There’s a lot to be said, both good and bad, about stepping out of our comfort zone. Like Calvin’s dad would say about shovelling a driveway in sub-zero temperatures: “It builds character”. True enough. However, the other side is that if it’s too uncomfortable, you might never want to do it again, given the option. There’s also something to be said about how experience can be leveraged against the unknown in order to make something seemingly foreign conform more to a comfortable pattern.
For me, 1/35 armour is WAAAAY outside my comfort zone. I have built a few 1/35 armour kits, but they were like 25+ years ago, and I found that I didn’t really enjoy them. I wasn’t really into tanks, and I thought it might be different and fun. It was different, but that was it, and so I haven’t bothered much since. However, my love of all things Matchbox did in fact lead me, more recently to reconsider. As you can read, my Matchbox Armour score has led me down a new armour path, and I find myself greatly enjoying building those small pieces of armour. Fujimi and Hasegawa too, have nice, small, simple armour kits, and I have been drawn into the “armour world” more as time goes on.
Thus, when I was able to get my hands on the Takom G6 Rhino, I decided I should go for it. I have acquired a lot of experience, have more tools and skills than I did a quarter century ago, and I’ve found that armour can be fun. So, why not?
Maybe This Is Why?
Other than being bigger than my other armour kits, I figured the Rhino would be little different. I mean, it’s a box, with another box on top and a big gun (Gotta love that gun!) sticking out of it, right? How hard can it be to build a box? If the fit is decent, then it should be easy enough, shouldn’t it?
Well, yes and no. Starting in on the Rhino, I was amazed at the preparation I had to do. They always say “read the directions thoroughly”. I do, but I do it to see where I can cheat, re-sequence and make life easier. You build 130+ mobile suits and 70-odd planes in your life and you just get a feel for how things go; the instructions are there to show you what goes where, but when it goes there is largely at your discretion. Looking at the Rhino’s instructions gave me a sinking feeling. There were no parts here I was used to.
It had suspension bits, like a car, and an interior like a cross between a car and a plane. It had tires, like a car, but these complicated multi-part wheel rims that were just… what? On top of that, I started to get a bit worried due to my surprise at how picky it all was. There were tonnes of small pieces; hooks, ladders, eyelets, other stuff… They all had to come off racks and get glued on. Some of that was no problem, but some of it was so small and fine that it was sure to break, and other parts were there to hold yet others in place…
Build Around, and Around…
That is what blew me away the most. In old MS kits (and some newer ones, too – shame Bandai, SHAME!!!) there’s a phenomenon I call “build-around”. Build-around occurs, as its name clearly implies, when one sub assembly has to be built around another, completed assembly. It’s common on upper-arm pivots (Swivel-Arm Battle Grip to GI Joe fans) and even old knee and ankle blocks on MSs. It’s a sign of terrible engineering in most cases; there’s no reason the kit maker couldn’t figure out a way to put these things in later, without having to risk a fully painted and finished sub-assembly. With time, build-around has faded, but will never go away.
I didn’t expect it on the Rhino though! I mean, it’s a friggin’ BOX. What’s to build-around on a box, for goodness’ sake? Well, as it turns out… plenty. After wracking my brain trying to sort out the best attack from poring over the directions, and trying to get a feel for how this all went together, I realized that this thing has a massive amount of build around. The biggest offenders are the firing stabilizers. These four hydraulic “feet” lift the vehicle off the ground before firing; this gives the gun a stable platform, and it saves the suspension from the wrath of the recoil generated by Gerald Bull’s amazingly powerful cannon. It’s a cool feature, and it’s neat they made them really actuate on the kit.
Or… is it?
No. No it isn’t. Not they way they did it. In this case, you have to build the stabilizer arm around the actuator piston, then that goes inside the main cylinder, then that builds into the four pockets on the hull. Oh, and the stabilizer pad, or “foot” builds around the arm. WTF… The problem is that the tolerances are pretty tight, so I couldn’t see it working once painted. I also didn’t want them deployed, so decided just to build them in their “retracted” position. The larger issue was that the cylinders had to be built into the hull, requiring these entire subassemblies to be put in first. This was clearly going to make painting difficult.
