Matchbox 1/76 LRDG

Matchbox’s classic LRDG set is a great build and a tonne of fun. Who says desert dioramas are boring?

In World War II, recon meant having eyes on the target. Far from today’s ability to use satellites and drones to find out what the enemy is up to, the warriors of that global conflict had to get right up and into the enemy’s space to suss out his movements. This took all sorts of forms, including everything from spies on the ground to overflights by high speed recon aircraft. In fact, some of the most advanced airplanes in WWII were recon birds!

However, there was another kind of recon; one that was significantly lower tech and a lot more “personal”; that was sending recon forces out behind enemy lines to report on movements, drop or retrieve secret agents and sabotage enemy forces. While the geography of the European Front made this difficult by land, and the island-hopping nature of the Pacific Theatre almost made the idea a non-starter, there was one place it really worked well. That place was North Africa. There, the open wastes provided ample room for move, counter move, encirclement, flanking and rear-echelon penetration. (Hey, quit laughing and be an adult, will you?!)

Rommel was a master of maneuver warfare out in the desert; hence his nickname of “Desert Fox”. However, there were soldiers on the Allied side who were just as good, if not even better, at navigating the trackless seas of sand and getting behind the enemy. This elite group of desert raiders were the LRDG – the Long Range Desert Group. They used light and medium vehicles like Jeeps and 1.5 tonne trucks to harass, harry, and report on the Axis forces, as well as acting as guides for other special forces and agents. Because of the outright danger from both the environment and enemy, the LRDG could only be staffed by the best of the best, those for whom a firefight (while outnumbered) with no other backup, or a long stretch out in the deserts behind the enemy’s front lines, cutoff from all aid and supply, could just be described as “another day at the office”.

Exemplifying a pioneer spirit and a bulldog-like tenacity, the LRDG has gone down in history as one of the War’s premier outfits, and deservingly so. Because of this, the LRDG and their equipment have long been the staple of model kit makers’ efforts. The tales of the LRDG were something right out of the most overdramatic “boys’ annuals”, yet they were real! It’s no wonder a generation or two grew up mesmerized by their exploits and wanting to share in them by building models for their own imaginary desert war.

Often lost amongst all the larger (1/35), highly detailed kits of LRDG equipment is a real gem, at least in my view. That kit is the old 1/76 Matchbox LRDG. This was one of their deluxe “Orange Range” kits that were essentially a “playset” including multiple vehicles and a larger diorama base. Of course, if you’ve read any of my stuff on small-scale armour, you know that I’m a HUGE Matchbox armour fan. I simply adore their kits, and the Orange Range stuff is at the top of my “grail” list. Thanks to my excellent friend Alan, I was able to get my hands on an original LRDG kit; one of the two Orange Range multi-vehicle kits I was missing. This was exceptionally exciting, and I was eager to get into building it!

The Kit:

You can see my review of this kit on the Out of Box page at the link below:

Matchbox 1/76 LRDG Out of Box

Building the LRDG:

For whatever reason, my favourite part of the bigger Matchbox kits is usually the mini diorama base that comes with them. They’re usually very detailed and make for an interesting experience in interpretation. They also make for easily assembled painting exercises, which is something I love! Of course, Matchbox armour kits are actually quite well-detailed and excellently moulded, and are a far-cry above their model planes in terms of fineness and overall impression of finesse. Because I love the bases, though, I decided to start with it.

All Your Base:

The diorama base in the LRDG is all kinds of awesome. You get a broken brick wall that glues, I’ll admit somewhat unconvincingly (when viewed from behind) to the highly-detailed baseplate. The baseplate consists of some tire tracks, a crater (so many Matchbox bases include a shell crater, likely to add a sense of urgency or action) and the rest of a broken building. The “rest” consists of strewn brick, and a lot of junk inside the building’s remaining part wall.

It’s this junk that’s the key to making the base awesome. I mean, it’s a desert diorama, so the baseplate’s going to be brown, the bricks are going to be brown and it’s going to be all on the same palette. However, the junk can add life to it. There are a couple of crates, some Jerry Cans, some broken bits (structural wood or maybe a chair bit?) some stuff that could be metal rods or pipes and a lot of jugs. Yes, jugs. They’re earthenware water jugs, is my guess.

To me, the scene gave me the impression of a German base or depot that had recently been hit and abandoned. The idea behind the diorama just started to form from there. I wanted to try and convey the idea that the two LRDG vehicles had come in to investigate the effects of either an air raid or artillery attack on a rear position. Thus, I wanted the scene to look damaged and dirty, but not tremendously so, since it would have only recently been evacuated.

