Brilliant Engineering

I tend to go on at great length about engineering and fit of different model kits.

Now, a lot of people tend to bundle these together. But I view them as two separate things. Think of it a bit like the difference between a story and acting in a movie.

Engineering is all about the plan. The design. How something is supposed to go together. It’s, in essence, the story of the build.

Fit is all about execution. The plan is already in place. Now it’s a matter of doing. If engineering is how parts are supposed to fit together, fit is how well they actually do.

With most kits, there’s a breakdown. Usually because the engineering is making promises the fit can’t back up. You also have instances where the engineering is simply not builder-friendly. This is where you have parts that require four hands to get together, or places where you have to commit to something long before you’re able to test fit it with another assembly, only to find out down the road that you fucked yourself because you glued, I don’t know, part D38 in at slightly the wrong angle. Not that you could confirm the angles because you couldn’t test fit in the first place.

Tamiya gets it right

Thanks to the coronapocalypse, I’ve been working remotely since mid-March. And in that time, I’ve been going on what I call a volute-from-home adventure. Basically, when I’m thinking, or when I’m on conference calls, any time I’d typically be doodling or fighting the temptation to fall down the rabbit hole of the internet, I’ve instead been working on tanks. Mostly Shermans and Sherman-adjacent subjects. An Asuka M4A1. A Takom M31 recovery vehicle. A Rye Field Firefly Vc. All good kits, but all a bit sloppy in certain areas – a big one coming where the upper hull and lower hull join at the front glacis and transmission housing.

On most Sherman kits, the fit here is…fine. If you glue it. But it’s not great. And it is high enough up and prominent enough that you can’t hide glue work later on, after paint. So…you have to commit. Which can make loading the tracks later on a bit of a hassle.

Then, I started working on Tamiya’s Korea-era M4A3E8.

Tamiya does something rather different. Simple, but very clever from an engineering standpoint.

They have you install a little tab on the inside of the glacis.

Holy. Shit.

See, what this little tab does is ensure that the glacis and transmission cover sit in perfect alignment. Versus the butt join or weird little shelf bullshit seen in other Sherman kits.

This one is very builder friendly, in that it allows you to easily build, test fit, geek out about how cool your Sherman is looking, and then pop the upper hull off to get at shit and make painting and weathering a bit easier and less a game of getting into nooks and crannies.

As for fit – this is it with minimal cleanup. Even with some high spots from the sprue gates that need flattening, the fit is very good. But that’s Tamiya for you.

A lot of times, good kit engineering isn’t a bunch of ambitious clever bullshit. Often it’s just a simple tab that helps hold your shit together so you don’t have to.

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Yessir. When I built the M4A3E8 they released a few years back, I got to enjoy this remarkable bit of awesomeness meself. Perfect fir without having to commit to glueing as you said. Being one that likes to do the lower hull painting and weathering before attaching the top of the hull, I was quite stoked.
    I think they do the same on some of their other, newer armor kits. If I remember correctly, the Matilda is designed in a similar manner.

  2. Tim Wilding says:

    Tamiya did a very good job on this kit. I built the M4A3 (76) W HVSS, #35346, a couple years ago. I remember how well it went together and how I could leave the upper off until after painting.
    Tamiya did get the name of this M4 wrong. They should not be call a M4A3E8 – that was the name giving to the few produced to experiment with the E8 suspension, the horizontal volute spring suspension (HVSS). The official model is M4A3 (76) W HVSS. The E8 was dropped after this experimental suspension went into production.
    Also it is not called the transmission cover, it is call the differential cover. The transmission sits between the driver and BOG (bow gunner). The differential cover is the piece of armor that protects the gearbox, the differential and the 2 final drives.

    1. Doogs says:

      I’ve seen it referred to as both transmission and differential cover.

      As for the E8 naming, think that’s a ship that sailed a long time ago.

      1. E8… quicker than M4A3 (76) W HVSS, and people still know what it is. LAL
        Tim, I agree. Dragon comes to mind. So does Bronco.

      2. ericbergerud says:

        Did anyone encounter the Tasca/Tamiya “Easy Eight” (TM25175)? It appeared not long before their own new tool but wasn’t around long. They’re still out there on eBay and even Amazon – and command a price north of $100. Tasca is fine, but I’d certainly go with a Tamiya new tool kit.

