Friday 10 April 2020

Airfix Nostalgia Project

I wonder how many wargamers of a certain age started off with Airfix figures, and at the same time built their modelling skills with Airfix construction kits? Well, that was certainly me. In the late 60s (I was 10 in 1967) I was obsessed with building Airfix kits. The new releases were a constant source of delight and making them took up a lot of my time. My standards of finishing were generally low, and improved only slowly. It's hard to say when the obsession tailed off, but let's say by about 1974 it was mostly over. By then I had started to discover wargaming.

These days I don't do much painting or modelling. I've got the armies I want, and building up more (particularly, for example, building some sort of Napoleonic collection) is far too daunting in money and time to even consider. But about a year ago I got the itch to go back in time and build an Airfix kit or two. After some lightweight reflection I agreed with myself what the project would entail:
  • I would concentrate on WW2 fighters. They would be economical on shelf space (always an issue for the model kit builder), and they had formed the heart of my old obsession back in the 1960s.
  • Five kits only. One from each of the 5 major nations - Britain, the U.S., Germany, Russia and Japan. See 'shelf space' above.
  • The kits would be bought from model shops. This was a great idea - supporting local businesses, and re-visiting the old feeling of wondering what would be in stock, and not always finding exactly what you wanted.
  • Airfix preferred, but other companies not excluded.
  • Don't overdo the standard of finish. Aim for fairly rapid completion to link with my style of work as a kid.
And so it began. Visiting local model and toy shops in Gloucester, Stroud and Witney produced the first 3 kits, all modern Airfix. The actual first was a Curtiss Tomahawk, filling the role of British fighter. Here were the project rules in action - the plane is of course American in origin, but the British version was on offer in the shop and I chose it over the obvious alternatives of Spitfire and Hurricane just because, at that moment, it took my fancy. Just like a 10 year old. The other 2, bought in different shops at different times, were a Bf-109 and a Zero.

I was knocked out by the quality of the kits. They went together like a dream, with hardly any cleaning up of parts and certainly no filling of joints needed. The transfers (should that be decals?) also went on beautifully. A coat of matt varnish finished these guys off nicely. I was a happy modeller.

Time for more enjoyable browsing in real model shops, this time Cirencester and Bourton-on-the-Water. By coincidence, the Russian and U.S. slots were both filled by Revell kits, both once again purchased on the principle of what was on the shelves and took my fancy. The Yak-3 was definitely a small kit in a big box, but again a pleasure to build:

 The Vought Corsair was my other choice:

Yes, one of those crazy new-fangled starter sets. My challenge is to finish it using the paints and crappy brush provided. But those of you still awake will see the Corsair remains unbuilt. This was due to the project taking a crazy, left field direction before it was finished. I decided the project would not be complete without an original kit from my glory days, from the period known among modellers as the Airfix 'Golden Age' - which according to my Airfix book was 1952-1981. 

Obtaining a kit from the late 60s/early 70s would of course mean going online, but what the hell. The choice of old kits is pretty good and prices are mostly reasonable. I settled in the end for a model of the Westland Whirlwind which I remembered fondly from childhood days. I was genuinely thrilled to handle one of the old-fashioned 'bagged' kits again. What a nerd! I'll let the photos tell the story:

I was certain the transfers (OK, decals) would be useless after about 50 years in the bag, but actually they worked OK with careful handling (and about 4 coats of Microsol). And once again I refused to enhance the kit or even use filler. Just build it and paint it. And keep the packaging of course. There was no way those instructions or even the plastic bag were going in the bin.

Apart from the kits, this was a cheap project. I didn't buy any new paints or tools, and any paint colours I didn't have were mixed from what I did have, just like the old days. Although I was using Vallejo acrylics rather than Airfix or Humbrol enamels.

So there we are. Another project conceived, planned and executed - they call me Mr Finisher round these parts. And all tremendous fun. It really was as satisfying and relaxing a project as I had hoped it would be

Well, there is the Corsair to build. And I inherited an Airfix kit of a Mk.VI Light Tank from Stuart Asquith, which he was giving away to a good home at the last Cotswold Wargaming Day. That's under construction at the moment. I also have a terrible desire to order another 1960s kit or two - maybe a bomber like a Heinkel 111 or a Wellington. But it's time to resist - money and shelf space are limited.

Good Luck everyone. 'Til next time!


James said...

That Whirlwind is just FABULOUS.
Great kit of a great plane.
Terrific idea the whole project.

Steve J. said...

Now that's a real trip down memory lane Keith! Ah the joys of looking through my Dad's old Airfix magazines in the early '70's, the pleasure of browsing in Renmodels in Cambridge. My first kit, out together by my Dad was an Airfix Fokker Dr1 that came in a bag IIRC. Then of course the endless flicking through the Airix catalogue dreaming of kits I could never find or afford, the Westland Whirlind being one of them. As for future kits it has to be the Wellington, my favourite bomber of the war.

Rodger said...

The early 70's were a great time and Airfix were a major part of it. Thanks for taking me back!

Sgt Steiner said...

Yes indeed Airfix was THE stuff of dreams as a youth.
Loved pouring through their catalogues looking over all the kits and 20mm figures ('midgies' as we termed them) !!
Like a lot of blokes I cut my wargaming teeth with Airfix WW2 kit.
Only gradually did I replace them with the more expensive Fujima/Esci/Hasegawa kits and varous metals ranges.

Jonathan Freitag said...

Neat build,Keith! I wager kit building had seen a surge in recent weeks.

Steve-the-Wargamer said...

Fantastic... but no completest could be without an Italian fighter to join the other major nations... and besides, they looked so good! ;o)

Independentwargamesgroup said...

Lovely to see all the old models, my favourite still remains the Super-fortress. Now that was a challenge to a 12 year old, but what a plane.

Brian Carrick said...

Sounds like the start of a very slippery slope!

Wargamer Stu said...

How does the plastic hold-up on the older kits? I would assume that the plastic starts to degrade after a few decades and might be a bit delicate.

Keith Flint said...

Stu - I didn't notice any issues at all. I really had no problems with the old Whirlwind kit.

Steve-the-Wargamer, why did you have to mention the Italians? I remember fondly the old Airfix G.50 kit. Slippery slope indeed.

lewisgunner said...

Loved the Whirlwind kit. Itvwas a potentially great plane that never got the development it needed...after all its a baby Mosquito.. I oncevheard that its problem was that it had twin engines and a Spitfire needed only one to do the same job.
A pity they did not send 100 to Singapore instead of buying Brewster Buffaloes.!


Keith Flint said...

I have a soft spot for that plane. Apparently a contemporary pilot described it as 'looking like it was doing 500mph just sitting on the ground'. It certainly had a modern look for a plane conceived in the late 1930s.

I understand lack of range was one drawback, but the performance if fitted with 2 Merlins would surely have been phenominal. But there were not enough Merlins to go around.

guy said...

Great idea. I have a box of old Airfix magazines and I'll dig them out. In the 70's my mate James collected the Airfix magazine while I got Military Modelling. We devoured them both. We really only bought planes as close support aircraft (eg stukas and typhoons dangling from garden canes) for our mad games which took place on the table tennis table (the landscape created from bags of saw dust) or in the garden. When the madness ended, James gave me his magazines.


Wargamer Stu said...

I think I still have my Chi Ha somewhere, sadly a bit battered. Looking forward to seeing that one