Tamiya Sierra Update 2: A Rainbow of Greys

Seen from above, the Sierra’s interior presents a particularly sombre picture. Grey it up, dude!

You know all that talk about “It’s what’s inside that counts” and the endless reams of insufferably positive refrains dealing with “inner beauty”? Well, I wish someone would have told the ‘80s about that! By the time the middle ‘80s rolled around, cars were starting to emerge from the morass of the Automotive Dark Ages and were becoming somewhat exciting to buy and drive again. However, the memo regarding this newfound spirit of fun and adventure was apparently NOT circulated to the folks responsible for interior design. For, no matter how much more zip or tech was in cars of the era, it seems that the interiors were mostly drab, dull, grey-tone affairs.

Gone, it seems, by and large, were the glory days of coloured interiors, patterned fabric and such great styling touches as the Trans Am’s engine-turned “disco dash”. Soft vinyl door surfaces had been replaced by hard plastics, and everything was supposed to look high-tech. This look was usually manifested by having a BILLION buttons on the dashboard (heck, some stereos of this time had that many themselves, it seems…), and sometimes a digital readout to boot. However, it was also determined that high-tech meant dull grey. Why? I assume it has something to do with the European and Japanese trends, since their interiors were usually guilty of this to even higher degrees than North American cars.

A perfect example of this was the Ford Sierra XR4i. As the performance sedan of the Euro-Ford family, this aerodynamically advanced two-door, rear-drive car looked futuristic as all get out. With flush headlights, a weird, but cyberly-cool double rear wing and an “aero” body kit, it certainly seemed to promise driving excitement. Since it was also powered by a V6, it had the suds to at least try to live up to this image. However, the inside of the cabin was another story entirely.

All The Colours of the Greynbow

To get a good feel for how to paint the interior on my Tamiya XR4i, I looked up multiple images of the real thing. Firstly, this told me how (in) accurate Tamiya’s take on the interior was. Secondly, it proved conclusively that there were NO other colours except for shades of grey and black in the interior. It didn’t matter the year or the outside colour, the interiors were all just multiple shades of grey, like Ansel Adams had taken an artistic photo of an interior and Ford was trying to make the real thing mirror it. Sadly, I was also confronted with the fact that while the dashboard was fairly well detailed, the rest of the interior tub actually left a lot to be desired.

It’s a good thing I have a love of military aircraft models, because that means I’ve always got lots of shades of grey on hand. I determined I’d need the following colours to do the interior “justice”: i.e. at least make it look as boring as the real thing. They were:

Light Ghost Grey – for “soft” surfaces like seats and carpet

Dark Ghost Grey – for “harder” vinyl surfaces like hard plastic on the seats and door panels

Gunship Grey – for the “harder still” plastic surfaces like the dashboard and console

Virsago Black – for the dash insets, gear shifter and door release on the passenger’s side.

Flat Gull Grey – for the headliner/window pillar insides

As you can see, that’s a good number of grey shades!  The interior promised to be interesting and boring all at the same time. You gotta admit: that’s something of a feat!

See what I mean? Nothing to see but grey, grey and more grey. Oh, ’80’s Eurotech… you’re so boring!

Close If Off!

If you’ve read any of my reviews of Japanese car kits, including the Sierra’s out of box article, then you know one of the greatest weaknesses of Japanese car kits is the nearly universal lack of backs to the vertical parts of the front seats. I still don’t get why this is a thing. Sure, the interior’s not great, but just having a hollow-backed seat looks terrible, especially when the seat isn’t black. Yes, I know it’ll be hard to see through the fully-closed side window, but that doesn’t matter. If you’re going to mould seats, Tamiya, do it right. If people out there are going to sing the praises of Tamiya (for many good reasons) at least admit this practice is bloody ridiculous.

Thankfully, save for the time it takes to rant about it, fixing this problem is pretty easy. I used some thin sheet styrene, traced the seat onto it and glued the new seatbacks in place. I forget how thick a piece of sheet I used, but it was very thin, like, translucently thin! Thus, there was a tiny bit of deformation at the bottom of one seat, but that, I figured, no one will see. I then sanded down the rough edges and voila! Well, almost. The seats actually weren’t all that well moulded, and there were some voids in the sides, and the fabric/vinyl parts weren’t separated well. So, out with the scriber it was, and I corrected the separation issues. I then filled in the voids with some putty and topped it with Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Flat white, still the ultimate final-stage primer. After sanding, and way more work than I’d have though Tamiya parts would need, I had a semi-decent set of seats.

