Go deep on your Phantom variants. The demand is absolutely there.
A week ago, I got my hands on the new Tamiya F-4B Phantom. A few people scoffed when I called it the best kit ever produced. Or thought I was exaggerating when I said it was even better than the amazing P-38.
Then I uploaded my test-fit review, and, well, the kit absolutely speaks for itself.
A common refrain I’ve heard since the new F-4 was announced has been “another Phantom?”
Or, to get a bit more nuanced, “Cool! An F-4! Too bad it’s a B, that’s my least favorite.”
There have been a lot of fence-sitters and wait-for-a-preferred-variant types. And a decent number of them have been won over just on the strength of seeing this beautiful F-4B go together. Variants be damned, this is too good to pass up.
Speaking of variants
Frustratingly, Tamiya doesn’t have the best history at covering off on variants. Probably the most notorious being the lack of an F-16D. But you could also point to the AD-4 Skyraider or F-14B Bombcat or any of the interesting expansion routes open to the 1/32 Spitfires. With a few new bits we could have easily had a 1/32 Spitfire Vc or XIVe, just to name two.
With the F-4, I’ve been expecting more of the same. The parts and engineering are certainly in play to quickly kit out an F-4C/D and an F-4J. I expect both of those will come.
I think there’s also a decent possibility that we’ll see an early F-4E with the hard wing, as well as an F-4EJ.
By far the most wished-for variants I’ve been seeing in comments are the long noses – the E, F, and particularly the G.
In a lot of ways, this makes sense. Yes, the Tamiya F-4B is amazing and blows even the rather good Zoukei-Mura F-4s out of the water. But, as modelers, we’ve received a number of short nose Phantoms over the last decade. Academy’s B/C/D/J/N lineup, and Zoukei-Mura’s C/D/J/S. Until the arrival of Z-M’s early E and EJ Kai in the last few months, the 80s-vintage Hasegawa kits were the only game in town. And often a very hard game to find.
Not only are the long nose variants cool, not only do they offer a ton of fantastic camo and marking possibilities, there also hasn’t been a new tool to scratch the itch in a long time.
Still, I’ve been replying to all these comments and telling them to not get their hopes up. Tamiya doesn’t do too great with variant coverage, they never touched the later variants with their 1/32 kits, so don’t expect it this time around.
But then I started thinking…why not?
The case for the long noses
Look. There’s no reason for Tamiya to listen to a thing I have to say. But in a world where a bunch of dorks screaming into the void managed to will the Snyder Cut into existence, who can say? Maybe there’s a chance. So here goes.
The slatted wings are the biggest hurdle. The main differentiator with all of the late Phantom variants is the slatted wing. There’s some other bullshit, too, but that’s the big one. Sure, the slatted wing would cost some money to design and tool. But it would also put Tamiya in easy range of a late E, the German F-4F, the F-4G Wild Weasel, and the F-4S. That would have to be one of the best possible ROIs in modeling.
What else could you possibly do with one or two sprues that would equal the sales of those variants?
Other differences can be covered by one small sprue. Want to go from a late E to an F to a G? For the most part, the differences between them could be covered by a single sprue each. In other words, if you make one, it’s a short step to making all the others.
Increased likelihood of repeat purchases. Let’s face it. The F-4B and the F-4J look more or less the same. And while there are a lot of high-viz schemes to choose from, that’s pretty much all there is to choose from. The chance to follow that up with a Euro I camo scheme, or that two-tone blue maritime scheme the JASDF used on F-4EJs, or the Hill scheme, or the cool Hellenic Air Force ghost scheme would probably inspire more repeat purchases than more high-viz options alone.
Little competition. The Tamiya F-4B has to compete with the Academy F-4B. And while quality-wise it’s no competition, the Academy is substantially cheaper and plenty of frugal modelers are more than happy to point that out. An F-4C/D or F-4J would have to not only compete with Academy, but Zoukei-Mura. Z-M’s kits are better than Academy, but their prices are closer to the Tamiya Phantoms, and their global distribution is a joke next to Tamiya’s. In long noses, the only significant competition would be from Z-M and from ancient Hasegawa kits.
While we’re at it, how about some RFs?
Another massively overlooked corner of Phantomland is the recce versions. Yeah, the RF-4B, but especially the RF-4C, RF-4E, and RF-4EJ. The reconnaissance variants served widely (and many are still in service today) and wear some of the most interesting schemes of all the Phantoms in terms of both coloration and wear.
Getting to an RF would be a bit dicey with the current breakdown of the Tamiya kit, considering the full-length port fuselage half and the different fuselage shape of the RFs starting just forward of the intake splitter plates. So I’d personally consider these the absolute least-likely options.
Still, ya know…it’d be nice.
Looking at this clear-eyed, the chances of Tamiya kitting a new-tool F-4G Wild Weasel seem slim. But I think the business case and market demand are absolutely there, especially since they’ve already put the investment into an amazeballs Phantom kit and the design cost of most of the other elements could be spread across multiple releases. For an F-4G you’d really only have to fuss with the different tail tip, the chin mounted AN/APR-47 (or earlier 38), and a bit of cockpit detail. Really feeling froggy, you could throw in a sprue of ECM pods and AGM-88s.
Or Tamiya could do something even cooler, and explore using their detail sets as a way of creating Phantom variants. Instead of the PE and a metal barrel stuff you see with armor, imagine being able to buy a base F-4E (late production), and then buy sets for an F-4F, or an F-4E with TISEO, or an F-4G or an upgraded Greek F-4E Peace Icarus 2000. It could be an interesting way to provide the variant coverage modelers want without going all in on fully boxing so many separate variants.
Come on, Tamiya…you’ve got a chance to blow this wide open!