This was a very serious case of build-around, and it took some creativity to sort out. I eventually realized that I could install these pieces afterwards. It involved “neutering” their actuation, but since I wanted them retracted it didn’t matter. For someone who wants them to actually actuate when the kit’s done… you’re on own your own. Sorry.
The key was to chop a bit of the attachment ring on the cylinder away, making a “C” shape. This allows it to be snapped into place around the hinge pin. I then had to cut away a bit of material on the main “arm” of the stabilizer, so it could fit around the hinge pins on the hull as well. With this done, and multiple test-fits later, I found that the method would work, and that was a major hurdle cleared.
Sadly, the fit on these stabilizer arms is HORRIBLE. I mean, I expected a light seam, and I got FROG-level mismatch! There was a lot of sanding/puttying and smoothing that went on just to make these things presentable. Since these arms were the first things I’d glue together on the kit, the fact that so much work was needed on them really boded ill. Even when all was said and done, and I applied a coat of Testors Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Flat White as a final leveller, I was appalled at how much stayed behind after sanding.
Given that I had to go through all this before I could even start on the hull, and that the fit and engineering were so bad, I started to get a sinking feeling. This was exacerbated by the fact that the Rhino has these little “skin tags” all over it. Real vehicles don’t seem to exhibit this, so I had to go around and chop them off and sand down the offending marks. The real issue was that they were often in the middle of large panels, so smooth sanding and polishing was a must. I still don’t know what these were all about, but it was one more annoyance that I don’t think should have been there.
One Seat, One Direction:
The next major issue was the cockpit. Building cockpits is something I’m familiar with, and the Rhino’s is quite well-detailed. However, I’m used to a cockpit being a drop-in tub. Not here! The Rhino’s cockpit is partially a separate box, but also made up of a bit of the front “wedge” of the vehicle. Not only that, but the suspension and steering gear pass underneath it. So, putting in the cockpit also involved putting in at least some of the steering system. To give Takom their due credit, this kit is capable of having steering front wheels.
The problem is, I have no idea how to get the stuff I want painted, and then install it all afterwards and still have it be strong enough to support the weight of the finished vehicle! So, I decided that, in the name of simplicity, I’d just glue all the suspension on, and the steering gear could stay fixed in the forward position. I must admit that I was really very impressed with the detail on the suspension, but at the same time, I think like everything else on this kit that it is just a bit too much. For me, at least, I’m just as happy with the detail moulded-in like on the smaller kits.
The cockpit built up fairly well, and was comparatively simple when you consider the pickiness of the rest of the vehicle. There were a number of small details that made up the side walls, and there were some very tiny details (fans?) that I almost lost, but I did get everything more or less where it needed to be.
As for the cockpit’s colour, from the pictures I could find, it seemed to be a light beige colour; bright but not overpowering. The closest I could come was Radome Tan, and I applied a few coats of the appropriately named MMA paint to all the cockpit pieces. The seat was done in MMA Leather, and the fire extinguisher in MMA Guards Red. To pick out the detail, I wanted to use a wash, but the normal Citadel Nuln Oil or Devlan Mud would have been too stark. Thus, I used my own pastel wash. I mixed up a medium-light grey chalk pastel, and applied with Varsol over the matte coated cockpit interior.
Since the flat coat I use is Delta Ceramcoat Semi-Gloss Indoor/Outdoor Urethane Varnish cut with a tiny bit of Future, it’s largely unaffected by the varsol. Once the Varsol boiled off, I could move the “dust” of the wash around, clearing some areas and “collecting” it in others. To seal it all in, another coat of the matte varnish was used, and I was rather pleased at how it turned out. I didn’t install the steering column at this point, because I didn’t want it being a problem with breaking off.
I also gave the “ceiling” of the pilot’s compartment the same treatment, even though you may not see it, I didn’t want it to be wrong!
I See You!
One of the most terrifying parts of the Rhino is that it, while being armour, has window glass. Most tanks really don’t, and a lot of APCs and other armour don’t either. However, the South African approach to problems can be pretty unique, and the Rhino is no exception. With three big, obvious windows right at the front, it was imperative that mistakes not be made. I was worried though; how to install them after the painting was all done was NOT readily apparent.
