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Trumpeter Challenger 2 MBT

by Neil Whiteley-Bolton

Enough has already been written about this vehicle and its history, for me to forsake any introduction, other than to say that this an out-of-the box review of Trumpeter's 1/35-scale kit of the Vickers Challenger 2 MBT, currently in service with the British Army.

Whats in the box
The kit contains separate upper and lower hull and turret pieces plus 5 sprues of parts, all moulded in a soft, dark green plastic dark; a sprue of clear polycaps for the road wheels; a pair of single-piece, 'rubber band type' tracks; and a comprehensive decal sheet. The instructions, in a style similar to those of DML-Dragon, are straightforward, but include a painting and marking guide for just one vehicle – additional references will be needed by anyone wishing to make good use of the kit's decals.
Commander's loader's and driver's hatches can all be fitted in either the open or closed position, and optional parts are provided for the loader's machine gun - original 'Scarff Ring' mount, or the more common pintle mount. The front section of the engine deck is supplied as a separate piece - so there is scope here for aftermarket manufacturers to provide a partial (?) power pack. The up-armour pack, fitted to Challengers serving in both Kosovo and Iraq, is not provided, but the Thermal Exhaust Cowls, designed to reduce the vehicle's thermal signature, are. There are no crew figures.
The Hydrogas suspension units are separate pieces that attach to bosses moulded on the lower hull. This is fortunate considering that the positioning of these units is problematic – but I will get to this later. Cutouts in the suspension units 'key' with lugs on the road wheel arms to ensure that the wheel height is correctly set, but these can always be removed by modelers wishing to depict a vehicle traveling over uneven ground.
So what's the kit like? Well, pretty good actually. It's not Tamiya quality, but then again this kit sells for one-third the price of a Tamiya kit! Moulding quality in general is OK – think Italeri, but some pieces are worse than others. The really good news however, is that the kit is pretty accurate, in fact with the exception of a few minor problems, nearly all of which can be easily fixed, it matches all of the references I have to within +/- 1mm.
Speaking for myself, I would rather have a kit that, with a little extra work / expense, can be brought right up to today's standards, than one which is beautifully detailed, but so inaccurate in terms of basic shape and size, that all of the major components have to be replaced in order to make an accurate kit – e.g. Academy's Merkava III.

Quality Issues
The poorest parts are, without a doubt, the road wheels. In my kit every wheel has a rim that is not only too thin, but varies in both height and thickness around the wheel's circumference (see Figure 1). I have heard that some examples are even worse.

The tracks are pretty poor with, as noted by other reviewers, poorly defined end-connectors. Parts such as the 'bazooka plates' and TECs are overly thick, and will need to be either, thinned down at the edges, or replaced. The mesh surrounds on a number of the engine deck grills have not survived the moulding process

A number of the circular cover plates on the upper hull, adjacent to the turret, show details that should be concentric but aren't.

Accuracy Issues
Trumpeter has faithfully captured the shape of the Challenger turret. Recessed bolt details on the base of the commanderâs cupola have been represented simply as holes – as this is a separate piece we might expect to see the after market manufacturers offering a replacement. The smoke dischargers need to be repositioned inboard of the location indicated by Trumpeter.

This will require the modeler to rebuild the mounting plates, but no big deal – even I can do this.
he purists among us may wish to add an undercut to the lower edges of the turret front plates, simultaneously reducing the height of the plates by ~0.75mm closest to the mantlet – I hope figure 4 makes clear what I mean.

Upper hull
There is a minor dimensional problem with the front track-guards. Although the overall dimensions are correct, the point at which the track guards angle down from the horizontal is flush with the front of theglacis, whereas it should be ~3-3.5mm further forwards.

There should be a weld seam, running across the glacis, just aft of the point where the glacis angle changes.
The filler caps at the rear of the hull, both left and right, are located to far aft, and should be positioned much closer to the rear hull stowage bins .
The engine deck grills are too short, and should extend further forward .
I do not have measurements for the TECs, but my 'number 1 eyeball' tells me that they are 'iffy' to say the least.

Lower hull
This is the real problem area. Not only have Trumpeter staggered the road wheel positions (as per torsion bar suspensions), but the drive casting is inaccurate.

This casting makes up the entire rear section of the lower hull, and includes 6 radially disposed (4 directed to the front, and 2 aft) strengthening arms on each side where the drive shafts exit the hull. The forward facing strengthening supports are far two short, as is the entire casting, and to make matters worse, Trumpeter have positioned the drive shaft exits too far aft, consequently the rear hull face is angled too steeply – this is probably the root cause of the poor fit between the rear hull plate and the lower and upper hull. Interestingly, there are signs that Trumpeter modified the moulds in this area - ironically the original size and position (as suggested by the raised lines on the lower hull sides) would have been much more correct.
This is the only problem that is going to be difficult to resolve. The appearance of the actual casting is unlikely to be an issue for many people, but having the drive sprocket positioned ~4mm too far aft probably will as it really affects the appearance of the finished kit.
Repositioning the road wheel stations should be no big deal, and I have indicated the correct positions below.

There are already a number of plastic, resin and etched metal accessories out there to improve this kit, and by all accounts there are more on the way. As I do not yet have any of these accessories, and have not seen them in the 'flesh', I will not attempt to review them, but provide only a short description for completeness:
Accurate Armour – Challenger 2 Wheel Set (A073)
Cast entirely in resin these look fabulous.
Accurate Armour – Challenger 2 Track Sprockets (T68)
Resin tracks with white metal drive sprockets and what appear to be resin rings to detail the drive casting.
Armour Track Models – Individual Track links with resin idlers and drive sprockets (TK-13)
Having only seen these on PMMS I must say they look great.
Eduard – Challenger 2 (35565)
from the photographs on the Eduard web site it is clear that this is a comprehensive etched detail set. Amongst the replacement parts provided are both track guards and engine grills, but the extent to which they address the accuracy problems I have highlighted is not clear – I guess that I'm just going to have to buy a set.
Apparently, both Cast-Off and AEF designs have announced OIF up-armour sets, but I have no further details.
Accurate Armour have stated that they will be producing a number of additional upgrade sets – including a replacement turret, and Gordon Brown of Cromwell Models is likely to produce a number of correction sets.
This kit has been criticized by a number of people, rather unfairly in my opinion. Perhaps itâs because Trumpeter's kits have been getting better and better, and this kit represents a step backwards, quality wise, from their IS-3 or M1 Abrams kits. Nevertheless, it is basically accurate, and sufficiently cheap that the wheels and tracks can be replaced and you will still have spent less than you would on a Tamiya kit. I like it, and plan to build a number. The fact that I already have 4 resin models of this vehicle means that I am happy to wait to see what correction kits appear before actually building one.