Sierra Update 1: All Things “Go”

They say you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. Well, that assumes you’re not politically connected or independently wealthy… However, for our purposes, I think it’s safe to assume that the old words are wise indeed.

I often start with the body of a car, and while I actually did on this kit, there was literally nothing I had to fix on the body. Unlike the American kits I’m used to, the Tamiya Sierra didn’t require surgery for lights, bumpers, bad location, warping or any of the other ills so often encountered on a car kit. To be quite honest, I was almost disappointed. Almost. It means I don’t have a bunch of warnings, work arounds or repairs to pass on and upon which to elaborate. It’s the opposite of an embarrassment of riches; I guess, an embarrassment of quality? I’ll cover the little bit of paint work I did on the body in another update later.

What I was eager to work on was the chassis and the engine. I love doing engines, and I’ve never gotten to do a Tamiya engine before because they almost never include one! The Sierra, as you can see from the Out of Box Review is quite unique in having a full, American-style under-hood area. I have no idea why Ford of Europe’s sporty sedan warrants this, but I’m sure glad it does! In addition to a full engine, the folks at Tamiya went all out to make the chassis and suspension both eye-catching and very detailed.

Power to Go:

The first thing I have to say was that the engine was very well moulded, however, even Tamiya can’t hold a candle to the work MPC was doing with engines by the 1980s. Those engines had textures and finely moulded details (see the Daytona as an example) that even Tamiya wasn’t able to capture in the 2.8L Cologne V6 that the XR4i comes with.  Still, that aside, the Tamiya rendition of the engine was pretty good.

The number of separate accessories on an engine is, to me, a good way to tell the quality of the kit. The Tamiya take on the 2.8 wasn’t really overflowing with separate parts. The distributor was separate, sure, but the starter was moulded to the oil pan, the oil filter was moulded to the block and the alternator and power steering were moulded to the main serpentine belt. Unlike other engines with moulded-in parts, though, these were very crisp and easily picked out.

The focus is a bit off, but you can see the starter well in this view. While moulded-in, it was crisp and easy to paint.

The block/transmission was in halves, and fit together well. It needed some sanding to take care of the seams, of course, but one thing was troubling; the top of the engine between the valve covers was impossible to reach for sanding. The seam was very noticeable here, and I just had to hope that the intake would cover everything up. (Thankfully, it did!) It was an odd feeling to see such a pronounced seam that couldn’t be dealt with, though. I painted the block in Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Steel, with the flywheel cover in MMA Gunship Grey and the rest of the tranny in MMA Aluminum. I think this is right, although I had a hard time getting a good shot of a clean engine from back in the day. Even if it’s not quite correct, it looked cool.

The blue oil filter shows well from this angle. The light wash shows up on the Gunship parts more strongly than elsewhere.

I did the valve covers in Gunship Grey as well, and the oil filter in Blue. I am not sure if factory filters were blue or not, but it stood out on the engine and I liked it. I did the oil pan in Gunship Grey, and the starter in Aircraft Interior Black (AIB). There was a weird construction sticking out like wings from the oil pan. These ended in thin round disks, with a post on them. They were for securing the engine! REAL ENGINE MOUNTS!!! I was amazed by this! How many car motors have we all glued in to the “cradle” in the suspension on an American car kit? Yeah. This model, though, has actual engine mounts, with the rubber bushings! I did the mounts in Steel and the bushings in AIB since they’d be rubber. I painted the exhaust manifolds (well, pipe stumps, at least) Jet Exhaust, and the pipes that go immediately after them were done the same.

Once the engine was assembled with these different components, I gave it a light (very dilute) wash of Citadel Nuln Oil. This picks out the detail a bit, and a light wash adds TONNES of character to MMA metallic paint. It makes the paint look like metal, not just metallic plastic. On engines this is really a great technique, and the wash was light enough it didn’t discolour any of the non-metallic colours. I did the same on the intake, which was done in MMA Aluminum, and the radiator hose interface which was in steel.

While, by and large, the engine looked pretty darned good, there were a few things that were a bit disappointing. The power steering bottle and alternator were not detailed well at all, and they were also hollow! I’m used to MPC alternators, which include details like the cooling fans, cage structural detail and aren’t just hollow disks. That’s some weak stuff, Tamiya. Must have been designed by the guy who does the seats. He seems to love hollowness. Also, the distributor didn’t fit worth a tinker’s damn. The hole was the wrong size and shape, and it was just a pain in the prat. It wasn’t a big deal, but it was disappointing.

Look at that engine mount! You can also just see the hollowness that is the horrifically un-detailed alternator. Weak.

On the other hand, the master cylinder and underhood bottles, not to mention the rad, were very nice. So was the battery… oh, wait. NO IT WASN’T!! I was shocked to find I didn’t have a battery. I checked my Out of Box photos and… nope. It was never there. Just like how I was missing the British dash, I was also missing the battery. No clue why. The kit was sealed when I got it. Go figure. I went to get the battery from my brother’s old junker AMT Taurus SHO, thinking “Hey, it’s an ‘80s Ford, it’ll be perfect”, but was foiled; it was missing too! (Given it’s an ‘80s AMT, it could have been missing from the factory; QC at AMT was total garbage at that point.) So, I had to scrounge. I eventually settled on the battery from a ’62 Chevy. Sure, it’s wrong, but it fits and looks “battery-ish”, so I was okay with that.

