Kit review of Airfix's Wallace & Gromit Motorbike.

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Building the Airfix W&G Motorbike and Sidecar


By Jim James - images & text © 1999

Scale: N/A
Parts: 60 Styrene, one metal rod, plus paints, brush and glue.
Instructions: One sheet, pictoral fold-out - sufficient for the purpose.
Decals: Waterslide - for license plate and speedometer.
Molding Quality: 2 - if you hate puttying, this is not a kit for you.
Detail: 7
Accuracy: 8
Fit: 6 - parts fit well enough, but there are huge gaps caused by poor molding.
Ease: 1 or 9 (depending how anal you are)
MSRP: About 15 GBP ($25 USD) - available at well stocked hobbyshops or online from Hannant's
Overall Rating: 6 - Needs an awful lot of work to get a decent model.

[Look at all this stuff!]

Who Are Wallace And Gromit And Why Are They Riding A Motorcycle And Sidecar?

Viewers of PBS are probably familiar with Nick Parks' clay creations of inventor Wallace and his dog, Gromit.
So are those of you who review every category of the Oscars, since Parks has won for Best Short Animated Film for two of three W&G films ("The Wrong Trousers," "A Grand Day Out" and "A Close Shave"). If you're not familiar with the plasticene duo, you owe it to yourself to go to Blockbuster and rent them. Parks' animation is superb and his attention to detail is incredible. The stories are great too.

W&G on the motorcycle are featured in "A Close Shave" in which our friends have a window washing service (hence the ladder on the sidecar) and solve a sheep rustling mystery operated by a large dog and a nice lady who runs a wool shop. During the film, Gromit's sidecar converts to an airplane the subject of Airfix's second W&G kit. Incidentally, "A Close Shave" has a wonderful parody of the "Thunderbirds" crew loading sequence when Wallace & Gromit go from their bedrooms to the motorcycle through a succession of slides.

Overall Impressions Good News And Bad News

The good news is that this is a great beginner's kit - and the subject matter is great too. The bad news is that if you are a skilled and semi-skilled modeler, you'll have your work cut out for you. Parts fit great for the most part. Perhaps the most amazing thing is the amount of plastic. Both the Wallace and Gromit figures are solid!

Is It Accurate?

In a nutshell, yes.

What's In The Box?

Unusual box but nice packaging. The cube box has a handle. The kit has 61 parts - 60 plastic and one metal rod. There are 5 decals. There are 10 small pots of Humbrol acrylic paints, one brush and a tube of cement included. The instructions are typically Airfix all pictures, no text. The painting instructions are OK but I referred to a W&G book I have for better guide to shades and detail. It was also an excuse to watch the movie again.

The Plastic From Hell

For some unknown reason, Airfix molded the kit in a gray, heavy plastic with a high gloss shine. The initial reaction is that this is a soft, flexible plastic but it's not. This stuff is hard as nails and has the texture of the stuff they make model soldiers out of.

And this is a problem because?

  • The shiny surface is hard for paint to stick to - even the paints supplied with the kit. I strongly suggested spaying all parts and/or partial assemblies with a flat white enamel.
  • The kit has no flash and few mold release marks but it has mold seams all over it. While this might not sound like a serious problem, the nature of the plastic makes them very hard to remove. Scraping with an X-Acto knife does not clean the seam off. It leaves the kind of mark you'd expect if you did the same thing on an eraser. Slicing the seam off with a sharp X-Acto works better, as does sanding. Be aware that sanding this hard plastic takes longer and heavier grits will leave marks.
  • It also seems that no matter how hard you try the mold seam won't go away almost like it's indented (which is impossible).
  • Most of the kit joints are OK but there are six that will drive you crazy. The top and bottom halves of the Wallace and Gromit figure join at the waist. Much putty and sanding are required to make this joint completely smooth. The four arm joints are also a pain but the neck joints are pretty easy to hide.
Of course, if you are beginner modeler, you might just skip fixing these flaws.

In spite of it's many drawbacks, the plastic responded well to Tenax 7R.

Assembly

Apart from the mold seams, this is an easy kit to assemble so I broke it down into four sub assemblies: Wallace, Gromit, the bike and the sidecar. The really big problem came when the sub-assemblies came together. So before you start, read the note on the REALLY BIG PROBLEM.

The Bike

The bike has to be assembled first since you'll need to correctly position Wallace's arms by setting the figure on his seat. However, you can start assembly on the other sections and work in parallel.

I assembled the two halves of the main body first. The wheels can be assembled separately and the rear wheel inserted after the painting on the main body is finished. All the pipes and shock absorbers can be painted separately and added. The handlebars and front wheel assembly goes together pretty much the same way. When complete, the front wheel assembly can be glued to the main body. The front wheel assembly does not pivot.