In keeping with the “build-around jamboree” theme of the kit, the window glass is held in place by heavy frames. These in turn are held in place by tiny clips at the bottoms of the windows. Now, ideally, this would all be glued in together at one time; at least to hear the instructions say it! That, however, was never going to happen; if it’s one thing tanks need, its Varsol washes. If it’s one thing clear plastic hates, it’s Varsol. So, since I didn’t trust any masking to keep the Varsol and windows separate, I had no choice but to work around the window installations.
The key was to mount the tiny clips a bit “open”. This, on test fit, would allow me to slide the famed window into the right position and Tacky Glue it in. It would have been easier to just leave the little clips off, as they were also very difficult to get off the rack and into place. However, I did want to experience the “full effect” of the kit where possible. The idea, by some miracle, worked and I was able to test fit the windows and take them out again, meaning I could paint the heavy frame separately and then put it all together at the end.
The headlights, like the cockpit, were very finicky and a bit troublesome. Since they’re so small, the needed to go on before painting, to ensure good glue adhesion. The real trouble is that the boxes that cover the headlights have a PE grille in front of them, so I can’t paint the lights at the same time as those are on. I had to trim the attachment fins for these boxes, and made it so they could be installed after all the painting was done. Despite my dislike of Photoetch, I was able to get it to work passably for the light grilles, and I set these assemblies aside for further painting.
Wheels, Walls, Floors, Putty…
While the Rhino is a big box, it needs some stiffening. Thankfully, there are internal bulkheads that keep the hull straight. These go in really nicely and do a super job of adding much needed strength and stability to the main body of the vehicle. The walls and ceiling then get attached to these as well as the “floor”, and when all is said and done, you get a pretty well-fitting unit. There are some rough edges, but using light sanding and Perfect Plastic Putty (with a bit of water to smooth it out) really gets the hull in good shape fast.
There’s another weird thing that makes no sense to me on this kit. At the extreme rear, you have two “foot wells” for the firing spades. One of these is blanked off at the end; it’s a “pocket” in the hull. The other side seems the same, but it doesn’t have one wall, meaning you can look in and see the inside of the whole hull! What? I have no idea why it is like that, but I blanked it off with some styrene. I used clear, because it is what I had around, but it also helps to illustrate the point of how weird this is in the photo below.
There are a tonne of little hooks and other projections on the hull that are finicky. They’re so small they need to be cut off with a razor saw, and they’re hard to hold to sand smooth. I’m just starting to get a tiny inkling of what arthritis will be like, and it sucks. Building things like the Rhino will only exacerbate it, though, I fear. I’ve never had such pain in my hands as when I was building this thing; all from holding on to so many tiny parts! Add to that the propensity of small details to stress or break when handled, and you’ve got a surprisingly delicate structure.
One thing that confused me about this kit were the wheels. They’re built up of multiple subsections, and they look awesome. However, there’s some kind of dust cover on them… and for the life of me, I cannot figure out how to fit it on. It doesn’t seem to have any proper orientation that works. There’s a tiny pin on the inside, that should fit on the rest of the rim, but when I put it on, the hole in the disk doesn’t match what I think it should. Eventually, I just gave up and left them off; I don’t think they were present in the Rhino’s early days. Still, something’s amiss either with me or the instructions. (Maybe both?)
I had always thought that tanks were picky, but that you basically glued stuff to a hull and then hosed it a specific colour. As it turns out, at least on the Rhino, that’s not really how it works! There’s so much build-around things that go onto other things, so much small detail that has to be cut off the rack and glued on and so many little snag points to avoid that I must say the Rhino is taking a lot longer than I would have thought.
I will admit that I’m not really enjoying it that much. I do prefer simpler, smaller kits, I guess. Thankfully, my love of the Rhino is strong; if it wasn’t, I’m sure I’d have given up on this a while ago. This kit really is for people who like to build. I personally don’t. I like to paint. That’s why I paint my MS by hand; it’s like colouring, but in 3-D! To endlessly fiddle with suspension bits (all of which must be cut off, trimmed, sanded and fitted), hull fittings and greeblies just isn’t that entertaining for me.
Hopefully, though, I’ll soon be able to get to a point where I can lay down some paint. Of course, there’s still the turret and gun to make!
Join me next time when I’m hoping I’ll have this big brushlands bruiser built-up!