About ten years ago we were visiting Israel. We spent the better part of a day on the Golan Heights a few of us went into the old Israeli strongpoints and pondered what it might have been like in 1973 when the Syrians tried and failed to recapture it. Flowers grow among the rusting strands of barbed wire now and the visitor center sells fresh fruit grown on nearby kibutz. But on the drive up to the heights and back down we passed a number of Israeli Defense Force armored vehicles, among them, a few Merkava tanks. These tanks really stood out with their long, low and sloping design and massive 120 mm smooth bore guns.

img_3449

After a couple of good Meng Models build experiences I of course put their Merkava on my to do list and now it is on my bench. The kit probably has as many parts as the British Mk.5 with full interior and many are, as one reader of this blog pointed out to me, very small. The bad thing about small parts is that they are easily lost. I now routinely wear a black apron when I model (Amazon, two for about nine dollars) so that there is at least a chance that an errant part will land on it and not the floor. I’m batting about .600. But, the good thing about small parts is that when one is lost they are pretty easy to recreate from sprue or something from the spares box. Being small, they don’t have to be perfect, just generally the right shape and size.

As usual, these posts on my Merkava won’t be in the nature of a full build review. I generally don’t like those anyway. For me they take away from the experience of building a model for myself. It is kind of like someone telling me the story line of a movie I want to see or a book I want to read. I do, however, appreciate specific advice and alerts concerning potential issues with a kit. Those are good to know about beforehand so that they may be at least mitigated if not circumvented. That is my intention here as well as to just blather on about my general modeling thoughts.

One nice thing about this kit is the little booklet by Desert Eagle Publishing that is included for reference photos.

img_4343

One significant use I have found so far is to show the correct track direction. That is also represented in Meng’s instruction book, but you will need your Optivisor to see it well enough to be sure. Besides, it is nice to have a quick photo reference at hand without running to Google.

A not-so-nice thing is that Meng’s documenters, whomever it was that put the instruction booklet together, made some elementary mistakes. The first is that the booklet is just that: a booklet. Not a full size instruction book as found in their Mk.5 or Whippet kits for example. It is too small which can reduce necessary detail information to the almost indecipherable.

img_4344

The tracks were one example. They are “handed” in that they are not symmetrical and fit a certain way on the vehicle. This is very difficult to determine from just the instruction drawings alone. They are just too small. This could have been taken care of with a call out of a larger size drawing showing track direction, but the documenters didn’t think of this. They probably never built the model.

img_4354

Another isssue with the mini-book is there in the first instruction step.

img_4351

I’m still not clear on what the “Right” and “Left” references are for, and why the steel wheel axles should be different. I put them side by side and can’t see any difference. I suppose there may be but it would have been nice if the instructions had referenced this or called it out to the modeler’s attention. I’m fairly sure this will come back to bite me in the ass later in the build when it is too late to do anything about it.

Next, there are some fit issues that run throughout this kit. Below are a few examples.

img_4353

The engine covers are composed of a number of differently shaped and odd angled pieces. I suppose casting this in one or maybe two pieces was not feasible for Meng, so it is broken up into a number of different pieces. Fine, but they must fit precisely in three dimensions in order to, as an assembly, fit the opening for the engine. They don’t. At least not very well. You’ll just have to test fit, tweak, sand, slice and bend to get it into place.

img_4352

The above is not so much a fit issue as it is one of bad planning on Meng’s part. The rear baskets are going to be fragile on this kit. I suspect they could have been better engineered to increase the contact points on the rails, bottoms and ends to make a more robust assembly. They aren’t. Also the contact points for attaching the completed baskets to the chassis rear are also minimal, guaranteeing that you will break one or both numerous times in the subsequent assembly sequences.

img_4356

Meng would have you complete the entire basket then attach it to the rear of the turret. OK, except for 1.) if you don’t get it exactly right, it will not fit, and. 2.) once it is finally on, it will get damaged in the subsequent assembly steps for the turret, of which there are approximately twenty to get through. The answer? I suspect the best way is to skip the entire basket assembly until all of the turret has been assembled, including the machine guns. Then, hold the turret in a hobby vise so you won’t be tempted to grab any tiny fragile turret parts (there will be plenty of them to grab) attach part H24, the basket floor, to the rear of the turret and build the basket around it.

img_4355

As a final warning, and there will probably be more, I strongly suggest that you do not attach any of the turret’s small and fragile parts like railings, antennae, and all that until the major turret pieces and armor sections have be fitted and finally glued into place. There are a number of odd shaped parts that need to come together for the turret structure and armor, and they don’t just click into place. There will be pressure to apply, parts to tweak and force needed in some areas. If you attach the fragile turret parts as Meng recommends then the subsequent assembly steps will entail breakage and loss.

If I did this again, I would be sure to have all of the major turret components together before I began to attach any smaller parts near the end of the build.

Tracks

They are, as I expected, a pain. Please, please, please armor manufacturers – Meng, Dragon and Rye Field Models especially, give us the option of just putting on the “rubber band” tracks or suffering through track link hell. This, more than ill-fitting parts and miniature and confusing instructions, will prevent me from buying any more of your AFV models in the future. I don’t care to spend $50USD on a detailed AFV then have to buy after market simple tracks because I don’t want to suffer through endless link clean up, assembly glueing, then re-glueing as they fall apart when I’m trying to paint, weather and install them. I really don’t care if the link tread pattern is exact or if the damn guide tooth has a hole in it or not.

Jeez!

As I now see it the next big issue is going to be getting the lower section with wheels and tracks to mate successfully with the upper section. Already I see issues. And, with the add-on IED armor attached to the bottom, there isn’t much there to grab and apply pressure if you don’t want to break that one off either.

I guess it is kind of ironic that such a heavy duty AFV like the Merkava has to be so fragile in plastic.

I think I am nearing the half way point in this build. Although I want to get this done because I like the Merkava, I would not attempt another. My only other modern armor model was Tamiya’s Challenger II desertized. I have consistently good memories about building that kit. Everything fit. Everything. The tracks were a non-issue being continuous which is fine since I don’t care about anal-level track detail and you won’t see 93% of them on the completed model anyway.

Maybe I should have looked into the Tamiya Merkava before springing for this one.

A few more progress shots: