A lot of progress today which also means a lot of pics. Picking up where I left off last time, I decided that the mix of solid and clear headlights just wasn't going to work. Drawing from several reference photos, I used a circle template and scratched some black-out covers for all three lights out of sheet styrene. These were made of cloth in reality and had slits cut into them, so I did my best to try to replicate this. Ironically enough, the larger light gave me the most trouble and while its slit is on the larger side, it was the best attempt after 3 tries and deemed good enough for what I wanted to accomplish.
Moving on to Step 10, I assembled the siren out of its three parts. The base mount, part F4, has two pins one of which, the one nearest the hull, needs to be removed to allow the siren to mount properly. I also had to open up the hole in F16 with a knife point for it to fit. Same thing with the two small mount holes in the fender. I decided to leave the front fenders off, a common practice in the field, but installed the locking clamps, B22, as photos show these still in place even when the fenders aren't. These were a pain to get installed as there's very very little contact surface for them to glue to. Nice detail, but had to be very careful with their installation not to lose one in the process to the carpet monster. I also installed the Notek light for the front but did that after this photo was taken.
Step 11 deals with the superstructure assembly. I used some sheet styrene to blank off the interior opening since this vehicle doesn't have the right rear vision port. I used liquid glue to secure a styrene rectangle and then sanded it down to where it was almost transparent and seamless with the kit part around it. All of the inner gaskets for the vision ports were also installed. Even though I'm going to close up all of the hatches, I wanted to see how the interior assembled in order to see if there were any issues. The gaskets need to sit perfectly flush inside and out, so be careful when installing them that they don't stick out slightly as they tend to want to do that.
I attached all the hull plates and they fit well together, just requiring some liquid glue and finger pressure to get the seams to merge together. All of the view port covers were installed and I left off the armored glass blocks, parts W4, since I want the slits to show empty when painting and didn't one to mask off those tiny tiny parts to keep a "glass" look that wouldn't be visible anyhow without an internal light source. The mount frames and support arms are a very tricky installation since all the parts are clear and it's hard to tell just how they all line up. Trying to detail paint these would also present a challenge since they glue to other clear parts, something to keep in mind for those wanting to show off the interior.
Step 13 addresses the interior elements for the right side of the driver's area. One of the items that the kit includes is a PE radio mount frame that, on the fret, looks great. For some strange reason, Dragon chose to reinforce the angle frames to double thickness compared to the rest of the part and this makes bending it to shape extremely difficult. The tolerances for the thicker parts in terms of surface area for using pliers or a bending tool are very small. I tried to bend mine using a FenderBender miniature metal brake and just couldn't get it to work. Since it has to bend up into a rectangle, some of the bends need to be done with pliers and the weaker thinner parts wanted to bend instead of the bend lines on the thicker parts as it should have. I've used quite a bit of PE on different projects, but this one defeated me.
I ended up installing the radio and other pieces sans frame. The details include the bin for the driver's headphones, the radio aerial raise/lower lever, and the crew backage locker (odd shaped thing with the bolt heads behind the radio). All that and no driver's instrument panel, which still remains a curious omission given the rest of the details that are included.
I rounded out the step by securing the top plate in place. This required just a bit of coaxing with finger pressure and careful liquid glue application but everything comes together ok. Just a little bit of sanding around the edged to smooth everything out and it was good to go.
Step 14 deals with the rear engine deck. The engine access hatches were installed along with the fuel filler caps. 4 are provided on the sprues but only two are used. This, along with the presence of the larger access hatch for the front hull and plate, leads me to believe that DML will likely release a Series 4 vehicle since all the parts are there except for the necessary engine deck.
Step 15 begins with the turret. The commander's hatch has nice detail on both sides with 3 small parts added to the interior for the latch handles and other small parts. I had to check the reference photos on just what angle they should have for an open hatch (even though I'm closing it up) as the instruction diagram is a little vague as to how they should go.
