Wednesday, February 26

Build Review: 35th scale ARL-44 Heavy French Tank from Amusing Hobby

Amusing Hobby's new ARL-44 French Heavy Tank is a bit of an unknown to a lot of modellers. Being only made in small amounts and known more in World of Tank circles than modellers - Clayton thought he would bring some light on the kit by making it up in a review for you all...

ARL-44 Heavy French Tank
From Amusing Hobby
1/35th scale
Kit No# 35A025   
So, what is an ARL-44 I hear you say? Don’t worry, I had to do some research myself when I was asked to have a look at this one. I initially assumed I was looking at another ‘what if’ or at best a prototype tank brought to life in in the World of Tanks landscape. 
But to my surprise I found the ARL-44 actually made its way to a production run of 66 vehicles, albeit short, it still counts! So, one of my modelling rules of ‘no prototypes and no what ifs’ was quashed completely, and I had no excuses but to take a look at this one. 

This kit was first previewed here at The Modelling News when it was initially announced – click here for the article.  But to help refresh your memory, Ill cover some of the key facts about the vehicle…

The kit built up and painted at Shizuoka last year
The tank was essentially designed in secret by the French during the Second World War and called upon outdated designs and used components from existing vehicles of the time. Production stared in 1946 but delays in the process meant the tanks didn’t actually make it into service until 1951 where it would replace the French collection of Panthers captured after the war. 
The ARL-44 was well armoured and carried a 90mm gun, but it was mechanically unreliable and only saw service for a couple of years. Losing its place to the readily available and far more reliable, M47 Patton. David Fletcher of The Bovington Tank Museum fame, once described the ARL-44 as possibly the worst foreign tank ever produced! 
The Kit:
My workbench is pretty full at the moment, so for the time being I’ll be doing a build review on this one in the hope to get some paint on it a little further down the track. At first glance, construction seems quite simple, so let’s get started and see how she comes together.
Construction begins with the multitude of wheels running the length of the tank. The wheels are essentially two pieces glued together and with not a lot of clean up required, they came together quite quickly.
The wheels all sat nicely along one side of the housing and the other side piece came together to hold everything in place. With all of these tiny wheels, this section had the potential to be a tricky part of the model, but the way the pieces were sat and the way they came together was an absolute dream. The two-wheel bays were now ready to roll (excuse the pun).
The complete top section of the tank body is amazingly moulded in one piece. I imagine it would have been a great deal easier to break this section up into at least three separate sections, but the single piece mould just makes things very simple. 
 The only construction at this stage is the four sets of return rollers on top of the sponsons. They just tuck through from the underside. 
The two wheel bays we made earlier now slip into the cavities in the sponson sections of the top piece. Fit was incredible. So much so I chose not to glue them in case I wanted to remove them for painting at a later date. Two thumbs up for the engineering department here!
The drive wheels and back plate are now assembled. 
The gun cradle, pioneer tools, lights and hatches are now fixed to the glacis. The two hatches actually pivot around a fixed point making it easy to pose them open, closed or perhaps a bit each way. I’m considering placing a couple of figures in this model, so I have left them loose for the moment. 
Just be careful at this stage as there is an error in the instructions. Part A34, the shrouds for the periscopes should be positioned in front of the driver and radio operator hatches. Not where the instructions would suggest. 
The gun mantlet has some nice cast texture in the piece. Construction is very straight forward.
Construction on the turret again is very basic. Placement of the various hooks and handles on the sides is a little clumsy but using a little logic it really isn’t difficult. 
Weld seams and surface detail is present without being remarkable. 
One nice touch I did notice was the screw heads holding that top armour plate are all finished at different angles. I have no idea if the screws were aligned in the factory, but regardless, the random positions adds a little interest to the model. 
Aerial bracket, tool box, hatches and stowage baskets are now assembled. The parts seems a little oversimplified to my eye, but sometimes looking at details in the single colour tan plastic can be deceiving. 
Now to what could be the oddest looking exhaust system I have ever seen. The section is made in three sub-sections. The braces for the brackets were replaced using brass rod. The metal looked a little more authentic than the moulded plastic pieces.
The last section of the exhaust was drilled out to further enhance the piece and to better represent a pipe section. 
With the exhaust sections attached, the photo etch screens are now fixed to the body using CA glue. Some ‘wear’ was created by gently pressing the mesh through the dips in the model using the soft head of a cotton bud. 
Cover pieces are now attached to the rear two grills. The instructions call out for the back two covers to have the handles removed. I have no reference photos that would support that, and I don’t know when or why they would have been used, so I just followed the instructions and attached the hatches with a small piece of Blu-Tak until I work out if I will use them or not. 
Some of the grab handles and brackets I attached to the turret start to now make sense. Three links of track section are fitted to both sides of the turret. They literally just click into the part and the lower bracket sections. It was quite exceptional how such a basic piece of the model worked so well. 
The kit comes with a turned aluminium barrel, or at least it was present in this kit. The muzzle is a single moulded piece and slides straight over the end with a perfect fit. There is also a two part moulded barrel in the kit, so I am not sure if the aluminium inclusion is a special edition ? It may be worth checking if you were interested in adding this model to your collection. The turned barrel makes for a really nice enhancement. 
The familiar looking ‘French style’ tracks are now assembled. They literally click together to provide you with a set of workable tracks in around 15 minutes. 
The track links come as individual pieces in a small plastic bag. They do require a small amount of clean up on one of the edges, but no more than if you were to clip them off the sprues yourself. There is also a prominent ejector pin mark on the underside of each link. In reality, the inside of the track will be extremely hard to see, if indeed at all once the model is assembled, so cleaning this area up would be a bit of a waste of time.
Tracks are now attached, and the construction is complete. 
A coat of primer and the model is ready for paint. It always amazes me how a clean coat of primer unifies and improves the look of the model. As you can see, I didn’t prime the tracks. I’ll leave that for a later time. 
If like me, you had no idea what an ARL-44 is, then hopefully this build article has enlightened you or perhaps inspired you to do some investigations of your own. It’s certainly an odd looking thing, a cross between a Char B, a Panther, with a hint of Japanese heavy armour in the turret design?

Some of the details in the kit appear a little soft at first, but Ill reserve judgement because a lick of paint can often bring these pieces to life. 

The kit with some primer on it to show you a little of the finish and fit...
This is a basic model with logical and simple construction steps that just about any modeller of any ability should be able to comfortably navigate. The click together tracks are God-sent and will be a really nice feature on the finished model. The fit and engineering are excellent and a real highlight.
This kit is going to appeal to a couple of different people. Firstly, those looking for something different with an interesting history to spark conversation over the display table, and secondly, those looking to transition from World of Tanks to the modelling world. I believe the tank is far more effective in the game than it was in real life. 

Another great effort from Amusing Hobby.

Clayton Ockerby 

Thank you to Amusing Hobby for sending this kit to Clayton to build for us - you can see more of Amusing Hobby's kits on their Website.
See more of Clayton's amazing works on his modelling website "Workbench Hobbies" or his FB page