Accurate Armour & Cromwell Matadors
The AEC Matador is perhaps the best-known of British wartime trucks, With
it's easily-recognised flat-fronted cab and arched roof. Production of it as an
artillery tractor began in 1938 and continued to 1945, with about 9,000 being built.
Most of these were the original artillery tractor version, though some special
vehicles were produced on the Matador chassis including the AEC Armoured Command Vehicle
and the Deacon self-propelled 6 pdr anti-tank gun and flatbed versions were also produced.
It was used by the Army, Royal Air Force and, I believe, the Royal Navy as well and
remained in service until the 1970s, giving modellers quite a few choices of colour scheme
With so many built over a number of years it's not surprising that there were a number of sub-contractors involved, leading to detail differences between vehicles. Apart from improvements to the load-carrying "ammunition body" three versions of the cab can be found in photographs: an arched roof with the spaced "sunshade" apparently made of plywood, showing a smooth curve; an arched roof with the "sunshade" made from canvas stretched over battens and showing distinct flat segments; and a very rare pressed steel roof which looks so modern that if seen on a restored vehicle you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a restorers' mistake. I'm still trying to find out whether this was a feature of the pre-war vehicles which was simplified to the arched roof, or just a variation during the war. The "ammunition body" began with just one crew door at the front of the port side, but this was found inconvenient for access to the second row of seats so a second door was added on the starboard side. Some bodies also had extra rear-facing seats for the towed gun's brakemen. A less noticeable difference between versions is that some had a long air tank on the port side of the chassis for the brakes while other had a much shorter tank, and one that's only visible with the cab doors open is that there were several different housings for the engine air cleaner (which was under the co-driver's seat).
Fortunately for modellers, the latest releases from Cromwell and Accurate Armour provide us not only with both versions of the arched cab roof but with both main versions of the ammunition body as well, so without more history I'll plunge into the first building report. I'm not offering a comparison between these two good kits, but I hope my descriptions will let you decide which is the one that best suits your style of modelling.
THE CROMWELL KIT
This has the smoothly-curved cab roof, two-door rear body with rear-facing seats as an option, and short air tank. Four shell box/fuse box pairs are included for stowage in the body. As always with Cromwell Models, it's an all-resin offering with splendid cast-in detail in all visible areas. Underside detail is slightly simplified but everything that can actually be seen with the model on its wheels is present and correct. The instructions are an improvement over earlier Cromwell kits, giving not only assembly sketches but also notes on part positions, a potted vehicle history, and four photos of details of a preserved Matador for reference.
Building starts with the chassis, which has metal rods cast into its side members to ensure straightness - a nice touch! It also includes the rear body bearer rails and the springs, so alignment of the axles is very simple, but it's simplest to paint the bottom of the cab floor, the engine, the inside of the chassis, the axles, wheels, transfer box, winch and drive shafts before fixing all these parts in place - unless you have a paintbrush that goes round corners? Seriously though, as with all wheeled vehicles there are areas that are difficult to access after construction so pre-painting saves a lot of heartache over unpainted areas. Most of these parts are your chosen basic body colour, but the winch cable needs to be lubricated steel and the engine and gearbox should be light blue.
I said "lubricated steel" as there seems to be a lot of confusion about the right colour for steel winch cables and tow ropes. Never paint these as rusty steel unless you're modelling a scene of imminent disaster - corroded steel cable snap under strain, so lubrication was always applied and a careful watch kept on the cables' condition! The lubrication varied, sometimes being brown grease and sometimes black; I find that Humbrol Metal Cote 27004 gives a good impression of the black lubrication when polished. If you prefer a brown tone then use whichever paint you like for polished steel and add a brown wash when it is dry. For modern vehicles a golden-yellow wash is sometimes appropriate, to show the use of synthetic lubricants.
OK, lecture over, on with the model. With the chassis on its wheels your attention can turn to the cab, and this is another very nice piece of casting. The one-piece floor includes the lower front and front sides, just needing the cab rear wall to be added. Take care here that your cleaning-up of the floor leaves its rear edge parallel with the front, and that both cab doors are the same width and fit between the rear and the front sides. There's a little slack in the positioning of this floor, so take the time to measure and mark the centre line of the floor and where the edges of the chassis should be at its front and rear. Do the same with the rear body while you're at it, and dry-fit both together to make sure they both line up straight when in position. on the chassis.
The cab interior is nicely-detailed with all its levers, foot pedals and seats. Instrument dials should be black and the seats either leather or canvas - brown, khaki or green seem possible. Lever knobs should be black and the steering wheel can be black or body colour - both are known to have existed on vehicles of this vintage. The windscreen and the side window pillars are separate castings to be added - dry-fit the cab roof and doors to aid in lining these up correctly. You'll need to find some clear plastic sheet and cut your glazing to fit the windscreen before adding it, but only fix it after painting inside the cab, and the side window glazings can only be cut by measuring their openings after construction of this area.
