Tamiya 1/35 Type 97 Chi-Ha (35075) Build Review

I’m going to build this one pretty much out of the box, with a couple of small changes that I’ll explain along the way. The first thing I tackle are the odd gaps between the upper and lower hull that seem to be a feature of many of these early Tamiya kits. I have no idea why – perhaps it was to allow heat from the motor to dissipate? Whatever the reason, I’m planning to have the hatches open and the kit figures in place on this build and, as you can see with the upper and lower hull temporarily together, the gap on the left side is clearly visible through  the open MG operator’s hatch.

Fixing it is simple and only requires a couple of pieces of thin plastic card cut to shape, but this does seem an odd issue on an otherwise beautifully engineered kit.

I try the hull machine-gun operator in position, and it all looks good. I have painted the inside surface of the plastic card a dark grey so that hopefully it’ll disappear into the shadow of the interior. With that done, it’s time to continue with the rest of construction…

I start by assembling the roadwheels, sprockets, idlers and bogies. All the roadwheel tyres have distinct moulding seams on their circumference that need to be sanded – a bit of a chore as there are 24. The four single roadwheels and both sprockets are retained by plastic poly caps. There’s nice detail here – the front and rear single pairs of roadwheels have slightly different hubs compared to the roadwheels attached to the bogies, and that’s accurately replicated.

I then move to construction of the lower hull. No problems here. I’m leaving off the roadwheels, bogies etc. for the moment – the camo scheme extends down the sides of the lower hull and I think this will be easier to paint before these parts are in place.

And then it’s on to the upper hull. Again, no problems and everything goes together easily and without the need for any filler.

The upper and lower hulls are then joined with no gaps and no need for filler. Construction so far is a pleasure: good detail, few tiny parts and fit is as close to perfect as you’re likely to find. I don’t see how you can ask more from any plastic model kit!  

I then add the Hull MG operator’s hatch after adding some detail to the interior. I leave off the exhausts, tools, tow-cable, etc., and I’ll add these once I’m done with painting.

Then, it’s time to start on the turret. I begin with the main gun, which comes in two parts, with a separate muzzle which incorporates an open bore. Fortunately, fit between these parts is very good and it’s possible to sand the join without compromising the distinct shape of the muzzle.

The first part of turret construction goes without any problems and fit is great.

I complete turret construction and notice that the AA machine gun mount is clearly located in the instructions (I claimed in the In-Box review that it wasn’t), so I decide to include this after all. I also incorporate some additional detail inside the main hatch. I leave off the radio antenna at this stage to make painting easier.

It’s time to begin painting. As usual, I’ll be brush painting everything and I’m going for the four-colour scheme incorporating the irregular yellow cross – it looks a little challenging, but I hope it will be visually striking. After some testing and experimentation, I’m using Mig Olivegrun Opt. 2 for the base green colour.

Then, I add the lighter of the two browns, using Vallejo US Field Drab.

Then I add the darker brown using Vallejo Flat Brown and the yellow cross. I paint this first in pale grey before overpainting in yellow, otherwise the yellow doesn’t really show up at all. It’s a bit wibbly, but I think it will do. And given that the original was simply brush painted, I don’t suppose it was perfect either!

Next, I use lightened versions of all three main colours to dry brush highlights on the hull, turret and running gear. Then, I add the decals and give everything a coat of clear matte varnish. Oddly, this seems to darken the lighter of the two browns, but not the other colours.

Then I add a dark oil wash to bring out the shadows and this, in conjunction with the highlighting, really brings everything up nicely.

I then do an overall watercolour wash with additional dust/mud streaks on the sides and on the roadwheels, etc. I then add the roadwheels, idlers and sprockets onto the hull and that gives me a chance to try fitting the tracks. 

They’re a good length and they join cleanly but once they’re in place, it’s clear that the inner guide teeth don’t fit inside the gap between the two outer, upper return rollers. I checked the instructions, and I think I have assembled these correctly, but there is no way to get the tracks to sit properly on the rollers. As shown above, this just looks wrong. I’d also like to show some sag, and that takes a little head-scratching.

In the end, I cut off two of the inner guide teeth where the tracks pass over the outer rollers and I glue a couple of pieces of curved plastic on the underside of the inside of the tracks. These are invisible once the tracks are in place and help to give at least the impression of some sag on the main runs. I also glue the tracks down to the return rollers once they’re painted. This is what I end up with. Certainly not perfect, but I think I can live with it.

Time to work on the remaining bits and pieces. The exhausts get some rough texture and some paint to represent rust. The tow cable, tools and jack get added to the rear hull and the radio antenna and the AA MG are added to the turret.

That’s about it for construction. The last step is assembly and painting of the figures. They do have prominent moulding seams that need to be sanded, but they are both generally well sculpted and only a tiny amount of filler is needed to smooth one shoulder joint on the commander.

I give them both a fairly simple paint job that follows the instructions.

And with the figures in place, I declare this Tamiya Chi-Ha done!

After Action Report

This is a fairly typical early Tamiya tank kit: it’s well engineered, fit is as close to perfect as you’re likely to find and it builds into a reasonable representation of the subject. Kit-building just doesn’t get much easier or more satisfying than this.

OK, it isn’t perfect. The gap between the upper and lower hull is odd (and common to several other early Tamiya kits) and it can clearly be seen through the open hull MG operator’s hatch so it does need to be fixed. Both that hatch and the turret hatch lack internal detail and again, that’s probably something you’re going to have to work on if you want to show these open.

The tracks are well detailed and join easily, but they’re made of fairly inflexible vinyl so if you want to show sag, some creativity will be required. But that’s pretty much it in terms of drawbacks. Otherwise, this is simple to build and there is nothing here that would challenge even a beginner kit-builder.

Overall, I’d give this one a big thumbs-up! And, like many of the early Tamiya kits, you can find this one for not very much money at all. Go for it!

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