In the waning years of the Automotive Dark Ages (that time between about 1973 and 1985 when style, performance, power and enjoyment were all largely absent from driving machines) there appeared a few rays of light that showed maybe, just maybe there was something to look forward to for automotive enthusiasts. Firebirds, Camaros and Mustangs were still around, and getting back to some actual performance, and even the erstwhile “sport coupes” were actually trying to be sporty again. However, it seemed that North American car makers were still trying to emulate European imports when it came to conveying a sense of refinement and excitement.
Clearly, an ’85 Grand Am or Taurus or any K-Car variant cannot hold a candle to an upper-level European marque, but that didn’t prevent the various products from the Big 3 from trying to convince the motoring public that the opposite was true. While everyone had been importing European cars in the late ‘70s, the suits at the Big 3 never seemed to twig on that if they wanted to compete against European sports coupes, then they could just import their own. Don’t even ask me why… I wasn’t there and I can’t even begin to guess.
However, in 1985, that’s precisely what Ford did when it brought over the Sierra XR4i two-door coupe and stuffed their turbo 4 in it, creating the Merkur XR4Ti. Of course, the weird name and odd styling (which was very polarizing) didn’t help, and it wasn’t a great success. However, the car it was based on did just fine “across the pond”, and the XR4i Sierra, with the 2.8L Cologne 6-cylinder engine, was (and is) a sought-after piece of machinery.
In fact, the Sierra seems to have found some love in Japan, since Tamiya kitted the car in two forms. The first was the XR4i in civilian trim, and the second was the even-sportier Cosworth form in two different racing liveries. Since I have always loved the Merkur, and generally prefer kits of “everyday” cars, it’s no surprise that I super-thrilled when my brother managed to secure one of these hard-to-find kits directly from Japan!
The Story So Far:
To see how the kit got to where it is at the start of this article, you can review things here:
With the insides done, it was now time to focus on the outside, and this proved to be a little more of a challenge than I had expected…
Skirt First, Top Second:
The styling on the XR4i is quite distinctive. The double rear wing, aero nose profile, odd “double” rear side windows and huge, flat headlights are all key features of the design. However, one of the most obvious parts of the car is the cladding that is found on all sides of the car from the top of the bumpers down. This is similar to the grey cladding seen on more modern SUVs and other “rugged” vehicles. Given this, it seems an odd choice for a sporty car. However, that was the style at the time, it seems.
The Sierra would warm Henry Ford’s heart in that you could have the cladding in any colour you wanted, so long as it was black. Or dark grey, or greyish black… something like that. It only came in one colour, but what that colour was is surprisingly hard to say. It takes on different colours in different lighting conditions, making choosing a colour for it rather difficult. After studying a lot of cars online, I decided the skirting (as I call it) would be Virsago Black, which is a combination of Model Master Acrylic (MMA) Gunship Grey and Aircraft Interior Black. Thus, it’s dark, but not black, and that’s more or less what I think it’s supposed to be.
Before applying the Virsago Black, I applied Rustoleum Dark Grey primer to the whole car body. Of course, I masked off the gull grey on the interior of the roof and window pillars first! Once the primer was dry, I sprayed on the Virsago Black thinned with a mixture of Future and 99% Isopropyl Alcohol. The Future gives the paint some toughness and a bit of shine, which is usually useful. I then used a mix of tan and orange (with some red in it) as primer for the red “laser stripe” that runs through the cladding. In fact, even more of a period trick than the cladding, this high-contrast red stripe is a veritable trademark of this design; getting it right was crucial.
Of course, I painted it on by hand, and it was kind of messy, but it wasn’t terrible. I used MMA Guards Red to put on the stripe, and after several coats, it was done. I used a Sakura calligraphy pen to outline the red parts, and the touched up the Virsago Black with a sharpened toothpick. Here, again, is why I LOVE Testors (Hear that Rustoleum?!) – it can be touched up by hand and stays the same colour as it is when airbrushed! No Tamiya I’ve ever used can say that! Once the stripe was touched up, I gave the whole thing a couple light coats of Future to seal it all together.
I wanted the cladding to be semi-gloss, so I first applied a flat coat made from Delta Ceramcoat Urethane Indoor/Outdoor Varnish, and this is where I had a bit of a problem. Finding the right mix of the varnish, Future, water and alcohol is tough. I have a recipe, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. It didn’t here; surprise, surprise! I got a tonne of what I call “salting” – a whitish stain that will be familiar to anyone unfortunate enough to live in a wintery clime where road salt is used. This is a peculiarity of my custom varnish recipe, and usually a couple more light coats can take care of it. Mercifully, they did, and I had a nice, semi-gloss lower half of the car.
