It’s time to start the build of Zvezda’s 1/72 SU-85 and, given that this kit is “Snap together – no glue required” I obviously won’t be needing any glue. Except, that’s not quite how it turned out…
The first job, as usual on most 1/72 kits, is drilling out the bore of the main gun. I don’t enjoy this – it’s just too easy to drill a fraction off-centre, but in this case, it all goes well.
Construction begins with the upper hull. The parts required to assemble the gun, mounting and mantlet fit fairly cleanly and are indeed designed to snap together leaving the gun free to traverse and elevate. However, you will be wanting to use glue to hold things like the rain cover and mantlet securely in place. Likewise the small vents on the roof and the rear part of the upper hull. These do all have mounting pegs and corresponding holes, but IMHO, glue is needed for a secure fix.
Just two parts (the handrails on either side of the hull) have no means of fixing other than glue. In general, the whole snap-together approach actually works very well in as much as it provides clear locations for all parts but really, you’ll be wanting to use glue too. Things like the rear fuel tanks are very nicely made – construction is idiot proof (they will only assemble in the correct orientation) and fit on these is superb.
However, I was less happy with the fit in other places. In particular, there is a notable gap on the right side and top of the main gun mounting. This is sufficiently wide on the right that you can see inside the hull, so filler is required. The rear plate of the upper hull also has fit issues and it took some sanding, filling and re-scribing panel lines to get something that looks right.
Both the exhausts fit into cut-outs in the rear hull that are a fraction wider than the exhausts, so again, filler is required to fill these gaps. The upper and lower hull halves also snap together, but again, glue is required for a secure fit. Both front and rear joins required sanding and filling. The rear join in particular needs a fair amount of sanding to get something that looks right.
The lower hull incorporates part of the track guards that fit into holes in the upper hull. I was concerned that these would be visible from above, but the joins are generally covered by toolboxes and other equipment, so these aren’t really a problem.
I have left off the tracks, sprockets, idlers, roadwheels, tools and tow cables at this stage simply because I want to paint these separately. I find that painting tyres on roadwheels in particular is much easier while these are loose and they can be mounted on a match or cocktail stick and rotated.
With the sanding and filling done, it’s time for something completely different. Rather than using a black or dark base for the main coat, I am going to use white. The reason is simple – I’ll follow this with a coat of varnish and then a coat of olive green. I will then buff the surface, hoping that the white will show through the green on high spots to replicate, wear, fading and highlights. That’s the plan, anyway…
I begin with a coat of matt white from an aerosol can. This is followed by a coat of clear, matt varnish. This also gives me a chance to check that my attempts at sanding have blended in the worst of the gaps. You’ll have to take my word for it because I forgot to take any photos of the kit at this stage. Just visualise an all-white SU-85…
Then I spray a top coat of Vallejo Olive Drab, also from a can. OK, I know, there is great deal of debate about precisely the shade of green used on Soviet tanks in World War Two. There seem to have been several different shades of green depending on where the paint was mixed and the tank painted. Some paints seem to have reacted to exposure to sunlight by becoming darker while others faded to a lighter colour. Then, you have to take into account colour scaling… For what it’s worth and in my view, just about anything resembling olive green is acceptable for a WW2 Russian AFV.
Then I buff with the abrasive side of an ordinary household scourer to create lighter areas on high spots by revealing the white undercoat. Then, it gets a coat of clear varnish mixed with a little olive drab to tone down the highlights a little.
Overall, this is close to what I was looking for. I then add the decals, though I put these on the right side only as that seems to accord with the vehicle in the museum in Moscow. I add paint chipping around hatches and other areas using dark grey and then it gets another coat of clear varnish and then it’s on to the oil washes.
I use a dark grey oil for shadows and to highlight things like the grilles on the rear deck and I add some white streaking and highlights to larger panels. I’m not too unhappy with the overall result, though it has turned out a darker green that I had hoped. If I’m doing another Russian WW2 AFV in this scale, I may use a different, lighter green as the base colour.
Then, it’s time to start on the tracks. You must follow the sequence of construction noted in the instructions here. First, the inner halves of the roadwheels, idler and sprocket are added. And that’s not as easy as it sounds. I really struggled at this stage. The problem is that all are a very tight fit on the spindles or sockets to which they attach. I guess this is to make them snap together, but it took so much force to get things like the sprocket inner half in place that I was concerned that it would snap. So, it took quite a bit of sanding, fitting and re-fitting to get to this point.
Then, the tracks are added. The inner roadwheel with the pegs on it goes in the centre, and this locates the tracks in place.
I did a fairly simple paint-job on the tracks before fitting, just a coat of dark gunmetal followed by dry-brushed lighter gunmetal highlights and some brown for rust and dirt.
Finally, the outer halves of the wheels are added. Again, this isn’t easy and it takes more force than I was happy with. If I was doing this again (and I will be, soon…) I’d fix the inner halves in place during hull construction, dry-fit the outer halves and sand as required and then and paint the inner halves in-situ rather than trying to add them after painting the hull.
With the tracks done, all that’s left is to add the tools, tow cables and other bits and pieces. And here I found that, once again, the snap together construction means that I might have better to follow the sequence of construction in the instructions. If, as I did, you assemble the toolboxes on the hull, for example, before you try to fit things like the tow cable and saw, they don’t snap into place. To get these to fit, I had to cut off the locating pegs and glue them into position.
All that remains is to add a stretched-sprue radio antenna, and that’s the Zvezda SU-85 done…
I have been building mainly 1/35 kits recently, and I had almost forgotten how quick and fun these little 1/72 kits can be. Most construction was done in a single, short session and even the painting took much less time than usual. I also rather like the fact that these smaller scale kits are cheaper and take up less display space than their larger counterparts.
Overall, I was very impressed with this, my first Zvezda kit. Detail is crisp, accurate and complete, there was a total absence of flash and the only mould-release marks are placed inside, where they can’t be seen. As far as I can tell, this builds into a good representation of the SU-85 with no major inaccuracies or problems.
I’m not so sure about the whole “snap together – no glue required” thing. A couple of parts must be glued in place and I am not at all certain that some of the smaller parts could be fitted securely without the use of glue. On some small parts such as the sprockets, the amount of force needed to snap these into place is so great that I was concerned that I’d break them and I ended up sanding these and gluing them into position. It’s not a major problem, but I suggest you do have glue and sandpaper to hand if you’re building one of these.
This approach also means that you must either follow the recommended steps for construction or be prepared to glue some small parts into place. For example, I left things like the tow cables and tools until I had finished constructing and painting the hull, and that meant that some of these parts couldn’t be easily snapped into place.
Fit was, well, all right. Some filing and sanding was needed in a few places but no worse than I have experienced on several other kits. I do like the semi-hard plastic tracks provided on this kit. They look much more to scale than most rubber-band style tracks, they’re less fiddly than link-and-length tracks, especially in this small scale, and they bend round the sprocket and idler convincingly. These do mean that you must follow the recommended steps for assembly, but this isn’t difficult, just different.
I suppose the most important question is: having built this one, would I buy another Zvezda 1/72 kit? And the answer is an emphatic: Yes! In fact, I think I can feel a T-34 sort of mood approaching…