Meng ZSU-23-4 Shilka

The Meng ZSU-23-4 Shilka in 1/35 scale is a really great kit to work on as a modeling project. It has its plus and minuses which I will describe later below. I have never seen Italeri or Dragon’s offering, but from the in-box reviews, I think the Meng’s version out-performed the Italeri/Dragon kits by a large margin. I considered this project as an exceptionally fast build. The Shilka is obviously a popular subject. There are tons of reference materials on the Web. As a result, I was never short of getting the references I needed to complete this project. The other aspect that fasten the build was the kit. Although highly-detailed and includes an interior, the plastic’s molding was very good quality and the fitting was excellent. One of the biggest down-side of this kit is the link-tracks and the way the plastic reacts to enamel washes. They are separate problems but but yet connected. The other lesser one is the fiddly barrels. My verdict still stands. Regardless of its shortcomings and as long as we can manage it, this is just too awesome to miss if you have one stashed on your shelf. Get down and start building it! If you haven’t and you’re an armor fan, make sure its in your bucket list.

About the Kit

My first Meng kit. The sight when opening the box was impressive. The whole box was packed with plastic sprues. Besides the regular sprue trees, it included a small photo etch fret and four black sprues that held the individual track links. The instruction was an impressive “booklet” type with clear step-by-step guide and full-color sheet for the painting guide. The decal sheet is small but had enough to cover the options in the manual.

This kit is full of details. Sometime I feel that the level of details is too much (a.k.a. unnecessary). They could have merged some details as part of the hull or turret. It doesn’t help to have thousands of parts but provide no added value compared to a similar kit with a much lesser part count.

The quality of the molding is generally very good. the sprue gates are thin though I felt that the space is too narrow for my side cutter to properly nip it. The main turret that came with the kit was warped but it soon disappeared once I glued the base and other parts together.

Seam lines are minimum and easy to deal with. Ejector marks are found in the inner side which help construction considerably. The fitting is was exceptionally good too. I found only a few spots where I needed to fill and sand. Quite easy to handle with regular putty or Mr. Surfacer 500. Either wipe it off with a bit of nail polish remover or traditional wet-sanding method. both approach worked well.

You get some interior

Meng provides you with the driver’s cabin. It is reasonably detailed and will give you hours of fun just building, painting, and weathering it. Look for actual reference photos to guide you with painting on Google. If you like weathering, there are hundreds of photos that show the driver’s cabin from the cleanest to the most filthy. The only drawback is that 95 percent of it will be completely hidden once you glue the hull together. The front hatch can be opened or closed but peeping into that is basically how much you can see of the interior.

You also get the interior of the turret which house the magazine chambers for the 23mm ammunition. If you are wondering where they are, they are the wedge-shaped compartment sand-witching the quad guns.

I experimented in making workable hinges for the lids to the magazine chambers. I drilled out the hinges and used copper wire. At first it worked, but as soon as I did some washing over them, the plastic crumbled under the enamel washes.

Lower hull detail

The road wheel swing arms are one of the weakest parts of the kit. Meng designed them so that all 12 swing-arms have a bit of bounciness. Well, I wouldn’t toy with them too much as the arms looks thin enough that even the slightest pressure might just snap them. However, the details on the lower hull was great and captured the bolts, rivets, and steps very well.

Plastic reacts to enamel thinner?

In my example, the plastic reacted to enamel thinners. I used Ammo Mig and AK enamel-based washes and other products to weather the kit. And I used Tamiya enamel thinner, Zippo lighter fluid and ACE mineral spirits to dilute the mix. Somehow after I gave the plastic some washes, I found out that the plastic has become softer. The possibility of snapping off a piece is higher, especially the small parts such as tie downs and handle bars, to the slightest touch.

I learned this after I knocked off several tie downs and handles. This is despite the fact that I primed the kit with Mr. Surfacer Black 1500, and use Tamiya acrylics and Gunze lacquer for all my paints. Knowing this, I changed my washing approach to use as less enamel thinners as possible. I don’t think this is a permanent cure but its the only way I could think of at that time. I could not tell if it made any difference. The other Meng project I worked on – AMX-30B2 had the same issue.

Single track links are great

The sing track links were great. They were available in semi-gloss black and looks extremely good. The pins snapped easily and held the link pretty well, way better than those from MiniArt. However, I found that you can easily cut off the pins by accident if you are not careful when snipping them from their sprue gates. Primer and painting was simple too. Meng gave you more links that needed. they are great as spares in case you broke them in the process.

But I have to warn you that they reacted to enamel washes, just like the rest of the kits. In my case, some of the links fell off with no reason at all, or just to the slighted touch. I finally had to fix them in place, and secure some of the links with Tamiya extra thin cement.

Quad 23mm installation is complicated

The construction of the four 23mm AA gun requires a significant more planning than usual. That’s because this assembly consist of many small parts, rubber hose. Meng designed them to be are movable but in reality I don’t think I would want to play with them that much.

For the barrels and associated parts, I recommend that you use a mini saw to get them off from the trees. The gates are too close and a regular nipper /side cutter might damage the parts. As you can see, the parts are quite intricate and fidgety, and might be prone to breaking by accidents.

The rubber hoses were rather clumsy. I had to repeatedly go over the instructions a few times as they were a bit vague. I made sure I dry-tested the fit before gluing them. The rubber hoses tend to push out the structure that housed the 4x barrels. This made the insertion of the barrel housing into the turret a bit of a challenge.

Photo-etched parts are sufficient

The PE fret is small and only gives you just the basics. The chains and grills were most helpful. I thought the others were less necessary and Meng could have included other parts. Definitely you need copper wire replacements for the tow cables (you get two). Mine broke when I tried cleaned them from seam lines. The other one broke when I tried to bend them to shape.

If you are building this kit “as is” or “out-of-the-box” like what I am doing on this project, then the PE parts are sufficient.

Paint scheme confusion

The kit gives you several versions of the Shilka and half a dozen camouflage schemes. All looked pretty darn good! But I could only choose one version and scheme for my model. So, to avoid adding any confusion to the build, my standard of practice is to work backwards.

First, you (a) select the camouflage pattern that you like. Once you zeroed in on it, then (b) you get to know which Shilka version you need to build. The next step would be to use a sharpie to (c) circle out the building sequences that will help you build the version that you have chosen.

My choice of paint were Tamiya acrylics and Gunze lacquer. I chose acrylics and lacquer so they wont react to the washing and weathering products that are enamel/oil based. as for the primers, I used Mr. Surfacer 1500 black. I did not use any Future (floor polish) or gloss varnishes to prepare the decals. the gloss treatment is not necessary if we have done a good job at keeping the painted surfaces smooth.

Weathering a dusty environment

I weather my models. Bet that armor, ship, or aircraft. I find clean model lacks the challenge I need to motivate myself in building scale models. I used pre-mixed Ammo MIG and AK products for the majority of my weathering, which comprise of mostly pigments, washes, and filters. I also used Tamiya Panel Line Accent, a variety of branded oil paints, and commercial ACE mineral spirits as thinners.

I used a variety of techniques to get the weathered look that I wanted. From chipping effects with sponges, discoloration with oils, and fading effects with ArtoolFX templates.

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