by: Andras [ ]
I have done an in-box review of this kit previously, and there was another (excellent) build feature already published; I would like to share my experience building this model.
I only found one photo of the interior of the real vehicle, so I cannot comment on the accuracy of the model in this respect. There are some differences between the photo and the kit, but they could be simply different production runs; I am not qualified to make a judgement on this. One thing I can say for sure: the vehicle was very cramped for a crew of five and a gigantic gun; it must have been hellish to work in there.
A piece of advice before starting: the very first step should be to find the recoil guard, and remove it from the sprue. Even with careful handling of the box I managed to snap it during somehow as I was building the model. (I guess as I was handling the sprues I might have placed some stress on this delicate part.)
Engine and transmission
The building of the engine is pretty straightforward affair. The detail is pretty good, although no wiring/cabling guide is provided (which is a shame, really, but an internet search can help you with that). The transmission looks exceptionally well detailed. I painted the engine in a dark aluminium color, and weathered it using oil washes and Vallejo’s new engine grime product. Some of the cabling was done using thin solder wire. The only problem is that almost none of the radiator and engine will be visible once installed. If you elect to depict the back panel opened up, you can show the transmission off at least. (This is what I did.)
Bottom of hull
The model is built from the bottom up- literally. The hull comes as a multipart assembly, where you add the sides to the bottom part to create the usual “tub” that’s normally provided as one part by other manufacturers. The reason for this assembly is probably the amount of interior detail you have to add to these parts.
First you glue in the Christie suspension units, the driver’s controls and seat, and the parts that assist with the steering at the transmission (I’m not sure what they are called). The driver’s station fits together incredibly well. The control rods and levers are very fiddly, but amazingly, they all connect in the end. The fit requires sometimes less than a 1mm accuracy, and the model delivers. Some of these rods are so delicate they were already bent on the sprue (part C35 comes to mind). Clean-up is not easy, and sometimes I was tempted just to swap them with plastic rods. (If it was not a review sample I would have. I tried to use as much of the original model as possible, but I did change a couple of parts later the build.)
The back of the transmission housing (BA33) was already bent, which had to be straightened during the gluing process. I checked the no interior version of the SU-122 and the new SU-85 kits by MiniArt, and this part was perfectly straight in both models - it might have been an issue with just my sample.
I deviated at this stage from the instructions somewhat. This assembly needs to be painted in the usual blue-grey interior color -except for the first two pairs of suspension units. These are white, so I left them out to be added after I was done with the painting. I also did not add the engine/transmission/radiators at this stage.
As I mentioned in other reviews I prefer not to follow MiniArt’s philosophy of subassemblies. The instructions would have you finish each sub-assembly first, and then add them together. This makes painting and weathering steps a bit disjointed, as several parts in several subassemblies have the same color (the metal stands on which the engine rests, the firewalls, and the bottom of the interior for example). If you follow the instructions these parts would be painted and weathered at several steps apart, which would make their looks less uniform --and the painting/weathering process more work. Instead I looked over the instructions and choose my own order. Sometimes it looks less than practical to follow the instructions, too. For example you’d have to add the headlight and the handrails to the side-walls, and then install these assemblies to the model, which is a dangerous proposition as these parts can easily be broken off during handling.
Sometimes I ran into problems of my making because I did not follow the order of steps; I highlight these parts during the review.
I first created the overall shape of the vehicle (with the basic, main structural elements in), and then filled these in with details. This approach would also make it easier to adjust potential issues with fit, since there are no delicate parts hanging all over the model yet. I have succeeded in cases, and had created more difficulties for myself in others as I mentioned.