All of the view ports for the turret were installed without any major issues. Unlike the hull ports, the turret ports have their armored glass integrated into the mount swing arms. As a result, I didn't install the arms to preserve the clear vision slot so can't comment on their fit or operation. Unlike the hull ports, the turret port gaskets sit proud on the inner surface and I found it easier to install the ports on the exterior first and then install the gaskets to insure proper alignment all around. The commander's hatch was secured in place as the final element. There's a curious part of this step dealing with part J7. The instructions call for it to be attached to the base of the turret but there's no indicator marks for it and where the instructions point for it to be installed would interfere with the turret base installation. In reality this part is a head pad that should be installed directly above the mount for the commander's seat and centered between the two rear turret vision ports. You would never know that however from the way the diagram is laid out.
Step 16 deals with the main armament of twin MG13s and their assembly consists of each gun paired up with a spent shell case and a loaded magazine. These need to be assembled with precision to clear the other elements in the turret, particularly the trigger mechanism and turret traverse wheels which are installed in Step 17. The eyepiece on the gun sight is molded solid, I started to drill it out with a pin vise and stopped when I realized that it would be better to show it in its "native" state since I'm not showing the interior anyway. The sight includes the "bar" sight for when the front flaps of the mantlet are open allowing for direct sighting, a nice touch in the detail department but very tricky to install since the contact area for it is extremely tiny.
Step 17 deals with the turret base details including the commander's chair and mount. This is also a tricky installation since the tubular frame is divided up between three parts, the base J9, the seat J8, and the seat back J10. I literally built it from the bottom up, gluing J8 to J9 and then J10 to J9 to get it all lined up properly. It's tricky because the only contact points are the tube ends of the support frame, so things are "in the air" until mated up with their next part. You almost need three hands to get it all together smoothly. The trigger mechanism, which includes two PE parts, installs to the right side and the turret traverse wheel installs to the left. Both have indicator marks to help insure they are positioned in the right spot. The seat was secured in place as well and set off to the side to dry up.
Once ready, the MGs and mantles were secured to the turret bottom. While the instructions indicate that it's possible to keep the guns so they can elevate/depress, this doesn't prove to be very practical with all of the interior pieces, so mine was fixed in place. The turret bottom was glued to the top with liquid glue and everything was set except for the gun barrels which will be installed after the hull is painted.
Step 18 deals with the installation of the superstructure and rear engine deck. I installed the superstructure first, using rubber bands and liquid glue to get everything in place and lined up with the glacis. Throughout this entire build I'd dry-fit the superstructure with the interior to make sure everything lined up but I never thought to include the engine deck as well...and as a result, I ended up with about a 0.5mm offset between the superstructure and the engine deck. I believe the culprit to be part J12 installed way back in Step 9 since when I look inside the superstructure, I can see that it meets up flush on the right side but has, you guessed it, about a 0.5mm gap on the left side.
At this point it would require ripping out the superstructure, including its join with the glacis and fenders, along with several pieces on the interior to correct J12's alignment, so I decided to live with it, but point it out for those who come behind. This one is due to my error most likely rather than a kit engineering flaw...something that could've been avoided if I had test fit the engine deck too when I installed J12. DML could've helped with some indicator marks or locater pins for this part but since they didn't, I was off by 0.5mm and it shows in the end. I used some putty to fill in the gaps on the left and right sides so it doesn't look too bad, but I know it's there.
The right side also got the antenna mount and tray installed along with the brake vent cooling pipe. Somehow or other I neglected to open up the locater holes for the pipe, so I snipped off the pins and glued it in place without the need for the holes anyhow.
Last but not least, the special armored vent cover for the rear deck was assembled and installed. This is a complex assembly for the cover and the smoke candle rack as an integrated unit. I installed the base and cover first directly to the engine deck to have a solid platform to work from and then added the angle braces, F2 and F3 to it first. Then the base of the rack, F8 was installed into the braces with the candles and hood coming last.
All of the pre-paint construction is now done, so tomorrow ought to see some time with the AB.