Tuesday 28 October 2014

Improving the Tamiya Walker Bulldog


This is I suppose one of those kits that everyone has built in the "early days" of their hobby because:

a) Its a tank
b) Its sold almost everywhere 
c) Its very cheap in comparison to modern kits

I saw this kit recently in my local model shop for under £15 and nostalgia took over and I had to buy it again. My 14 year old self would have been very proud that I chose to make this kit once more. Rewind back the years to my 14th birthday and I remember eagerly opening the box and building and painting this in about 4 hours. I would happily recommend this kit to anyone who is starting off in this hobby as its a great entry level kit due to its simplicity and good fit and quality of the of parts.

Unfortunately my happy memories of this kit were tarnished when I opened the box this time around. The figures supplied with the kit are horrible and in all honesty are fit for the spares box or the bin. The details on the tank are minimal at best and those that are included are almost but not totally correct. In terms of options available to me I could spend an absolute fortune in after-market parts and additions to improve this kit, dismantle it with scalpels to its component parts and spend hours slaving over each nut and bolt to ensure their accuracy to the real thing. In honesty though, why would you? If you want to strive for that level of accuracy you would buy a more up to date and more expensive version of this tank and start from there. This is after all one of Tamiya's earliest releases of kits from the 1970's!

For me I chose to stay true to the Tamiya kit as much as possible and keep my wife happy by setting myself a challenge and attempting to make this model at zero additional cost whilst still coming up with a model that I would be happy to put my name to once finished.

The Turret

There are a few inaccuracies with the turret that stand out quite quickly when comparing the model with the real life tank. One of the major ones is the shape of the right hand turret side which is missing a contoured edge when looking at the actual tank. I made the decision to overlook this in the model build as it would require far too much work for a detail that will sink into the background on the finished article. One thing that is easily remedied though is the rim around the loading hatch. Its isn't there on the real tank and I cannot understand why Tamiya put it onto their model. Fortunately this is easily remedied with an extremely sharp scalpel and a steady hand. I also used a small drill to remove the green plastic inside the windows which will be replaced with clear plastic once the painting has been carried out. The moulded handles where also removed and replaced with thin wire. 

I have also decided to replace the kit supplied stowage handles with the same wire to maintain continuity throughout the model, so the kit holes were filled in with some squadron putty. Another glaring error that is present on the model is the weld seam at the front of the turret. On the model it runs from top to bottom, but on the real tank it extends from top to bottom and then laterally along the body of the turret. You can buy some fantastically realistic weld seams from I believe Aber, but staying true to keeping costs down I mixed some fine milliput, rolled it into thin strips and then used some plastic card held in a half moon shape, pressed it into the milliput which hopefully will leave a realistic weld seam once painted.

Some of the other jobs that I decided to do to the turret are:

Change the front machine gun barrel by drilling out the hole, adding some stretched sprue and drilling that to a smaller diameter giving the hole a more realistic barrel for the machine gun. The original petrol can mounting points on the kit were filed off completely as the cans provided with the kit were horrible. Fortunately I have some spare cans in the spares box along with some mounting brackets for them, so I will be adding these at a later date. The aerial bases and aerials themselves will be glued as they are supplied but I will alter the aerial whips as part of the kits finishing touches much later on.

The Main Body

The main body of the tank also has some issues that can be easily and cheaply remedied with a little thought. The very front lip of the model has a horrible joint that is clearly visible when the two halves are glued together. On the real tank, there is fortunately a large weld seam present at this point, so again some Milliput was used to create this weld seam and in the process cover up this joint nicely. On to the drivers hatch and the handles were cut off and replaced with some wire as per the turret hatch handles. I also extended the drivers window upper shields as they are extended forward of the windows on the real thing. The stowage bins on the sides of the model are very bare in comparison to the real thing and in all honesty I cannot see a reason for Tamiya to leave these details out from their original mold? To replicate the centre stowage bin sides I opted to use some aluminium foil (cut up drinks can) that I embossed with a pen to replicate the imprint clearly visible on the real tank. For the front stowage bin vertical details I simply added some stretched sprue and sanded to create the smoother embossed shape as seen on the real thing.
Moving back to the front of the model and the lifting eyes are missing completely. These were made using some hot stretched sprue and winding it around a needle file handle whilst it was still pliable. The circular shapes were then glued to the front of the model and some more "weld seams" were placed at the base of the eyes to cover the joint. On the left hand side at the front of the tank, there are two large fender supports missing, so these were made from some more aluminium foil and glued n place.

