Like an ‘Old Master’ languishing in a store room, this M1 Abrams deserved a second lease of life…
“I know that to many this is only an old plastic model kit, but I really feel that I have a sense of duty to bring it back to life, this model being part of the history and fabric of what we all enjoy, today.”
Many of you reading this will be familiar with the work of Francois Verlinden, some of you won’t, but his work and the impact he had on both the hobby and industry is simply indisputable. From his first appearance in Military Modelling during the mid-seventies, though to his centre-spreads in many of the Tamiya catalogues that were released from the end of the 70s, through to the mid 80s, his work became a beacon for those keen to emulate the man and his models. Model shops followed, as did a huge range of kits, initially under the DCS label and then under his own name of Verlinden Productions, the company being closed recently, his work and the kits that followed, drifting into the history books.
Over the years, I’ve gotten to know the man himself and through visits to his factory and home, I’ve been able to discuss the hobby and industry and also been the recipient of some of his models, one of which you see here.
I’m really not sure how this model ended up in my possession. Most likely I was planning to build an early M1 and during one of our conversations I may have cheekily asked if he had one that I could use, the idea being to rework it and then use the resulting model. So I asked and this model was sent over to me along with some other bits and pieces. Now, when I asked for the model, I really had no idea that he would send me one that was so famous, this model having appeared in detail in one of his books ‘The Verlinden Way Vol. VI’ and thus had been seen by thousands. This was not just any model, this was the centrepiece of a diorama! Now what was I going to do?!
When the model arrived it was actually in a very poor state. Details were missing, parts were broken and all of the stowage and figures that featured on the model in the book, understandably missing. But as an artefact, it was complete and though looking every bit its age (the model was built 30 years ago), enough to make me want to do more with it. I have to admit that I still considered stripping it, but after suggesting that on my Facebook page and then being told in no uncertain terms that was tantamount to reworking a valuable painting and should be seen as nothing less than a sin, I realised the error of my ways and decided to restore the model at some point. Decision made, the model was put away until I had the time to deal with it.
Fast forward a few years and I found that I had some time on my hands to build something for myself and so elected to have a crack at an early M1 that my good friend Drewe had given me, the unpainted results being seen here. It was whilst working on that model that the decision was made to recover Francois’ build and see what needed to be done with it, spare parts that I hadn’t used on mine, being suitable for the restoration. I would then display both of the models together on the same base, my Abrams being a tribute to Francois’ original build.
Rebuilding a model built by someone else is no easy task, especially one that was completed such a long time ago. Firstly, I have no notes to go by, so have no idea what colours were used to paint it. Secondly, the model was finished in enamels, so that would be an issue when going parts in place (enamels don’t react well to liquid glues) and thirdly, if I was to restore it properly, all of the stowage and the figures would need to be copied exactly, both in detail and paintwork. I’d also have to ape a painting style that I’ve not used for some time and do all of that in sympathy with the surrounding build, being extremely careful not to damage the finish or existing detail. All in all, not easy.
The only thing that I have to go on are the images from the book and though enough to create a decent facsimile, they don’t show the model all the way around, the right hand side when viewed from the back, being in shadow, so the stowage in the bin on that side of the turret is not at all clear. Looking at the images, most of the stowage items are easy to identify, a number already being in my spares’ box, a number though are not so easily identified, most looking to be from the Italeri accessory set that Francois used extensively for his early dioramas. The figures are similarly easy to identify, but not so easy to find on sale. I have two of them, but there is a standing figure that I don’t have, though I’m sure I’ll be able to find one…I hope!
With the images in the book and a knowledge of how the model was painted, I’ve started on the restoration and so far I’ve removed the broken parts and fixed new pieces in place from those left over from my Abrams build. With that done, I can begin working out how to paint the new items and mixing closely-matched colours from the paints that I have in my stocks. Unlike Francois, who used Humbrol enamels, I will be using Tamiya acrylics and hoping that I can get a close enough match to the finish on the model, a finish that was initially quite light, but thanks to his use of heavy washes and weathering, ended up a much darker tone. I will also have to weather those new pieces using his techniques, washes, drybrushing and chipping having to be copied exactly. And when I say exactly, I mean, exactly. The new parts have to look as though they were painted by him, not me, anything less than perfectly matched, likely to stand out like a sore thumb and look like what it is: a bad rebuild.
I know that to many this is only an old plastic model kit, but I really feel that I have a sense of duty to bring it back to life, this model being part of the history and fabric of what we all enjoy, today. Working on it this afternoon, I felt as though I was restoring an important work of art, art created by not only an important modeller, but also a friend, who’s work it is my place to cherish and preserve, not throw away, not discard, not destroy. In that sense, though it would be easy to simply add my own figures and stowage, that would not be true to the original and the essence and soul of the model that so many have seen, enjoyed and no doubt, been inspired by, would be forever tarnished: it would no longer be the same model. My role in this is to copy as closely as I can what I see in the pictures and if I do that and the results are similar — if not exactly the same — to those seen on Francois’ workbench before the book went to print all of those years ago, I will have done my job.
So this is simply the first steps in what I think will be a long journey to completion, but I hope that you will follow me to the end and enjoy seeing such an important model being brought back to life.
So Francois, this is for you – I trust you are happy that this model is my hands and that it be brought back to life after so long on yours and my, dusty, workshop shelves.