When I reviewed DML’s new M7 kit I complained that there were a few details that were either missed out or were chunkily moulded. Well, this Voyager Model
set provides a perfect excuse to replace kit parts that aren’t up to scratch!
(As my DML M7 is too far along for many of the parts to be replaced without major surgery, I’ll probably wind up using most of this set on the Italeri and Academy M7s in my stash…)
The set comes in a stout cardboard tray slid into a card sleeve, about 6 inches square. Inside, a cellophane envelope holds two large brass sheets, a long thin sheet, and three small sheets, along with two resin parts, a length of wire, a length of plastic rod, a photo-film of dashboard gauges, and two A4 (roughly 8.5x11”) pages crammed with instructions on both sides.
The brass sheets are extremely full of etched parts of various sizes, with very little unused space. While some parts are big, most are extremely small – some to the point of being almost impossible to work. The brass itself is rather thin and easily creased if mishandled – a common fault with etch in my opinion.
While it would take too much space to list the full contents of the set, it includes parts to replace: grouser bins (and individual PE grousers!), headlight brush guards, rear-deck toolboxes, ammo bins, the MG ammo box, small-arms racks, dashboard, and engine grilles. It also adds tool straps, data plates for the gun, and a radio to help finish where Dragon left off. Some of the more challenging parts are the “roll your own” replacement working hinges for the hull extensions – a magnifier and steady hands are a must.
It would be too easy for me to just say “there’s a lot of etch here”, so instead I decided to overcome my innate “etch-o-phobia” by building some of the more stand-alone parts and comparing them to the plastic kit parts. For a representative sample I built an ammo bin, a toolbox, a grouser, a grouser bin, and a hinge for the hull armour extensions.
First up was the ammo bin, because it is big and chunky – a good place for an etch-novice like me to start! While the sheet is a bit flimsy, once the parts are clipped off they are small enough to be reasonably stiff. In fact, as it builds up it gets more rigid. I managed all the bends with nothing more than a straight-edge (the back of my flat file, because it was at hand…) and a wide X-acto chisel blade, but a PE bending tool would be useful. The instructions are more of a parts-placement guide than an assembly sequence – I found it easiest to slot all the dividers together in the main bit before dropping them into place. Also, the instructions are vague about the bolt-strips at the bottom edges. There is an internal groove for the bin floor, and the bolt-strip bends outward just over a millimetre below this floor, so the finished bin stands a little above the vehicle deck with a small gap underneath. It confused me because the kit parts have the bin floor sitting flat on the deck, with the bolt strip coming out at floor level. However, the PE part matches the detail seen in the M7 and M7B2 over at Toadman’s Tank Pictures:
The bolt-strips are along the front edge only, so I supported the back edge with a little 0.060” square plastic strip that won’t be seen when in place. Some of the joints are edge-to-edge, which leaves precious little contact area for the superglue – I’d certainly have designed them differently. Working carefully with superglue on a toothpick I soon had a nice rendition of an ammo bin that will look great with some AFV Club 105mm rounds in fibre-board tubes. Best of all, the finished part matches the overall dimensions of the kit part exactly.
Next I built a toolbox, which is much nicer than the lumpen plastic DML part. Folding was easy enough, although care is needed with the “long” folds around the lip of the lid. The hasp detail is very good compared to the pitiful DML version, even if a little intimidating by its small size. The only real let-down came from the “fold your own” hinges with their hard steel wire and over-thin strips. I got there in the end, but it isn’t pretty, especially as the wire is curled and springy. If you plan to fix the lids (open or closed) then why not replace the PE hinge with a length of plastic rod? (I had the same fun later with one of the hinges for the hull armour extensions…) The boxes have some edge joints around the base that are a pain – I’ll need to pass a file over them.
Feeling ambitious I tackled one of the grousers. These are fiddly, and it took serious tweezer-skills to get the microscopic reinforcing ribs onto the cleat before adding the back plate. And folding the flaps on the end caps is fun. Still, as a diorama accessory they look good! The grouser boxes again rely on an edge joint that could be reinforced with a bit of thin wire, but they allow the modeller to follow real examples by loading the boxes with pretty much anything but the regulation grousers. (M7s were notoriously short of stowage space…) They are a bit flimsy until glued to a hull, but are a very welcome replacement for kit parts. One thing I noticed was the finished grouser was a hair too wide for the bin – but that might just be my sloppy work on the grouser.
While I haven’t built the radio for this review, it is worth noting that one is provided. Some M7s seem to have had them, while others may have relied on the Battery commander to keep in touch with HQ – I suspect it depends on the time-frame being modelled. The only issues with the PE radio are removing the slightly large handset from its resin pouring block without breaking it, and the way they say to scratch-build a core block onto which the PE parts are attached – they could have offered the block in resin.
There is a lot in this set – some of it (especially the stowage boxes and ammo bins) is very welcome to replace mediocre kit parts, but much of it is for the real die-hard detailer. Expect to work for it though – my “Etch-Jedi” skills are weak, and I wouldn’t recommend this set to anyone just starting out, but for the experienced hand this set will definitely improve any of the M7 kits available in 1:35.