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  1. Achzarit Heavy APC (Early) 1:35 Meng Models The Achzarit was developed in the early 1980s from retiring T-55 Tiran tanks to fulfil a requirement for a heavy APC that could take troops into a war zone whilst being able to protect them from more than small arms fire. The T-55 chassis was adapted to the role by shifting the power-pack to the side to give the crew and up to nine troops a protected rear exit, although it was by necessity a very claustrophobic passageway, alleviated only a little by a section of the roof pivoting up to give extra headroom. The hull was re-designed above the track level to provide the extra room and protection for the interior in typical Israeli style, which gives the vehicle a slightly home-brewed appearance. It entered service in the late 80s, with a mid-life upgrade seeing the suspension and wheelset replaced by those from a Centurion, and it is still in service with the IDF, although they are gradually being replaced with the new Namer heavy APC, based upon the Merkava. The Kit Secrecy is clearly paramount at Meng, as they seem to play their cards close to their chests until they are ready. This kit is part of their recent IDF related releases, probably due in part to the assistance and collaboration with Desert Eagle Publishing, who also design the decals for the kits. The kit arrives in a standard Meng box and inside are seven sprues of sand coloured styrene, two hull parts, clear sprue, two rub-band style track runs, a large fret of Photo-Etch (PE) brass, a run of poly-caps, a length of synthetic rope/string, decals instruction booklet and painting/decaling guide. The first thing that stands out on the kit is the size of the hull, which is large and bulky, consisting of top and bottom parts. Surface detail is good, and the part count shouldn't over-face the more impatient modeller, while a couple of items on the boxtop could be seen as slightly misleading, perhaps due to a change in specification between their design and release of the finished product. The hull is actually a two-piece assembly consisting of top and bottom halves, while there is only one PE fret of a single thickness 0.3mm brass, although some of the parts have been etched to half-thickness to better represent the real thing. The box wording implies more than one fret, and that's not the case. Because the Achzarit is based on a T-55, the running gear should be quite familiar on this early variant at least. Five pairs of roadwheels are built up on each side, plus idler wheels and drive sprocket on each side, all of which have a poly-cap placed in the middle before gluing. This will give a little flexibility when assembling the tracks and painting the vehicle after construction, which I find quite useful. The lower hull part is decked out with the suspension swing-arms, glacis plate and towing eyes, with a choice of three PE "number plates" on the central block, and the wheels are pushed into place. Short mudguards are added to the underside of the sponsons at the rear, and the lower armoured section of the rear-access door is assembled to glue-free hinges which fix to depressions on the back of the hull. I have the feeling that greater things were initially planned for this kit, as although there is no true interior, there are parts of the interior supplied here and there, with an opening rear door, and separate upper hatches that lead me to surmise that plans may have changed along the way. The power pack's external walls are built up and added to the interior, as well as two sidewall inserts that sit on top of the internal fenders. The roof also has some internal detail moulded in, and there are some unused sockets on the floor that make me wonder. The offset rear bulkhead is covered with a large stowage basket that is moulded in one very well detailed piece, plus a couple of small additional bits, and is then glued to the rear of the hull. If you are posing the crew ramp open, there is a restraining strap provided that attaches to the side of the engine bay. The upper hull is next, building up the edges with box profile sections and adding ten vision blocks in clear styrene from the inside. A rotating periscope for the remote GPMG is placed on its mount next to the driver's hatch, secured in place from the inside by a doughnut shaped part, after which the two halves are brought together and the top hatches added, all of which can be left to open and close by careful gluing. The top of the clamshell rear hatch has similar no-glue hinges that fix just forward of the power-pack, with a wedge-shaped guard hanging down inside the hull acting as a shot deflector. Each of the vision blocks have matching clear covers on the top deck, so should either be masked, or left of until main painting is finished. The top deck is further festooned with a surprising three GPMG light machine-guns, including the aforementioned remote controlled unit, all of which have ammo boxes to the sides and pintle-mount onto two circular panels on the roof next to access hatches, where there is precious little cover if the operators were to come under fire. It would be far better to be operating the remote station from inside the hull when receiving accurate incoming fire. A roughly textured mesh part in PE fits over the rear radiator louvers, and two large slabs of perforated PE are fitted to the sides of the vehicle covering the aft third of the Achzarit's length. Behind these are various stowage options, with brackets and stand-off mounts added beforehand. Painting of these areas would be advisable before adding the PE, which would be best painted by airbrush to preserve the delicate texturing and holes that cover each part. A number of small squares of PE are added to the outside of these panels for extra detail, and at the front another number plate is placed on the very edge of the glacis plate. A single jerry can is slotted into the back of the engine deck, and two towing ropes are made up from styrene ends with 15.5cm of the acrylic string acting as the braided cable unless you have any of the real stuff lying around. The tracks provided are moulded in TPU (Thermoplastic polyurethane), and have an overlapping section with a pin and hole mechanism to prevent them slipping apart after gluing. They are handed too, although I can't quite see any differences myself, and this is denoted by a small tag affixed to the mating tongue, so must be removed before assembly. The detail on the tracks is more than acceptable, and the mould lines won't show under a liberal coating of pigment and simulated dirt, but some might want to explore the possibility of using aftermarket tracks for a more realistic drape of the tracks around the sprockets. I've done a quick check against a pair of the excellent white metal Friul tracks I pinched from the box of a Tamiya T-55 I have, and they seem to be a perfect fit. Certainly worth a look! Markings The painting guide is laid out on a double sided and folded sheet of A3 glossy paper in full colour, giving four views of the vehicle plus a scrap view of the unit markings on the other side. The colours are given in Vallejo codes, with 71.023 Hemp covering the majority of the Achzarit for all marking options. Only the addition of the vehicle's unit markings and the dull red of grab-handles, turnbuckles and shackles gives any relief from the solid colour, so weathering and wear (as well as stowage and personalisation) will be important to breathe some life into the scheme. From the box you can build one of the following vehicles: Commander's vehicle of the 3rd Company in 1st Golani Brigade Vehicle of the 2nd Platoon, 3rd Company in unknown Brigade Vehicle of the 2nd squad, 3rd Company, in unknown Brigade in a security operation near the Gaza border in 2008 Unknown or undisclosed. You decide. The decals are of course printed by Cartograf in black and white, and have a fine satin carrier film cut close to the printing. With only two colours of startling tonal difference, registration is important, and it is perfect on my review sample under 2.5x magnification. Conclusion From the exterior a very nice kit of a less well-known modern APC. Whether I'm right about the interior being partly cancelled, we will probably never find out, but if an aftermarket company wanted to finish the job, the basics are there. I'm not a massive fan of rubber-band tracks because of the way they transition smoothly around the curved sections of track, and the difficulty in obtaining a realistic sag, but these will probably suit 95% of modellers, and I can see that the extra cost of tooling individual track links might not have been worthwhile from a budget point of view. Coupled with Meng's recent IDF Tank Crew, this will build into an impressive looking model, and is rather tempting to this reviewer due to the lack of interior to get bogged down in as a way to ease myself back into building armour after around a year of building flying things. Highly recommended. Review sample courtesy of
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