I was intrigued when I saw newcomers Merit International were releasing a new-tool quarterscale kit of the Gladiator. While always a popular subject, it's certainly not been "done to death" by manufacturers like so many WW2 fighters - in fact, it's been kitted just twice in around 50 years! First, there was the Pyro model, released in the 1960s and available in different guises over the years (most recently under the Lindberg banner), and then Roden's series of well received kits, the first of which appeared around 12 years ago (and just re-released by Eduard - see the Review HERE
Despite its age, the old Pyro/Lindberg kit still builds into a remarkably accurate model and can be bought very cheaply if you're lucky. It boasts an excellent rendition of the fabric surfaces, although the multi-part top wing catches some folks out. Meanwhile, the Roden/Eduard kit is much better detailed, but its slightly tricky cowling is often bemoaned in builds.
With both existing kits having plus and negative points, there's scope for a new kit, produced to the latest standards to claim a healthy part of the market. So, how does Merit's début quarterscale release match up?
The New Contender
Merit’s new Gladiator arrives in a compact and attractive box with the sprues and decals bagged separately. A really nice touch is that the delicate engine moulding is very well protected against damage in transit with a strip of foam taped around the sprue. The kit comprises:
42 x grey styrene parts
1 x clear styrene part
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
The immediate impression, reinforced by the style of the instructions, is that the kit originates from the Trumpeter / Hobby Boss stable. So, it’s no surprise to find the parts very crisply moulded, with no flash or sink marks to worry about and everything promising a quick and easy build.
The surface finish comprises engraved panel lines, embossed rivets and raised fasteners on the metal areas, while the rear fuselage and flying surfaces have a fabric effect. From some photos of the latter that I've seen on-line, I was prepared for a grossly exaggerated look, but the effect is actually rather deceptive, depending on the lighting as you can see in the two contrasting shots at the right. Admittedly, it’s still overdone for my tastes (Pyro did it best all those years ago), but I can live with it.
While the overall surface finish is pretty good, the distinctive corrugated cooling mat on the starboard side of the nose is, frankly, dreadful - very basic, to say the least, and it will be an immediate target for upgraders to replace.
I haven’t scaled up any drawing for a direct comparison against the kit parts, but it certainly looks like a Gladiator - except for one key area… the cowling. The kit designers have moulded it in one piece with plain straight sides, and the result sticks out like a proverbial sore thumb and simply doesn't look right at all. Unfortunately, it’ll also be really difficult to correct due to the bulges and moulded-on exhausts. I imagine aftermarket companies will be planning resin upgrades for the kit before long, but in the meantime I'll be digging into The Stash with a view to using the old Pyro version to cast a replacement.
So, Merit have messed up the cowling, but where the kit scores well is in its ease of assembly. The fuselage halves clip together precisely and the tailplanes, while a little loose, will be fine. The full span lower wing locks firmly in place, and the upper wing pretty much self aligns thanks to… wait for it… joined struts that fit into slots on its underside. Seasoned biplane modellers will probably reel in horror with visions of some of the monstrosities of yesteryear, but today’s state-of-the-art moulding does mean the fit is very good and the offending joints easy to disguise. In my view, if it encourages more newcomers to try their hand at biplanes, it's a compromise worth accepting.
A Few Details
The cockpit features a floor, seat, compass, guns and a control column - but no rudder pedals. Side frames are included for the rear fuselage - which is a nice touch - but, bizarrely, they stop short at the cockpit itself, so the diagonal beams and items like the trim wheel and throttle are missing. There’s a set of radio equipment to go behind the seat, but no control unit for the pilot. The shape of the seat doesn't match illustrations I've found on-line and there's no roll-over bar.
The instrument panel is quite well detailed and the decals include faces for the bezels - but it's a Gladiator Mk.II style panel, which differed quite noticeably from the earlier design. Lastly, there's no reflector gunsight, which possibly wasn't always fitted, but is clearly visible on the first production Gladiator Mk. I.
So, there's a bit of work to do if you want cheer up the "office" - but, hold your horses before racing to superdetail it - the kit comes with a one-piece canopy which is too thick to slice up and pose open. If you fit a vacuformed replacement, you’ll want to do some major thinning of the cockpit sills - especially if you intend to open up the cockpit access panel.
Moving up front, the engine is quite simple, but is crisply moulded. Air intakes are included and the exhaust pipes will connect up to the collector ring, but there's no support from for the cowling and, crucially, Merit have missed the cut-outs in the collector ring, placed so the pilot didn't shoot the cowling off the first time he fired the fuselage guns! Luckily, it'll only take a few swipes with a rat-tail file to add those. The carburettor intake (not fitted to all Gladiator Mk. Is) hangs off the rear lip of cowling and doesn't go anywhere.
Lastly, there's the undercarriage. The legs have a couple of pretty heft moulding "pips" to remove from beside their locating lugs but, that done, they slot in pretty solidly. What is quite bizarre, though, is that the kit's designers appear to have completely forgotten the inner faces of the wheels - because they are totally blank. There's no sign of where the tires meet the hubs... nothing.
Instructions & Decals
Th assembly guide is neatly printed on four sides of a fold-out sheet. Construction is broken down into just five easy stages, and the drawings are really clear, with colour call-outs for Gunze Sangyo paints. A cross-reference chart also gives Vallejo, Model Master, Tamiya and Humbrol matches, so you should have no trouble finding suitable paints wherever you're based. There's no rigging diagram, but the boxtop painting will at least give you a starting reference.
Decals are included for three aircraft. None are identified in the colour-printed painting guide, but the markings are soon found online:
a. s/n K6130 of 72 Squadron, RAF
b. s/n K7965 of 73 Squadron, RAF
c. s/n 2602 of 29 Squadron, ROCAF
The decals appear to be well printed in good register. The proportions of the RAF roundels do look suspect, though, and have a spurious white surround on the fuselage, while the 73 Sqn. markings are a rather unlikely lemon yellow on my sheet.
I find Merit's Gladiator rather hard to judge. On one level, they've succeeded really well - this is going to build really easily, far and away simpler than either the Pyro or Roden kits. As such, it's ideal for beginners and anyone new to building biplanes. The real problem, though, (in the UK, at least) is the price - £25 for such a basic kit is going to be put many people off.
At the other end of the spectrum, to be honest, it doesn't offer enough to justify itself over the existing kits to experienced modellers. By the time you've corrected or detailed the cowling, cockpit and wheels, plus bought new decals you'll likely have a seriously expensive Gladiator. If it had been half the price, it could be a good basis for upgrading but, as it is, I think it's hard to recommend.
I've no doubt the kit will sell well, if only because it's new. But don't ditch those Pyro and Roden Gladiators you've got tucked away - they've still got plenty to offer, and the wait for the definitive new-tool Gladiator continues.
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