Wednesday 29 January 2020

A very challenging challenger!


yes you've guessed it I'm going to start yet again by saying that this kit was bought as a bargain! Only this was something of a "blind buy" for me. I had seen it advertised 2nd hand on gumtree in my local area for £10. My immediate thought process was "A 1/35 scale tank for £10; bargain I must have it!" A short text message and a 15 minute car journey and I was the proud owner of a 2nd hand Challenger tank kit. Feeling very happy with myself I put the kit into the stash and got on with my life for a while. Fast forward 6 months and I found myself wanting a break from my usual mini-dios or vignettes. The Challenger immediately popped into my head as being an ideal model that doesn't really need a dio base for it to have visual impact. This is where the nightmare began..............

The kit 

I wasn't really aware that Airfix made much in the way of 1/35 scale models and was pleasantly surprised to see this tank for sale. Imagine my surprise when after opening the box I spotted the trumpeter logo on the inside of the tank hull? My curiosity immediately had to be satisfied, the box was closed and the I pad was opened.

What I discovered was review after review of this particular kit saying how awful it was. Reviews ranging from the poor quality of the actual kit to its inaccuracy of the tank it was supposed to represent. I'm used to reading the odd review posted by a "rivet counter" lamenting over the manufacturers lack of research resulting in two bolts missing from the front and three rivets from the turret but this was different; I could not find a single person who had anything good to say about the kit!!! Suddenly my £10 bargain looked like a £10 loss.

Rather than giving up I searched the internet the following day and gathered as much reference material of the tank itself and material relating to improving the model so that it was somewhat presentable. I made the decision to forgo the aftermarket parts as the expense alone would increase the cost to over 6 times what I had originally paid for it!!  Instead I am going to set myself a challenge of improving this kit so that it is a sensible representation of the real thing. Yes there are additional steps that you could take to improve accuracy however it will involve cutting large chunks of the body away and rebuilding and it will involve buying A LOT of aftermarket resin and photo etch kits that will definitely cost lots of money.

I have read that Tamiya make an excellent "desertised" version of this tank and that its very accurate, so if accuracy is paramount to you I would strongly advise that you begin with buying that kit. If however you simply must have an early Challenger 2 then please read on:

The kit

Lets start by saying that nothing fits! I had to test fit each individual part several times before even considering using glue. Most of the major components had to be filed, filled, added to and in some cases taped down because they were warped. Patience is needed with this kit. The hull and turret without additional parts need at least a week set aside to build. I'll include photos of the various stages of the basic build that clearly shows the amount of tape required to keep things together while the glue cured:

At this stage I will point out the first of the "errors" that I have chosen to ignore. The kit wheel positions are off as is the rear drive sprocket and transmission case. I found an excellent article online written by Neil Whiteley-Bolton that details the omissions and errors in this particular kit and in all honesty I was going to include this as one of the changes to the kit. The wheel mounts can be carefully removed with a razor saw and comfortably re-attached to the hull. The drive sprocket can be re-worked to give it, its correct position however this would have a knock on effect to the rear panel of the kit. I opted to stay on the right side of caution reasoning that the finished tank would not really benefit from the wheels being a few millimeters to the left or right of their original positions. (remember improvements not accuracy for this build). 


before you even attempt the stowage bins on the turret please read this section first. The parts fit is worse than terrible!! I was fortunate again to stumble across a build diary of  a fellow model maker (I can't remember the website address sorry) where he ran into so much trouble with them he had to buy another kit just to make the attempt on the bins again! Rest assured they do fit together quite well provided you are willing to spend a long time dry fitting them together first and then dry fitting the dry fitted bins to the turret. I had to do this many times to get the everything to line up before I dropped glue into the dry fitted joints and trusted capillary action to draw the glue into the joint so that I didn't have to remove the tape.

There is a lot of careful thought, filing and filling with small plastic card shims to ensure that everything goes together squarely and most importantly flush with each other to give the classic Challenger look from the back of the turret. I have taken photos of the turret areas and locations of where I had to use shims however from reading up on this particular model there are no two tans the same. You have been warned!!

The turret gun mount is given as two choices, however as everything with this kit; the later gun mount (used in Bosnia) does not fit correctly and would need work for it to be an accurate representation (shown below). I opted for the earlier mount type as it seems to be a pretty fair copy of the real thing and it actually fits! On the subject of the turret there are serial numbers that are very well cast into the surface. I am not entirely sure whether these are supposed to be there as part of the tank or simply model numbers left over from the manufacturing process of the model. I'm hoping to find a decent enough reference shot of the upper surface of the tank before I am forced to make a decision and guess!