I painted the interior of the sides, the engine firewalls, and the bottom of the hull in the blue-gray interior color of Russian vehicles. (I managed to glue in one of the front suspensions which were to be painted white, so this had to be masked later on…). I got all the parts out of the box which were to be painted white (suspension units, masked the sides off, the interior sides of the superstructure, etc.), and sprayed them with Tamiya flat white. (I had to mask off everything around the glued in suspension unit on the bottom of the hull. It was difficult enough to do with one, and it would be even worse with all four in place.) To make the white parts less plastic toy-looking, I used a very diluted filter of burnt umber paint, which gave them a nice, somewhat dirty, uneven look.
Once these two colors were applied to the main parts, I assembled the bottom hull with engine firewalls added. (I did not add all the bits and bobs to the sidewalls as the instruction advised.) As a side note (pun intended): on the right sidewall- we see a marking for a fuel tank, which does not get installed. It puzzled me why it was there (it cannot be seen once the gun and the fuel tank resting on the gun mount is installed, but you can sand it off if you like), until I saw the SU-85 kit. It will be used to mount a fuel tank in that model. (I’ve talked about the mix-and-match philosophy of model making by MiniArt in the review of that kit; it’s pretty impressive, really.) The sides of the hull are kept in place by the swing-arms of the road wheels. The fit generally is good; the small gaps can be easily filled with filler.
I weathered the assembled parts using a variety of techniques: paint chips applied with fine brush and sponge (I used the German camo black brown color from Vallejo, and other, lighter browns all the way to yellow), oil washes and some pigments. I weathered the bottom part of the sides heavier than the top, but tried to keep it relatively light. This part is really a personal choice for everyone: how much weathering you find acceptable. Very few AFV stayed in service long enough to look like a rusted, abandoned vehicle; even if it was in service for decades, the crew would keep it well maintained. For this reason I tried to balance between “realistic” and “what looks good” (although I admittedly went heavy-handed on the bottom with rust). Where the effect was too stark or too much I used a sponge dabbed in the base color to go over it.
Now I would strongly suggest adding most of the small details here and now. I put off adding the ammunition and the propellant loadout, and it was really difficult to install them under the seats, and on the back of the fighting compartment once everything else was in place. The thin straight plastic part which holds the ammunition at the back of the fighting compartment was also longer than it should have been, and had to be trimmed. Fitting and trying to make everything aligned was difficult with the gun already installed. I would suggest avoiding this mistake, and start with the ammunition before installing the seats, the gun and other larger parts. (In my case the delay came from procrastination: I did not feel mentally strong enough to start on the ammunition for the longest time.) One thing I could not figure out was where the propellant charge rack on the right side goes; the instructions would have you place it over the emergency exit hatch. I’m not sure it’s a good place for this, but who knows? It might have been placed there by the designers. There is no sign of it on the sole available photo of the interior, so I left it out. There are three of these identical racks in the model; they look strangely simplified compared to the general detail of the model. (I cannot really see how they held the cartridges, especially the one mounted on the wall.) The instruments for the driver are somewhat simplified, too; decals for the dials would have been welcome. (Although they would not really be seen once the superstructure is closed.)
I used some very thin wires painted black to add some wiring and cables. (The wires came from a Champagne bottle.) As I had no reference for the interior they are not exactly accurate but they make the model look more “alive”. Since then I’ve found an excellent reference on the T-34 which should help with the electric wiring. http://www.allworldwars.com/T-34 Tank Service Manual.html
Getting rid of the mould lines and painting the ammunition took two evenings (first to clean up and paint using an airbrush -two sessions altogether-, and then to add the thin steel and copper lines). I used the instructions to count how many projectiles I would need, and only painted that many -we get more from MiniArt than actually fits into the vehicle. Strangely you need to paint the ammunition in two different greens: faded green and olive green. Not sure what the distinction is, as the instruction does not elaborate on this, but I imagine the HE and AP loadout might have had different colors. (If the gun had two different types of ammunition, which I am not sure of.) The bands around the ammunition are not very easy to paint to say the least. I used AK Interactive’s wax based True Metal paints to make life a bit easier. These paints are “solid”, so the chances of runoff are minimal, and if I made a mistake (and I did), I could simply use a clean brush dipped in turpentine to clean up the excess. (I use Tamiya acrylics, so the base paint was safe.) If you don’t cherish painting that many pieces of ammunition you can save some time, and skip the ones that are going to be covered by other pieces of munition in the racks. (The left-side ammo rack has several rows, and only the front row will be visible.) I would wait with gluing the ammunition in place on this rack until you are ready to install the top of the superstructure; more on that later.
