By Rob Caswell
1999 has been an incredible year for Space:1999 modelers. Not only were the Eagle and Moonbase Alpha kits reissued, but a slew of after market accessories has been produced for the Eagle (with more still on the way, at the time of this writing). One of the first to announce and produce these detailing products was Scale Model Technologies (SMT), with their Eagle Booster, Eagle Lab Module, and Alpha Laser Tank. I purchased the combined set (a bargain!), but chose to review the components separately (SMT offers them this way, as well, if you don't feel you need all three units).
The Alpha Laser Tank is hardly a major player in the scope of the 1999 series, but like the Hawk, which appeared in only one episode, this lil' gun-toting lunar buggy made an impression on fans of the show. It showed up in the episode, The Infernal Machine, and was also seen once during the opening credits. That's it. Even less screen time than the Hawk!
Given the above facts, it was unexpected that ANYONE would offer a kit of this neat piece of Space:1999 hardware trivia. So I was delighted when SMT announced this kit - AND that it would be made in the same scale as the AMT/ERTL Eagle (which is about 1/100, regardless of the 1/72 claims of the box text).
Scoring a Resin Fix
While it may seem trivial to some, others know service and packaging varies widely in the small production market. I ordered my kit when it was first announced, knowing full and well I'd be spending some time twiddling my thumbs and watching Simpson's re-runs (and new episodes of Futurama! OOooOOoo!) before the kit could arrive.
When the projected release date came and went, SMT owner Colin Omilusik contacted me, informed me of the delay, and offered to either give me an instant refund, or if I continued to wait, I could have some credit against a future order. Paying attention, class? This is what we call "Good Customer Service".
Since you're reading this review, you can guess which option I took. The kit arrived about three weeks later in a sturdy box, well-packed with foam peanuts (they taste lousy with beer - trust me. But they are low fat!). All the small parts were packed in their own baggies and there was no damage during transit.
So far, so good.
Good customer service can make a lasting impression, but let's face it - component quality is the element with the most longevity and bottom line importance. On that score, SMT places respectably.
The key kit parts are cast in a cream-colored resin with no significant odor (Hey - some folks care about such things!... for reasons yet to explained). Molding is done using the vacuum draw process. The overall result is a crisp cast with few airbubbles or voids. A few parts will need some loving attention, but overall, it's a pretty clean job. I'd give it about an 85% on the contemporary casting scale. While I've seen better, it's solid work that lives up current hobby expectations.
You may be surprised to find some other media in the box. There are two green, injection-molded plastic sprues holding the road wheels to a Chieftain tank (the original studio model was built on a Tamiya 1/25th Chieftain chassis) and two vinyl track loops. All this stuff gets attached to what appears to be a resin cast of the Chieftain's lower hull. Accuracy that's true to the original!
Well? How's The Overall Accuracy?
Good question - glad you asked. The overall details are pretty good, but it's not 100%. SMT claims that part of that is intentional to avoid possible legal entanglements. Whatever the case, I found the inaccuracies to be minor enough that they didn't much bug me. As an unnamed Illinois friend of mine would say, "It's sure looks like a laser tank to me!""
^ Weighing in with about 87 parts, this small kit (about 4" long) is surprisingly complex (in a good way!).
^ While the kit (shown on top) is not 100% accurate in details, it is fairly good overall match for the studio model (bottom). It certainly passes the casual inspection test.
^ While the overall casting is pretty good, there are a few problem areas where airbubbles crept in, such as the grills on the "utility hump" in the bed.
^ A look at the back view clearly illustrates the kit's (bottom) main difference from the studio model (top): the overall height. You can see where the cab and "utility hump" are shorter.
^ The kit reproduces the key details of the Alpha Laser Tank. With just a little extra work, the finished model can come close to matching the details of the original studio model.
Probably the biggest areas of divergence between SMT's tank and the original is that the cab height is lower. I'd guess the SMT cab is around 1/8" short of the target. That's considerable, on a 4" long kit. This height difference is also apparent in the housing (hereafter referred to as the "utility hump") that sits in the bed. This side view comparison illustrates the difference.
Back to the utility hump. The vents on its sides are also not terribly accurate, both in some details and because of the utility hump's shortened height.
The only other major inaccuracy that I noted is the rear door. While SMT points out in their instructions that the original went missing, it's not true that no one knows what it looked like. Chris Trice worked with the model's creator, Martin Bower, to restore the original model (read about Chris' restoration). Bower gave him both a description of the original door, as well as some (poor) photos. This is what Chris' restored door looks like.
There are other small details that can be added to the cab and overall vehicle (such as the struts behind the dish antenna). I suggest you reference the pictures in the Space:1999 Cybrary to fill in the blanks and add cool, accurate greeblies. Small color reproductions of these same pictures come with the kit. The instructions also go into a brief bit of detail regarding what a modeler would need to do to make the kit match the original.
So - Is It Worth The Money?
At the SM Reader price of $30 (plus shipping) for 30 resin, 55 injection styrene, and 2 vinyl kit parts, this is a super value. At the catalog price point of $50, it's alright. A good set of waterslide decals would help sweeten the deal.
I love kits that get me excited about building them, and this one does that. In the end, that may be what matters the most.
To get a look at a build up review of this kit, click this link!
Photos of original movie prop are copyright C. M. Trice and hosted on the Space: 1999 Cybrary.
This page copyright © 1997-9 Starship Modeler. Last updated on 26 May 1999