The rear panel has some interesting items that could benefit from some simplistic changes. One of the first things that I noticed was the towing shackle attached to the rear of the tank has very little detail when compared to photos of the real thing. I decided to improve this by drilling through the three mounting points and replacing the mounting pins with polystyrene rods from the spares box

The medical box needed some attention.the rear of the box is missing and some simple molded handles were added using plastic card. The tow cables are particularly bad so the cable portion was removed and replaced with some cheap twisted brass wire found in £1 picture hanging kits in most pound saver shops. The smoke dis chargers for the turret were particularly confusing. The real ones have dished covers however the kit ones are supplied as domed type covers? these were sanded flat and then a large drill bit was used to countersink the heads leaving a domed effect  

If you have decided to take the plunge and attempt this kit; the only advice that I can give at this stage of my build is to try and keep your patience and plod on regardless! I have had to make decisions on what really must be improved and what can be left "as is". My approach was to treat each area of the tank as separate models. I placed each small scratch built item onto the surface and re-evaluated what else could be done to that area. Once I was happy with the result I moved onto another area and so on..... I have made so many little changes and improvements that I think for everyone's sake I will simply post photos of the changes before they blend into one another after painting:

 Up to this point I have not bought a single aftermarket item for this model. I have used varying thicknesses of plastic card, florists wire, filler, stretched sprue (clear and colour) and lots and lots of headaches! again airfix/trumpeter for some unknown reason chose to correctly apply the texture surface on the main body of the tank but omitted it from the turret?? I decided to try a new texture finish product from a company called VMS. The product is advertised as Hull Tex Air and they very thoughtfully provided a you-tube instructional video. I will go on record right now and say it is brilliant! the quality of the finish is outstanding and I will definitely continue to use it in the future. HINT: have a look on E-bay and they offer a fantastic range of hobby supplies at some bloody good prices when compared to other manufacturers! The photos below are the hull tex air applied and then primed:

At this stage I began to think of a way of displaying the tank. I had not originally intended to display on a base because of the size of the model however the tracks are pretty awful in terms of realism. I could again spend twice the amount of money I had originally spent on the tank and buy replacement resin ones; however if I place the tank on a base and cover the tracks in mud or dust.........  The base will be simplistic in every way and restricted in size for display purposes. I opted for a simple construction of wood, blue foam and foam board. onto this I applied a base layer of artists acrylic medium followed by dried earth and then static grass. I also decided to buy a Royal Tank regiment cap badge from E-bay and paint it in the regimental colours:

Back to the Challenger and the airbrush was brought out to apply a number of thin coats of Vallejo acrylics followed by a coat of Klear and then the application of the supplied decals. Again I have to point out that the decals leave a lot to be desired. The number plate sizes are incorrect and the decals are VERY brittle so consider yourself warned:

I am now at the stage of pin washing and general weathering of the tank before specific weathering to match the terrain that I have created for the base. I have also found two Canadian resin figures in the spares box that I will re-work to resemble a driver and commander to breath a little life and scale into the finished tank (hopefully).

I was fortunate that the figures that I had were quite close in terms of uniform and helmets and that the pose was very close to fit into the drivers and commanders hatch with very few modifications. I test fitted them several times until I was completely happy with their positioning and then painted and fitted them into position. To finish the tank I mounted it onto the base and began adding dust and dirt (lots of it) to various parts of the tank. I used a lot of reference images of the Challenger on exercise across Europe to get the desired look.

Final Thoughts and Photos

Towards the end of this build it became quite enjoyable; however if I was asked to create this particular model again the answer would have to be ABSOLUTELY NOT!! There are just far too many errors and problems with this kit I'm afraid. One of the major problems is the positioning of the wheels for the tracks towards the rear of the tank. On my model I opted not to change this as it would require a lot of additional structural changes and after the troubles with the turret bins I had simply had enough! Could this be improved with after market parts and detail sets? Yes; but when you consider the initial cost of the model I would have to say that it simply isn't worth it unless you simply have to have a pre-updated version of the Challenger 2. I hope that you have enjoyed reading this model build and as always your comments are welcome below:

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