  3. Tim Campbell says:

    Good article. There are plenty of kits I have where the manufacturer thinks they’ve done incredible work because of the x-hundred parts in the kit all engineered to 0.1 of a mm.

    But a miserable build because of x-hundred parts is still a miserable build.

    Give me -smart- engineering every time.

  4. Clyde Lourensz says:

    Well said.
    There are heaps of kits out there that look awesome as sprues in a box but a nightmare to build.
    A sad case of over engineering, that is often best left in the box.

  5. Whitey says:

    It’s always nice when a kit is actually buildable. Unlike the Kittyhawk 1/48 F2H Banshee I’m painting now. The cockpit pieces (deck, rear bulkhead, two sidewalls, and the canopy deck behind the headrest) had nothing whatsoever to align them properly, and once assembled made it impossible to insert the bang seat properly, but wouldn’t go together at all if the seat went in first. The wing root intakes were a similar nightmare whose misalignment wasn’t apparent until I was past the point of no return. And now the left wing keeps falling off, despite now having enough CA glue in it to seal up the Titanic. I swear to God this piece of shit would have already found its way onto the pistol range if it wasn’t a gift for my niece. There’s “Fuck It, Close Enough” and there’s “Fuck It, I Don’t Care Anymore.” This Banshee is definitely the latter.

  6. ericbergerud says:

    I’m a Tamiya fanboy. I can’t possibly explain it, but over the years Tamiya has stood solidly at the top of the heap. There must some kind of “corporate culture” dating from the 70’s that prevents – or great inhibits the kind of dicey models I’ve encountered from every major company.
    What strikes me is how low the price premium for a splendid made Tamiya kit is over its competitors. Armor buffs don’t necessarily think highly of the company because the detail (and part count) doesn’t match DML or some of the newer Asian companies. And Tamiya makes individual tracks optional, favoring link and length for most recent offerings. (The one clunker – track wise – was the SU-76 – a very important weapon that needed a good model. The one trouble was that the drive wheel has sprockets on only the outer side – that made fitting the individual links up front very tricky. I would have lived gladly with Tamiya’s recent vinyl tracks.) But unless you’re a detail fanatic, the recent Tamiya armor has been terrific. I’ve built the SU-76, Jagdpanzer IV, and Panther D and all three were great. have the Easy Eight, M-10, Valentine, Stuart and the BT-7 in the stash – each looking very good. The recent aircraft are better – the Ki-61 (based on their BF-109G) is a wonderful build, and the new 38 was badly needed in the field and looks even better. The armor, if anything, costs less than competitors – and the aircraft premium is very reasonable. I’d say that Tamiya instructions are worth extra cash on their own – not to mention “to scale” aircraft paint schemes that you can use for camo masks if wanted. And when Tamiya recycles a kit, it usually shows up in the price. There are several reboxes out, but aside from “special editions” with Aber stuff, the prices are low. On Scale Hobbyist you can buy five different 1/35 tanks (unchaged from the late 70’s early 80’s) for under $20 – a great place for new builders to begin – I made them all. There’s a special place for the $17 A6M2 I made two years ago in Kamikaze garb (with an after market bomb) – and is one of the best kits I’ve done. Doesn’t hurt that the Zero has such lovely lines. (Wonder why I’ve seen so few reviews of the Tamiya 1/32 A6M2 or A6M5 in 1/32? The few out there are favorable. I’ve heard it sold very well in Japan. )
    Compare that with WingNut Wings. I’m building biplanes now and am having a great time. My two WNW kits are staring at me (unless you go eBay with a flush credit card, WNW kits are impossible to come by as they’ve shut down for COVID). They’re lovely kits and each pushed $100. They may be as good as Tamiya but they’re a lot more money. (But as long as I’m thinking WWI, I’m looking at my Tamiya MK IV – with a motor no less – also in the stash.)
    And Tamiya has shown panache. When it came time to roll out the 100th release in 2007 Tamiya chose to do a Fiesler Storch which received almost adulatory reviews. I’ve got more models than I will ever build. But every birthday/Christmas another Tamiya appears. But now that I’m getting accustomed to the detail work needed by biplanes, the Tamiya Storch and Swordfish MKI are at the top of the list for Santa. Unless Tamiya makes a B-26 Marauder. Or unless Tamiya makes a Spad XIII. Or unless Tamiya makes a 1/350 Washington.

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