Star-Bulletin Features

Friday, August 10, 2001

Tamiya Zero kit's box-top art, today (at left) and from the 1950s.

Tamiya’s new Zero
lives up to its billing


By Burl Burlingame

POKING AROUND in the box of the new 1/32 A6M5c "Zero" kit from Tamiya is an extraordinary experience for old -- and new -- modelers. We're not in Kansas anymore, kids.

This is a state-of-the-art kit for grownups. And not just the price tag, which is around the hundred-dollar mark. This kit is also a great leap forward in molding, engineering, accuracy and plain old cleverness. At this point, it's certainly the best aircraft model kit ever produced, and clearly a point of pride for Tamiya to lavish such care on the best-known Japanese aircraft of all time.

This kit is already legendary for the care that went into its preparation. It was supposed to have been released nearly a year ago, but the styrene nerds at Tamiya discovered that the cockpit interior was for a slightly different version of the Zero, and they went back to the drawing board.

The plastic parts are extremely well engineered and cut with computer-aided molding techniques to ensure a near-seamless fit. That's standard these days. The impressive stuff is everything else:

>> A pair of standing and sitting pilot figures. They're well sculpted, which is worth pointing out because Japanese kits generally have poor figures.

>> Movable control surfaces that use hidden piano wire and etched stainless steel for accurate -- and tiny! -- hinges.

>> Combination molding techniques that mix steel plugs with extremely hard styrene plastic to make scale-size landing gear that actually bounces on the oleos.

>> Landing gear that retracts and opens in a scale manner, thanks to a cleverly engineered wrenchlike apparatus.

>> Rubber tires and brake-line hoses.

>> Tiny etched-metal parts, such as radiator fronts and gear tabs.

>> Positive locking joints that use self-tapping screws for strength.

>> Tools such as a screwdriver and tube of graphite lubricant.

>> A stand, if you're inclined toward a desktop model.

>> Vinyl O-rings to trap the propeller and drop-tank shafts for easy removal.

>> A cowl that snaps together like the real thing, and can be removed to show off the engine and mounting rig. The fit of this particular part is nothing short of amazing.

>> An instrument panel with drop-in "glass" covers and preprinted instrument faces.

>> Precut stick-on masks for painting the clear canopy.

>> A preprinted and trimmed parachute harness that combines with tiny etched-metal snaps.

>> An instruction booklet that includes detailed photographs of the real thing for the hard-core modeler.

This model is clearly intended for museumlike display when it's completed, and the moving features are designed to give the builder some flexibility to showing it off. It's not for playing with, but how can you resist?

While the A6M5 variant of the Zero was the most-produced version of Mitsubishi's signature fighter, most were actually built by Nakajima. The earlier Zeros, the long-winged A6M2s and chop-winged A6M3s, saw the more interesting combat and were painted in more interesting camouflage schemes.

Nearly a half-century ago, Tamiya entered the scale-model business with a 1/50 Zero that was way-cool advanced for its time. It included glue -- imagine that! -- movable control surfaces with huge hinges and an electric motor. These days, the model seems impossibly clunky, but you can still find it at swap meets for a few bucks.

At top is the box-top art for the new and original kits. You can probably tell which is which!

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