The Renault FT-17, although tiny in comparison to most modern tanks, is considered by historians to be the prototype of all subsequent tanks. Although the British developed the armored, tracked assault vehicle, the first being called “Mother”, and followed up by various versions of Mother with rhomboid tracked vehicles, they had serious design and tactical shortcomings. The French, meanwhile, focused on both ends of the tank spectrum, the huge, even by today’s standards, Char and the diminutive two-man FT-17.To quote Wikipedia:
The Renault FT, frequently referred to in post-World War I literature as the “FT-17” or “FT17”, was a French light tank that was among the most revolutionary and influential tank designs in history. The FT was the first production tank to have its armament within a fully rotating turret. The Renault FT’s configuration – crew compartment at the front, engine compartment at the back, and main armament in a revolving turret – became and remains the standard tank layout. Over 3,000 Renault FT tanks were manufactured by French industry, most of them during the year 1918. Another 950 of an almost identical licensed copy of the FT (the M1917) were made in the United States, but not in time to enter combat. Armoured warfare historian Steven Zaloga has called the Renault FT “the world’s first modern tank.
This being during the 100th anniversary of WWI, I am focusing my modeling on that period. Of course, over the next three years I do plan to build models from other eras, but my main interests will remain in WWI. I recently discovered a Chinese scale model company out of Hong Kong, Meng Models that is investing in the production of a number of WWI tank models. After seeing some examples on the internet and reading various reviews, it was obvious that these kits were far above the standard and approaching the quality of Tamiya, Eduard and Wingnuts Wings. Being in some respects either a modeling snob, or a poor modeler who depends on quality and super-engineered kits, I added Meng to my list of favorite modeling companies. As I posted here earlier, I finished Meng’s Whippet tank kit and enjoyed the build and the resulting model. So, naturally, the FT-17 had to be next.
I do like tank kits with full interiors after building Eduard’s only offering, the Hetzer, long ago. I opted for the Meng kit with only the driver’s compartment and turret having internal detail because the other version, with the cast turret, does have an exposable engine, but the transmission and cooling systems are not visible after the kit is finished.
I will try to outline the process in so far as there are issues with the construction and problems with the model’s design. I don’t favor step-by-step reviews because I think part of the fun of building models is to discover that entire area and process for oneself. However, I have appreciated those reviewers who highlight parts and procedures that bear watching during assembly and any actual issues with the kit parts themselves.
So, on with the build.
Hull, left side with main suspension spring. What’s not shown here are the twelve or so pieces that make up the hull bottom, sides and top. Every edge on those parts meets an edge on another part. The edges of these parts are cast at 45º angles with the expectation that they will meet to form a solid 90º angle. This doesn’t always happen, plus there are sometimes only small tabs and “slots” to align these parts. While helpful, they aren’t as well designed or robust as those would be from Tamiya or Wingnut Wings. To make matters more difficult, the long side pieces and the bottom and top were moulded with the sprue attachment points right on this 45º edge. This means you must spend considerable time with scalpel, sanding sticks or files to get them cleaned off and the edge back to 45º. Not pretty. Or necessary. A definite minus for Meng.
Top rear. On the cast turret kit, the engine, transmission and cooling equipment is installed. This one is empty. While the rear hatches can be posed open to reveal the top of the engine and exhaust, little or nothing of the rest of the engine, transmission or cooling system components can be seen.
View into the driver’s compartment. It is spare with few details, but not that different from the original.
Main suspension and drive assembly.On top are the return rollers. The big idler wheel is not installed yet. The actual road wheels are encased in the bottom beam assembly.
I found it helpful to glue the road wheels and return rollers in place. Makes assembly much easier and I don’t care if they rotate or not. The free idlers and sprockets will be enough so that the tracks will roll if necessary. The suspension, which is rudimentary at best, actually operates enough to suggest the real thing. Nice touch. And, it’s not necessary to clean the sprue attachment stubs left on the wheels since they can be oriented so those are not visible.