Media: injection molded plastic, photo-etch brass
Reviewed By: Michael Shackleton
The model was kindly supplied by Meng Model.
Photos of Canadian vehicles reproduced with thanks to Anthony Sewards. Other photos from various internet sources and Leopard Club archives.
Meng are still a relatively new company who have certainly surprised us with their initial releases and also with their quality. To quote from their website:
The company is dedicated to developing and selling high-end scale model kits. It has an excellent R&D team as well as a mature marketing team. With the aim to provide top-notch models for model fans worldwide, we have been trying to reproduce every detail of the original objects, to provide enthusiasts with both perfect model kits and wonderful modelling experience. With the expanding brand culture, we are currently growing fast and heading towards the goal of becoming the world's top model brand.
I am not so sure with this model, unfortunately.
The Leopard 1 was a main battle tank designed and produced in West Germany that first entered service in 1965. The Leopard project started in November 1956 as a collaborative project between Germany and France in order to develop a modern tank, the Standard-Panzer, to replace the Bundeswehr's American-built M47 and M48 Patton tanks. After two series of prototypes and an extensive series of 50 pre-production models, Leopard 1 entered service with the Bundeswehr in 1965.
Leopard 1A3 and 1A4 were the last production versions of Leopard 1 built. In total, 6,485 Leopard tanks have been built, of which 4,744 were battle tanks and 1741 were special purpose variants - not including the eighty prototypes and pre-series vehicles.
The Leopard quickly became a standard of European forces, and eventually served as the main battle tank in eleven countries worldwide. Since 1990, the Leopard 1 has gradually been relegated to secondary roles in most armies. In the German Army, the Leopard 1 was phased out in 2003 while Leopard 1 derived vehicles are still widely used. The Leopard 2 has taken over the MBT role. Leopard 1 hulls have been re-used in a wide variety of roles.
The instructions are presented as an 18-page, small format booklet with colour on he covers inside and out. Each step is illustrated in a logical order with beautifully clear and large black and white line drawings. There are 23 steps in the construction process. A separate 4-page A4 booklet profiles four separate colour schemes.
The contents are:
Sprue A (4 of) - parts for the main suspension including torsion bars, road wheels, shock absorbers, bump stops, return rollers.
Sprue B (2 of) - idlers, alternative sprockets, headlights, spare track, various fittings.
Sprue C - individual plastic track links.
Sprue D - side skirts, rear hull plate, alternative mudflaps, alternative engine deck grilles, gun travel lock, toolbox.
Sprue E - engine exhaust grilles, grouser rack, driver's hatch, idler adjuster, various fittings
Sprue F - tools and NBC intake, front torsion bars.
Sprue G - turret base, rear plate, mantlet and cover.
Sprue H - turret fittings
Sprue J - main gun, searchlight and PZB200, smoke launchers, gun mount.
Sprue K - cupola parts and roof plate.
Other parts: lower hull; upper hull; upper turret; vinyl tracks (2 off); decal sheet; two etch frets with alternative deck grilles; string for tow cables; poly caps for wheels and gun.
Sprue T - clear parts including periscopes, headlight lenses.
This model of the Leopard 1A3/1A4 was certainly a big surprise. I initially heard about this when on holiday in Germany this summer and was astonished to see this announced very soon afterwards with sprue shots at the Tokyo Toy Fair in October. I have to say something at this point.
As most of you will know, I am the author of the Leopard 1 Trilogy, a 600-page three-volume tome about this very tank. This tank is my FAVOURITE tank and I do know quite a lot about the subject. Yes I am very biased.
The previous incarnations of this particular tank came from Italeri and Tamiya, both of which date back to the mid 1970s - both as 1A4s. I even remember buying the Italeri 1A4 kit having cycled to the nearest model shop several miles away. This kit has stood the test of time very well indeed and can still be made into a very nice model. The less said about the Tamiya kit, the better. It was no competition for Italeri in the detail stakes, but was a lot easier to build.