Masking this off was fun. If you know me, you know I hate masking. I especially hate it around things like curves, so doing the fender lips looked like a pain. However, I rescribed around them with a fine tool, and then cut the tape to shape once it was in place, like I would for a canopy. It worked well, and I was ready to re-primer the car. I did, and it went very nicely, since I used a decanted form of the Rustoleum primer cut with lacquer thinner. I gave the primer a light sand when it dried, and then another light coat was applied. Since I was doing a black car, I figured blemishes would show, so I wanted a fairly smooth primer layer.
I applied several coats of MMA Gloss Black, and sanded between the second and third coats to knock off high spots and level things out. Thankfully, with Future in my airbrush thinner, there’s quite a bit of self-levelling, and after three coats things looked pretty good. Due to the Future having a longer drying time than the paint, I left it to bake for a full day in the dehydrator at about 42°C. This should, I hope, prevent the cracking I sometimes get with Tamiya paints.
After drying, I gave it another light sand with 3600 grit and then put the first coat of Alclad AquaGloss on it. I love this stuff. It dies fast and hard, and I was ready to sand the first coat after only 25 mins in the dehydrator at 45°C! I went at it gently, but with 3200 grit paper, again to knock off the high spots. The Aqua Gloss does NOT self-level well if it goes on lightly, I’ve found. However, I wanted to build up a protective shell, so I did a few more light coats (which looked terribly orange peel-y) and then re-sanded at the end. With baking in between, this whole process only took a few hours. I did leave it to bake for an entire 10-hour day after the final sanding, though, since I wanted it to be good and “cooked through” for the final coats.
Between the third- and second-last coats I applied the decals, which were the scripts on the trunk lid and the license plates. Sadly, there are no decals for the Blue Ovals, which would have been grand. This is something that was in the repop of the Monogram SVO, and it would have been perfect to have had them at this point, too. I painted the ovals on nose and tail blue, and did a chrome outline with Molotow. I didn’t bother to simulate the Ford writing… that’s just too much to ask, and it was already subsumed by this point.
I used the same process I describe in my Video to get the car polished up. Going from 3600 to 4000 to 6000 got it looking better, but the use of the Tamiya Fine and Finish polishing compounds really makes the difference. By the time I was done with the Novus 1, the paint looked pretty darned good. There was the inevitable “polish in the cracks” but that’s easily removed with a short-bristled paintbrush and some more Novus, so I wasn’t worried. I could hardly wait to see how the black body worked with the Virsago Black cladding. Be careful what you wish for, I guess…
When I took the tape off the cladding, I expected to see what I saw when I taped it up. However, that wasn’t the case. It was like a plastic surgeon taking off the bandages from a nose job and, instead of seeing a flawless face, seeing a living Van Goh painting staring back at you! My beautiful skirting was all salted. Everywhere. As it turns out, the Ceramcoat varnish does different things if you let it dry naturally and if you power-dry it. I always thought it want GLOSSIER if you dried it under heat if it was wet. I never expected it would go so flat as to “salt” under the heat and covering of the tape.
Clearly, this was suboptimal, and I was more than mildly perturbed. Here was a rare kit I’d been doing good work on, that my brother had gone to great lengths to get for me, and I’d just botched it. However, we’ve all had those days, and one thing I’ve learned in 3 decades of doing this is that almost anything can be fixed. Not quite all mistakes can, but I’ll go with 95%.
To fix this, I took a chance. I know that Future will alleviate salting. The Ceramcoat will also absorb some gloss with only minor change in specularity. So, I applied, by hand using a soft brush, a coat of “hand vinyl”, which I also used on the interior to add some shine to the hard plastic surfaces. This sunk in and brought the flatness down a tad, and I saw some of the salting start to fade. I know this drill, so I left it overnight, and when I came back after work the next day, I beheld a miracle. The salting had all gone, and the finish was dead-nuts on what I wanted. You cannot possibly ask for more.
I then unmasked the interior, touched up some leakage and got ready for the next step: Window Trim. Thankfully, the windows on the Sierra are, unsurprisingly, the same colour as the cladding. Thus, I did the window trim with Virsago Black, and touched up any tiny spills either with my knife or a Sakura calligraphy pen. That’s the advantage of a black-painted car!
Light ‘Er Up:
In case you’re wondering, no, I didn’t apply electrical lights to the car. I’m not into that, However, with the body largely done, it was time to focus on the head and tail lights. Like all Tamiya cars that I’ve seen, the Sierra has clear tail lights. This is good, in a way, since it allows for an easy application of clear colours (and white) to the appropriate part of the tail light. One would think I’d then apply some Bare Metal Foil (BMF) to the car where the lights are, and then glue on the lights, right?
