Niche to mainstream?
An interview with John Grima from EastCoast Armory!
ack in the day, 1:72 ruled the roost, and kits in small clear plastic bags produced by companies such as Airfix, Revel and later Frog where lapped up by young model enthusiasts from the corner model shop for a few shillings or a Pound or a Dollar at most.
Then 1:32, 1:35 and 1:25 scale hit the market and the same enthusiasts looked on eagerly and dreamt of the day when they had saved enough to ‘land’ one of the big kits, such as Airfix’s 1:25 Hurricane or Tamiya’s 1:35 scale Panzer III.
In the early 70’s the collective modelling worlds’ jaw dropped at the release of saw ESCI’s 1:9 scale Panzergrenadier figure kit, the Kubelwagen and a series of motorbikes.
The floors of those self-same model shops was awash with the drool of model makers young and old as they eyed the giant boxes.
We just didn’t realise that these things could get that big…….and some of use wondered ‘might they bring out a tank’……
Even though the corner model shop has mostly disappeared, in the intervening years, kits have gone up in price by as much as 10,000%, and 1:9 scale fell over and died, never to be as popular as 1:35 scale.
The model makers staple
But things were to get BIGGER, a lot BIGGER!
Let’s face facts. 1:6 scale is niche. Indeed it might be what formula 1 is to the average car owner.
Like formula1 you need money, you need some pretty good skills with power tools, lathes and metal working skills …… or maybe not! It is possible to have large armour with out the need for a correspondingly large budget and, if you are will to accept the adage that you get what you pay for and are willing to compromise, then you can get away with out the need for a machine shop!
There are people, craftsmen, out there who are working to popularise this very niche branch of armour modelling and in doing, bring it in to the mainstream.
The current crop of manufacturers also have to help the potential enthusiast and the new generation of model builders get over some of the preconceived notions about costs, difficulty of construction and wether or not it is actually still classed as model making and not just a branch of the toy RC market. The future of any hobby comes down to what the manufacturers see as the core market and whether of not they want to open up the hobby to a new generation.
This is where the smaller manufacturer and well known master modeller comes in, because the provide the way forward for the modeller to get into big armour with our the financial commitment that would normally be required. While it is everyones dream to own one of the offerings from the likes of Armortek, WarSlug or MetalBox, very few of us have the budget to cover pricing ranging from anywhere between USD $2000 and USD$16000.
So we must be satisfied with owning a Dragon Kit or one of the offerings from the likes of Battle Ground Vehicles or Armorpax. The products on offer from the ‘smaller’ manufacturer gives ample opportunity to produce an equally impressive end result, while taking advantage of the opportunities to add ones own personal touches to the vehicle or even use the kit as a base for a conversion or scratch build all the while being assured that the end result will match the look, if not the bulk, of the more astronomically priced offerings.
East Coast Armory’s Sherman V ‘Firefly’ project, based on the Armortek Kit
As with all scales of armour modelling there are masters in the field and one such is John from East Coast Armory, you might know him from his hugely successful YouTube channel oddball759mm, (please click over to his channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/oddball759mm)
I was privileged to speak with him and to ask him to share his thoughts on 1:6 scale, its progression and its future!
KTM – How have your kits progressed from the early days?
“If you were to look at a part that I made in 2003, and compare it to the current version today they would look very different. However if you were to look at the same part at some point in between those years you would begin to see a pattern. This is how I evolved ECA
When I started my first generation parts were all hand made. Most of them were formed out of sheet metal, others were repurposed empty shell casings. They were quite crude as I was sparse on tooling (which included but not limited to a vice, Dremel, tin snip, and bench grinder) but were good enough for the job at the time.
Over the years my tooling would improve with adding things like drill presses, Machine Lathes, and Vertical Mills. Not to mention what looks like at times to be an endless amount of hand tools in various shapes and sizes. In addition to the tooling I was also able to switch materials and move away from the handmade sheet metal parts to parts made in cast resin. However that is only part of the equation.
The last part of the formula was the build I was working on at any given time.
The motivating factor on what part needed to be made would depend if I needed it for a build, when I would be working on a model and would run into this hurdle I would fabricate the part, make a mould and cast the piece to use it.
Since the moulds were made no sense in having the mould gather dust so, the part would go on the product line and would be offered for sale. This was how the catalogue grew over the years.
What’s interesting is that after a few years if I’m working on the same type of vehicle or need the same part I examine the component and moulds. In many cases the tooling and techniques that made the original part master improved as well as casting techniques to make the mould.
Also in some cases I stumble into new reference materials on the part in question and get a better idea on how the part looks and, or operates. With this new knowledge I can revise the part which in the end will be better detailed, more accurate, and in most cases easier to cast reliably. This also has the effect of freshening up the catalogue.
This evolution continues today, only now the material is switching again. Like I mentioned earlier I first moved from hand-made metal bits to cast resin. Within recent months I have decided to phase out many of my legacy resin and metal offerings and move towards a new media which is 3D printing.
