Monday, March 12

Build Guide Pt I: Panther Ausf.A Late in 35th scale from Meng Models

Andy Moore has already shown us what's inside the box of his MENG 35th scale Sd.Kfz.171 Panther Ausf.A Late kit in his review. To see how it goes together, and what he thinks of it in more detail in part I of his build guide...

Build Guide Pt I: Sd.Kfz.171 Panther Ausf.A Late
German Medium Tank
Manufacturer – Meng Models
Product Number – Tyrannosaurus Series TS-035
Scale: 1/35th
Price -  HKD 206.00/ GBP 20.06/ EUR 22.15/ USD 26.41 from Hobbyeasy

This is a build that's taken way longer than I'd imagined it would, but it's finally done. Admittedly, the delay was partly down to me getting sidetracked with other projects, but also partly due to one particularly irksome aspect of the build. But that came later on. 

Let's roll back to the start of the build, where things got underway with the running gear. The wheels and sprockets are all simple two-part constructions with each holding a poly cap. The idlers have a more complex four-part construction to better replicate the layered look of the originals, but they all go together very easily.
With the wheels done, step 2 sees the lower hull coming together. This is built up from a floor pan and separate side panels, and Meng has engineered this very well so that it all lines up perfectly. There are a couple of internal braces added which do a good job of keeping the sides square, and also provide some support for the upper hull later on. As an aside, I've seen various rumours that Meng will release an interior set for this kit. I don't wish to disappoint people, but this kit is definitely not designed with an interior in mind. What you see is what you get.
If you're building this kit straight from the box, and not using the separate working track/suspension set, you'll need to install two blanking strips to the inside of the hull at this point. These provide an attachment point to align the kit's suspension arms. This system caused a small problem when used on Meng's previous King Tiger release, as the blanking strips sat slightly too high causing the suspension arms to angle downwards. I'm happy to report that this issue isn't present on the Panther, and these strips will allow the axles to sit perfectly straight.
For this build though, Meng supplied their movable running gear set, which contains parts to not only make two complete runs of working track links, but also a full set of working torsion bars. Admittedly, not everyone is a fan of working parts on kits, but these do bring some advantages. For one, you'll be easily able to paint and weather the tracks before fitting then to the finished model. The working torsion bars should also guarantee that the model will always sit flat with all wheels contacting the ground.
The first step to install the suspension set is to add the steel torsion bars to the kit's swing arms. The arms are already moulded with a slot to accommodate the bar, which is then held in place with a small cover plate. There's no modification to the kit parts required when using the track set.
After that, a set of small wedge-shaped blocks are added to the hull floor and, after sliding the suspension arms into place, the ends of the torsion bars drop into a groove moulded into the top of the wedge blocks.
A second wedge block is then glued to the top of the first, trapping the end of the torsion bar and allowing the rest of the bar to twist. Obviously, it's essential to not add any glue where the swing arm passes through the hull side, or the suspension won't work at all.
The result is a set of fully articulated swing arms that have quite a broad degree of movement but will always return to their default position. Using actual steel wire for the torsion bars instead of styrene should make them pretty resilient over time. While we're dealing with the suspension, I need to point out an issue with the axles on the swing arms. You may be able to see from the photo that I needed to scrape away some plastic from them before the poly-capped wheels would easily slide on. As they come, the fit is incredibly tight, and given the spindly nature of the swing arms, it would be all too easy to break one when trying to fit the wheels. I think the culprit is the poly caps, which are probably a little too small for the axle. I hindsight I think it would probably be possible to leave the poly caps out of the wheels all together, and simply glue the wheels in place at the end.
One other thing to point out when fitting the suspension (either the working set, or the ones that come with the kit) is that there are three different types of swing arm, labelled A, B and C in the instructions, that need to go in specific locations along the hull. The instructions do roughly tell you their location, but it's not at all clear, so I've drawn a diagram below which better shows their correct positions.
With the lower hull and suspension done, I could get started on the upper hull. Meng has created the main moulding with open frames on the front and sides, which are then covered by separate panels. I assume this was done to allow these panels to be moulded with better detailing, and they do have a subtle rolled steel texture on the surface. A pity then that most of that will be lost under the Zimmerit coating required for the Panther A, but I guess it'll come in for other versions that don't feature the anti-mine paste.
The fit on these panels is almost perfect. It's a great example of model kit engineering in the way that Meng have designed the panels to lock together in exactly the same way as the armour panels on the real Panther. On mine, I roughened the panels up with a sanding stick, as I'd already decided to apply the Zimmerit with putty rather than the decal system that Meng has created. The rougher surface will help the putty to stick better.
There are several options in the kit, such as these two styles of engine vent cover. One of the few flaws with the King Tiger that Meng released a year or so ago was the lack of any info in the instructions as to which of the optional parts in that kit should be used for each of the marking choices provided. 
Meng have clearly realised that earlier mistake, and here they list clearly which optional parts are used for each of the seven marking options. It's a good idea to choose the version you want to build at the start, then highlight the correct parts in the instructions.
To go below those grills you get a couple of detail panels with basic representations of the fans and radiators. Before attaching these, I gave them a quick coat of black and a light dry-brush. In truth though, they're virtually invisible once the photo-etched mesh screens are added, so you could easily get away with not painting them.
Before the two hull halves are joined together, there are two blanking plates to add which cover the underside of the hull overhangs. The instructions also tell you to attach the hangers for the schürzen plates at this stage too, but that subsequently proved to be a bad idea. It's far too easy to accidentally catch them as you're handling the hull, and I managed to snap off at least six during the remainder of the build. Fortunately, I was able to find and reattach them but, take my advice, leave them off until the end. It would be a simple job to attach them once the rest of the kit is finished.
The instructions also tell you to add most of the other detail parts to the upper hull before it's joined to the lower half. Again, this seemed like a bad idea, so I got the two halves joined together first, before attaching anything fragile. The fit was again superb, with the two halves literally locking together. You could almost get away without gluing them.
With the PE screens in place on the engine deck, you can see how little of those fan/radiator inserts can be seen. The screens themselves dropped into place perfectly, and Meng has done a good job of hinting at the woven nature of the real screens despite the PE parts being flat.

OK - so that is it for the first half of the construction guide - The full build, then the paint and weathering guide will be coming soon on TMN.

You can track down your own panther from Meng’s Distributors. Thanks to them for sending this kit to us to build & review…