As a youngster, I entered my very first competition, The Model Engineer Exhibition at Wembley. That was in 1977. I recall being over whelmed by the sheer number and quality of the models on display. The inspiration on show was eye opening. If one attends any military modelling expo, it might be fair to say that two major attractions are figures and armour and we have become used to the high standards to be seen in the construction and painting in both these areas of the hobby, and perhaps none more so than in 1:35 scale.
Model armour has its fans, as for many, it’s the nearest they will ever get to these beasts of war unless one is fortunate enough to near one of the military museums from around the world, with a decent armour collection, such as Bovington, Musee des Blindes, Overloon, Deutsches Panzermuseum Munster, Kubinka Tank Museum or the American Heritage Museum (which houses many of the late Jacque Littlefields collection) and such events as Militracks and Tankfest
Indeed, the medium of 1:35 scale perhaps allows the greatest freedom for the model maker to express themselves and to demonstrate their story telling ability when combining figures, vehicles, nature and animals
Model figures too have their proponents for they allow the modeller to revel in the sheer pleasure of both detail, imagination and, regardless of scale, model figures allow for endless possibilities during the painting process.
If however one attends a really big show, that encompasses all aspects of model making, then sometimes one is fortunate to come across a special sight.
Referring back to the Model Engineer Expo for a moment, one of the many sections within the exhibition, were the beautifully engineered model steam locomotives, in scales ranging from 1:8th to 1:4 scale. The thing that was so attractive to me, was the exactitude to be seen. The solid metal and hand worked engineering of these gleaming, museum quality pieces shone through. They radiated a silent power, reminiscent of the full sized locos that once thundered along many of the world’s railways, but power in miniature.
While most sat silently on their display stands, some had been fired up and sat steaming away gently. I got the feeling, as a wide eyed child, that this was a whole ‘other’ world. Serious, quiet and passionate men (at that time it seemed to be a male preserve), gently tending their charges with oil cans and polishing cloths. Engineers!
Moving forward many years and the military modelling hobby has seen huge changes in kit quality and selection, techniques for modelling and the availability of information and illustrations covering most areas of the hobby.
But there is a section of the modelling fraternity that brings a little more to the table …or perhaps more appropriately the floor….. 1:6 the scale!
Now I will concentrate solely on armour and for two reasons. Firstly, sixth scale figures are in a field by themselves as demonstrated by the sheer complexity of paining, and ‘uniforming’ such a large scale figure.
Secondly, there are very serious collectors who have written far more eloquently on this branch of model making than I ever could.
So, when it comes to figures, I shall hide behind sloped armour!
And what armour!
Not since I saw those locomotives all those years ago, have I felt that a model has been quite so imbued with the sense of latent power or pure engineering.
While the smaller scales allow the modeller a freedom of artistic expression (perhaps, it will also allow a little forgiveness with detail and presentation), 6th scale allows the pure technical presence to be presented in the black and white world of correct colour and form and with no room for interpretation and with without the necessity of having a small hanger!
At this point I will include this one gripe…I have seen that some references have been made to ‘play scale’ and ‘action scale’ when refereeing to 1/6th scale. Frankly I would expect to have to leave the country under an assumed identity if I referred to ¼ scale steam locomotives as toy trains, and I believe that it’s no less demeaning to refer to the very expensive and labour intensive 1/6th scale armour with anything that includes the word ‘toy’ or ‘play’…. Okay, Gripe over.
Things start to grow!
So then a very quick look at where it all came from. Any search of the net will throw up the GI Joe range as being the forerunner of this branch of the hobby. In the United Kingdom, it was manufactured under licence and given the name of Action Man.
‘The Greatest Soldier, a Boy Ever Owned‘
Vietnam was already 9 years old and the Tet Offensive had yet to happen. Representing the American soldier in toy form and marketed with wording such as ‘The Greatest Soldier a Boy Ever Owned’, was to fall foul of public opinion as that protracted conflict dragged through to the 70’s. The televised reality of Vietnam killed the idea of soldiering as a game.
‘Now with Gripping Hands!‘
In to the world of the poseable figure, came a new battle cry ‘Now with gripping hands’, and some simple vehicles. GI Joes was able to get off his feet in 1964 with his 5Star jeep. More vehicles were to follow, but these along with the figure, were produced specifically for the toy market.
The same was repeated in the UK, except Action Man got a Scorpion Tank! While perhaps the veracity of the scale might be a little suspect, who cared! We had a big tank and that was all that mattered. Even though the following decade was to more vehicles added to the GI Joe and Action Man figures, these were not the true 6th scale model vehicles with which we are now familiar. Still, these early ‘toys’ have their own avid collectors.
