I have to start by saying I picked up this kit for next to nothing, just to harvest the side skirts for another project! So, when I looked through the rest of the kit I could be frank without feeling any qualms about my “investment”. The only online review I could find was the cryptic and somewhat unhelpful “Scrap” comment on the Leopard Club’s
Leopard Lists page – this review is meant to offer the would-be buyer a chance to see what they’d get before they commit to it.
The history of the Leopard tank is widely available on line so won’t be repeated here, but the main point worth stating here is that the Leopard 1 was built in several variants, featuring either a cast “turtle shaped” turret (Leo 1A1, 1A2, 1A5) or a welded “boxy” turret (Leo 1A3, 1A4). This kit claims to represent a Leo 1A2, but Heller also sells a kit of the 1A4 as well as the Leopard-based Gepard anti-aircraft tank. There is no date on the instructions or sprues, but I’m guessing “old”.
Inside a sturdy “lid & tray”-style box are 342 parts on five green sprues (in three bags), one grey sprue, one clear sprue, a sprue of vinyl tracks, decal sheet, wire, and an instruction booklet. Most of the green sprues are marked “Leopard” and “Gepard”, indicating use in multiple kits. There is some flash. Overall sharpness of detail is typical of kits from the 1960s/70s, as is the parts layout. The instructions are on A4-size sheets stapled together.
The hull is made of flat panels, which will be a real pain to get assembled straight. Comparing it to the plans in the Tankograd Leopard books it is a few millimetres too long, although the width looks okay. On the lower hull this extra length is found between the last roadwheel and the sprocket – the error on the upper hull is more of a general spread. The lower hull has separate sides, floor, and rear panel – allowing for surprisingly good detail on the suspension-arm mounts, but the floor lacks access plates and escape hatch. Best of all, the rear panel is empty, with all the details added as separate parts, so it would be easy to replace them. Sponson floors and internal dividers make up the rest.
The upper hull is made of seven main components – a large top deck including turret ring and engine cover, the driver’s hatch and front fenders, two exhaust grilles, glacis, and two side panels. Detail on these is just about adequate by 1970s standards, but not a patch on the contemporary Italeri Leopard kit, or indeed the new Takom and Meng kits. Most notable by their absence are clamps for the tools. The engine intake grille is provided in the novel form of a clear plate and a “grille” decal! The headlights are clear parts, made with a separate body and lens – the body is ok but the lens is far too big and flat, spoiling the look of the lamps.
Moving down, the suspension arms are adequate, if a bit “flashy”. The armoured shock-absorbers are prone to ejector pin marks and are in two halves, but at least they aren’t moulded on! There are no bolts on the sprocket hub plate, the sprockets themselves, or the outer faces of the road wheels – which is a real problem. The hubs aren’t important, but the smooth wheels just look toy-like. Oddly, the backs of the wheels DO have some detail reflecting the eight mounting studs on the wheel hubs, which is better than any other Leopard kit – go figure. On the plus side, the bump-stops are all separate, and could be harvested to improve the more recent DML MBT70. Tracks are another problem – the links are too spindly and just look wrong.
The turret is another mixed bag. As stated on the Leopard Club site, it is the most accurate overall shape of all the cast-turret kits out there – a fact I checked against the Tankograd drawings. The Italeri/Revell and Takom kits are too long around the front, where the gun opening is, having a stretched “chin” under the opening. One thing that Heller did get wrong was the actual size of the gun opening – it is bigger than it should be, and is barely hidden behind the mantlet “dust cover”. Still, this can be fixed with some plastic and filler. Sadly, all of the turret details are poor and clunky. The two rangefinder blisters (the “frog-eyes”) are separate items that will be hard to blend in. They lack the bolt recesses on the ends, and the optics are represented by a separate lump that looks a bit like the oval covers when closed, minus the pivot mechanism. All of this could be fixed with a little effort, but it is symptomatic of the kit. The mantlet is far too sharp-edged, and includes a strange attempt at the canvas dust-cover that looks like it was made of steel bands – it would have to be reworked considerably. The mantlet is meant to move, which means the dust-cover cannot be correctly anchored to the turret face. And the gun itself is far too sharp in the contours of the thermal sleeve – it looks like it was turned on a lathe. But there is a half-decent attempt at the securing clamps at least. On the mantlet there is a terrible rendition of the searchlight in its rectangular box, but it does get a clear lens. At the rear is the searchlight stowage box and basket, which aren’t bad. Up on top, Heller messed up the hatches – not only is the TC’s hatch hinged completely wrong, they both have poor detailing. The MG rings are crude and thick, and should be supported on rectangular upright plates rather than rounded pins. Then there are the periscopes – for some reason the TC only gets four instead of seven.
The grey sprue has parts for two crew figures, but I have yet to see anything like the headgear they wear. They have VERY prominent chins, and I’m not sure about their anatomical shape.
There are two options presented, for Italian and Norwegian export tanks. I cannot comment on accuracy of the markings, or indeed any detail changes necessary, but then the decals in my decidedly second-hand kit are old enough to be useless anyway.
As the folks at Leopard Club said, this kit is basically scrap. If an accurate Leopard is your goal, this route will require a ton of work and aftermarket parts that can be avoided by buying one of the better kits available. I only wanted it for those side skirts, so the rest of the kit doesn’t owe me anything, but I do hate seeing plastic go to waste. Personally I intend to rebuild the turret for a Leo 1A0 pre-production tank (sanding off & replacing everything is a requirement anyway), while the hull may end up getting turned into a gutted shell as seen during the post-Cold War disarmament programme. But if you want to build a Leopard 1A2 you’ll want to look at Italeri/Revell or Takom instead.