Since I “dirtied up” the engine compartment, I now added the transmission at this point because I wanted to display the model with the back folded down. I left the engine out so that it’s not going to be hidden once the vehicle is done. (It’s a shame only the very top of it would be visible once the engine compartment is finished. I’m going to display it in front of the model like I did with my Hobby Boss T-34/85, and the MiniArt T-44.)
The gun is not a very difficult part -except for the broken recoil guard, which I had to fix with glue. (I’m getting better and better at gluing hair-thin plastic parts together…) As mentioned I suggest you put this part aside before you touch the model. The hydraulic actuators (I think they are actuators) elevating the gun are working (the two parts can move), however the way they are attached to the gun (glued to a PE holding bracket) makes this feature more like an option to fix the gun in any position you desire, rather than to make it adjustable after the gun is in place. In other words decide what position you’d like the gun in, put it in place, and then glue the hydraulic actuators into place. If you want the gun to move, don’t glue the bottom part- it will not be visible once the front armor is attached.
The gun barrel has rifling inside, which is a great feature. (This is a welcome trend; no real need for aftermarket gun barrels.) Be sure to attach the barrel before you install the protective gun sheath around it. Once the gun and the frontal armor is in, you can add the second control wheel and its axis for the gun. From then on you will have to be careful not to break off the aiming optics, which is sticking out of the fighting compartment.
As a side-note: the wheel controlling the elevation of the gun is on the right side, between the gun and the wall of the fighting compartment… ergonomics was not a main concern when the vehicle was built.
I painted the gun in the “Russian” green color I’ll paint the whole vehicle with, and weathered it with oil washes and filters. Some wear-and-tear was simulated with painted chips (both black-brown and some metallic).
At this point the fuel tanks, the oil tanks, the compressed air bottles, the handle of the fuel priming pump (which was blue in the T-34 I saw, so I painted it blue instead of red), the ammunition, and all the other bits and pieces are installed.
I finished the final touches of weathering on the transmission and other interior parts. I blended in some gun metal paint darkened with black onto the transmission, and highlighted the edges with steel color. It received several dark washes; I have used a damp brush to adjust where the washes flowed. I used some oil stain products by AK Interactive mixed with some dark grey pigments to make it looked used and dirty. The metal bands on the two sides which help with the steering got a light Citadel zinc overcoat to simulate oxidation and heat damage (as these parts overheat a lot, which encourages oxidation).
The sides of the superstructure were fitted with all the details. For some reason the propellant cases are marked to be painted green instead of the brass color every other case has. The light fixtures were painted using a Citadel technical paint. I first painted the bottom with silver, and then used blue technical paint to stain the face of the light fixture. Since the paint flows more like a wash, it left the protecting wire frame relatively free of paint. (The extra was scraped off with a blade.) The effect is pretty good in my opinion.
The first step was to add the frontal armor plate. It’s a bit fiddly, and it’s easy to break off the suspension’s springs while you’re trying to navigate it into its place. (To be honest these springs will not be visible even from under the vehicle, so if they break off, they break off. Only you will know they’re not there, anyway.)
Once the front is on, you can attach the top of the engine compartment. It’s a large piece of plastic which has most of the fenders as well, and you will need these on in order to attach the side plates.