The late 70’s, were to see model makers already working on producing large scale armour however these modellers were hampered by the types of material available, working mostly in wood, they we limited in the areas of accurate and detailed tracks, wheels and the correct representation of hull, deck and turret details.
As a result many of these early attempts, while commendable, were boxy affairs with compromises between detail and functionality. There were no cast metal tracks available, and extra detailing was were solely in the hands of individual modellers who had to produce what they could with what they had to hand.
This was also exacerbated by the dreadful lack of detailed plans giving the millimetre scale detail that was really needed. These days, we have a ready access to a myriad of publications, such as the Nuts and Bolts series, or Panzer Tracks, to name but two, as well as images on the net that cover virtually every aspect of the vehicle or weapon system that we wish to build.
Most large scale vehicles at that time, were scaled up from available 1:35 scale models and, let’s face it, how many of us had the chance to clamber over a real Panther, even if we did know where one was parked.
It was left to the loan enthusiast and small groups of individuals, who, with stubborn dedication, took a step forward to produce large scale accurate examples or armour and ‘soft-skins’. Through their pioneering efforts and, perhaps boosted by the radio-controlled community, who saw the opportunity to run their own tank, a new garage kit scene gradually developed, allowing small production runs of good quality resin kits.
Even though these early kits were usually worked in heavy moulded plastics which formed the majority of the hull and involved much cutting, sanding and requiring only basic tools and medium level of skill, they were reminiscent of those vacuum formed aircraft or RC car bodies, where one had to cut out such things as windows, hatches, access points and doors. However it allowed this scale to turn the corner and become a legitimate large scale avenue available to the military modelling enthusiast, requiring only the space to produce a good replica vehicle. This intern spawned a niche market in additional aftermarket detailing kits.
Even though these early resin ‘garage kits’ were basic, this was in no way a downside as these replicas, took the scale forward in a way that was easier than working in steel or aluminium, which required metal working skills and equipment beyond scope of most model makers.
These early pioneers include Battle Ground Vehicles. Some of these custom made vehicles by Richard Haro, go back to the 90’s, and are of excellent quality, and unlike many who immediately dived in and got ‘Tiger fever’, Richard’s range included a Puma 234, Panzer 1, DAK 232, BA-64, Panzer 1B and an Opel Blitz. Vehicles that were unusual and perhaps gave more scope for the modeller and did not require quite so much room.
When finished, Garage kits with prices ranging $300 to $600 / £240 – £ 480 / Euro 265 – Euro 530, gave the armour modeller the opportunity to command ‘big armour’ without the daunting prospect of having to scratch build and with the knowledge that they were buying a quality and accurate model kit.
With the greater number of kits being purchased, a 6th scale model community would develop. No longer the loan the enthusiast working in the wilderness, but a community of enthusiasts ready with help and support for fellow modellers. The internet could only add to the community’s cohesion.
Nuts, bolts and steel…and a trolley!
It was never going to be too long before someone with roots in the engineered model steam locomotive arena got the bug and would produce a vehicle. But perhaps no one expected someone to going into full production as quickly as it happened for it would only be a couple of years before 6th scale armour enthusiasts would be treated to full steel kits.
Around early 2002 in the UK, a new company called Armortek started their magnificent range of vehicles with their Panzer IV. This was to 6th scale armour what Apollo was to the Wright brothers. These models are big, hefty and machined monsters with scaled armour. These were the first pure ‘engineered’ kits with engineering roots developed in the steam engine sector.
But with this quantum leap in the standards of quality and accuracy came an equally giant leap in cost. One did and does invest in these models, as they are more art than a simple hobby. The original cost of a couple of thousand pounds put this type of kit well beyond all but a few.
This is in no way a criticism, but if you want a kit put together with nuts, bolts and steel, then the fact is that one requires very deep pockets….and a trolley to move the steel beast.
They are, by their very nature, an exclusive preserve and well beyond the reach of the vast majority of model makers.
In and of its self, this is not a bad thing: aspiration is good. Where would Ferrari be if everybody had one? ……… and no I don’t own a Ferrari either!
This new development did leave a gap between resin and heavy steel.
So across the pond, in the USA, enter Field of Armor who had joined forces with Battle Ready Armor (BRA) just after the 2008 financial crash, whose roots lay in another company, with their original foam then ABS Tiger and later Sd.Kfz.251.