Unfortunately, as I found with my Civic, after a while, the glue on the tail lights does weird things to the paint, though. So, that option was out. However, I can foil the lights from behind, and then glue in the entire unit! That’s what I did, and it worked wonderfully. I also foiled the lights/turn signals in the front bumper and used super-thin white for the ‘clear’ part, and clear orange for the signal lamp lens. This left the headlights. Sounds easy, you say. They’re just clear plates. Stick ‘em in and “Voila!”. Yeah, except that’s not the case. “Maybe you can just foil them from behind, too?” you ask. Nope.
If you wonder why I’m being a stickler on this, it’s because, while polarizing, the headlights on the Sierra are really a trademark of the design, and getting them right or wrong is the difference between the kit looking good or bad. I used Molotow Chrome applied with a brush to paint the bezels, and the “floor” of the area inside the lights. I managed to guess the line quite well, and when I put the lenses on, I was sure I’d be amazed. I was. It looked wrong. SO, so wrong.
I’d failed to really look at the pics I had at my disposal. I hadn’t noticed that on the inner lights, it’s only the “back wall” that’s reflective, the “floor” is body colour. This is what makes the lights so odd and distinctive when you see them. Well, poop… Thankfully, I had some Gloss Black left, and I touched up the floor of the headlight bay with it, leaving just the curved rear surface in chrome. It looked a bit rough, but through the (very nicely) textured clear lens, I expected small problems wouldn’t show up. I was right. This time, when the lenses went on, things looked good. A little bit of Tacky Glue later and they were in for keeps.
I then glued in the windows with Tacky Glue. There’s just enough of a lip around the windows to apply the glue and let it bite, and this time I left it to air dry, lest my cladding recovery be messed up by forced heating. This took the better part of a day.
Final Assembly, Final Disappointment:
So far, despite being a rare kit from an allegedly top-tier kit maker, this model had given me some trouble. Some were its fault, some were mine; I’ll own that. The next one, the last one, has to be shared as well. When I put the car together, it didn’t seem to fit…
If there’s one thing Tamiya does do well, it’s final assembly. It’s usually “Push and Pop; Bob’s your uncle” kind of stuff. But, not here. The front end went in fine, but the rear just would not find its home! If I put to where I thought it should go, it ran into the windows and I got some bad creaking sounds. If I put it to where I thought it wanted to go, you could see over the rear fender liners, and that was clearly wrong. Hand in hand with this, and exacerbating things, was the bit of chassis that hung down between the wheel spoilers, front and rear. I thought that the chassis would fit up such that this would be level with the bottom of the door. However, with the rear end fitting “properly” (or as close as I could get it), it hung down, and it actually had a slight gap.
That’s right, you could see light through the kit, as the chassis didn’t quite fit up to the bottom of the car. SIGH… that’s not cool. Add to this that I painted the chassis light grey, and it really is a distracting influence on the viewer’s impression of the kit. I was pissed. I didn’t catch this in test fitting… had I really screwed up something? No… the engine bay fit perfectly, the firewall was good and the front suspension was exactly as it should be. Thus, I concluded that I should have painted these sills on the car black, not grey, since they’d have just blended in with the cladding at that point.
However, that aside, the car did go together well. I left the sunroof “popped open”, and found it fit snugly enough to make gluing it a moot point. I was amazed to see how well the hood fit on (always dodgy on an American kit, as we know) and I made a thin wire prop-rod for it. The mirrors just popped into holes in the body side. THAT is something American modelling companies should have taken to heart!
The wheels fit in the tires nicely, and they all fit on the chassis with no problem. With that, the Sierra was done, and I finally had the chance to add one of these charismatic and somewhat unusual cars to my display.
As I mentioned, Tamiya kits are highly regarded, but there are some pitfalls with this kit. These are mainly the short cuts in the interior, but the final fit-up of the chassis and body was something that proved to me that this is a kit for a serious modeller.
It’s not too tough for a relatively inexperienced person to be able to build it, but without some experience, tools and spare styrene, you won’t get the best results. Add to this unique challenges like the lower body’s cladding (that has to not look like it’s painted on the car) and the complex headlight geometry, and you’ve got something that can trip up veterans, let alone tyros! With this kit being rare and expensive, too, I wouldn’t use it as my next “Father ‘n’ Son” build. (While it may be sexist, this sounds better than “custodial-unit ‘n’ progeny” build, so go with it.)
Overall, I’m very happy with how the Sierra turned out. It’s a cool looking car, and in black the weirdness of the cladding is greatly downplayed, which is nice. The wheels and tires look great, and the chassis detail makes me want to display it on a mirror. To have a kit of such an automotive oddball is quite a rush, and since it was a grail kit of mine, I do feel a sense of accomplishment with it sitting on display.
If you like the weird and “everyday”, I do encourage you to get one of these should you find it. However, as a “passing fancy” or “impulse buy”, it will likely be too hard to find and expensive to obtain. Still, if you gotta have one, this is the one to get!