Monday, 11 April 2016

Panther CLV

When you mention the word 'Panther' to an AFV modeller, they will almost inevitably think about that classic WWII German tank, but it isn't the only vehicle to be named after this denizen of the big cat family. More recently, the British Armed Forces have taken on a Panther - or more correctly, the Panther CLV (Command and Liaison Vehicle). Originally developed by Iveco in Italy and widely used (even by Russia), the Lince (Lynx - that cat connection again), is an armoured utility vehicle, not dissimilar in concept and design to the American Humvee.

The Panther is a modified version manufactured in the UK by BAe Systems and the design has been adapted to suit UK requirements. Some of those changes are not visible, but others are more obvious. The roof is fitted with a remote weapons station (RWS) and, depending on the date of manufacture, either two or three individual crew hatches. On later vehicles, optimised for service in Afghanistan, more sophisticated air filtration and air conditioning systems were added above the windscreen, along with a suite of ECM boxes and aerials on various parts of the bodywork.

In my chosen scale of 1/48, there are very few modern British (or indeed any other nationality) subjects available. The only decent plastic options are the Airfix 'Operation Herrick' series of vehicles and figures. There is also very little available in resin unless you are prepared to look at the wargames community. Although traditionally dismissed by modellers as being basic and often  crude in the past, new technology is driving some fundamental changes to that truism and there are several gaming items that warrant further investigation, so don't dismiss them out of hand.

There are several companies producing 1/48 or 1/50 scale kits that are very compatible, especially if, like me, your primary goal is to produce stand-alone display items. There are inevitable compromises since the vehicles tend to be designed to survive the constant handling and movement of the gaming table. The fashion in gaming circles is for 'heroic' (i.e. over-scale) weapons and the models are generally solid resin (much like the first generation resin kits in the modelling world) but having said that, their designers are still able to produce high quality models that are fairly accurate dimensionally.

Evil Bear Wargames are a new company to me and they only produce two vehicles at the moment, but both are modern British subjects. The first release was an Iveco Panther, whilst the second is an even more up-to-date subject - the Foxhound. Both kits are nominally 1/50 scale  and intended for the '28mm' gaming scale (roughly 1/56, but 'scale' is much more flexible in the gaming world). I had been made aware of the Foxhound through a Facebook group I belong to and pre-ordered it on the strength of the website images. Further investigation of the Evil Bear website brought the Panther to my attention, so I took a risk and ordered one of those too. The Panther duly turned up about a week later and overall, it impressed me. I say 'overall' because there are problems with the kit. The proportions are wrong, so although it looks like a Panther at first glance, more careful study showed that there are some fairly serious dimensional and detail issues.

The overall body is poorly proportioned with the upper section too squashed, which makes the whole vehicle look too wide. Added to that, the wheels sit too high in the wheel arches, which gives it a 'low-rider' appearance. There are also issues with the front grille and the rear lights and body detail, but before you dismiss the Panther out of hand, let me tell what I do like about it.

Firstly, it's a Panther CLV in quarter-scale (near enough) and it's the only game in town if you want one. It's crisply and cleanly moulded and it is well detailed. The kit is straightforward to assemble and for me, provided a great canvas on which to create a more refined example of the Panther. By accepting the dodgy proportions and lavishing some TLC on the model I was confident I could produce a decent Panther to add to my collection.

The first stage was to make some alterations to the basic body moulding. The bonnet and radiator grille do not have the distinctive sloped front of the Iveco and look more like that of a Jeep Cherokee. To reduce the problem (though not eliminate it) the front edge of the bonnet was sanded back at roughly 45 degrees and the inner sections of the radiator grilles had their top edges pared back at a similar angle. Note that the model portrays the later grille pattern with the two centre grilles being larger than the outer pair (earlier vehicles have four grilles of the same size). Another error is that the central grille apertures are spaced too far apart - there should only be a single fillet between the two.  Also removed at this stage were the moulded headlamps and sidelights as these would be replaced with Little Lenses products.

 The real Panther has a large gap between the radiator grille and the front bumper, but the kit does not show this at all. Short of a complete rebuild, there is no easy fix for this. Instead, I ran a razor saw between the two sections to create a clear separation. The bumper also needs its sharp outside edges rounding off to a smoother profile. Either side of the engine compartment are applique armour panels with pronounced bolt detail. These were fitted as supplied, although four of the upper bolts were moved back to match the location of the scratchbuilt bracing bars mounted onto the bonnet.

There are two ECM boxes that fit onto the front edges of the vehicle. These were fitted as supplied, and the aerial sockets were drilled out to accept brass wire aerials. Behind the right-hand box, a radio aerial mount was fitted, whilst behind the left-hand box, a scratchbuilt cruciform sat-com aerial was added. The radio aerials on this model are fabricated from different diameters of brass rod and tube, with the main 'boot' being a section of Contrail plastic tube. Also fitted on the right-hand side is an additional wing mirror, with its distinctive quadrant shape. Moving to the back of the bonnet, the rear corners should be recessed down about 2mm and small vent domes added into the slots. A large cowling was also added to the bonnet, just aft of the two lifting eyes. The moulded lifting rings were removed and replaced with more accurate loops made from plastic rod.

