that we’ve never seen before.
That is where old school kits come in.
There are risks as old school kits can have serious engineering issues requiring all sorts of fillers and panel line replacement strategies. If they do fit adequately, there can still be lots of annoying items to fix like flash, mis-molded parts, warped parts, sink marks and ludicrous punchout marks. These are not necessarily due to the fact the molds are old or worn. Some kits were just not well engineered to begin with. Now, I have seen some true upper tier model making from those who slay these dragons. And to those who enjoy slaying them, I salute them and wish them all the best. Slog building is not my thing.
However, not all old school kits are dogs or involve structural re-engineering. I think there are some worth building and I think there are some that might surprise in terms of buildability and detail. I just wish there was a way to know what old school kits are good. Its somewhat hard to ask for recommendations from other modelers. What I might think is a “good” kit might be different than many others, especially the dragon slayers. That said, I think expecting the engineering and detail of a 2020 kit is too much to ask. But I also think the following criteria may be a good start. For an old school kit to be “good” it has to:
- be decently well engineered so there is little build frustration. In other words, if you need evergreen, a tube of putty and a rasp, this is a no-go;
- be sufficiently detailed and accurate. If it meets or exceeds its peers at the time of its release, then good. So, if it is a Starfix kit….then it’s a no-go; and
- provide an over all good build experience with a reasonably good result.
Of course these are all subjective. But, the point is about actually building kits and enjoying the process.
A Hasegawa Ki-27 Nate from the dark days
To wrap up the fun that was 2020, my area was subjected to additional lockdowns and stern warnings about travel. So we were stuck at home even more than we would otherwise be. I proposed having a “Screw Covid Blitz Build” over the holidays and decided to go old school with my entry:
I thought I was taking a risk with this model. Scalemates pegs this as a mid-1970s kit. Of all the decades I’ve been fortunate enough to live through, the 70s was by far the ugliest. I don’t remember a lot aside from the bowl cuts and comically large lapels. I seem to recall horrific kitchen wallpaper, seeing a lot of mothers smoking at the park and our family having the world’s largest banana yellow ‘coupe’ (that probably had no seat belts). I’m sure the scale model scene was just a bleak:
I am told the Ki-27 molds originated from a model company known as “Mania” but was later carried on by Hasegawa. I picked up this pre-fondled kit at a hobby shop and it came with loose sprues and a True Details resin cockpit. I did not know much about this old model when I bought it but upon opening the box I was pleasantly surprised. Sure the simple parts breakdown fits the era but the exterior detail rivals many 2020 releases:
The resin set was tossed as nothing would fit even after I cut down the massive casting blocks. Personally I have not had much luck with Squadron resin sets, especially the yellow ones. I kept the seat though. It looked very nice, it fit the seat frame and had seat belts.
Construction & Some Old School Blues
Since this was a blitz build I couldn’t spend too much time on any particular step. Things had to be constructed quickly and painted simply. The engine went together well but not all the push rods lined up correctly on the cylinders. I corrected that as much as I could knowing they would be impossible to see once inside the cowl.
Speaking of which, the instructions call for the engine to be mounted to a firewall. That would be a normal procedure except there was no firewall on the sprues, nor was that part numbered in the instructions. Despite my best intentions, out came the evergreen sheet and my olfa cutter.
I went with a vacuform canopy because the kit canopy is very thick and in one piece. I am actually getting better removing vac canopies from the plastic sheet. After a few attempts I’ve determined the key challenge is to “thin” the bottoms of the canopy pieces from the inside so they blend better with the fuselage when they are installed. Prepping the canopy was a few evenings of work while I was getting the model ready for paint.
Things were going along rather well until I hit a rather big snag. When I dryfitted the wings to the fuselage I was presented with a major decision:
- I could clamp the wing section in a way to eliminate all gaps and preserve the amazing rivet detail but sacrifice level wings; or
- I could level the wings and spend a ton of time blending the tops of the wings with the fuselage while obliterating a ton of detail in the process.
Considering it was a blitz build and the fact it would be near impossible for me to re-rivet the wings to the same level as the original kit, I went with option 1. As you can see above, once I lined up the trailing edges of the wings with the fuselage, I placed the outer wings on some bottles and clamped down on the fuselage. This eliminated the gaps at the wing roots.
Painting and Finishing
I had some LifeLike decals for the Nate but I ended up only using the tail flash. The rest of the markings were painted on.
I started with a basecoat of IJA Grey-Green from AK Interactive Real Colours. These go on very smooth and mostly glossy with Mr. Color Self Leveling Thinner. I then masked the yellow leading edges and painted with my standard mix of Tamiya Lemon Yellow and Tamiya Red (mixed 20:1). I measured the home defence stripes and painted with Tamiya White X-2. The hinomarus were then masked and painted with a mix of Tamiya Red and Tamiya Hull Red (mixed 1:1).
To finish, I used Flory’s “Dark Wash” which went on (and off) perfectly over the mostly glossy surface. However, I have to say the panel lines and rivets may be a tad heavy for my taste. Next time I will go for a lighter grey wash for this base colour.
This model is not without its faults but for a 40something kit, it is well worth the effort and those rivet lines stack up against anything molded today.
Old School Recommendations
I’d recommend the Mania/Hasegawa Nate for anyone wanting to try some old school kit building without needing a pound of putty and a rasp. Truth be told, if you want a Nate in 48th scale, this is pretty much your only choice. As for other recommendations, I won’t lie to you and suggest I built every old school kit out there to get this list completed. No, I cheated and asked around the interwebs. Here are some suggestions that came back:
The original Tamiya Zeroes
These being the A6M2, A6M3 and A6M5. These were some of the first Tamiya kits with engraved panel lines. However, not all of the panel lines were engraved. In my experience, these kits are widely available and would be a significant saving over the more recent Tamiya Zeroes.