In 2006 BRA started a range of laser cut, light steel hulls and turrets, for the Pz.IV Ausf.H, Brummbar, Jagdpanzer IV L/70, Panther Ausf.G, Jagdpanther, StuG IV and Nashorn.
While the purists might say (perhaps unfairly) that you ‘get what you pay for’, here at last was an opportunity for an enthusiast to buy, build and own a Panther G and upgrade the detail and all at a fraction of the cost of a few hundred US dollars. Thus increasing a model making opportunity and reducing the risk of a divorce!
As if to prove a point, if two model Panthers stood side by side and are similarly well turned out, there would be no way of distinguishing for the average eye between the kit of a few thousand‘
Anything you can do, we can do better!
Dollars and a few hundred dollars, unless of course one picks one up. The one that actually leaves the ground and does not put your back out is the less expensive of the two!
Any casual glance at the net will reveal the most eye watering array of 6th scale vehicles to be had.
That casual glance will also reveal that the majority of these models come from the companies based in China or Japan.
In 1999 Dragon Models Limited (DML) entered the 1:6 scale market with a range of both figures, vehicles and heavy weapons.
Their vehicles – injection molded affairs with some metal components – resembled giant versions of the Tamiya range of 1:35 scale armour and soft-skinned vehicles.
This range included Kettenkrad field guns, the ubiquitous Kubelwagon and motorcycle and sidecar combination. The range is almost exclusively Axis but the point is that again while not cheap, these kits gave the new comer a chance to go big.
Their most unusual offering was the Pz.Kpfw II Ausf B. a beautiful kit of a vehicle which has been done by other companies but at between 10 and 20 times the price! For a feel of this kit have a look at the Dragon USA You Tube channel.
‘… Defence budget of Switzerland!’
Since the early 2000s a number of companies have made an appearance in the market place. The overall image is one of ‘anything you can do, we can do better’.
The charge from the far-East was led by two players. ToyModel, Metal Box and WarSlug.
Both these companies seem to have appeared around 2010 or 2011, however, ToyModel appears to be no longer around since 2014 or 2015. One of ToyModel’ offerings was the OPEL Blitz lorry, ambulance and a nice ‘little’ German Sd.Kfz.223.
Metal Box, on the other hand is still in existence, though they do not appear to have added anything to their range since 2015. Here is a YouTube link to one of their vehicles.
Their vehicles have a ridiculous amount of detail as you can see from the Panzer III below
These are indeed wonderful, detailed and heavy scale thickness armour and a look and feel of the real animal but in miniature. But this is another level, rather like comparing F1 with a weekend rally enthusiast. No compromises in materials or the amount of labour and effort that has gone into these masterpieces
If you happen to have the equivalent of the defence expenditure of Switzerland built into your household budget then you can have a serious look at adding one of these to your stable.
You should plan hand over for a Metal Box Tiger approximately Euros 7000 and for the ‘StuG’, a little under Euros 5100!
‘This is not for the faint hearted’
This does not take into consideration shipping – and be warned, the crates are heavy, the clue’s in the name ‘tank’. Nor do these prices take into account any of the import duties that governments just love to slap onto our hobbies.
If your defence spending is more in the range of France well then War Slug’s range of extremely high quality armour will most likely meet your needs.
This is not for the faint hearted. Looking at the promotional videos and material demonstrates just how serious War Slug is about becoming the bench mark in the world of 6th scale armour.
Rather than take my word for it, here is their price list for their King Tiger:
As for the range, it’s a good mix of the main vehicles in history’s armoured pantheon.
Here is a link to their site videos and also a link to the stunning painting by Bayin Wu, who’s painting of War Slug’s T34 is inspiring:
Please don’t think that this is all beyond us mere mortals, because there are kits out there that with some work and with the help of after-market parts will give you just as must enjoyment and at the finish will give you the pleasure of an excellent job well done.
Upgrades, Components and Finishing Touches.
So having built your armour or soft skinned vehicle, and assuming that some fittings and fixtures had been provided in the kit, you realise that the look is not quite right, the finish a little ‘off’.
Well you are in good hands, for it was only natural that someone would spot the need for a secondary market manufacturing components that could be purchased to super detail a vehicle.
Perhaps the most famous individual within this community was the late Mike Stannards and his company 6th Scale Icons. His work was legendary and of such high standard that, as one customer once wrote, “It’s not good, it’s perfect!”
This might be seen by the various working periscopes that he produced in sixth scale. They favourably compared to the real 1:1 item!
Below is an original catalogue and price list from 2012, showing just some of the handmade components that Mike produced. Even in the photographs, one can see the quality.
