Small but beautifully formed…

In the face of larger scale kits with more detail, 1:72 remains an enduring love.

“I have neither the time to build larger kits nor the space to display the results, so more often than not I return back to my first love and that as in obvious now, is 1:72”

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I have no idea how old I was, but the first time I ever became aware of a plastic model kit was whilst visiting my grandparents’ house in the very early seventies. There, on a shelf in the sitting room was a half-built Airfix 1:72 Sea King, its white plastic fuselage hanging over the edge of its small box, Roy Cross’ beguiling artwork helping to further tease my young eyes. At the time I had no idea what it was, I’m not even sure now whether I took more time to examine the contents, all I knew was that it looked interesting and that was enough to sow a seed into my mind…

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It may have been a few years later that I first had a chance to build my own kit. I reemeber it being an Airfix 1:76 Scammell Tank Transporter, a kit that was assembled with tube glue, all parts being snapped eagerly from the runners – there were no tools in the Pollard workshop back then! Looking back, it seems odd that such an unmitigated disaster should set me off on a path that I’ve followed for over forty years, but it did. There was something about that little green model, all glue encrusted and misaligned, that lit a created a spark that has endured to the present day.

Though my burgeoning career started off with a vehicle, it really wasn’t long before my love of aviation dictated my purchase of kits, aircraft being the predominant choice amongst sporadic detours to armoured vehicles that would later in life, form a major part of both my hobby and working day. But for the time being, aircraft were the first port of call and as such, that meant kits that I could get locally, Airfix and Matchbox and that in turn, meant 1:72. Looking through the catalogues from that period in my life it’s hard to find kits that I didn’t build, only a handful of Matchbox kits not having passed through my hands with Airfix packages, though being perhaps more popular and more readily available, being a close second in my affections. I built them all – almost!

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Over the years that have passed since those heady days of the Seventies, I’ve built a huge number of kits, many of them in larger scales. As the hobby has developed and the industry has found new, cheaper ways to create kits, larger scales seem to have predominated, 1:32 being a particularly fertile area for exploitation, with subjects that I would never have dreamed of seeing in miniature, now appearing on a regular basis. And it’s not just the smaller machines that are being replicated in this scale, even four-engined bombers are now being released. Though these massive kits are incredibly impressive, as time has passed, my inclination to build such large models has waned to the point where I now simply hand these builds on – unless they happen to be Harrier-shaped, then all bets are off! I have neither the time to build larger kits on a regular basis, nor the space to display the results, so more often than not I return back to my first love and that as in obvious now, is 1:72. But that doesn’t mean that the results are any less impressive; as with larger scale kit production, technology in ‘72nd has developed to a point where detail and finesse in on a par with larger scales, kits from the likes of Eduard, Tamiya and latterly Airfix, offering projects that though small in stature, are large in detail and accuracy.

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But it’s not just the mainstream kit manufacturers that have helped those keen on small-scale modelling to compete with the bigger boys, the aftermarket has made its fair share of strides in this field. Once seen as the poor relation to 1:48 and 1:32, now virtually every 1:72 release imaginable has generated some form of detailing set, masks and decals, to tantalise a prospective builder. Everything from the simple addition of seat straps to complete engine and gun bay features, can now be added. Want folded wings? Done. How about a radar bay? Yep, we can do that as well. Highly-detailed underwing stores created from 3D printed masters – of course! It’s all there and the results, when combined with a basic plastic model kit, can be spectacular.

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There is something indefinably special about this classic scale. Something precious. Something that draws you in for a closer look. Large scale models are always impressive, but when a modeller with skill tackles a kit in 1:72 and turns it from a box of indistinct plastic parts, into a scale replica of a real artefact with detail and finesse that matches its tiny stature, that’s something to behold.

As a modeller that works in all scales, there is no doubt in my mind that 1:72 builds are a challenge that I don’t find elsewhere. If a project is in 1:32 or larger, detail can be replicated almost nut for nut, but in 1:72 you have to think about its recreation and find a way to build what’s needed to result in structures that are detailed enough to be correct, but not heavy-handed enough to spoil the illusion of reality. And then once you’ve constructed your model, you need to paint it in a way that once again is in sympathy with the scale. Overworked finishes with definite areas of weathering, darkly washed panel lines and chips that would be the size of a dinner plate, are a real no-no, subtlety and control being watchwords for a successful build.

But it really is the way that smaller scale models draw in the viewer and beg for a closer look that are their real appeal. Place a 1:32 F-15 on a table and you can see it from the other side of the room, display a 1:72 version next to it and it’s asking you to step closer, admire it from a few feet away and then spend time in its company. When I visit a model show and check out the competition, it is almost always the smaller-scale classes that I concentrate on, whether that’s aircraft, armour or cars. There is just something beguiling about the jewel-like nature of these models that captures my imagination and makes me question the builder. How did they build that? Where do those details come from? How was that painted so precisely? They take me back to those halcyon days of my youth and the open-eyed love I first experienced when plastic kits were introduced to me and I can’t get enough of these little fellas as a result.