These would be the Ki-45 Nick, B5N2 Kate and Ki-43 Oscar. I’m told these kits were ahead of their time and stack up well to modern equivalents. Not all Nichimo kits are the same though. I have their Jake and it needs a complete rebuild as there is no cockpit.
I have never seen this series but I am told the 1/32 N1K1 George, Raiden and Tony are great kits. For those 72ers there is a Sally, Helen, Nick, Frances and Irving. I’d really love to see some of these in 48th.
For whatever reason Otaki kits are very easy to get where I live. Now some of these kits are hit or miss. I’m told the 109, 190 and the Zero are so-so kits but the P-47, Tojo and Ki-100 are very good. I have the Otaki Corsair and it is a mixed bag. I would not recommend it if there are Hobbycraft Corsairs available.
I am a fan of Scalemates because it can alert buyers about clever re-boxings of old kits. I definitely appreciate knowing that it is some 70s kit hiding under some attractive 2020 box art. However, I’ll admit that information will only serve to steer me away from a kit in order to avoid a nightmare build. If only there was a way for Scalemates or some other site to inform us about the relative quality/build-ability of an old school kit. I guess this is where near-seniors, the internet, YouTube and smart-ass bloggers come in.
The Nate mostly fit the requirements I set out above and with a bit more time and effort than I gave it, it could stand against almost any release from the last 10 years. Actually, that is pretty impressive. I can see why Hasegawa regularly re-pops this kit. But why on earth did Mania go under? If this was their work back in 1977, just imagine where their kits would be today. Were the rest of their kits dogs? I’d love to know what happened.
As for the other kits that have been recommended, I have not tried them. If anyone has built any of these, would you recommend them? I’d be interested in knowing more. It also seems like there are a lot of old school Japanese kits being recommended as good builds. I am sure there must be others. Please let me know if I missed any!
Excellent read! While I don’t particularly go out of my way to build old kits, I do find myself building them often. Nostalgia being the biggest culprit. I’m currently building two B-58 Hustlers (old 70’s Monogram kits) that I initially built back when I first joined the Navy. The kit is nothing like I remember having raised panel lines and many, many ill fitting parts. That said, I am enjoying wrangling the two kits. I will mention that when I look on Scalemates I’ll read the builds and reviews from contributors to get a sense of how a kit goes together. Not perfect but often the builders will be honest about the good and bad of a re-boxed kit. Cheers.
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In a sense it is also about what sort of experience we want. The last time I built a monogram it was a phantom and it was a challenge and a true putty monster. But that was some 30+ years ago when I was a kid. I have different methods now and better tools.
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Wow, those are some seriously nice rivets and panel lines! Not bad for a 70’s kit!
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Nice. I am the opposite. If it didn’t come out in the last 15 years, I am hesitant to invest time.
I leave the dragons for others to slay as well!
I guess I could be considered a “dragon-slayer,” though I don’t think of myself as such. I built Revell’s 1/24 scale Gemini capsule. THAT was a sodding dragon! I also built the Italeri/Testors 1/48 SR-71 Blackbird. Definitely a dragon, though I used a more direct four-letter C-word to describe it (no…not “cold”). I built both (or at least tried to with the Gemini…and mostly failed, I think) to today’s standards. I’m not a fast builder by any stretch of my wild imagination, but the SR-71 took me over two years to finish (and the only reason I didn’t break out the hammers and REALLY finish that…thing…was because it was a commission for someone who’s done me SO many favors that I was delighted to be able to give him what he asked for. The funny thing is that I don’t set out to slay a lizard, much less a dragon.
I’m an elitist. I want what I WANT and will happily settle for naught if the object under scrutiny falls short of that sacred goal. Sometimes I get lucky and find a modern kit engineered to standards that couldn’t even be imagined back in the 50s (when I started making glue bombs at 5), 60s, etc. Other times I’m after a particular variant of a specific thing and the last time dies were cut for that, Johnson was President (first term) and unless I buy the styrene pig that this kit is, I do without. So I’ll buy the styrene pig, spend WAY too much time on it (and don’t talk about financial cost…ever), and work the sodding thing until I have what I want to the state I want it in.
Frequently (even most often) I will start a kit with certain and specific intentions for it…that I don’t know how to achieve. I know I don’t know how to finish the kit, that’s why I started working on it. I find that starting a project I don’t know how to finish FORCES me to evolve (which at 70 isn’t anything new…then again, at 70, there is very little that’s new). I would absolutely LOVE it if there were a modeling club locally. Unfortunately the closest one I could find is about two hours from where I live. So there’s no brains to pick to figure out how to get myself out of the resin/styrene corner I’ve just built myself into and I have to pick my own brains (slim pickings, that) to accomplish my goal.
Builder or finisher. Interesting. I wasn’t aware that there are people who preferred one over the other. For me, being process-oriented, it’s all bits of goodies floating in the stew. I’ve seen marginal builds elevated substantially by outstanding paint jobs. I’ve seen respectable builds totally ruined by bad paint jobs. I like the notion that the build is the foundation for the finish. I’ve known since the mid 70s (if you think the models were bad, do you remember the cars?!) that 90% of the work is in the last 15% of the build. To my mind, if the foundation isn’t there, what’s to finish? If the finish isn’t there, what’s the foundation for?
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I picked up one of those sr-71s and when I brought it home I had a moment. I knew that thing would be a royal pain to get together in a way that I would be happy with. Eventually I re-sold it to someone who was willing to wrestle that bear. I am looking forward to the new Revell Blackbird due out this year…. hopefully it goes together well.