I painted it Dark Ghost Grey, and the bottles I did in a custom-mixed yellow-grey. I wanted to simulate that weird, “smoked-on” looking plastic one finds underhood. To help, I gave the finished bottles a light wash of Citadel Devlan Mud, which is very brownish-red, and this worked. The master cylinder was done in Steel and the rad was done in AIB. I left the core of the rad matte, but used what I call “Hand Vinyl” to give the outer structure and shroud some shine. Hand Vinyl is some of my satin coat mixed down very thin with water. This allows it to be hand brushed in small areas without leaving streaks, and its thinness also allows it to absorb into matte paint to give a sort of plasticky-shine without being overtly glossy. I used it on the intake box system as well.

Here’s the engine in place. I’m going to do the car in black, so I’ve already painted the fenders. Like my replacement battery?

The engine fan gave me some issues – I couldn’t find a good shot to show if it was metal or plastic. So, I used MMA Gull Grey, which again may seem odd but it has that “engine plastic” colour to it. I washed it with the Devlan Mud too. All engine components were given a “low satin” coat, made up of Delta Ceramcoat Urethane Indoor/Outdoor Varnish set to give a just-off-matte finish. This helps to even out the bits more concentrated of wash, since the wash is slightly glossier than the paint it’s over. The bottles and battery got the same treatment, as did the fan. The rad was left alone, since it looked awesome.

And there it is with everything on it! I love the colour of those bottles.

A different view showing how the fan fits beautifully into the shroud. Sadly, still no lower rad hose… almost no kit ever has that detail.

Spring is Sprung:

The underside of the car is well-moulded with a lot of “stamping” detail. The gas tank and spare tire well are moulded in, as are the subframes, but nearly everything else is separate. I started by primering the chassis with Rustoleum Grey Primer. I decanted it to my airbrush because this not only saves paint (it is SOOOOO less wasteful) but, for some reason, I’ve found that decanted primer dries much, much faster. I think it’s because it can go on thinner and you can target it better with the airbrush. I then painted the entire chassis with MMA Acrylic Grey Primer. “Wait…” you ask “You primered, to primer by hand again later?” Yep. I want a colour that looks like automotive primer, and MMA Grey Primer does. It sucks as a true primer (it has no bite), but it looks like the real thing! I then painted the subframes AIB.

This is the basic chassis all painted up, ready for suspension detailing and engine/exhaust installation.

From the very few underside shots I could find on the Net, I got conflicting info on the colour of the spare tire well. One showed it as a light grey, so I used MMA Light Grey for it, and Steel for the fuel tank. The colour around the Fuel Tank was Virsago Black, a dark grey-black that is a staple colour for me. You’ll see lots of it on this kit! A neat detail was the structure on the spare tire well. I think it’s the fuel pump, and I painted the shield and hose black, and the “bolt down” panels Steel, just for visual interest. I gave the Steel parts (hold downs and fuel tank) a heavier wash of Nuln Oil to give a bit of “road dirt” look. No washing was done on the underside, although I’m beginning to think a light grey wash would have helped make the moulding “pop”. This would have made touching up the black subframes tough, though, so I guess it’s better I didn’t.

The suspension, exhaust and drive line on this model are awesome. The driveshaft is nicely detailed, and has a “fat” and “thin” post so you can’t screw up which end goes where. I painted it Steel and gave it a light Nuln Oil wash, and it came right to life. The suspension at the rear includes the differential and stub axles as one piece, the A-Arms as another assembly and then the two shocks. I painted the differential in MMA Aluminum, and the axles in Steel, with the rubber boots over the connections in AIB. All metal bits go the usual light wash of Nuln Oil, and all parts were “low satin” coated. I was astounded at how well everything fit together. The suspension is located in six places: four on the Diff/A-Arm assembly, and then the two shocks. When everything was together, it was rock solid.

The rear suspension and driveline detail is excellent. Lots of chance for visually interesting paintwork, too!

The front suspension was also very detailed, with a separate tie-rod connecting to the vertical spring legs. These were then sandwiched by another part that located it all together. I’ll be honest; until it was all together, it was a floppy mess. However, once the tie-rod was in, everything again locked up perfectly. It was a neat lesson in how suspensions are designed, and the model’s educational value in this regard should not be trivialized! I painted the bulk of the suspension black, with washed Steel accents. The main legs and springs were Steel, but the wash in the springs was very heavy. Sadly, the springs are moulded such that the injection pin marks on them face OUTWARDS. WTF? It’s a shame, but luckily with the tires on, I don’t think you’ll see much.

The front suspension is just as busy as the back, and it all fits together perfectly.

