by: Rick Cooper [ ]
Hasegawa is a model company that is probably well known to most of us with an extensive line of aircraft, ships, and automotive subjects among others things. The one area in which they have not dipped their toe in quite some time is 1/35 scale vehicles. Recently, however they have kitted out something for us in 1/35 scale but it is not quite a military vehicle. Instead, they have produced a piece of construction equipment and what a piece it is; the Hitachi NEO ASTACO disaster relief vehicle.
The vehicle is a formidable looking piece of equipment that looks like it came right off the set of some alien movie or another. The name, ASTACO, is an acronym for Advanced Systems, Twin Arm, Complex Operations and is intended for use in quickly demolishing structures that have been severely damaged in earthquakes or tsunamis. Considering the peculiar geography of the Japanese Archipelago Hitachiís development of this vehicle makes perfect sense.
Opening the box you are confronted with eight good sized sprues along with another eight smaller sprues. These sixteen sprues are of several different colors and materials; bright orange, light gray, dark gray, clear, black, and made of styrene, rubber, polystyrene, metal springs, nylon mesh and clear parts. The different colors of the styrene reminded me a bit of Airfix kits from a few years back with multiple colors. The kit provides an extensive decal sheet, a very busy fold out set of instructions, and a large card with paining information for the cab of the vehicle. All of this comes packed in a sturdy slip top box.
Construction began with the cab area, first the interior and then the outer shell which was constructed around the interior cabin. The interior is well detailed with a good number of decals used to provide all of the modern readouts, etc. that make up the brains of the vehicle. Separate pieces for the pedals, and brake controls help to enhance the detail. The glass for the doors, windscreen, and rear were left off for later. The kit does provide a figure, which I built up, but I decided to leave it out of the build.
Next up I tackled the two arms; the business end of the vehicle. Construction of the plastic portions was pretty straightforward, the hydraulic plumbing was generally molded on and gave some nice detail to the parts, the heavy arm pieces certainly looked the part and the fit was perfect. The hydraulic cylinders were easy enough to construct but the number of pistons that were all meant to allow movement to the finished model proved more hassle than they may have been worth with the way they would flop open and apart at the worst possible moment. Worst of all, after fighting through the whole process the painting and weathering steps at the end left them in such a state that I should have just gone ahead and glued them into place at the beginning and declared it a static model! Hopefully, you will have better luck than I did!
The two arms have different end attachments and these both insert into the arm with the use of a poly cap which is a nice touch. It allows you to build them up separately, paint and weather, and then attach at the end for a perfect fit without the problem of glue or paint sealing them into one position. I built both of them up without any problem at all as both assemblies fit well and are robust enough to take a little handling.
The rubber hosing for the hydraulic connection from one part of the arm to another was a different story. With the parts being rubber and the arm being styrene I needed some CA glue. The only problem was that the connection for the rubber to the styrene was not always what you would call well engineered or at least it didnít seem to be molded with the modelerís needs in mind. Often they provided little more than a butt joint which didnít work to well. On top of that at times after getting it glued on one end I had to stress the rubber piece to get it to meet the gluing connection point on the other end resulting in the first end popping off. It was a bit of a struggle, patience and clothes pins won the day in the end but I felt like it could have been molded in such a way to be a bit more user friendly.
After sorting that out I next turned to the turning body, this was really the easiest part of the build, very straightforward with no bumps along the way. The fit here was glove tight and easy to manage. Now the only thing left was what Hasegawa, and I presume Hitachi, called the travelling body.
The travelling body was an easy build, the actual bogie wheels are molded on the long bogie piece making things go a bit quicker. I am sure some folks would want these all as separate pieces but they are not actually very prominent and are mostly hidden away. The idler is tensioned against the tracks with a spring assembly that was a bit fiddly, but nothing that a bit of patience couldnít deal with. The tracks were another question, again rubber tracks but unfortunately not the type you can glue. You needed to glue these with CA glue, but the part only provided a very shallow join area. You may be able to get away with super gluing one end to the top of the return roller and then gluing the other piece to that and clamping it down until it sets up nice and hard. Me, I decided I would use the old school staple method with the help of the office stapler we keep around the house; it did the trick.
With that the next thing to do was the painting. The painting scheme I opted for was a bit different than what is called out for. It appears that only a few of these have ever been made and it doesnít appear (although I may be very wrong here) that any of these have actually ever been sold or used beyond demonstrations. With that in mind I wanted to show the vehicle after some hard use and came up with my own paint scheme that would not stray too far from the original yet be somewhat unique. To that end I went with a Tamiya X-6 Orange for the turning body and the arms, Vallejo Model Air 71057 Black for the travelling body, and the same black lightened a bit for the cab of the vehicle.
After painting it was time for decals. . The decal sheet is very well done, colorful, thin, and in perfect register. With a made up paint scheme I decided to swap the large ĎHitachií decal for the markings of a fictitious construction company, ĎRCIí, just for a bit of fun. I cut out a mask for the new marking and applied it with a sponge and some Vallejo white. For the most part the decals went down without any problems; I used a drop of Solvaset on each which proved to be no problem as well. The one issue I had with decals was the clear glass parts for the doors which have a large decal that provides the frame. This was a bit tricky to get to lay down exactly where they needed to be. It appears to me that Hasegawa should have provided for the decals to be on the outside of the glass but they only fit on the inside, this leaves you with a somewhat unsightly back of the decal that faces out of the cab. Hopefully they will correct this sometime in the future.
I put everything together at this point but the detachable travelling body made the weathering quite a bit easier. I used the hairspray method to add most of the many scratches, scraps, nicks and bruises on the body and both of the arms. After that had reached a convincing point I turned to some filters and washes before adding the final layers of pigments, stains, leaks, and wet patches. With that the only thing to do was bring it down to the club and unveil the final results.
As a childhood expert in the earthmoving abilities of a Tonka truck, as an adult I have long wanted to have a go at a piece of construction equipment. It turned out to be a bit more challenging than I thought it would be. The rubber hoses and the multitude of parts that are meant to be multi-position made this a model that calls for a bit of patience and problem solving.
Despite that it is a very well detailed model that provides a great palette on which you can have some fun weathering. The decals are top notch, full color illustrations in the instructions are very helpful, and the fit is excellent. There are some drawbacks, some of the attachment points are an issue and will need some finessing and the tracks are not easy to get together in the manner in which Hasegawa would have you construct them. On balance, I would recommend this kit if you are looking for something out of the ordinary or you have an abiding interest in construction equipment but only if you have a bit of experience working with different materials and glues.