The additional improvements that I made to the main body of the tank are:

Improve the barrel transport mount by carefully removing the kit part and filing it down quite bit as although the general shape provided with the kit is relatively accurate; its just too big and bulky compared to the real thing. I simply filed the original kit part until I was happy with it, filled in the hole on the rear of that tank that was left from my removal efforts and re-glued the modified kit part back onto the tank:

The next stage of the improvements to the main body was to remove the molded handles for the stowage bins which again were accurate but very badly molded. This was done with a careful hand and a scalpel. A very small drill bit was then used to make small holes for some thin wire to be glued into them and bent over to represent the handles a little better:

I had planned on extending the exhaust shields out from the kit a little to more closely represent the real thing although in the end I decided that this was going to be a lot of effort for something that the normal observer would probably not recognise as being inaccurate if I left it as it is supplied from the box. So in the interests of aesthetics and reducing my workload I decided to leave them well alone. I am also toying with the idea of making an auxiliary exhaust to the kit which can be seen on many of the Walkers, however I will make this decision once the kit is painted up. At the front of the kit I added some body to fender support brackets from some plastic card that is clearly missing altogether from the Tamiya kit. I also thinned out the light frames supplied with the kit by the judicious application of a needle file and patience! while the tools provided with the rack as a one piece mold were terrible; I realised that the rack itself was a pretty good representation of the real thing. Again the scalpel was used to carefully par away the tools from the rack and I will add some better items from the spares box when I come to apply the finishing touches to the tank later on. The last addition that I will be making to the kit is the addition of the tow cable brackets along the left hand side of the tank. These were made from some more aluminium foil and plastic card.

The wheels of the tank are OK in terms of detail, however I decided to give them a more "used" look by filing in some damage to the rubber portions as I removed the mold lines. The tracks although not great are again OK, so I will paint these with the intention of adding a lot of weathering and even more mud when it comes to setting it onto the base to cover up major problems with them. The whole tank was then given a coat of primer and painted with very thinned down humbrol enamels to provide a washed out look to the paint prior to any weathering being carried out. Additional photos of the initial colour can be seen below in the "base" write up:

The Base

For the base I was fortunate to be shopping in Ikea when I came across a damaged frame in the bargain section for 30p  I always pick up frames when they are on sale as they make excellent bases for models, however this one happened to be the perfect size for a small display base for the Bulldog. In addition it fitted in nicely with my "minimum or no cost" approach to this particular kit. The clear portion of the frame was not glass, but plastic which made things a lot easier for me in terms of preparation. The plastic was roughened up with some sandpaper to form a key and some modelers medium added to provide a good substrate layer for the groundwork:

For the display of the tank I managed to find after a little digging around in the spare figure box, a few Vietnam figures from Academy's tank crew set that I had left over from a previous project. A few light alterations to the figures and I am sure that they will pass muster as accurate figures for this little diorama setting that I am planning for the Bulldog. I temporarily fitted the tracks and rollers and quickly did a rough mock up of the tank and one of the figures onto the base:

Happy with the base size and rough positioning of the tank and figure, I extended the modellers paste onto the frame some more and then added some dried coconut compost that I originally purchased for my WWI Diorama and allowed it to dry before placing the tank back onto the base and deciding upon a fixed position for the tank:

At this point I fastened the tank to the base with some wire locking and added more earth over the joint in the tracks to cover it. One of the major draw backs in these tracks are that they are an extremely tight fit over the rollers and do not give a realistic "sag" to the tracks that you would get from an aftermarket set. This is a problem that I may be able to figure out or alternatively be forced to live with for this particular kit. The next stage for me was to apply the decals to the tank prior to starting the weathering and adding any bag, pack, box, etc that I have in the spares box to give it a little more interest:

Weathering and further additions

I decided to make the auxiliary exhaust for the tank being as I found some plastic tubing in the spares box to make it! I heated up the tube and squashed it to give the oval appearance and then glued some plastic card to each end followed by a smaller diameter tube and stretched sprue for the pipe coming out of the tank engine bay. The straps that hold it to the exhaust heat shield is are made from lead foil.
I also made a quick DIY tow cable from some brass picture hanging wire, bent copper wire for the ends and some lead foil wrapped around the copper wire to hide the glued joint between the brass and copper wires respectively. I have also reached the stage where I will be adding the bags and packs that I scrounged up from the spares box to place in various positions around the tank along with testing the positions of the figures that I will be using for this particular dio. The following photos show my progress to date including the final parts of the basic painting before I begin to weather the vehicle:

Weathering for this model will begin with a pin wash of lamp black oil paint diluted with white spirit into all of the seams and recesses. I then use diluted white oil paint and wash from the uppermost portions of the vehicle downwards. This is my opinion gives any military green a very realistic weathered look to the paint. I also wanted to show quite a "well used" and uncared for vehicle so the next wash for me was a bright orange diluted oil that was "strategically" applied to areas that would experience corrosion first. I also wanted to show the exhaust covers as being quite badly corroded as this particular tank was infamous for being an extremely hot runner and as a result the paint finish on the exhaust cowls burnt away quite quickly. To achieve this look I applied Mr Surfacer on top of the paint and before it could harden, stippled it with my brush. A quick coat of revel orange enamel and I achieved the look that I was after. This colour will then be toned down somewhat with various washes of oils once the enamel has dried fully:

The weathering is now completed as is the additional groundwork around the tracks and running gear. The finishing touches on this piece were really the addition of oil streaks in the running gear, more application of rust streaks around the body and some clearfix stretched across the window openings to resemble glass. The two figure that I had rustled up from the spares box were treated to some oil paints for some light and shade, A plaque to give the piece some context for anyone admiring the finished model and I will now call this complete aside from the straps on the bedroll that I noticed I had missed on the final painting when I loaded the pictures onto the website! Below are some shots of the tank in its final setting before being placed in a small shoe box for a week or so to allow the oils to dry fully so some matt varnish can be applied to it before final display:

Final Thoughts 

I have to be honest and say that this has been a thoroughly enjoyable model to put together. Aside from bringing back boyhood memories when I built this model originally, it has been a bit of a challenge to build it at almost zero cost following the original purchase price. Admittedly I did add some additional parts from the spares box and if you don't have them you would have to buy them to replicate this piece, but in all honesty you wouldn't really need them to complete the tank itself. There are some additional things that could be done with some plastic card such as cutting out the exhaust covers and extending them sideways slightly to closer resemble the real tank but I decided against this as the finished article is in my opinion just as anaesthetically pleasing to the eye without the exhaust modification. You could also add some additional mounting points to the side of the drivers hatch, etc. In my humble opinion though the model doesn't really need it as its a lovely low budget kit that with a little thought can be made into a really pleasing addition to any military model collection.

I sincerely hope that after reading this article I inspire you to go out and buy a cheap 1960's or 1970's kit and have a go at it. Don't get me wrong in comparison to today's modern tooled and cast kits this cannot compare, but for the shear joy of modelling and nostalgia; this kit is a must.

I hope that you enjoyed reading this and don't forget your comments are always welcome. finished photos to be posted below in a few weeks.

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