Stop for Gas(ses):

The exhaust on the kit is a single piece. I actually prefer this, when it fits. Of course, in this case, it fits perfectly. I used Steel for the main pipes and Aluminum for the last stage and resonator, as well as for the mufflers. I used a wash made from blue Jacquard Pigment to give the catalytic converters a bit of a bluish tinge, to make them seem like they were “hotter” than the rest of the systems. Of course, on a real car, they are! However, I don’t think the blue shows up as well as I’d have hoped. Again, being MMA metal colours, the whole system was given a light wash of Nuln Oil. I was amazed to see that the pipe was actually drilled, so I didn’t have to make the ‘exit hole’ in this case!

The exhaust on the XR4i reminds me a lot of the system in my G8 GT. Unlike American-designed/built cars, the exhausts don’t just meander along the floor somewhere. No, on this machine they are ducted along the centreline of the car, and cover the driveshaft. At first, this seems weird, but in some ways it’s brilliant. Since there’s already a driveshaft tunnel there, you may as well use it for your exhaust. Also, the exhaust acts as a shield for the driveshaft, preventing large bits of debris from getting to it and potentially damaging it and causing balance problems. Of course, this also means the driveshaft is exposed to more heat than on other cars. Regardless, it was neat to build a model with a system so similar to one I’m used to crawling under a couple of times a year come oil and tire change times!

Now, you may laugh at me (Don’t let me catch you at it!), but my favourite detail was the brakes. Yes, they brakes. Why? Well, most American kits don’t bother with the brakes, although the BRAT was a partial exception. Usually, you just stick the wheels onto the axles and you’re done. No one looks at the underside anyway, so if the brakes aren’t accurately represented, who cares? Well, Tamiya doesn’t feel that way. No, they have detailed disk brakes up front, and while the rotor, caliper and centre spindle are all moulded as one piece, they can be effectively painted as if they’re several. I used Jet Exhaust on the calipers, Steel for the spindle and Aluminum for the rotor. The spindles and calipers got heavy Nuln Oil washes, and the rotor was left shiny. The brakes were keyed to fit on only one way on one side, and a polycap went inside them for easy tire mounting at the end. Slick.

The back brakes were drums. They were cast in two pieces, a front and back, and a polycap went in the middle. These were painted Steel and given both Nuln Oil and Devlan Mud washes to show dirt and give an impression of surface rust. (I swear that after one stop, drum brakes are rusty!) They glue onto the rear suspension. I found this dodgy; I would have rather them pin on securely, as with all the paint in there, even scraping some off might not make a secure enough join. Still, time will tell. I will admit I was very fond of how the brakes turned out; they make a nice finishing detail to the chassis.

There it is, brakes and all! Check out how well the exhaust system fits up in there and how well it mates to the engine-mounted pipes. That’s a beautiful chassis, Tamiya!


While the engine texturing might not be up to what I’m used to, this first full engine of Tamiya’s is rather nice. With some detail painting and washing, it definitely looks the part. The underhood detail is quite good, too, and the bottles are nice in that they aren’t “melty”. (Yeah, I’m looking at your lazy BS, Monogram. You SHOULD be ashamed…) Overall, considering this is the first Tamiya engine bay I’ve done, I’d say that I’m encouraged. It’s just a shame that the Japanese kit makers don’t do this for all their models. I’d love to build some of the weird Japan-only engines/drivetrains!

The chassis, suspension and exhaust on the Sierra XR4i are all excellently moulded and the fit is exemplary. I’m used to piddlefarting around with location and alignment on springs, A-Arms and exhaust pipes, but on this kit, it just all falls together. It was an almost peaceful experience to assemble it all. The real engine mounts are nice, too, and the only difficult part was getting all the driveline lined up while it still had the flexibility to accommodate the driveshaft. This is why I would encourage using a slower-drying glue when putting in the engine. Put the rear suspension first, then the driveshaft, then the engine. As this is drying, thread the radiator around the fan. It takes some skill, but it’ll all fit up perfectly.

So far, this kit is impressing me, as a Tamiya should. However, I have less faith that the interior is going to be as good an experience. I’ve found that Japanese car interiors are generally lacklustre affairs, with poor to no detailing in comparison to their American counterparts. We already know there aren’t seat backs, so I can’t help but wonder what else needs doing.

Be here next time for the interior, and we’ll see how right or wrong I was!




  1. Great build happening. I’m envious. Tamiya may be the world standard when it comes to parts fit? But then they forget seat backs and texture detailing. And individual parts like the alternator. US manufacturers do a pretty fine job on little parts like that. Can’t wait to see the rest of it.

    1. Thanks Randy!

      I don’t get the whole love of Tamiya thing. So many of their kits are over-simplified for motorization (lame) and have really poor detail overall. I don’t even find their planes to be any better than many others.

      I will always like a US car model over a Tamiya. A perfect example is the ’83 Supra. The MPC DOMINATES the Tamiya one for detail HANDS DOWN. Everyone believes the hype… I’m glad to see there’s someone out there besides me who doesn’t buy into the BS!

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