Just like above, if I come across a part that is showing its age or leaves room for improvement it gets retooled, but instead of cranking away on a lathe or creating chips on a mill I now sit on my computer late at night in a CAD program.
In addition to evolving existing catalogue parts the scope of the parts also became more ambitious as time and tooling progressed. When I first started the catalogue the parts were very small and simple in nature (MG travel locks, brush guards…etc).
The poetry detail in huge scale!
John from East Coast Armory’s roto-mould M3 Lee. The hull is a Battle Ground Vehicles casting
As the tooling evolved so did the ability to create larger and more complex components i.e. VVSS Sherman suspension, 222 FLAK gun mount to name a few.
After a while, this led to the point where I was able to create my first full resin conversion kit (M4 105mm conversion) which put me on the path to my first full standalone kits (Maybach HL210 and 230 Engines).
Like with the media switching on the parts I touched upon before, I soon learned that printing also has its advantages in creating full kits and conversion sets. The first full 1/6th scale Printed Kit from ECA was the M40A1 RR. This kit was really the one that broke the ice for me and showed the potential of this media and what can it be used for.
These advantages and design features are seen on the kits that followed in following months and are being used on the new kits that are currently on the drawing board”.
KTM – Has 6th scale become easier for entry level modellers who are on a budget?
“This is actually a complex question because there are a few avenues that can be explored. First is what type of build is the modeller looking for? … Jeep, vs tank… US vs. German…etc.
Are they looking for something static or RC? These make big differences with your options as nationality wise, some countries’ vehicles are more prolific and affordable compared to others.
Also for static v RC is important because when you place those two letters [RC] in front of a build the prices skyrocket and the options plummet considerably. Realistically if the person is on a budget, static will be the best viable option. In this regard, yes it is actually easier to get into the hobby now for the budget minded individuals compared to earlier periods, when ironically the hobby was very popular.
It just depends on what is the builder looking for and how much are they willing to spend. This includes the price for the starter build and also the hidden costs of the aftermarket parts. Some options i.e. Dragon PZII are pretty solid out of the box compared to a retooled kit which will require the builder to be on the hook for everything that isn’t a hull or turret.
What I frequently tell people who are interested in getting into the hobby is to start with the dragon kits. When these kits came out it made the hobby more accessible to folks who have basic experience with plastic models and wanted to level up from 1/35. The kits are relatively affordable when found online. Dragon frequently rereleases them periodically which keeps the supply up and prices somewhat fixed.
A beautifully built 1/6th scale German WWII SDKFZ 222 armored car:
This project was mostly scratch-built and is based on a laser cut styrene kit from MC Flat Armor.
There are several options from weapons, to light vehicles (jeep, Kettenkrad) to tanks (PZII, M4A3 Sherman) generally they are scaled up versions of the 1/35th scale kits (with the same detail mistakes in most cases) are made from standard polystyrene plastic and assemble pretty easily (although their instructions leave room for improvement). All of the above kits have aftermarket support so if you want to enhance the kit further and make it more accurate / correct some of the inherited blemishes it can be done.
The only real drawback on the dragon kits are that they are not developing anything new, so they are only re-releasing what they already have moulds for. So if you are looking or waiting for the Dragon 6th scale Panther G smart kit… Or if you want to build a Desert Rat Sherman you will be disappointed.
The next viable options are the old models from 21st Century toys. This company released a wide range of prebuilt 6th scale models during the early to mid-2000s. Some are better than others but most can be found today for decent prices with the caveat you are looking for a fixer-upper, as several of their items have become collector pieces in recent years if left mint in the box.
Some noteworthy vehicles that they made would include the M5A1 Stuart, M3 White scout car, Pak 40, and the WC Dodge command car, and the Kubelwagen. Their builds are also modeller friendly in that they are made from injection moulded plastic, but are not as detailed as the Dragon counterpart offerings. Having said that however they too can polish well with some aftermarket additions. Now some readers at this point are probably thinking jeeps… Sherman’s,Well for these vehicles you will need to step out of your comfort level to obtain.
You will also be spending more compared to the models I listed earlier, not to mention you will also need to have some new skill sets because you are no longer going to be working in injection moulded PS plastic.
For the German ‘zoo’ sort of speak, the only real viable option on the market are the kits from Field of Armor (FOA). These kits are intended to offer the builder a basic rendition of a vehicle for a price that is still under the 1K threshold. They have the correct shape and dimensions. The supplied details are made from cast resin and are very simplistic in nature. They are good enough for you to get the idea on what they are but are not a super detailed dead ringer for the part.
For the building materials the kit is made in two flavours (depending on the vehicle type) some kits are made from ABS plastic sheets that are cut to shapes and the builder jigsaw puzzles them together. Some are made from thin gage laser cut steel that are bent and pop riveted to place.