The Italeri Leoprd 1A4 has been the standard until now. This kit was produced in the second half of the 1970s and it is possibly one of the finest kits of its generation. It can still be built into a very fine model, so this new Meng release has to be very good to beat this venerable beauty. I, and many other Leopard 1 fans, have waited a very long time for a modern, state-of-the-art, injection moulded kit of this subject, so I was very excited when I heard of it's pending release. I must also say that I had no involvement in this project. Is that excitement well founded? Let us see shall we?
The overall quality of the parts is very good with excellent moulding with the PZB cage being slide-moulded. There are a lot of ejector marks but most will be hidden from view. Flash is almost non-existent. There is no sign of warping and only very minor sink marks (in the cupola rings, for instance). Once again we are witnessing state-of-the-art moulding with crisp detail and an excellent fit of parts though some have been simplified compared to some other manufacturers.
So how far advanced is the Meng kit compared to its illustrious Italeri predecessor? I'm afraid that, overall, it is hardly any advance at all. I will use a simple key to compare the Meng kit with the Italeri kit: (+) means Meng is better than Italeri (-) means Italeri is still better than Meng.
There are several building/decal options (+):
There is no interior. There is no crew.
I will break this down into three sections and say the following:
The current trend is to have working torsion bars and the Meng kit is no exception. The good thing here is that the bars are moulded onto the swing arms (+). Some kits I have seen recently have them separate which adds to the complication. Unfortunately, the swing arms have no detail whatsoever on their outer faces but the Italeri arms were also incorrect (-). Where they are bolted to the swing arms, there should be a depression with a nipple in the middle. Leopard Workshop can furnish better options.
The shock absorbers are also over simplified and are portrayed as rectangular where they stick out from below there protective covers (-)! The rest of the suspension goes together quite nicely though the longer return roller arms (parts A3) are easily put on upside down as the instructions are not clear. Note the angle of the arm should go on the underside. If you want better detail, then have a look here. Admittedly, none of the above will be seen very easily behind the wheels and the sideskirts.
Photo © Dan Hay
Real Leopard 1 running gear
There are also ribs under the sponsons which should not be there (-). Under the exhaust grilles there should be spoon-shaped bilge outlets which are missing (-) - which the Italeri kit had. Again this will be hidden under the skirts.
The most serious disappointment are the idlers (-) and roadwheels (-). They all have polycaps and can literally be snapped together without any glue needed, the engineering is that good (+). However, there is no detail on the reverse sides at all. In fact, they are completely the wrong shape with what appear to be huge drum brakes on them (-). Italeri wheels had no detail either but at least they were the right shape.
Even worse are the front faces which are just plain wrong (-). Two things are incorrect. The hub is too big and the shape of the inner rim is too right-angled. Wheels are always difficult to describe but the inner rim should be gently angled with a gentle curve towards the ring of retaining nuts. At least the tyres do not have Italeri's trademark lateral grooves in them (+). All will have to be replaced with after-market items from Perfect Scale Modellbau, Mouse House or Italian Kits. At least the tyre width is correct (+) where the Italeri wheels were a little skinny. Even better are the Leopard Workshop options LW001-1 and LW002.
Photos © Anthony Sewards
Real Leopard 1 road wheels
The sprockets are nice (+)!! We have a choice of two - the production sprocket which had just eight bolts and the later replacement sprocket which had 15 bolts. This was introduced at the time of the 1A5 modification programme and was retrofitted to many tanks after overhaul. The original 8-bolt sprocket should have a flange just off-centre (as per the Italeri kit) but this is missing from the Meng kit (-).
Photo © Anthony Sewards
real Leopard 1 drive sprocket with flange
When I saw photos of the hull from the Tokyo Show, I was disappointed not to see any welds of any note. They are there on the production kit but they are so narrow as to be almost invisible (-). On my build, I have replaced all of them as they are a significant feature of the Leopard 1 hull. Once again, the Italeri hull didn't have any welds either.
The hull is a conventional tub and top - nice and simple and the fit is excellent. Before fitting the top you might need to think about those torsion bars. If you decide to use the vinyl tracks, the first and last wheels/bars will have to be glued in place because of the tension of the tracks. If you use the separate plastic links, there will be no wheel movement anyway!
