by: Vinnie Branigan [ ]
introductionThe Panther was the German Army's direct answer to the menace of the Russian T34, and the Russian tanks influence on it's design can be seen in the Panther's sloping armour. Many experts agree that the Panther was probably the best tank produced by anybody during the entire war. The subject of this kit, the Ausf.A was actually produced after the Ausf. D, between August 1943 and right up to July 1944 by MHN, so it's production actually overlapped that of the Ausf.G. Although Dragon have produced an Ausf.A before, which was an excellent kit in it's own right, this release makes it one of the most modern kits produced, including as it does newly-tooled parts, photo etched parts and an aluminium barrel.
the kitIt's another of those kits from Dragon that just hits you with it's quality when you first open the box! There's plenty in this one to get excited about. First the card, and this time attached to it are the decal sheet, a photo etched fret, a small transparent sprue, two small grey styrene sprues, and two small ziploc bags containing aluminium schurzen.......pre-cut. Also attached to the side of the card is another plastic bag with a cardboard header containing the 'Magic tracks'.
Of course, the instructions are in the box, and we hark back to the original instructions for these, for they are of the non-too popular photographic type, although updated of course! A separate hull is in the box, along with eight large sprues of grey styrene, and six smaller ones.
As far as the kit's lineage goes, as it's a Premium release, obviously you would expect the majority of the plastic to be from the original release, kit # 6168. However, there is plenty that's new! Sprue A that contains the deck is the one from the old release, and there's nothing wrong with that since it was fairly accurate. It has the ball mount for the machine gun on the glacis along with the left hand visor for the driver. It also has the two episcopes for the driver, and one for the machine gunner, along with the swivel hatches rather than the hinged ones on the following Ausf.G. The earlier, larger engine intake grills are also fine. Sprue B holding the fenders is again from the earlier release, as is sprue D with the main gun on it, although of course, this time we don't get to use the plastic main gun since a new aluminium one is provided.
Sprue M is from the old release, and this sprue holds the rear of the hull, although a newly tolled jack is provided elsewhere in the kit. Sprue F/E hold the rear of the turret and drive housings, and although this too is from the earlier release, we only get to use these and a couple of other parts from them.
The rest of the kit you won't find in the earlier release. It's either brand new or was first seen in Dragon's Smart Kit Panther Ausf.G.
We get four E sprues from the Ausf.G kit, and these contain the torsion bars and swing arms. We don't get to use them though, since the hull provided in this kit, which is new by the way, isn't built to accept them. Instead we get another sprue P with new swing arms. All we get to use on the E sprues are the wheels that have the correct bolts on them, i.e. double bolted for increased strength. I tried to think of a reason Dragon wouldn't allow us to use the torsion bars in this kit but I couldn't think of one? As far as I could tell it would just have required the altering of the inside of the hull slightly, and of course, moulding the holes open to accept them? Ahh well!
The cupola is new, well it's the one from the Ausf.G again, so we don't get to use the old one provided, and therefore there is going to be plenty for the spares box from this kit! The only difference with the new cupola are the slightly improved episcope housings which are a bit smaller than on the old one. As mentioned earlier, Sprue B (the second one) is the same as in the Ausf.G release, only the turret has been removed from the sprue already. On this sprue we get another plastic barrel (not used) and the main breech assembly, plus the MG mount for the cupola MG34.
Refinements in this kit are many. Firstly there is the new Magic Tracks, of the late chevron type, and although these come as individual links in a small plastic bag, there are also some links provided on the sprue with separate guide horns for fitting around the drive sprocket, as these are easier to fix than the ones supplied as Magic Track. Don't get them mixed up! The turret, as also mentioned earlier, is the one from the original release, it has the debris guard over the mantlet, the loaders episcope, and the close in defence weapon port. The loaders hatch and the two pistol ports have correctly been deleted. As for mantlet, check your references for the specific vehicle you intend to model, but most would have had the single sight aperture on the left for the T.F.Z. 12 a monocular sight, although some late A's had two holes with one plugged up. Both options are provided in the kit, and although the mantlet is the same one as provided in the earlier release, it has been given a nice new cast texture.
As far as photo etch goes, we are given a fairly extensive sheet, the travel lock chain for example coming as six thicknesses, which when assembled correctly, really does give the look of the original part. All the tools come with moulded on clamps, with moulded clasps too, or you can use the set provided without moulded on clamps, and then go for the photo etched clamps provided. The spare track racks on the sides at the rear of the hull are provided as photo etch, along with the individual retaining pins and chains, although I have to admit I had a problem with getting mine to fit in the Ausf.G kit, so I hope these have been modified slightly to make it easier, I can't tell from the fret, so more on this at a later date. The engine grills are all provided in photo etch, and will look great when fitted. Also in this kit we are given a full set of schurzen in aluminium, these will look fantastic, and will be easy to realistically damage. The ones in the original kit were provided as pre-cut styrene rectangles.
About the only thing missing from this kit is the Zimmerit. Late A's all had Zimmerit, so if you want to model an accurate Ausf. A (late) then you're going to have to add your own. That's the bad news. The good news is that previously available Atak Zimmerit sets will fit this one, since it's essentially the earlier release with lot's of add-ons!
On the rear of the hull everything looks as it should, this kit being provided with the three exhaust pipe option on the left. When you're building this kit by the way, remember that the two small outer diameter pipes were actually inlet tubes for the manifold cooling system and so would not weather in the same way as the central exhaust pipe!
Marking optionsWith this release we are offered six new options, two in three-tone camouflage schemes, two in two-tone, and one each for dark yellow, and white winter wash.
5.Pz.Div. 'Wiking', Poland 1944, 835
5.Pz.Div. 'Wiking', Poland 1944, 625
5.Pz.Div. 'Wiking', Poland 1944, R02
Pz.Rgt. 'Grossdeutschland', Eastern Front, 1944 01-
26.Pz.Div, Italy 1944 211
3.Pz.Div. 'Totenkopf'. Poland 1944 435
conclusionWhat can I say? I cannot pull a kit apart just to appear impartial. I will if I find something wrong with it. This kit deserves high praise. In my view, it's a very welcome updated kit, at a very affordable price, and provides everything you need in one box to produce a show stopper. The potential is in the box. Whether the kit reaches it's full potential is up to the individual modeller. Very highly recommended indeed!