Sunday, October 25, 2009

Wrestling with a Bear, Pt. 1 Vol. I

One of the great things about building models is the sense of satisfaction one gets from completing a challenging project. Nearing completion, my M4A4 Sherman (Dragon kit #6035) is such a subject, and it turned out to be a lot more challenging than I had initially thought.

When Dragon came out with this kit back in the '90s, the market was not yet well served with Shermans, with only a few kits from Tamiya and Italeri. When Dragon came out with this kit, is was in many ways a godsend, the first time this specific model tank was done in plastic. I had built one soon after it was released (getting French markings; something more colorful than the comparatively rather subdued British version) and it builds well.

I had originally bought the kit as a response to Tasca's M4A4 series. While response to the kit has been fabulous, at between $70 to $80 for a plastic kit, it basically prices me out of the market. I bought the Dragon kit knowing its flaws for cheap, and it isn't a bad kit. That being said, the kit had a number of issues that need to be corrected, 2 of them major.

  • As it is, the kit's lower hull is much too long, creating an incorrect "profile" for the tracks and requiring more links than the prototype.
  • The suspension was originally from Italeri, and while a well detailed suspension for the time, it is an unlikely one as applied to the M4A4; it was of a later type using upswept return roller arms, entering production after the M4A4 manufacture ceased.
Neither of these problems are insurmountable, but does require a bit of work to correct.

I solved the suspension problem by investing in AFV Club's FV35029 M4 Sherman Vertical Volute Spring Suspension Unit, not a bad set, and a real godsend as it also includes the bolted pads the suspension units mounted to (also missing from the Dragon kit). Unfortunately the road wheels are open in the back, which I resolved by using a set of FO41 metal stamped road wheels from Formations Models. During the build process, I forgot that the hull was too long, and in the process completely destroyed the idler mounts. Easily solved by another Formations kit, FO52. The hull itself was simply cut behind the engine plate details, however it is more accurate to completely cut off the plate and move it an equal distance forward. This would require a lot of work most people would not see, so I took the easy route.

The rest of the kit was built mostly as it is out of the box. The turret contours were subtly altered to make it more like the prototype, and I replaced the cannon rotor with a spare item from Tamiya (better detail and profile) and the M34A1 rotor shield was a resin piece from an unknown source. The cannon was replaced with an aluminum item from my spares box (manufacturer unknown). All this was mounted in an altered port, lowering it slightly to make it match the profiles better.

The kit originally came with individual link tracks. However, the Sherman series used a type of track called "live" track. This style track had a property that when laid out with the track pads facing up, it would tend to curl back on itself. The purpose was to reduce the chances of a thrown track, allowing it to "grip" the idler more securely. From a modeling perspective, this means the track should have no sag.

One of the big advantages of individual links is that they make modeling track sag much easier and realistic (they mimic the actual properties of tracks, or otherwise can be manipulated to do so). That is however unneccessary on a tank with live track, so I opted to use AFV Club's flexible T-62 tracks instead, which are for the "long" body Shermans of the M4A4 series.

That's it for the build process. Next time, as I continue the series, I'll discuss painting the beast, hopefully with some pictures!

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