Another thing to decide before adding the hull top to the bottom is which option you are going to build. For the first time we have an accurate engine deck grille (+) - and a choice of two of them (+). The grille is a two-piece affair with the base layer cast in a kind of honeycomb. The alternative for the Greek-only 'tropical' version has radial rings. These have to fitted from the underside of the hull top. Each have specific wire mesh etch grilles to fit on top (++).
Another nice feature are the air intake grilles along the sides which are also etch (+).
There are four access hatches on the hull top with grab handles. Meng have done a Tamiya over-simplification here and we just have have four rectangles of plastic. These are best removed, drilled and replaced with wire.
As mentioned above, the hull has two driver periscope washers moulded on the glacis plate which will have to be cut from the hull for three of the four options here - a strange choice. The Greek version should have small bolt heads where the driver washer periscopes were intended to be, but were never fitted.
There are numerous location slots for the hull side tool stowage. If a version is built with stowage boxes fitted instead of tools, there will be a lot of filling to do (-)! The tools themselves are very nicely rendered with their mounting plates and numerous clips moulded on. This makes the most tedious Leopard 1 job quite easy (+). The perfectionists amongst us will probably at least carve the clips off and replace them with etch handles. The tools are much more to scale and in the case of the track wrench and sledge hammer, are far less anaemic than Italeri's (+). However, the bottom mount for the saw is too long and should have a couple of millimetres carefully cut out. The axe heads are very delcate so be careful when handling.
One thing that is very 1970s is the handle moulded on top of the rear hull tool box when it should be separate (-). It looks so toy-like and crude. The same can be said for the engine exhaust grilles on the hull sides. They are awful with no depth at all (-). I've replaced them with the much nicer hollow Italeri ones which thankfully fit. Leopard Workshop has much better renditions of the grille.
Going back to the tracks. The vinyl ones can be glued with styrene cement - it works (+)! The separate plastic links go together reasonably easily (+) though you will definitely need to use a straight edge. There are two ejectors on each link, however (-), but are easy to get rid of. With skirts fitted, you don't actually have to build the full wrap.
The previously included individual plastic track links of the 1A3/1A4 have now been replaced by a superb new set of workable tracks from Meng, reviewed here.
The four lifting eyes, once again, don't have any welds around them which are quite a significant feature of Leopard 1 (-). Italeri doesn't either! The headlights are hollow with separate clear lenses (+). All of the periscopes are also transparent (+) and the guards are provided in etch. The central one has the correct peak (+) but no hatch guard on the back (tiny detail that only a Leo geek would notice!).
The skirts have the typical dimpled texture and Meng have gone to a lot of trouble to reproduce it. They have even angled some of the skirt clips for a more authentic look (+). I do wonder if the dimples are a little overdone and we won't know until we see them under a coat of paint. One small problem is that there will be a joint to clean up where the front end of the skirt meets the flap over the front of the tracks. No big deal.
I don't like the folded rear mudflaps but we get the option of folded and unfolded (+). These are often supplied as etch parts, but the rubber used is much thicker than etch so I'm glad we have them in plastic. The reason I don't like the folded flaps is that no effort has been spent defining the fold from the sides. They are just blobs of plastic (-).
Where the side skirts stick out at the rear end, a small mounting point has been moulded onto the rear hull. This has always been overlooked until now (+). This mount was the original production fitting and was largely replaced by a stronger C-shaped mount which was standard on the Greek version. This has not been supplied though it is a tiny, tiny Leopard-geek detail (-).
The string supplied for the tow cables is best replaced with cable as the weave is too coarse. There is also no suggestion in the instructions about the length to cut them to. A much better choice would be to use the Eureka Leopard 1-2 tow cables.
Thankfully, this is by-and-large the best part of the kit, so let's get the worst bit out of the way first. As you may guess, it's those welds again! The turret - being a welded turret - has lots of them!
They have all been depicted but as a mixture of ribs which stand out too proud (-) or as welds with a lateral pattern (-) like a WW2 Sherman. Leopards have very neat longitudinal welds, i.e. along the joint. The same goes for the hull. Take a look at your Leopard reference and you will see what I mean. Thankfully, a scrape with a sharp rounded knife gets rid of the silly welding pattern and also takes down the ribs for a much better look, all without loosing the weld lines themselves.