I started by painting the entire base in some kind of mixed tan. Like everything in this build, it was a Testers Model Master Acrylic (MMA). I know the world seems to hate these paints, but I love them and will never have enough of them. Damn your eyes, Testors, for abandoning the line! The tan was something I’d made for my GM Sniper II Custom, and it was a bit lighter than Dark Tan, but still goldy-brown. Once that was on, I hand-painted all the bricks in a Testors Railway colour called “Concrete”. I’ve never seen brownish-yellowy-grey concrete like it, but it was perfect to give the impression of the base material having been made into bricks and then dried by the sun.

With just the base coat of tan on there, it’s only a slight improvement over the bare plastic original (and it looks less like a brownie).

I did all the detail work by hand as well. I used MMA Leather for the jugs, to try and simulate something on the spectrum of terracotta, and I used a darker, mixed brown for the wood. I did the two crates, some debris and the window frame in the same wood – I thought it would help to draw attention to it and subconsciously “colour code” the wood pieces. I used MMA Steel for the metal bits, and gave them a wash of Citadel Nuln Oil wash, to really bring them out. I used Citadel Devlan Mud on the jugs and the crates, to bring out a bit of detail there too.

Of course, all this detail painting made things quite a mess. Touching up the ground inside the building was more work than painting the individual components, but of course, it also made everything really stand out. I absolutely adore “edge painting”, meaning painting things to their edges to make one piece look like many. I get to do it a lot on old Gundam kits, but less so in armour. But bases… yeah, baby! It was a smorgasbord of edge painting on this one! I won’t lie, watching the base go from a shoddy, almost abstract-art form of an idea to a nice, tidy defined space was really rewarding. It’s maybe not for everyone, but it sure as heck is my cup of tea!

There you go! A fun painting project that really comes alive, the base is a tonne of fun to detail up.

With the base and the wall done, I had to start the highlighting. If you’re thinking “Hey! You’re not seriously done, right? What about the back of that wall?” then I hear you. A lot of people likely think it’s a cop-out to just leave the wall all “2-D plastic and hollow”. I could have filled it and etched brick lines into it, I suppose. However, that’s not fun. I didn’t even like the thought of it, and I wanted this kit to be all about enjoying the kit for what it is. Is it perfect? No, but that’s okay. I’m only going to look at the kit from the front anyway, so why bother, was my take on it. Basically, I wanted to build this as well as I could straight out of the box. No fancy tricks, just some paint and chalk.

Yep, that’s a wall, alright! That’s how Matchbox did it, and that’s how it’s going to stay. It’s not a perfect solution, but just leaving it “as it comes” sure makes life easier!

That, of course, brings me back to the wash on the base. I sealed the base with a coat of semigloss varnish made from Delta Ceramcoat Urethane Indoor/Outdoor Varnish. I then used a dark tan custom-ground chalk pastel, mixed in varsol, to low-light the base. I applied a coat of this by hand, power-dried it in my dehydrator, and then re-sealed it with satin coat. I did this two more times to get enough lowlights. The colour of the pastel was only a bit darker than the base paint once the satin coat was applied. This happens with pastels – the glossier they are, the darker they are. My goal was to be as subtle as I could, since I really didn’t want a kit that was so high contrast it looked like a photoshopped picture!

To unify the base, I applied a lighter pastel in the same way. The difference here was that I used a dead-flat coat to make the entire thing seem dry and dusty. This makes the pastels dry much lighter, although the lowlights, “trapped” in satin coat below it, do still show up darker. The “sand coat” worked very well, toning things down, applying a literal coat of dust equally on everything, and giving the base a parched look. I have only done one other diorama base (on my M-16), but on it I used much darker lowlights to give the impression of damp, European soil. This base, with its dustiness, was quite a stretch for me. There are no extra bits, like scrub plants or small, scale rocks or anything, since that wouldn’t have been an “out of box” build as per IPMS rules.

It’s subtle, but you can see the low-lights a bit in the sand, and the dusty, lighter top coat gives it a very dry, parched look.

I glued on the wall with Tacky Glue (My brother will be elated!) and dried that in the dehydrator too. The last detail was the “road sign” held up by barrels. Hey were left Rustoleum Grey Primer (which is very dark, and close to Gunship Grey) and just heavily drybrushed with Model Master Enamel silver, the only non-acrylic colour I used in this build. They were given two sand coats as well, and glued into place. While I’m biased, I think it looks darn good; especially when you consider it’s only my second real bit of ground work!

The dusty “highlights” from the dust washes really stands out in this shot; it looks like sand collecting on a parched piece of dirt.