I would have liked to do a cutaway version of the engine compartment, but could not really figure out how to, so I just closed it in. The flaps over the cooling vents can be positioned. Unfortunately they would be invisible in the finished vehicle, as the armored vents completely cover them. The two pieces that go over them (Ca13, Ca14) have apparently three alternative placements (about 2 mm from each other), but the instructions do not give any indication what these options are, and why you would want to position these parts differently to begin with.
I’ve finished detailing the sides and the back of the fighting compartment, and glued them to the model. I’ve added some wires to the light and the electrical switch box on the right hand side to make them look a bit busier. Interestingly the pistol ports cannot be opened, unlike in the MiniArt T-44 model. They are simply molded on the plastic, but it would have been nice to have this option.
The fit of the sidewalls and the back armor plate is tight but good; I did not have to use putty, or trim anything. The only surprise was that the back of the fighting compartment is made up by three parts: the firewall between the engine and the fighting compartment, the top of the engine compartment (1 mm thick), and the back armor plate on top of this. Since I did not realize that the plastic of the engine cover would be visible, I had to paint it white after I installed it; I did not even attempt any gap filling in this case. (This three layer structure is visible, unfortunately.) I’m not sure how it could be covered up properly. Normally I would have expected the back armor plate to sit on top of the firewall without any additional plastic parts in between; the seam would have been considerably smaller. Better yet, it should have been provided as a single part.
The next step is to add the back of the fighting compartment, and finally the top armor plate. This is a very delicate step, as the ammunition -which was glued into place several steps ago- has to fit into the pre-formed ammunition holder holes. Even the slightest misalignment will cause issues with the fit. My advice is to -again- deviate from the order the instruction suggests, and only glue the ammunition onto the rack when you are ready to close the fighting compartment off. This way you can gently adjust them into their proper position while the glue sets. Since I was planning to leave this part off, I did not worry about the fit.
At this point the model finally looks like a proper tank destroyer, with the interior mostly finished. The hatches allow only a limited view of the interior so a lot of detail will be covered up.
Once vehicle got its overall shape, and all the major parts were installed, I proceeded adding the small details. (As mentioned the instructions would have you do it the other way around, but it’s easier to first glue the large parts on, than first add the headlight, the hand grabs and other stuff, and then worry about not breaking them off while installing the armor plates.)
The multitude of small hooks for the tie-downs were provided as either plastic or PE parts. (It’s not optional: some are plastic, some are PE.) The plastic ones are somewhat unfortunately molded: the gate is attached to the top curve of the hook, instead of the base, which makes cleanup a bit difficult. I just elected to use soldering wire as a replacement, and I did the same with the PE ones as well. Since I planned to install the snow cleats onto the tracks, I just left the PE straps attached to the hooks as if they were untied and loose.
The instructions are a bit mixed up, as they depict one of these hooks in place before instructing you to glue it on, but it should not cause any confusion. (It’s pretty difficult to spot, anyhow.)
Once all the hooks were glued to their place, I added the external fuel tanks. There is an option to use PE tie-downs, but only for two of the four; I decided to go with the plastic ones instead. The assembly of the tanks is easy- they are built from two horizontal halves. (Some other companies make life a bit easier for modellers by providing them as three vertical sections, which made the sanding/filling of the seams between sections unnecessary; it’s a shame MiniArt did not use this method.) They are perfectly smooth; if you want to depict them battered and bent, you either need a PE aftermarket, or form the bends with a file.
One major gripe I have with the model is with the handrails. MiniArt has the tendency to provide very thin plastic parts which are attached to the sprue by several gates. Well, the handrails are the perfect example for this; the parts look like a centipede with all the attachments. Even IF you can detach these parts from the sprue without snapping the thin plastic, the cleanup will be nil on impossible even with a very sharp blade. I just simply gave up without even trying. I cut out the parts which attach the handholds to the armor, and used a thin wire to replace the handholds themselves. It looks better because there are no cut marks on the holds where the gates were, and also because you can add little bends to the wire the same way the real thing was bent in service. I think these three parts (handholds) are the biggest weaknesses of the kit. (These, and the red dot decal; more on that later.)