The roof has a later layout with three crew hatches (the earlier version has two) and the kit portrays them as circular. However, they should be 'D' shaped and the rear hatches should sit further back on the roof. With this in mind I sanded away the roof hatches and RWS mounting point until I was left with a flat roof. Onto this were fitted new 'D' shaped hatches, a new RWS mounting plate, CCTV camera unit, radio aerial and some additional ducting.

Two RWS units are supplied in the kit, one mounting an M2 (12.7mm) HMG and the other a 7.62mm GPMG. I've yet to see the M2 mounted on a British vehicle so that meant using the GPMG. However, the GPMG is over-scale so I had to carve it away and replace it with something more in-scale. The ammunition feed chute was also replaced to match up with the gun.

Evil Bear supply the air conditioning and filter units common to this version of the Panther as resin pieces. I replaced the filter box on the edge of the roof (which is too small) with a new one made from a block of thick plastic, grafting the filter ducting from the original part onto the front of the new one. The double unit that fits above the windscreen  was cut into its component parts and only the smaller 'box' used. The other unit was again replaced with a slightly larger scratchbuilt item.

The Panther is supplied with a hard top cover for the rear part of the body. This is fine for an earlier vehicle, but later versions have a canvas cover instead. There is an interim variant that retains the earlier radiator grille arrangement and has a canvas rear body, but the bulk of the vehicles with the canvas cover also have the radiator layout provided on the model. I built a simple frame to carry the cover (not worrying about accuracy because it won't be seen) and then created the cover using foil from a wine bottle. I use this in preference to tissue because the latter can look very rough and over-scale on a vehicle this size. The foil is soft and easily worked. Separate pieces were cut to represent the additional openings and thin strips used to create the straps and tie-downs.

Above this canvas cover sits the ECM platform (or 'picnic table' as one of my friends unkindly calls it!). Evil Bear supply a nicely cast white-metal platform but I was unhappy with some of the detail. A new one was therefore fabricated from plastic card and strip, using the kit part to provide basic dimensions.

Before moving to the rear of the vehicle, the footplate bars were carved away and replaced with new ones fabricated from 1mm brass rod and 'C' channel plastic strip. Whilst we're underneath the vehicle, 2mm thick spacers were fitted into the suspension unit slots to raise the units and get rid of the 'low-rider' look of the kit as supplied. I probably should have used 1mm spacers instead, but realised that too late. The wheels have a good, crisp tread pattern, but the hubs are not very accurate. In keeping with the rest of this project, a simple cosmetic change was made. The Panther's wheels each have a metal ring bolted to the hubs and this was replicated with narrow rings of plastic tube that had been carefully sanded down to a thinner profile.

The rear of the Panther is also in need of alteration. None of the changes I made will create a perfect vehicle, but they do improve the look of it. Start by removing the middle section of the rear bumper and then continue to remove resin to create a recessed area in the rear of the hull. Either side of the recess, remove more of the bumper to create bevelled inner edges. This removes the innermost rear  light on each side, but they are inaccurate anyway, so it's no great loss.

Rear towing shackle points and towing hitch also need to be added. One additional feature added was a rear step. This appears to be a simple assembly of metal pipe that is hinged on the towing shackle points. I've seen it deployed (as per this project) and also folded/stowed in an upright position against the rear body. Also added at this point were the jerrycan holder and a pair of fire extinguisher brackets. The location of the fire extinguishers varies on different vehicles, but it isn't random. The normal location on RAF Regiment examples is the rear of the vehicle, but on other (army) examples, they are often located on the front wings. Whether the latter is army-wide, or whether it is specific to UK demonstrator vehicles is unclear.

The jerrycan holder is more robust than usual and needed to be scratchbuilt. Plastic strip provided the raw material for this and it was built around a Tamiya jerrycan. The final element was the towbar mounted of the side of the Panther - a simple construction of plastic rod and scraps of strip made to look like the original item.

With everything assembled, it was time to prime the model with a coat of Halfords Grey primer. Then a decision needed to be made on a suitable top coat colour. My preference is to use Tamiya XF-57 (Buff), which is slightly light in tone, but darkens nicely as the washes are applied. Once the base colour had dried thoroughly, I started to block in the other major colour areas. The solid windows received a coat of mid-blue, whilst the canvas rear end was painted in a mix of XF-78 (Wooden Deck Tan) with a touch of XF-72 (JGSDF Brown) added. The RWS seems to remain in Nato Green on the vehicles. The tyres, fender extensions and air-con pipe were all painted in XF-69 (NATO Black).

The Panther kit does not provide any markings, so I created licence plates, tactical markings and a Transformers logo (yes, really) on my PC and printed these onto clear decal film. Similarly, the fire extinguisher placards and various electrical warning stickers were also created on the PC, but printed onto white decal film instead. In the end I didn't use the Transformers logo as it is only seen on the ATDU demonstrator vehicle.

I still have some work to complete on the Panther, not least finishing the windows off, adding headlights and placing the completed model on a small scenic base, but I've thoroughly enjoyed this little project and having picked up Evil Bear's Foxhound kit, I've already started tinkering with that one too!

All images used in this blog entry are copyright John Tapsell. The images of real vehicles were taken at different RAF events over the past few years.

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