1:6 scale Maybach HL-210 and HL-230 engine
From the EastCoast Armory range
The ABS kits are more popular for beginners as they are plastic which most people have a comfort level in working with while the sheet metal ones are more for an advance skill range. Both kits do build well and give you a decent rendition of the vehicle in question. Both also have plenty of aftermarket support so if the builder wants to level up the detailing they have this option to break out of the kit’s basic detailing.
Another common affordable option that is on the market are the RotoMold kits from Battle ground vehicles. However I would hazard against a beginner with a limited budget going down this route. The Battle ground vehicleskits are made from a material called Rotomolding.
Rotomolding is the material that large plastic Kayaks or children’s ride on toys are made of. They are hollow, and the material is about 1⁄4 of an inch [6.35mm] thick so they are quite robust.
The Issue that most people had with the Rotomolded kits was that although the material is durable and that the price of the kits were relatively low, the molded in surface detailing was poor.
Some other people also had issues with working with the plastic because the cement that they were accustomed to with working on plastic scale models was not successfully bonding items to the tank’s material. What people don’t understand about these kits however is that these are not meant to be ready to go out of the box, or just come together with a few parts.
These kits are really meant to save you the time in scratch building the hull and turret. The builder will then have a blank canvas to build / manipulate the model how they deem fit, this is where they shine.
To build one of these models the builder will need to replace all of the surface details and will be on the hook for the remainder of the parts. This includes the suspension and other details. These kits heavily depend on the Aftermarket scene in order to be put together and do take an advanced skill set with working with them not to mention a hearty budget to properly get them fleshed out.
Although the end results can be very satisfying as many of their vehicle types are on the exotic end (M7 Priest, M3 Lee, Puma).
These kits would be best left for a builder who has already done a few 1/6th scale builds and has a good understanding on some scratch building and conversion work prior to tackling one of these ‘handy man specials’.
I will advocate however that once you have the comfort level with working with one of these builds they become a very viable and exciting platform”.
KTM – Is there more that could be done to bring a younger generation of model maker to this scale?
“Like with every hobby you need new blood to enter to keep the environment flourishing and 1⁄6 is no different. The 1⁄6 boom of the early and mid 2000s was done in part to the very popular WWII 1st person shooter (FPS) video games of the era.
Young adults would play the games, have an interest in this aspect of history and would buy or be gifted a figure at a toy store and the collection would start from there eventually leading to the point where the fellow needs a tank to round his collection off.
Today is no different, although for a while the interest in WWII FPS games were dwindling affecting the figure hobby, which in turn does affect the tank hobby.
To compound this, the prices for figures have far exceeded the budgets of most beginners and casual collectors. With the price of a single figure exceeding $200.00 this is an issue and turns away people.
However in recent years with the popularization of the Free to play tank simulators a very large influx of younger individuals have begun to get into the hobby of model armor. Most start with the pre-built models, but move their way to kits. Many are very talented in part to YouTube tutorials and other online resources that didn’t exist in the last decade.
Perhaps the best demonstration of sheer size!
John demonstrating a sprocket wheel from Armortek’s 1:6 scale King Tiger.
Eventually these youths get into the 1/16th scale RC armor due to the larger size and the affordability of the RTR kits.
It is from there, where many get that big tank itch and start looking around the social media and video platforms looking to level up. The problems that these individuals encounter are the prices of the kits, the skill sets required, and in many cases the unawareness of the kits that are on the market.
Many of the kits I mentioned above are found on a google search, but this community was really something that built on the old forums. These forums still exist but are a shadow of what they were 10 years ago.
The old style forum popularity took a massive hit with the domination of the social media networks, which is the way the youth interact with each other and is how news of goods and services are exchanged and spread today for better or worse.
Most of the larger companies like Armortek, and FOA have a social media presence, but the smaller outfits tend to rely on the old, dare I say “Boomer” way of networking or advertising which is exclusively done via forums and newsgroups, plain website, or action figure and toy show vendor booths.
If I were to give any advice for a small limited run 1/6th scale outfit it is get on the social media sites. Post compelling content, If the product that you are making is good you will gain an audience and traction.
It may take a little while to get the momentum, but word of mouth will spread and this will generate buzz which leads to sales.
Just one warning … whatever you do don’t be contrived or fake, people can smell that from a mile away and it comes off as trying too hard which will have the effect of being cringy.”
For those wanting the perfect introduction to the 1:6 scale branch of armour building, then the East Coast Armory website has a wide range of high quality products to help the modeller add additional detail to improve the look of their 1:6 scale build and the gallery will inspire the model maker.
To accompany the website, there is the YouTube channel, with detailed build walk throughs. These are both inspirational and gives good quality information, illustrating very clearly what can be achieved
Thanks to John from Eastcoast Armory.
Please visit his YouTube channel – https://www.youtube.com/user/oddball759mm/featured
His website is http://www.eastcoastarmory.com/