by: Sean Langley [ ]
Italian armour during the Second World War didnít have much of a reputation and they didnít build much of it. After the war, things didnít get much better, and Italy was the slowest of the old Axis powers to get back into armour production. During the 1960s and 1970s Italy licence-built the M60 and the Leopard; it didnít develop its own indigenous tank until the OF-40 in the late 70s.
You wouldnít be looking at an OF-40 for long before you were reminded of a Leopard 1A3. Officially it wasnít a copy of the Leopard, but ... well, put it like this, if you knew a Leopard was playing strip poker in Las Vegas and you wanted to illustrate it without printing the actual photos, you could do a lot worse than ask an OF-40 to pose for you. The OF-40 was a damp squib in the tank market, having arrived much too late, as the second generation of MBTs with laminated armour and 120mm guns was entering service at the same time. So the builders, Fiat and OTO Melara, threw it away and came up with the C1 Ariete instead. This entered service with the Italian Army in 1995 - still a bit late, but Italy finally has a properly modern tank. So far itís found no takers in the export market.
Now, the Ariete might look familiar too, especially to anyone whoís spent time around the Challenger 2. It is, however, a completely fresh design, which shows that if you make your armour by welding flat plates of laminate together, thereís only so much you can do with it. Mechanically the Ariete shares a lot of components with the Centauro tank destroyer and Dardo IFV, and it comes in a bit lighter than its counterparts at around 54 tons. This became a problem, though, as the lighter weight came from lighter armour and, even then, the engine was a bit underpowered for the tankís size. So the Ariete has been fitted with a new engine, and additional armour can be fitted to the turret cheeks, with two layers for the hull too (replacing the forward end of the side skirts). This is pretty much the standard option for the sort of semi-urban combat that Arieti have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan, along with an extra machine-gun for improved self-defence.
This configuration is the subject of Trumpeterís second Ariete kit, number 00394. It follows on from the first, more basic Ariete from a few years ago (number 00332) and is essentially the same kit with a few changes. This means you get, from the original:
2 x Sprue A for the suspension parts (54 in all)
Sprue B for upper hull parts (40)
Sprue C for turret parts (71)
The biggest addition is a complete new sprue E with the extra armour, a second machine gun for the turret, and a revised gun barrel (in two halves), giving another 26 parts. A small photo-etch fret supplies 52 tiny brass parts. The turret top is also new, with mounting points for the cheek armour that are missing from the original release. One-piece vinyl tracks, the usual hull and turret halves, a sheet of clear plastic for the episcopes, and a length of brass wire for the tow cables, round off the solid bits. So thatís a little over 300 parts in all.
One odd thing is whatís missing. Usually when a manufacturer adds parts to a kit, you get all of the original plus the new bits, and unless one sprue is completely redundant, you end up with a fair bit for the spares box. In this case, though, someone at Trumpeter has carefully removed the original side skirts and gun halves from their sprues, leaving very obvious gaps. Thereís no clear reason why they should do this, especially as the instructions still note that six of the parts in the box arenít used either. You donít lose out as a result - you wouldnít buy this kit if you wanted to build the original configuration - but it still seems peculiar.
The standard of moulding is high, with no flash and minimal mould seams. Detail is also pretty good, crisply rendered and commendably fine in places. The grille over the engine fan is solid plastic but still manages to give the impression of two separate layers, although great care with the paint will be needed to keep it so good. Some parts, such as the mirror stalks, are very fine and removing them will need care too. A wide selection of tools is included, as Italian tanks tend to wear everything they can find; clasps are integral but none the worse for that, and the mounting points built into the add-on armour will make them look good. The upper hull is a very tidy moulding with good side detail, and although thereís no anti-slip coating, that does appear to be correct for the Ariete. The turret roof and hatches instead have a slightly quilted surface, which doesnít appear to be for foot traffic. Trumpeterís rendition is a little overdone but may improve with the application of paint. Weld seams vary in finesse and for some reason the best of them will be hidden once the turret is built. I suppose you do have the option of leaving off the turret armour, as the mounting points appear to be proper scale renditions. But you canít do this with the skirts as you get only the rear half in the original sheet metal. Both external machine-guns are slide-moulded and really look very good.
The PE fret is devoted to the additional armour and provides reasonable renditions of the brackets that connect the armoured sections of the skirts. They themselves are in blocks, although you do get the option of having one layer or two, which could be handy.
The tracks are a good representation of the Arieteís characteristic fit. The not-quite-square Diehl inner pads are well rendered and the grousers on the end-connectors are present, though perhaps not as cupped as they should be. Trumpeter claim the tracks can be glued together. Well, weíll see. Iíve no idea what theyíre made of but they smell faintly like river water.
A small decal sheet gives two options, both in overall green. As seems to be usual with Trumpeter they donít even say which army they belong to, or when. One option has some Arabic script on the side, which I think may mean the tank was serving in Iraq as part of Operazione Antica Babilonia. The decals are well printed, though, and tightly registered. The green is described as Mr Hobby H303 Light Green, which (despite the name) is about right.
Construction proceeds entirely conventionally: suspension, hull, turret. The instructions are well presented as usual, very easy to follow but with a few odd errors. A few test fittings show that things are good; the gun, for instance, should close up well with no great seam problems.
The original Ariete kit was cracking value at £16.99. This one is slightly less attractive - one extra sprue and some PE bring the price up to £26.99. Nonetheless, compared with some other stuff from the Far East, and even some of Trumpeterís own recent releases, this is still a very keen price. Overall, this is well worth getting. And, at the end of the day, you get a large, good-looking model thatís a little bit different. It's great that Trumpeter has poked around and found something other than a Leopard or an M1 to model. Watch and laugh inwardly as people lean over to admire your ďChallengerĒ and then count the wheels!