by: Rowan Baylis [ ]
BackgroundIncluded in Tamiya’s range of 1:24 car kits is arguably one of the most distinctive and iconic sports cars of all time - the Mercedes-Benz 300 SL “Gullwing”. So named after its eye-catching upward hinged doors, the 2-seater was developed from the first racing car produced by Mercedes-Benz after WW2, the W194 of 1952. Like the racer, the production 300 SL was based around an advanced aluminium tube space-frame instead of a conventional chassis, and featured a 3 litre engine tilted on its side to reduce it height.
Only 3,258 300 SLs were built, with the original 1954 “Gullwing” coupe followed three years later by a roadster. Production ended in 1963 and the surviving 300 SLs are among the most sought-after and expensive vintage Mercedes on the market.
The KitTamiya’s kit arrives beautifully presented in a sturdy top-opening box that has an internal divider to keep the parts from rattling around. Each sprue and set of accessories is bagged separately and everything in my kit arrived perfectly intact. The kit comprises:
30 x white styrene parts
29 x black styrene parts
42 x aluminium styrene parts
16 x clear styrene parts
43 x chromed parts
4 x soft tyres
4 x polycaps
A sheet of plastic mesh
Kabuki painting masks
The moulding is basically flawless in my kit. Having been in production for some four years, there's no sign of flash or sink marks on any of the styrene parts, and ejector pin marks are light and seem to have been kept out of harm's way as much as possible. There are inevitably faint lines on the body where the mould has been split to capture the complex contours of the full-sized car, but these will polish away simply enough. For anyone determined to find some flash, there's feathery hint on the soft tyres - but I'd go over the treads with a fine sander anyway to take the shine off them, so this should soon get taken care of.
Construction begins with the internal space-frame - and this really is a work of art. 12 main parts assemble into a complex cat's-cradle structure that forms the core of the model. The framework is pretty delicate, so it's been moulded with an internal runner to keep everything undistorted on the sprue. I think a fine razor saw is probably the best tool for removing this to avoid stressing the frame.
With the space-frame assembled, the transmission and suspension slot in. The front wheels are steerable, and polycaps are used to fit the wheels, so there's no danger of stray cement preventing the finished model rolling on its wheels.
Next up comes a very nicely detailed engine and transmission. Tamiya include some basic ignition wiring, but a quick search online reveals there's plenty more cabling that you can add if you so choose.
The kit includes a fuel tank in the rear, but this will be hidden on the completed model. The boot isn’t designed to open - and if it did, an obvious omission would be the spare wheel that sits on top of the tank in the real car.
The final stage before the focus shifts to the driver/passenger compartment covers the wheels. The hubs are crisply detailed, while the soft tyres boast some really impressively defined tread patterns.
The core of the interior is a one-piece tub that includes the driving compartment and engine bay. Into this fit a pair of really nicely moulded seats, a chromed dashboard with decals for the instruments and numerous smaller details. Tamiya specify a strict order for installing the interior components, so it may well pay to do the one thing we modellers (well, me, at least…) find so hard and actually follow the instructions at this stage!
The body shell is a real gem of a moulding - thin, and very delicate in places. As with the interior frame Tamiya have moulded runners in the window, door and bonnet apertures - all of which will need removing carefully, because it will be easy to damage things (particularly the windscreen) if you're heavy handed.
The bonnet and gull-wing doors are separate and operable, and small props are provide so they can be posed open.
The windows and light lenses are beautifully moulded - absolutely crystal clear - with bevelled edges and generous locating tabs on the windows to make installing them simple. Painting masks are included for the rear side windows, which sadly aren’t die-cut. To be honest, the well-defined window frames could make using liquid mask quicker and simpler than cutting out the kabuki masks.
Inside the nose of car, Tamiya provide a small sheet flexible mesh grill to sit behind the chromed Mercedes grill. A full-sized template for this is included in the instructions, which I’ll probably trace or scan, rather than cutting a hole in the page.
The one part of the kit that does has me slightly mystified is the lower body pan - because it's included on the clear sprue. Admittedly, I'm no great fan of clear kits, but I can understand Tamiya maybe wanting to show-off the complex space-frame inside as a novelty. The thing is, though, the underpan is "frosted", so you can't see through it properly. To be fair, the instructions do show to paint it - but you can't help but think that some bright spark at Tamiya imagined it would be cool to have a clear underside to show off the interior framework... except it really isn't, so it doesn't - and thus defeats the whole idea of it.
Instructions & DecalsThe instructions are split in two, with the build guide spread over 10 pages, and a combined history/painting guide on a smaller pamphlet. I say “pages”, but the build guide is really just one long folded sheet, which does make it much more cumbersome than a booklet, particularly if you need to refer back and forth between the 24 construction stages. Still, the illustrations are excellent, as you’d expect from Tamiya, and the captions are provided in Japanese, English, German and French.
A small sheet of glossy waterslide decals is included. It’s printed in perfect register and provides items like the dashboard instrument faces, data-plates for the engine compartment, number plates, plus logos for the hubcaps. I’m not entirely convinced by the logos, because they are chromed on the real car, so the silver ink used for the decals could look too dull.
Strangely, Tamiya do also supply a sheet of chrome-finish stickers with name badges and a logo for the boot - but not for the hubcaps. Perhaps they wouldn’t adhere well on the convex surface? I don’t know, but there will be a noticeable difference between the decals and stickers on the finished model.
Thinking about it, instead of decals for the hubcap logos, a better option would have been die-cut masks to allow the chrome finish to remain when you paint the rest of the hubcap surface in the body colour. The raised details are pronounced enough, though, to make it worth trying something like a chinagraph pencil to get the same effect.
ConclusionTamiya's Mercedes Gullwing is a beautiful kit - not overly complex, but still packed with detail. The clever design and excellent moulding should ensure there aren’t any nasty surprises in store, and the kit should be suitable for any modeller with a little experience. I think it’s very good value too for a kit of this quality, so I recommend it without hesitation and am really looking forward to building it.
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