The white indicates putty and filler. There’s a lot of it. The seats are NOT well-moulded, and, of course, have no backs…

Sadly, the backs of the seats aren’t the only thing that Tamiya left undone. Like many cars of this age, the Sierra has a “shelf” or “mail slot” in the dash for storage. This is above the glovebox, where the “Chicken Handle” on a Vette or my T/A is, or where today you find the passenger airbag. Back in the ‘80s, though, none of those options were available, so it was just a hole. Now, it was an angled hole, and it was usually ‘carpeted’ in a fuzzy, felt-like substance for grip, but it was still just a hole. Or was it? Well, yes and no. Because, it was a hole, but it was really more like an open-topped box, meaning it had sides and a back wall. I’m sure you’re asking yourself “Why is he going on trying so hard to describe something simple?” The reason, you see, is that Tamiya’s version is LITERALLY a hole.

It’s easy to see in this shot of the finished dash – the “mail slot” over the glove box should be an open-fronted box.

I swear, it’s like they thought “Oh, man! We have an engine in this kit! We have to save styrene elsewhere… let’s not put in seat backs or close off the dashboard storage area! Who’ll notice that?” Um… try EVERYONE! The problem is that Tamiya’s “mail slot” is literally that, and you can see right through it to the front of the interior bucket. This is not only wrong, it is utterly cheap and stupid-looking, and is a very simple thing that Tamiya should have been able to get right. But, alas, no such luck. So, I had to cut some small bits of styrene to make my own box behind the slot. It wasn’t hard, but it’s such a dumb thing to have to do. Tamiya should be embarrassed by this even more than their seat-back phobia.

Here’s the sides of the box being built. There was literally nothing there except a slot. Sloppy, Tamiya.

This is the finished box from the front. It may look like heck, but it didn’t need any filler or sanding.

The good news is that this is the bulk of what’s missing and needed correcting. Sort of. Actually, there’s a lot of detail missing in the interior bucket, and Tamiya could use some lessons from MPC and even Revell on how to make a decently detailed interior. Sadly, most of the missing detail is in the form of the sidewall contours, armrests, colour/texture divisions on the doors and, of course, carpet texture. The interior is only basically represented, but I decided that further corrections were just going to complicate things, so I decided to do the best I could with what I had. Also, take a look at the pictures; not there are no pedals anywhere? Sure, you almost can never see them in a car interior, but shouldn’t they be moulded in there anyway? Again… if you’re going to go around like the king of detail, Tamiya, then put in the details!!

Yes, this is even more boring that the real car. There should be more texture, deeper arm rests and carpet in there. Oh, don’t mind the lack of pedals; no one uses them anyway, right?

Paint it Grey:

The first thing I did was primer everything in the interior with decanted Rustoleum Grey Primer. I thinned it slightly with lacquer thinner just to help it shoot a bit better, and it worked like charm. I started the real painting with the soft seating surfaces and other Light Ghost Grey components. This included the bulk of the interior bucket. The door panels are largely Dark Ghost Grey, as is the “hard plastic” part of the seats and the centre console. There is a patch of Light Ghost Grey fabric on the door panels, and this is only very softly hinted at in the kit. Still, it is there, and I did my best to make sure it got painted properly and as distinctly as I could do it. There should be a red pinstripe there too, but I wasn’t going to try to make that work!

One hard part with such a bland interior is making anything exciting, or even making it stand out a bit! A good trick that I use is to use the shininess of the different materials in an interior work at improving the look. To this end, I flat coated everything with Delta Ceramcoat Urethane Indoor/Outdoor Varnish, and then used a hand-brushed “semi-gloss” coat (I call it “Hand Vinyl”) to add some sheen to the “plastic” parts, leaving the cloth matter. This shows up well on the seats, and the door panels got the same treatment. Since the door panels are mostly hard plastics in the real car, they were shinier than the seats and carpet. The centre console also got this treatment since it is also hard plastic.

To make the seats’ contours more visible, I used ground-up chalk pastels. I made a colour that was close to the Light Ghost, so that it wouldn’t make the seat look dirty. I applied the pastel with a very short, small, brush, and the sealed it with the matte coat I’d used before. This was repeated until enough of a “shadow” had been established and the seats looked more “plush” than before. I used the same technique to try and liven up the carpet. I applied multiple layers of pastels (between matte overcoats) to try and give it a feel of having some pile, and to give it a tonal variation. Sadly, because the floor is completely flat in the kit, this effect doesn’t work like it does on an MPC, or the BRAT interior. Another drawback is that with the flat floor, there’s nothing to highlight, so the end effect is less one that looks like carpet than it does a dirty floor. Still, it was a valid try.

