by: Tom Cromwell [ ]
When SKP released a plastic kit of the iconic A30 Challenger tank a few years back it got British armour fans very excited. Sure, the company was an unknown quantity, and the kit included a suspiciously large number of resin parts that closely resembled the plastic ones in Tamiya’s earlier Cromwell and Centaur kits, but it was the only affordable game in town. Then the build articles started to appear, racking up complaints about poor fit of the “short run” plastic moulded parts and (more worryingly) the resin indy-link tracks that were nigh on impossible to assemble with acceptable results. Replacement resin track lengths could be had from Accurate Armour, but they had to be bent to shape with gentle heating. Since only the Challenger and late-production Cromwells used the 15.5” tracks, options in 1:35 scale are limited.
SKP decided to come to the rescue of Challenger fans when they announced a new set of replacement resin “clickable” indy-link tracks for the A30 last year, and I’ve finally got my mitts on a set…
Inside a small (1x2x4.5-inch) sturdy cardboard box is a zip-lock bag containing 329 links cast in dark rusty brown resin.
Some sources call for 127 links per track on the A30 Challenger, although SKP calls for 124 in its kit instructions. Either way there are tons left over to use as track armour etc.
Casting of these new links is nice and sharp. Better yet, they don’t have any appreciable flash, or even a casting block to trim. And the central guide horn is the right size. By comparison the original kit-supplied links were “soft” in detail, had loads of flash and a prominent casting scar that was hard to remove without damaging the details, and featured noticeably stubby guide horns.
Assembly is by “clicking”, with pins on one link engaging holes in the next. Unfortunately the pins and the thin edges of the matching holes are rather fragile, and I managed to damage several while assembling a short run of a dozen links – the losses across a whole track run will be substantial. Broken pins can be super-glued, but there goes the “working” feature! The old links were also “clickable”, and were somewhat more durable…
The real links were 15.5” wide – that’s nearly 40cm, just as on Panzer IVs. The new resin links measure a hair over 11.25mm, which scales out around 39.4cm or 15.5” as best I can see with a simple ruler. The problem is, the holes for the sprocket teeth are a full two millimetres too close together to fit the kit sprocket! And since the sprocket is a resin copy of the Tamiya plastic sprocket from their Cromwell kit, that too will not work with these tracks. The funny thing is the “old” resin tracks that came with the A30 were a perfect fit…
The reason for this fit-problem is enough to drive me to tears of frustration. The real 15.5” tracks were matched with a slightly narrower 18-tooth sprocket that measured 9 inches “face to face”, while the earlier 14” tracks from the Cromwell used a 20-tooth sprocket that was 11 inches wide. SKP split the difference in the Challenger kit by copying the 11”-wide 20-tooth sprocket and making a 15.5” track with the holes wide-enough apart to fit them. The narrow 18-tooth sprocket was used on later Cromwells (with the 15.5” track), A30 Challengers, and the A34 Comet (which used an even wider 16.5” track). These new replacement tracks are accurately scaled to the 9”-wide sprocket, but SKP didn’t offer this as a replacement in the track set the way Accurate Armour did in their 15.5” Trackpax set. The only available 18-tooth sprockets I know of are in the AA set (selling around £14 – the price of these SKP links), or from the Bronco Models A34 Comet kit (selling around £30). I dug out my Comet kit just to check that these new tracks do indeed fit nicely.
So, what to do? I’m not sure if SKP just goofed, or if they meant to aim these new links at folk who have the AA set and just want to upgrade from resin lengths to indy links, but those of us who buy them for use on the SKP A30 Challenger are left with a dilemma. If I want to use these new tracks on my Challenger I could try to narrow the 20-tooth sprocket and hope the “wrong” sprocket isn’t too visible, but looking at the detail I don’t think this will be possible. Then again I could dispose of these altogether and use the HobbyBoss 14-inch Cromwell tracks since the earliest prototype Challengers rode on them at least during testing.
Another option is to scrap these new links and go back to working with the old ones, lumpen and inaccurate though they are. Or, I could get the AA Trackpax set just for the sprockets, but then why did I spend the same amount again buying these indy-links? A fifth way would be to sacrifice a whole Comet kit just for the correct sprockets, but that way lies madness. These otherwise-sharp new resin links can always be used as expensive “track armour” to decorate the turret sides, I guess! Sadly, the one thing I can’t do is use these new tracks “out of the box” for the job they were designed for…
Of course, if I wanted easily worked indy link tracks in plastic to fit the over-wide sprockets I could think outside the box and use a set of plastic 40cm Panzer IV links (like the Academy set), file away any incriminating “ice cleat” detail, and apply enough “mud” to hide the difference. Since the Academy set has solid guide horns this would be a reasonable swap given that they retail around a lowly £4, but it will take two sets to give enough links. Being plastic, there is plenty of “working” time as the glue sets, allowing whole runs to be assembled and draped for realistic track sag. (The very nice Tristar PzIV links that I tested for concept fit on the kit’s 20-tooth sprocket perfectly and include enough in one set, but have open guide horns that are just too visibly wrong for the A30…)
My excitement when SKP announced these replacement tracks has turned to bitter disappointment. It is regrettable that the folks who made the A30 Challenger kit did not have the decency to offer replacement sprockets, since they must have known about the problem. I don’t know if I’ll be able to use them without obtaining new sprockets, but if not then I will have wasted the purchase price when the same outlay would have got me the tried and trusted Accurate Armour set.
It is hard to score these new tracks, since the actual links are very good-looking and could be combined to good effect with the AA or Bronco sprocket for those with deep pockets. If they were clearly advertised as companions to the AA sprocket and I knew what I was getting into before I bought them then these might be worth at least an “80%”, but in the end my score reflects the fact that without splashing out even more money on new sprockets the tracks as they come are essentially useless. I’ll have to think long and hard before wasting any more money on SKP products.