Tiny Truck and Tinier Jeep:

The first thing I did, even before primering the base, was to assemble the Jeep. On the box, the truck and jeep look pretty big. I mean, we all know Jeeps are small, but I’m thinking I’d get something smaller than a Hot Wheels, but not a lot. Nope. I was blown away to find out how tiny the Jeep was! It was just this itty-bitty little thing that had a one-piece frame and two-piece suspension (front and rear). However, it was made up, like a little box, out of sides and a bottom and a hood. To put it bluntly, it was cute. It was small, delicate looking and surprisingly well-fitting; except the hood, which needed work down the sides, that is. The cowl part of the hood overhung the sides of the chassis badly, and a lot of fiddly sanding was needed to bring it in properly. The rest fit like a charm.

It may look mighty here, but trust me, that Jeep is little! You can see the simple, but effective, suspension and engine detail.

I found the same thing on the Chevy truck. The rear bed fit together perfectly, and the cab wasn’t bad. What did have a problem fitting was the rear of the cab. There was no location for it, and it didn’t really “fit” anywhere. It was basically a guessing game of “Is it centered?” to get it on there, and that was unusual for this kit, in which everything else had a definite home and some method of location. I glued on the Jeep’s two machine gun mounts before primering, figuring I’d get a much better chance of them staying on if I glued plastic to plastic, vs. paint to paint. It worked, but… (spoiler alert) I did break the twin mounting on the dash off in final assembly.

The only bad seams on the truck were around the grille insert, and I filled these with Perfect Plastic Putty, which is well-suited to the job. Even puttied, I found a bit of sinkage later. Again, no worries, it’s 1/76; it doesn’t show up much. (This is why I love small-scale armour!) The truck’s frame was more elaborate than that of the Jeep, with separate drive shaft and suspension. NOTE: the suspension on the front is very fragile. I wish I’d glued a diagonal bit of sprue to gusset the front bar that ends in the wheel attachment points. It wouldn’t have looked out of place, and would have added a LOT of structure.   If you’re wondering, yes… I did break off one of the front wheel fittings once.

The big part of the vehicles in this set isn’t really the vehicles themselves. Sure, they’re cool, but they’re really cool because of all the junk they’re hauling, wearing and slinging. The Jeep itself is festooned with 13 gas cans, two pouches, a bed roll and two crates, let alone the two spares. The truck is actually less laden, with a bunch of running board-mounted ammo boxes, some bedrolls, two duffle bags, three crates and a large canvas roll. Of course, it also has a spare and a heavy MG in the bed, along with a “catch all”, full-width storage box.


While researching the LRDG,I came across an excellent site that gave good colour profiles, among other things:

Many of the vehicles are, as expected, done in a yellowy beige that seems to be referred to as “Canadian Sand”. As a Canadian, I didn’t know our sand was a different colour from that in the rest of the world, but there you go! It’s a beautiful colour, and surprisingly light and bright. However, it’s also not like anything I have at all. Enter, again, the Testors train colours, and a paint called “Aged White”. I saw it during a trip to a local shop, and it was like an answer to my prayers. With only a tiny bit of Dark Tan added, it was perfect!

Looking museum-perfect in it’s decalled, glossed “Canadian Sand”, the ’41 Chev has no idea what’s in store for it… Yes, that nameplate decal failed on me. That’s just added realism!

Sadly, being light (and in the yellow family) it covered the dark grey of the Rustoleum primer about as well as saran wrap over a picture of the sun. It took almost the whole bottle just to get the two little vehicles and the appropriate stowage done. I didn’t do all the stowage in Canadian Sand, though. I did the duffle bags, bed rolls and satchels for the jeep in Panzer Dunkelgelb, which is really like a lighter, more slightly yellow Olive Drab. This looked great for that typical “army heavy fabric green”. I did a few random gas cans and ammo boxes in legitimate Olive Drab, and I did the straps on everything in Leather. I used the Devlan Mud on the Dunkelgelb fabric parts.

The woodgrain on the stowage box in the truck’s bed is very pronounced. I used Dark Tan to paint the wood, and then Devlan Mud to bring out the grain. Did it ever!!!  I used the same treatment on the crates and while not as pronounced, it did produce nice results. One thing that did need improving was the two lengths of Pierced Steel Plank (PSP) that go on the outside of the bed. These are used for unditching and getting traction in the shifting desert sands, and are just a metal plate with holes in it. The kit part has depressions, but it was beyond Matchbox’s ability to mould it with full, through-drilled holes. I busted out my tiny pin vice and drill set (I got it from my sister-in-law’s grandfather – his modeller’s spirit lives on!) and set to work. I drilled each of the holes. I had to put the PSP on a piece of black fabric over a piece of Styrofoam, so I had enough contrast to see which holes I’d drilled and which ones I hadn’t! It worked great, but the drill broke on the third-last hole. I found the next size (not like you can tell by looking) and finished the job. Now THAT’S dedication to the cause!