It’s really hard to see the “carpeting” effect I tried to get with the pastels on the floor. You can more easily see the “plumping” on the seats.

The most exciting part of the interior painting is the dash. This is mostly Gunship Grey, with Virsago Black (a very dark grey-black) insets and vents, and a Dark Ghost grey lower half. I painted the inside of my newly-enclosed “mail slot” in Virsago Black as well, to accentuate its depth and because that seems to be close to what it is in real life. The kit comes with a good instrument cluster decal, and I put this on once the painting was done. Since the dashboard is semi-gloss, but the gauges would be glassed-in, I was able to go over the decal with Future and Alclad AquaGloss to seal it in place. The steering wheel/column was also Virsago Black. Given that the dashboard has the most highly contrasting set of colours in the smallest space, it was a very fun and interesting painting exercise, at least compared to the rest of the interior!

The dashboard is a very busy place, and the Virsago Black insets break up an otherwise expansive Gunship Grey panel.

The last thing to do for the interior didn’t involved the interior bucket at all! I had to paint the inside of the car body in Flat Gull Grey. The Sierra, like many, many other cars has a light grey headliner and upper door pillars. I personally don’t get this. I guess it’s because they don’t want the car to look too cramped or imposing, so they make the roof light-coloured? I think it looks dumb, and I hate it, especially on very dark interiors. (Thankfully, my 2009 Pontiac G8 GT has its head screwed on straight, and the blackish interior goes all the way up and over. No wussy “It’s too dark in here…. Waaaaah” for Poncho drivers!) However, I guess it’s a bit of an oddball, and the practice of “lightening” the roof is a long-standing one. The Gull Grey went on well, and is a very good match for the real thing. I just still find it weird Ford used a completely unique colour for that, since they had lots of other greys to choose from!

Putting It All Together:

Since there’s not much to the interior bucket, putting it together is simplicity itself. The parking brake and gear shift (both Virsago Black) drop into the console, and then the seats go in. There’s not as much for the seats to latch onto here as in other interiors, but it’s sufficient. I was a bit disappointed that the seats HAVE to go where they go. I’m used to the American car kit method of giving some front-back leeway; I like to have the driver’s seat pushed all the way back, and the passenger’s a bit forward. It adds visual interest and mirrors how my real cars are set up. Oh well.

You can see both seats are at the same position. Check those sexy, sexy Dark Ghost seatbacks, though! Mmmm hmmmm!

The dash just drops into place perfectly too. When all is said and done, you get a very grey, somewhat bland and very ‘80s-looking cabin.

Boredom personified! The Sierra might have been an exciting car, but you’d never know it by sitting in the cabin!


The Sierra’s interior is an exercise in minimalist excitement. It was fun painting all the different shades of grey together, and seeing how they interacted with each other, especially when some were flat, some were semi-gloss and then contrasting it with the glossier dash. Everything fits well, but it should, since there isn’t much to fit in on this one.

By and large, the parts of the interior you can see look good, and will likely look fine once the entire thing is behind glass on the finished model. However, as you now know, the interior is not without significant detail issues, and is, really very disappointing from a modeller’s perspective. That Tamiya, often cited as a pinnacle of fit and detail, could be so badly shown up by the likes of MPC, AMT and other American kit makers, is really rather embarrassing. I love doing interiors – it’s where I spend most of my time in a car, and thus I like to detail it as if it was the real thing, and I was going to sit in it when I was done. On the Sierra, this just isn’t possible to the same extent as it is on other cars I’ve built. With missing seat backs, a “mail slot to nowhere”, poorly detailed door panels and no carpet or pedals, it feels like a less-than-half-hearted effort.

Still, this doesn’t mean it looks bad, or is sloppy. Anyone will be able to build this, even with no car-building experience. The problem is it may well be so underwhelming for someone who’s just casually building the kit that their own attention to detail or excitement for the project could drop away.

Overall, the interior was several levels of detail and builder engagement below that of the chassis and engine. It’s a passable, serviceable part of the kit, but it is not something you really want to run around and show your friends. That’s unfortunate, because this kit is pretty rare, and building it is very exciting for me. I love Sierra XR4is, and I’m thrilled to have one, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect. If you go into it knowing that Tamiya sucks at interiors, though, you will at least be forewarned, and the shock might be lessened.

You’ve been warned.

Now, all that’s left is the body and assembly! At least I know the outside of the car looks like the real thing, and getting it all built up should ramp my excitement back up! See you next time for the final product!


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