The mud guards also installed at this step; I bent the back ones with my plier carefully to make them look like battered, bent sheet of metal (which they were in reality). Since the plastic is really thin, the effect is quite convincing even without PE replacement. (MiniArt has made an effort to adjust the thickness of the plastic parts to their real-life counterparts wherever possible.)
And finally, work has started on the tracks. The tracks are not workable (regardless of what the instructions claim), but they are fine nevertheless. The pins are too small to hold them together with glue, so they actually do fall apart on their own once you assembled four-five pieces. Hence: gluing. Normally I use Tamiya’s lemon based Lemonene cement for this; the only problem I have with this product is that it looks just like the paint retarder by Gunze… and the first couple of track sections I tried to glue with the retarder. (Yes, I was mildly curious where the brush from the jar disappeared, but did not really focus on the issue. No, I’m not a very smart man.)
Anyhow, the best method to glue individual links together is to work in sections: do doubles first, and then assemble those into larger and larger sections. You have at least a couple of hours to adjust the sag before the glue sets completely, so it gives you time enough to assemble half section, wait a bit, and fit it over the running gear. Every side is usually made up by two halves- at least this is how I prefer to do it. It’s easy to mix up the different sections for the two sides if you work with smaller sections. Aside from preparing and painting the ammunition, this is my least favourite part in model building.
Once the tracks were assembled, I used an acrylic spray paint to paint the sections black. I’ve chosen black as a base color simply because most of the Russian tanks I saw had black tracks. No doubt it is a museum-related thing and not historical, since any protective paint (and rust) would rub off very, very, very quickly indeed once the tank starts moving. I’ve made this choice, however, because I wanted to have a “distinctive” look for my Russian tanks. In reality most tank tracks have a very dull, brownish/steel color -they are made out of a strong steel-manganese alloy-, which is covered with dust and rust in the recesses. Most of the rust, mud and any other contamination simply rubs off as the tracks rub against each other, the running gear and the ground.
I’m not sure what the regulation was on installing the snow cleats in the Red Army, so this is another aspect of this build that is not strictly historical. You get twelve for each side, which does not leave you with many to work with. I did not glue any on the sections of the tracks which were in contact with the ground, so I had quite a lot to work with; approximately every fourth smaller track links (the ones without the guide horns) received one.
After drying the first thing to do was to add a neutral wash by Mig. (It looks nice as dust/mud deposit.) The next steps was adding a good thick slurry of pigments/oil paints to simulate the slush of snow and mud, and rubbed a silver pencil along the surface to simulate the parts that were worn to the bare metal. The guide teeth were treated in a similar manner, since the drive wheels rub them shiny as they turn the tracks. (Silver pencils are great for simulating worn-down metal.)
I have decided to go with the festive “Rudolph the red topped SPG” camo scheme with this build, since it definitely is the most unique camo I’ve ever seen. Once the tracks were ready, I painted the sides of the lower hull olive green (Tamiya), then heavily dabbed on a dark brown/black/greenish mix of oil colors to simulate the color of dirty snowmelt; the reference I used was how buses look during the winter after a heavy snow. The same color went onto the road wheels as well, and once everything was dry, I installed the tracks. (I suggest leaving the return roller in a movable state so that you can do small adjustments if the tracks are a bit loose/tight.)
I masked everything with tape (the back of the engine compartment, the top of the fighting compartment, the tracks), and sprayed olive green onto the vehicle. The exact color does not really matter as it will be covered by white-wash (and the wartime “Russian green” was far from a standardized color in any way).
I gave the paint a couple of hours to dry, and covered the model with a semi-gloss varnish to have a surface for the decals to stick to. Since I wanted to go with the unique festive Christmas camo, I decided to use the large red dot decal that goes on top of the superstructure. (In retrospect it would have been better if I added the decal after I applied the whitewash.)