Drilling all those holes was time consuming, but I enjoyed making the PSP look much more realistic, even at this small scale!

Man, that’s some heavily-grained wood! However, while the pattern might not be scale, it sure looks like a lashed up wooden box!

I did the entire jeep in Canadian Sand, but I did the chassis on the truck black. Why? Variety, plain and simple. I did the guns in Steel with a Nuln Oil wash. If you’re wondering where the .303’s ammo box is, so am I. I cut it off the sprue, and picked it up to sand it. It went “wheeeeeee” off into the void. Hours of searching turned up nothing. So, you’ll have to assume it’s in between ammo changes. Sigh… I did the engine, drive shaft and exhaust in Steel with a Devlan mud wash to give the impression of surface rust due to heat and condensation. I put the decals on before the cammo. They were in rough shape, and had a tough time sticking to the truck. I did Future the truck (no decals on the Jeep), and that helped, but it was difficult. I basically glued the decals on with Future and then Futured over them!

The Jeep’s underside is completely Canadian Sand. I know Matchbox didn’t provide a driveshaft, but seriously, who’s going to be looking at the bottom of the kit?

The underside of the Chevy is better detailed by far, but is still nice and simple. The black adds contrast and visual interest.

At this point, the narrative I wanted to convey is important. I wanted to give the impression that these were beaten-up vehicles that had just been freshly cammoed for a specific mission; namely the investigation of the blown-up base/house. The LRDG was famous for painting and repainting their vehicles as needed. Some schemes were rather wild, and had sand, stone, azure, pink and Green all on one vehicle. The idea was to blend in with the heat haze at the horizon, and pink and blue were felt to help the vehicles blend in during sunrise and sunset, when the low sun would make them stand out the most.

Here’s the truck beaten up, but not yet cammoed. I wanted the cammo to look freshly-applied, so it was put on over the scuffing!

Here’s the Jeep in a similar ratty, but un-cammoed state. That desert sand takes a toll!

With such small targets, I decided that four colours of cammo was overkill. Testors MMA paints are great, but they have limits. One limit is the fact that their pigments are pretty large, and they’re not really good for super-fine airbrush work. My solution was simple; use fewer splotches of fewer colours. I felt it would get the feeling across regardless. I first used a salmon pink that I mixed up for my Mazda three-wheeler. (Gotta get that up on the site sometime!) It’s not “desert pink” or “mauve” but put on thinly, it picks up the Sand and goes a bit more orange, which looked great. I then used Duck Egg Blue in place of Azure. I know, the rivet counters out there are pulling their hair out by now. Just a note: this kit was FOR FUN, remember? As long as it looked close and good, it was fine. The Blue looked really cool, and took on a greenish tint due to its transparency over the Sand. I was toying with using Dark green, but there’d have been no room for that.

Here’s the Chevy with just the pink on. See how it gets tinted to more of an orange colour?

The pink is even harder to see on the Jeep!

The cammo is hiding some of the wear, and the overspray on the box implies it’s a newer addition, too!

Once the blue is on there, it really changes the whole thing!

I also sprayed the gas cans with the cammo colours, since I assume the LRDG would have done the same thing. The PSP got hit too, but the frame on the truck only got a bit of pink. I forgot to blue it. Not like you can tell in the end analysis anyway… I didn’t spray the crates, but I did overspray the main storage box in the truck. That was a neat effect, I thought. I also sprayed the seat backs. I still am not convinced this would have been done, but it’s hard to see it in the truck, and easy to see in the Jeep, where it likely would have been done!

Dirty Game, Dirty Players:

To highlight the details on the vehicles, I used a medium grey pastel, not a darkish tan, like on the base. This was applied by hand once mixed with varsol, and then Satin Coated in place. I was surprised it didn’t get darker than it did, but I was okay with that. I was going for subtle, and I still have a long way to go to really get a feel for what pastels really behave like!  I got the grey all into crevices, hinges and body panel lines and then gave the vehicles and stowage a Flat Coat.

Because I wanted homogeneity, I used the same “Sand Coat” pastel from the base for the vehicles. I did two coats, in an effort to build some grime in the corners, and give a good dusty filtering to the rest of the paint. The blending effect of the two pastel washes on the oddball cammo really blew me away. All of a sudden, all these things that looked so bright were dulled and muted, and the whole thing took on a life of its own.