One of the last things I did was add the two footrests and that was when I discovered the REALLY BIG PROBLEM.

THE REALLY BIG PROBLEM

Airfix supplies a steel rod to attach the sidecar to the left footrest. OK, so far. The footrest attaches to the motorcycle with an itsy, bitsy, short, flimsy pin. This is a major structural point and it all rests on a pin which breaks off when you breathe on it. Off course, the realization of this hit me when I attached the left footrest and the pin promptly broke off.

You have two choices to circumvent this problem:


Option 1: Superglue the footrest on and hope.

Option 2: Rebuild the bottom of the motorcycle.

Being the masochist that I am, I opted for option 2.

  • The footrests glue on to a 'tube' molded into the base of the motorcycle engine. This 'tube' must be removed by sawing and filing (preferably before assembly and not the way I did it, halfway through assembly).
  • When that's done, replace the 'tube' with a similar length of brass tube sized to fit a piece of wire cut from a wire clothes hanger (good stuff that clothes hanger wire). The steel rod that came with kit will be too short. Superglue the brass tube in place.
  • Drill out the end of the left footrest to allow the wire to pass through it.
  • Assemble the bike and sidecar. Glue on the right footrest with superglue.
  • Test fit the sidecar with the front sidecar bracket glued in place on the bike and cut the new wire to the right length (you have a margin of error since about an inch of the wire is inside the sidecar).
  • Place the left footrest on the wire, slide into the new tube on the bike and superglue in place.
  • Complete assembly.

    At any point when the bike (main body and front wheels) is assembled, you can test fit Wallace and position his arms.

    Sidecar

    The sidecar is designed to be re-used as the body of Gromit's airplane in the second kit. You must, therefore, cut/drill out a few holes before assembly. Check the instructions.

    I assembled the top and bottom of the sidecar without any of the interior parts. I painted the interior flat black and sealed the two openings with masking tape. I airbrushed the sidecar with Testor's Chrysler Engine Red. The wheel assembly can be added through the top opening and the seat just fits in.

    The kit includes the soap/porridge cannon but this really belongs on the Gromit Aeroplane kit. If you are not building the second kit, go ahead and include the cannon. Paint the cannon gold. This paint is not included in the kit and only referred to by the number 16 in the instructions.

    To ensure that Gromit can be placed in the sidecar without scraping paint off the figure, you need to sand/file the interior lip of the cockpit opening. Sand/file a bit and test fit as you go along.

    Wallace/Gromit

    Both of the figures are easy to assemble and easy to paint but have bad mold seams all over them and hard to cover joints. Since both figures are supposed to be smooth, there's a lot of work some of it cramped spaces with putty, sandpaper and a file. The waist joints on both figures took me three sessions of puttying and sanding to eliminate. Then you have to do the same thing with the arm joints since the arms on both figures must be attached after dealing with the waist joints!

    Paint the body, head and helmet before assembly. Fit the helmet to Wallace's head before attaching the head to the body. It's a very tight fit.

  • Painting

    Remember these are cartoon characters. No shading or weathering is really required. Spray all parts with an undercoat of flat white and allow to cure for two days first. The painting instructions with the kit are pretty accurate but Airfix won't give you the names of the paints just the Humbrol numbers. To remove the guesswork, here are the numbers, Humbrol colors and the actual paint I used.

    # Humbrol Color Paint I used
    10 Service Brown Humbrol Acrylic Service Brown (kit paint)
    11 Silver fox Testor's Chrome Silver (enamel)
    16 Gold [Part not used]
    19 Gloss red Testor's Chrysler Engine Red
    21 Gloss black Testor's Gloss Black
    22 Gloss white Testor's Gloss White
    25 Flat bright blue Humbrol French Blue
    34 Flat white Testor's Flat White
    61 Flesh Humbrol Acrylic Flesh (kit paint) lightened with Humbrol Acrylic Flat White (about 50%)
    253 Light tan (Gromit's body) Testor's Sand (ANA616) darkened with about 30% Testor's Tan (FS20400)
    Light tan (ladder) Mixed brown (basically Testor's Military Brown)

    Wallace painting notes:

  • Paint Wallace without his head (paint head separately). Spray with Testor's Dullcote before painting boots semi-gloss black.
  • Wallace's helmet is gloss white with flat black edges and peak.

    Gromit painting notes:

  • Gromit's helmet is gloss black with Service Brown goggles and the edge, straps and lower part of the helmet are flat black.
  • Gromit's nose should be semi-gloss black not gloss as indicated in the instructions.

    A Grand Day Out (or maybe I was wearing the wrong trousers)

    Once you get past the seams and joints, this is great looking model and a really bright and unusual subject. A great first kit for beginners and well worth the amount of time and effort you have to put in as a skilled modeler or perfectionist.

    Cracking toast, Gromit.
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