His work was hand made in batches and like a Swiss watch, each component was an exactly accurate representation of the real thing and the quality control within the batch was worth every penny of the cost of the components. Pricing while not cheap, was well in proportion to the value placed on the finished model by the hobbyist.
The death of Mike in 2014, hit the sixth scale community very hard. The sixth scale community around the world lost a popular personality, who was seen both as an artist and a proponent of the hobby.
For a time there was doubt as to whether 6th Scale Icons would continue, but the day was saved by the intervention of Loic Anthian, of Field of Armour, who rescued the range and has taken it forward
Part of Mike Stannards’ 6th Scale Icons’ workshop.
Another stalwart in the 6th scale community is EAST COAST AMORY, the US based company. Their many YouTube contributions have inspired and motivated fans of the hobby for years. Since their start in 2001, 6th scale armour hobbyists have been able to purchased excellent quality components to upgrade their ‘beasts’ and see first-hand how to take their projects forward. Please go to both their website and have a look at their YouTube channel to see their amazing work.
Recently spoke with John from EASTCOAST ARMORY about the changes he’s seen since the early 2000’s and how he sees the future. I shall run his ideas and vision on this site shortly in another post
A Site for sore eyes
I hope that the reader, new to this branch of the military vehicle hobby might have been inspired to take a closer look and might even be considering the idea of up-scaling their hobby.
In any event, there are any number of websites that are worth visiting for both advice, to make purchases and just to satisfy the drool factor. So here are some links to my personal favourites and many have their own YouTube channels as well.
This is by no means a definitive list and I may well have mist out some. Please feel free to tweet us your go to sites.
As already mentioned above Eastcoast Armory has an excellent site and accompanying YouTube channel. Their product reviews, build projects and advice are well worth a visit.
The Panzer Trap, though it hasn’t been update for quite some time, does have a range of products that are worth a look and some ongoing projects.
For the sheer wealth of knowledge you must pay a visit to the Sixth Army Group site. packed with advice. Covering both figures and vehicles, you will not want to miss this.
For very nearly 19 years the UK Tank Club has acted as a driving force to promote RC armour with a broad membership and organised ‘battle days’ to display their members models. The site carries an excellent illustrated section on members models which is a good source inspiration.
If you are looking for parts to spruce up your tiger, then pay them a visit to view their excellent parts and a good gallery.
Whether its figures from various ages, or vehicle builds, this forum has some thing for everyone. A friendly membership and good advice too.
While visiting have a look at their enormous 1:4 scale armour. Don’t get me started! I will let them speak for them selves. “Mark 1 Tank has over 15 years’ experience supplying the ultimate in large scale radio controlled Tanks. We also supply Halftracks, Jeeps, Wheeled Armoured Cars and Amphibious military vehicles. Our reputation for supplying strong, tough and long lasting large scale military Models is second to none.”
Last but not least, KAMPFGRUPPE VON ABT. If you were in any doubt about what can be produced by dedication, an eye for detail and a bit of artistic flare, have a look at this site. Their presentation is second to non and you should be aware that many of the vehicles that you will see are hand built. There is nothing better.
To give you an idea of the artistry and engineering involved have a look at Peter Shaw’s Dora rail gun…..in 1:6th scale.
Here is a YouTube link. You will be blown away!
Let me wrap up with by saying that this branch of the of armour modelling has perhaps suffered because on the surface, it looks too complex and too expensive for the novice model maker to take up and perhaps it’s an idea that those already in the hobby could do more to dispel.
The only prohibiting factor is space. If you do not have the 1.5 metre or so of floor space to house your panther or ‘stug’, without risking treading on the cat – the real one or the model (and for heaven’s sake do not even consider putting it on a shelf unless you have reinforced brick walls) then perhaps you might consider either smaller scales like 9th or 10th scale or look at smaller vehicles like the jeeps or Kubelwagons or motorcycles etc.
There are more than sufficient resources out there that will help anyone wanting to get into building large armour and you really do not need vast sums of money to do it. Indeed the skills needed to scratch build a 1:35th scale vehicle apply just as well to 6th scale.
There are individuals out there who will encourage and advise the novice model maker as well as a number of websites and forums with invaluable advice. It is heart-warming to see that, as with all branches of the military modelling community, there are individuals who will go the extra mile to help someone to finish a project.
The tools required to work the materials that are now available and leave only the requirements of time, patience, dedication to detail and occasional out of the box thinking which will all come together to allow one to produce a beautiful piece of work, and enjoy a truly enjoyable model making experience.
So, I challenge you to call up the big guns and have some big fun doing it.
Kings Troop Models