Since the red dot decal needs to conform a somewhat difficult topology (it goes over the fume extractor’s cover, the hatch and the armored observation hatches), it is given in three parts. Normally I would have elected to simply mask the area and spray the color, but since it’s a review I went with the decal option. There are some issues with this option. For one, it’s not going to be easy to pose the hatches open, unless you cut the decal up. (Difficult to do accurately.) The largest part went on relatively well, although the hinges of the crew hatch did present some problems. A generous application of decal setting solution immensely helped, but it was still not easy. I did manage to tear the decal with the brush trying to smooth it out and make it conform the raised details. (It looks like the paint was rubbed off at the hinges, so the effect is no bad, but it was not intentional.)
The part going over the extractor cover went on fine; the decal part going over the observation hatch however, was not that easy to apply. I could not put it on without forming a small fold at the corner. I trimmed it once the decal dried, and touched it up with some paint. Weathering also will help making these problems disappear. The decal is thin and of good quality otherwise; the casting texture of the plastic is clearly visible underneath. All things considered it’s probably simpler just to mask the circle and paint it on using an airbrush. Once the decals were dry I applied another layer of varnish in preparation for the whitewash.
I have applied AK Interactive’s chipping fluid slightly diluted with an airbrush for the “hairspray technique”, and once it was dry, I went over with Tamiya’s flat white (also very slightly diluted). It was dry to the touch in about twenty or so minute, so I started with the chipping. I wet the surface and with a toothpick I made small nicks on the paint. These were gently extended using a wet brush. As a second round of chipping I waited about a day- enough time for the AK Interactive product to become “less active”. (As you wait, it becomes more and more difficult to create chips.) I’ve prepared an approx 1% ammonia solution using an ammonia containing cleaning product (Windex is fine), and used this over the surface of the model. (Ammonia dissolves Tamiya paints.) With a bit more vigorous brushwork I was able to create smaller, finer chips and scratches. This method (Windex chipping) is very suitable for making subtly worn surfaces, and complements the larger chips created by the “hairspray” technique.
This is the step where I installed the back of the engine compartment. I noticed that the bolt holes are not drilled in, which was odd, since MiniArt was very careful to add other details which would not be visible once the model is completed. It’s not really a problem to drill them out, but it’s still odd.
Once everything dried, I applied yet another layer of varnish to protect the work so far, and sprayed over a very light “washable white” from Mig. (I’ve tried a lot of off-the-shelf weathering products in this build.) Most of this layer was removed using a wet brush. The purpose applying it was to create a light white, transparent layer over the green paint showing through the whitewash, reducing the contrast.
After THIS dried, you guessed correctly, yet another layer of varnish was added, and I went on painting the branches, and adding the decals. Which were -for the last time- sealed with varnish.
Once this was all done I dirtied up the chassis a bit using oil paints (some light filters of burned sienna, and blending in small quantities of different shades of brown), adding oil washes, and applying a thick layer of dirty snow slush made from dark browns, black and a tiny bit of green to the lower chassis and the running gear. I added some oil stains to the engine deck and the folded-down armor plate on the back (AK Interactive’s product diluted in white spirit applied in several steps), and some diesel stains to the external tanks (Vallejo's product- as I said, I stocked up on weathering products lately…)
That’s pretty much it.
Overall the building was enjoyable, although I did run into some problems of the kit (and some of my own making). Nothing is really deal-breaking; most of the problems can be either fixed or circumvent if you have a little experience in model building. One thing that would have been great if the running gear was not static; due to the plastic suspension springs you cannot position the road wheels without a major surgery to the suspension. It would have been nice to see these springs made of metal.
If you like to be challenged this model will be perfect for you; however I don’t think it’s suitable for beginners. It’s also a considerable investment of time and effort. It is certainly possible to burn out, and just shelf it for a time. If you don’t feel like including much of the interior, go for the “light” version which has less parts and is considerably cheaper, too.