Manufacturer: Tamiya, distributed by Tamiya America, 2 Orion, Alison Viejo, CA 92656-4200, 800-826-4922.
Kit: No. 35242
Comments: Injection molded, 158 parts, decals.
Pros: Excellent detail and fit, handy suspension alignment tool, vinyl basket mesh, and nylon cable.
Cons: Adding supplemental armor tricky.
Nearly 8,000 Leopard 1 and 2 main battle tanks have been fielded by 10 NATO nations as well as Australia, Austria, Brazil, Chile, Sweden, and Switzerland. The Krauss-Maffei-Wegmann General Leopard 2 A5 is usually referred to as the Euro Leopard 2, and packs a 120mm L44 smoothbore gun and electronic fire and turret control systems that eliminate the need for high-maintenance hydraulics. This variant also has an upgraded GPS navigation system, added angular turret armor, and newly-shaped sideskirts that give the tank quite a facelift.
Tamiya's new Leopard is a fine kit and an easy build, even for inexperienced armor modelers. The 24-step instruction sheet is clear and well illustrated, but certainly needs to be studied before construction begins. I started by painting the roadwheels with Floquil Oily Black, then the new Tamiya NATO camouflage green acrylic. A circle template helped me keep the tires black. The red wheel centers allow oil stains to be readily seen by crews. Next, I attached the roadwheels with the help of the provided alignment tool. It's a strip of plastic with a series of ovals cut into it that slip over the axles, keeping all of the suspension in line as you glue it - neat!
Overall, the kit fits perfectly. When you install the nylon-string tow cables, measure carefully since the port-side cable has several tie-down points that require extra length. I measured both pieces from the starboard side, ended up short, and had to recut one piece.
Another area that took a bit of patience was the basket assembly. Tamiya provides templates within the instruction sheet to trace-cut a vinyl mesh sheet into several pieces for the baskets, which are then super glued to the frames. Start at one end, and slowly add beads of glue as you go, using the flat side of a hobby blade to press the mesh to the frames. If the fit isn't perfect, heat the hobby blade and melt the mesh to the frame's edge.
Step 22 involves the turret armor that gives the Leopard 2 A5 its distinctive angled appearance. These panels operate on hinges - even on the model. Be careful here, as aligning the pieces may look right with the armor flush to the turret, but folded open you might find that it's off a bit. The newly designed sideskirts need a careful fitting, too. Try liquid glue here so you can adjust the fit as needed before it sets.
The Leopard's camouflage is applied at the factory, and seemed fairly uniform in all of the reference photos I could find. My freehand airbrush job is a little rough; next time I'll cut templates! I lightened the Tamiya NATO paints with some white, then applied two or three dark washes to accent the detail. I dry-brushed with white then added a mist of Tamiya Desert Yellow to the lower half of the tank to dirty it up. References show that most of the tracks' pads were usually black regardless of terrain traveled, so I went over them again with Floquil Oily Black on a short, flat brush.
Included in the kit are small cardboard squares that go on the rear of the baskets to represent specific unit markings. You won't use them if you mark the tank as the Kosovo Peacekeeping Force (KFOR) vehicle, though.
I spent about 20 hours on my Euro Leopard, most of it painting and weathering. It doesn't have to be restricted to advanced armor modelers to come out looking well-made and downright menacing.