The other bad bits are the gun, which is no improvement over the Italeri one, and the PERI sight for the 1A4 option. The Leopard gun is quite a complicated affair with its thermal jacket fitted. It is supplied the good old-fashioned way in two halves with a vertical split (-). This means a lot of very careful cleaning but any competent modeller won't mind this. The gun is also about 2mm too short between the mantlet and extractor. At least the muzzle has some rifling in it (+). One more thing for the Greek version only - this should have a collimator on the left side of the gun's counterweight (-).
Something I missed in the original review is that the main clamp in the centre of the gun is also wrong. It is depicted the same way up on both sides. It is OK on the left but should be upside-down on the right.
The PERI sight should really have been done in clear plastic as it has a window in it. There is no wiper either (-).
The searchlight is nice (+) with options to have the doors open (with a clear window and a reflector behind it which will look nice painted chrome silver) or closed. If you do not want to mount the searchlight, there are no hooks provided for the top of the mantlet (-). The PZB also looks nice (+) though again some careful clean-up will be needed. The protective cage is very nicely moulded (+). Neither of these devices is supplied with a power cable (- -).
Thankfully, the Meng kit has corrected a long-standing problem with the Italeri kit. The commander's cupola now has the right number of periscopes (+)! This is supplied as a clear ring with the periscopes in place. The fit is tight from under the turret so make sure to clean off the numerous sprue gates.
The mantlet is pivoted in poly caps which is nice, but this movement is negated by the dust cover which goes between mantlet and turret. It is a nice piece of moulding though (+)! The base of the turret has the correct angular shapes under the bustle where the Italeri turret was completely wrong (+). The rangefinder doors can be posed open or closed (+).
The 1A3 turret differs from the 1A4 in that the gunner has a periscope top right (deleted on 1A4), the commander has the more usual Leopard 1 sight (PERI site on 1A4) and behind the loader's hatch is circular cover (+) that covered a hole where a close-defence weapon was supposed to be fitted, but never was. This was deleted on 1A4 and also on the Greek version. The instructions are incorrect (-) about fitting this to the Greek version - it does NOT have this (-). One tiny detail that Meng have noticed is the angle of the loader's hatch. With the circular plate in place, the hatch is angled slightly. Without the plate, it is straight. Well done Meng (+). The cupola rings themselves are quite thin (+), certainly compared to the thick offerings from Italeri. However, the machine gun trolleys do not have travel locks for the MGs (-). These are ALWAYS missing from both Leopard 1 and 2 kits and they are horrible things to add from etch.
The commander's hatch has his circular locking wheel moulded to the bottom of his hatch (-) but it is barely visible with the hatch open as it is located underneath. Different aerial mounts are provided for German and Greek versions (+) but there is no indication about aerial length. One glitch in the instructions is that the smoke launcher rails are labelled the wrong way round - left should be right and vice versa. The launchers themselves are a bit skinny and have no etch chains for their caps (-). Finally, we have quite a good rendition of the MG3 machine gun and its mount (+).
I am sorry if I have been hard on this kit. Meng have quickly built a reputation for accurate and interesting kits. This is why I was excited when I heard about the Meng release. I assumed that it would uphold their previous reputation, but I'm afraid that the Leopard 1 could be better. This is not like Meng, at all. And believe me I do feel like crying, not just because my favourite tank has not been given full justice, but because Meng have let us Leopard 1 fans down.
I have actually built one - how could I not? Have a look at Leopard Fibel 14. It does go together very sweetly and the engineering is first rate. Some of the parts just clip together and hardly need much glue. Some of the detail is very nice, too, such as the hull tools.
However, I cannot forgive them for messing up the wheels, ignoring the hull welds and getting the turret welds wrong. Those exhaust grilles are bad as well. Thankfully, Leopard Workshop has come to the rescue. There is plenty of reference out there and they just haven't looked closely enough at some of the detail. Some detail they HAVE looked at - like the different angles that the loader's hatch should be for different options. So some aspects of this kits preparation just don't make sense.
However, it is better than the golden Italeri kit but it isn't the huge leap it could have been.