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Though 1:72 will remain my favourite scale, I have no intention of stopping building kits in 1:48 and above, because there are still too many subjects to get the juices flowing. Indeed, I’ve already requested Italeri’s 1:32 F-35 and have another 1:24 Harrier planned, so large scale projects will certainly cross my desk this year. But, when projects become long-winded and the results too large to handle, I know that I can return once more to my comfort zone and to those little kits that open up such wonderful fertile fields of possibility. I can return home.

Now, where’s that Eduard Spitfire IX..?

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7 thoughts on “Small but beautifully formed…

  1. Rene Lelong March 17, 2017 / 11:59 am

    I have returned to the delights of 1/72 because of Airfix new generation of aircraft kits. I am a Hawker fan and the new Hurricane and typhoon kits to name but a few are really fun to build. Having said that I also realise you can’t quite throw them together because they demand a lot more concentration to build..my eyesight not being what it used to be. Love it though.

  2. Michael Douglas Scott March 17, 2017 / 6:46 pm

    First, as is obvious, modeling is a personal and individual activity that modelers engage in for many different reasons. I’m pleased that you enjoy 1:72 scale so much, but I think otherwise. Like you, I’ve built many different scales, including 1:144 up through 1:96. I find that I generally, and I stress, generally, get less enjoyment from 1:72 scale than 1:48, 1:135 and 1:32. Of course that varies with the subject. I am not interested in a 1:32 scale B-17 for example. Just too big and likely too lengthy a build for my tastes.

    Although you and other modelers of my acquaintance can get fantastic detail and excellent build quality from 1:72 scale kits, I am not so good a modeler that I can do that reliably. Although I do have a couple of Eduard and Tamiya 1:72 aircraft kits that I enjoyed building and still enjoy looking at, in the main, I find that scale just too small for me. I’m not able to handle the small parts and details sufficiently to get a decent result even with the excellent kits and details available these days.

    Sometimes a larger scale is just necessary to represent a particular model with enough faithfulness to make it a stand out. The Meng WWI tanks come to mind. I’m certain that modern modeling engineering and technology is capable of producing, say a British Mk V tank with full interior in 1:72, but I for one would be seriously challenged to build it satisfactorily. But, I do think I can do justice to my 1:35 version of that tank.

    Also, I would propose that Wingnut Wings has hit upon the best scale for WWI aircraft. Large enough for really good detail, good engineering of the parts and very good fit, reasonable space for including that detail and to handle rigging that isn’t toy-like. Make them smaller and achieving that level of detail and accuracy would be possible for only the more advanced modelers. If they were a larger scale you would have display issues and expanded build times that would put many people off.

    I will conclude with saying that I’m awed by the detail and quality of many 1:72 models, but I just don’t seem to be interested enough in kits of that size to put in the time and effort necessary to achieve those results.

    Interesting topic, Spencer. Thanks for posting.

  3. Tom Murphy March 17, 2017 / 8:13 pm

    Fair do’s Spencer they are some lovely builds you have there. The box art by Roy Cross got me all nostalgic. Remember building the famous 66 Sea King many moons ago…get it!…Many moons….er, anyway great modelling and getting some real inspiration from you blogs.

  4. Peter Kealey March 17, 2017 / 11:54 pm

    1/48 does it for me. Apart from difficulties with eyesight at the smaller scales, I just find it easier to handle and paint the larger parts (and it’s easier to find parts that get dropped).

    Of course 1/48 has it’s drawbacks too. As you rightly point out, they do take up more room. I have quite a few stored in boxes because I have run out of room in my display case. My original plan was to periodically exchange models on display for models in storage but so far that hasn’t eventuated.

  5. cornay March 18, 2017 / 12:37 am

    Likewise I stand in awe at a show, staring at the offerings on the 1/72 table – how did they do that?

  6. Rob March 18, 2017 / 3:28 am

    My love of 1/72 began in about 1968 (I was 4 at the time). My dad built, and hung from our basement ceiling, many of the 1/72 Revell kits available at that time. I was fascinated looking at all of them. He would occasionally give me one to play with (and eventually destroy). Two stand out in my mind: a DH.2 and one with red circles (probably a Zero). Great memories!

  7. y2keric March 21, 2017 / 6:37 am

    Beautifully written. This stuck a chord with me. I also started in 1/72 but graduated to 1/48 where most of my built collection resides. It’s nice to see Airfix producing great new toolings in ’72 again. I may just be tempted!

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