Hellerís AMX-30 series of tanks and derivatives has been around a while. Theyíre still reasonable kits, although theyíre far off the modern standard and not entirely accurate, especially the GCT / AuF1 self-propelled gun. But, as the saying goes, theyíre the only game in town.
Even if you donít mind an old-fashioned kit, one look inside the box will reveal whatís commonly agreed to be its worst feature: its tracks. Theyíre really quite horrible. The vinyl is stiff and theyíre slightly too long, so itís impossible to get that characteristic dead-track drape over the return rollers. In fact they remind you of old Esci 1/72 tracks - determined to adopt a circular shape no matter what, very much at the expense of any convincing effect. On top of this, theyíre effectively a hollow mould. The outer face is reasonably good, albeit without any trace of link pins; but the inner face is just the back of that in reverse relief, so that what should be the back of the pin is a little channel instead.
A number of upgrades for these kits is available, although supply is intermittent. Most come from Phebus in France, who will do you a very nice AMX-30B2 conversion, and also offer two patterns of track in resin. Unfortunately their website hasnít been updated since January and the ďMilitaryĒ page is even older than that, so I canít confirm whether those two patterns are the original and the Diehl replacements, although that would make sense. Another source, unsurprisingly, is Friulmodel. And now Heller themselves have entered the fray with this new set.
That Heller exists at all is a bit of a surprise. They reappeared a couple of months ago (summer 2012), bringing a batch of old and treasured kits back onto the market, the AMXs among them. And alongside that is a new set of replacement tracks in injection-moulded plastic. Credit to them for recognising how desperately better tracks were needed, although it might have been better if theyíd included them in the tank kits. Still, if you have an older kit and want only the tracks, a separate set is nice to have.
The Track Set
The set and the packaging couldnít be simpler. Behind a neat illustration derived from the one on the AMX-30/105 box are five sprues of silvery plastic reminiscent of old Monogram material. The instructions are on the back. Thatís it! Each link is in two parts, inner and outer faces, and you get enough for 220 links in all. Given that the original tracks are 84 links per side (168 overall), thatís a lot of spares. You even wonder if there should be only four sprues.
The outer face is attached to the sprue by a single gate; the inner face by two. If youíve ever mucked around with AFV Club tracks, this is a boon. On the other hand the sprue gates are coarse, so care is needed; but the plastic is soft without being unduly flexible, so removing them and cleaning them up is quick and easy.
Assembly is fairly straightforward, especially compared with Friul tracks. You take an outer face, which has half-round sections to hold the pins along one side. The inner face has the full-width pin along one side and the other set of half-round sections along the other side. You drop the pin into the matching bit of the outer face, which gives you two half-links side by side. Then you take another inner face and glue it onto the outer face so that it closes around the pin. Thatís one and a half links to start you off, and assembly proceeds from there with alternate outer and inner faces. Itís not completely clear what you do to close up the loop, but it should go OK. Fit is very positive - with a little pressure the links will hold together dry, and there are tiny pips to prevent the links pulling apart from each other. However, they wouldnít take any handling in this state, and glue is essential. With care and very sparing application of glue itís possible to make a set of nice solid links that will still articulate fully and allow you to fit them easily.
Comparison with photographs shows that the design is fairly accurate but a little light on detail. The representation of the pins is a huge advance over the kit tracks, although the hollow ends are missing, and youíll need to take care over them because each end of each pin is split between the inner and outer faces and so has a gap that needs closing. This will be a challenge if youíre to keep them workable. The bolts that connect inner and outer faces on the real thing act as location pins and have a good hexagonal profile, much better than the kitís.
The top of each guide horn has a curious little projection on it that looks just like an ejector pin tower. The real thing does have a pin on top of the guide horn, but itís finer and tapered, so we have to conclude that this actually IS a pin tower. Oddly enough this is represented better on the kit tracks. I suppose you could drive yourself mad by cutting off vinyl guide horns and gluing them to plastic tracks, or sanding the pins to a more accurate profile. Or you might feel lifeís too short for that - after all, the difference isnít that great.
Every rubber block on every outer face has an ejector pin mark on it. Thatís 444 of the sodding things. The good news is that theyíre slightly raised, so theyíll respond to sanding. The bad news is that each has a little recessed ring around it as well, so some filling, or at least smoothing off with thin cement, will still be needed. This is the point where you realise there are only twenty or so links visible in full, and you only need to worry about the outermost blocks on the top run ...
Each inner face has prominent sink marks between the bolts; each outer face has another behind the guide horn. Luckily these are on the mating surfaces and wonít be seen. The inner faces, though, also have tiny sink marks on the backs of the pins, and these remain visible. Theyíre not awful but a purist would want to sort them out.
Comparison and Conclusion
A quick comparison with Friulís version:
All dimensions are the same.
Friulís are heavier and will sag more readily. Hellerís can be made to sag, of course, if you glue them to the return rollers.
Compared with Friulís, the rubber blocks on Hellerís are slightly too small (worse) but deeper (better).
The little dished sections at the outer ends of the links are better on Friulís - deeper and with a representation of the curious little peg on the real thing.
Friul gives you hollow pin ends and better guide horns.
Hellerís bolts are better - the right size, and better defined.
Hellerís are much cheaper.
Overall, Iíd say that it was a draw. Iím happy to have one set of each.
Highs: A much-needed improvement at an OK price; some good detail elements; straightforward assembly; masses of spares!Lows: Not all details as good as they could be; far too many pin marks; awkward sprue gates.Verdict: Hellerís track set retails at £12.99. This is a little steep for what you get, but itís in line with the firmís general pricing. And theyíre much easier to find than the Phebus alternative. Worth getting.