This is the fully loaded and dirtied Jeep. You can see the sand in the tires most easily; the pastel acts like a filter, more or less.

With the pastel washes (lowlighting and “dust wash”) on, the Chevy takes on a decidedly used appearance.

All the stowage got sand coated too, after I did the ties and straps in MMA Leather, for some visual interest. I did the seating surfaces in Leather too. I had a very hard time getting sand to stick onto the tires. I did two wet coats and a dry coat, but the bit of Future in the flat coat (essential for preventing salting/silvering) always seemed to blot it out over the black of the tires. However, I did eventually get some of it to show, and I decided to just go with it.

Here you can see the Jeep’s stowage to good advantage. That sand gets everywhere! (Of course, that WAS the idea…)

From this angle, you can see the stowage in the back is all dirty too. There’s a lot of stuff crammed in there!

Mount Up!

I started final assembly with putting the truck onto its frame. This was surprisingly persnickety; the fame’s tolerances were so close that it didn’t want to fit on once it was all painted! That’s what I see in modern Gundams; I wasn’t expecting it from a Matchbox armour kit! Thankfully, the wheels and hubs went together, and onto the vehicles, without issue. By and large, everything else fit very well. Sadly, I managed to break off three of the six pegs surrounding the truck bed during painting. So, I decided it looked weird, and just broke them all off and touched up the paint.

The most fun part was putting all the stowage on. I didn’t think it would be, but it was a blast. I got the tires on the Jeep first, and was amazed that with the little wheels on there, it really looked like a tiny baby of a Jeep. Like, a Jeeplet, say. I then went to town with everything else. I’d drilled out the gun mounting holes, and thought I’d have an easy time mounting the guns. Ha ha ha… NOPE! I broke the twin mount off the jeep, the co-pilot’s pintle on the truck and a bit of the .303, although the stand survived. The Varsol in the washes tended to very slightly weaken the thinnest parts, it seems. Good to know for next time!

If you’re asking “Where are the figures?”, don’t bother. I don’t like doing figures, not at this scale. I don’t subscribe to the current trend of hyper-weathering, especially on people, and they’d just end up detracting from the vehicle. Besides, I’m not a figure modeller to begin with; I just don’t enjoy them. If they’re not anime figures, you likely won’t see many in my kits. My take on it is the LRDG has just pulled up and has dismounted for recon on foot. That’s also why I didn’t put in the Thompson guns that came with the kit – I figure they’re for dismounted use, and the crews are dismounted, off scene. I’m consistent, at least!

The relative compactness of all the stowage in the vehicles contrasts with the loose, messy debris behind the wall. This adds implied conflict to the finished product in a subtle way.

The last step was just to put the vehicles on the base to see how it all worked. Sure, it’s crowded, but man, did it ever work WELL. The vehicles, despite being a bit dirty, really pop against the background, and the detail is such that you know there’s lots going on, but no one thing jumps out at you or hogs the stage.


I’ve wanted this set for a while. I think it has one of the coolest bases and most unusual sets of vehicles of any of the Matchbox Armour kits. I was not disappointed. It was a blast to build, and was one of the few kits of recent memory that I can say was fun pretty much the whole way through.

It’s not a terribly complex kit, but all the stowage and the smallness of the vehicles (complete with steering wheels and the like) does make for a bit of fiddly work. For hands unaccustomed to small pieces, it could prove a handful (no pun intended). Also, you do have to be careful with the stowage; not only to not damage it, but to not lose it either! (Darned ammo box…) Thankfully, even if you lose one or two things, the rest of the junk will cover for it!

While it’s a great kit for beginners, I’d just caution that they may get frustrated with the pickiness of some of the parts. If you’re a more experienced modeller who wants to dabble in small-scale armour, though (like me) then this kit is THE BOMB. Fun, compact, easy (by and large) and quite accurate, it is a great canvas for some paint and groundwork skills, and you can go totally nuts on it or take it easy, and it will roll with the punches.

I loved this kit, as you can tell, and I think it’s a kit almost everyone can enjoy. There’s some building, lots of painting and neat textural differences that make it all come alive. Everything works well together, and the kit really does lend itself to telling a story; the details of that are left up to the modeller, though!

The best part: it’s not very big. It’s smaller than the turret on a 1/35 Rhino, and takes up less footprint than a 1/25 car. Kudos to the folks at Matchbox on creating such a great kit that produces such a big impression at such a small scale!

If you like what you see, go get one. Heck, get two! You’ll never get bored with this one!

From a distance, the wall doesn’t look to bad from behind. It gives a different perspective on the situation from this side, though, eh?

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