The rear body is multi-part, with sides and front added to the floor, but alignment of these is pretty-well foolproof. The tilt curtain tie-downs are cast in situ, but the hooks on them have defeated even Cromwell's legendary detail casting ability so they're represented only by flat shapes - useful as location markers if you want to cut and bend the hooks from thin brass shim, but this isn't really necessary. The two main seats, spare wheel and ammo boxes go inside it after painting, and you can also add the pivoted spare seats and the optional rear-facing seats. All these seats are given as upholstered, just another of the variations in the real thing as many vehicles had wooden slat seats (hideously uncomfortable on a long trip as I know to my cost!). The roof needs care in removal from its casting block, as there's a lip along the side which you must preserve, but don't bother to drill out the locating holes in it for the roof pillars - I did this and found them difficult to locate correctly over the corresponding holes in the sides, so the pillars ended up out of the vertical. Instead, add its front and fix it to the body, then cut the pillars from metal rod (not supplied) and fix each vertically into its locating hole in the body sides. I removed my rods from the holes in the roof and adopted this method instead, with much better results.
Add the stowage boxes and wheel chock under the body, then fix it to the chassis and slip the rear mudguards into place centred over the wheels - fixing them before the body will probably leave them off-centre to the wheels. The petrol tank goes on the starboard side of the chassis, with its rear end _under_ the front stowage box - Cromwell honestly tells you that its mounts aren't in quite the right place as cast so you can't fix it earlier. Add the air tank on the other side, the tilt curtains which are provided in the kit, and the various small fittings, and the model is ready for final painting. Cromwell provides several grab handles without any indication of where to put them. Some Matadors had them fitted beside the rear body crew doors, but many didn't so they're strictly optional - I left them off.
FINAL VERDICT - THE CROMWELL MODEL
This is a good reproduction of its subject and easy to build - a good kit for beginners in resin. There are some simplifications underneath the body but these don't detract from the finished model at all, and enthusiasts can detail the tilt curtain hooks quite easily. Front and rear mudguard braces were fitted to many if not all Matadors, and can also be added from strips of brass shim if you want, but the lack of these is in my eyes offset by Cromwell's provision of ammo boxes for stowage. It would have been good if they had also included clear sheet for glazing and metal or plastic rod for the tilt pillars, but these are easy to find so their absence isn't a major point.
THE ACCURATE ARMOUR KIT
This kit builds a Matador with faceted cab roof and wooded slat seats in the rear body. As always with AA it is a multi-media kit, with 68 resin parts, 39 in white metal and 95 details on an etched brass fret, plus clear sheet for the cab glazing and brass rod for the chassis ties. The instruction sheets give notes on particular areas of construction and photographs showing where everything goes, together with advice on working with resin, but there's no background vehicle history. You'll need to check each photo of the area you're working on, as some parts are shown more clearly in one photo than in another. The parts are all coded with letters on their casting blocks which correspond to those noted in the photographs, and a useful parts list is included. My kit had several misprints: part L in the centre photo on page 3 should be V, AT in the centre photo on page 4 should be AP, BV in the top photo on page 5 should be BU, and AV in the bottom photo on page 6 should be AU - correct these before you start work to avoid confusion
The chassis is a nice one-piece casting to which the cab floor, engine and other parts are added. Everything fits well and the instruction photos show a logical sequence, so I need not comment except to say that as with the Cromwell model the inside of the chassis, the engine, axles etc need to be painted before fixing. The really tricky bit is that the rear body bearers are separate parts to be superglued to the chassis and "secured" by rod ties which have to be cut from the rod supplied. Their ends are held by individual tie plates which must be aligned on the chassis with those cast onto the bearers, and the rods must be vertical. All this needs care and patience, and I had to make some modifications to details already on the chassis when I found that they fouled some of the tie rod positions. The white metal springs, axles and drive shafts come next. AA tells you in advance that there's some leeway in the spring and axle positions, and at a later stage I found that my rear springs were too far forward so that the rear axle and wheels weren't centred under the mudguards. I suggest that you dry-fit the body in place and mark the chassis where the axle centre should be to avoid this problem. You can then fix the axles and, if necessary, lengthen the drive shafts with plastic sprue to suit the axle locations.
The cab interior is a lovely piece of work with crisp detail, and all pedals and levers are separate parts. The brass front mudguards can be curved by simply rolling a knife handle over them and testing them for fit as you go. I suggest that you leave off the etched brass mudguard braces, the sidelights and the wing mirrors until you're ready to paint the model. They're very easy to break or knock off, as I found to my cost. You have the option to pose open one or both of the windscreens, but note that the opening windscreen halves overlap the fixed lower parts by 1mm in this scale.
The rear body is cast as one part with a separate rear gate. Curve its mudguards to shape, then fix the larger stowage boxes before adding the mudguard braces which fix to them. Accurate Armour gives you the option to add a second crew door, and shows you where to cut the body side to fit it, and also provides separate parts for the folding ends of the crew seats. Two of the tilt supports fit behind the spare wheel, so don't fix it flush to the body side or the supports can't fit! These supports are white metal castings, being shaped rather than simple rods (yes, another of those variations found on Matadors) and, again, it's best to ignore their locations on the roof and concentrate instead on fixing them vertically from their positions on the body I tried to do it the other way, and you'll see from my photos that the results weren't all that good! Add the etched brass tie-down hooks - fiddly but they look good when done - and the other details and the model is finished.
FINAL VERDICT - THE ACCURATE ARMOUR MODEL
This is a great and really complete kit, with masses of detail parts to add. The tie-down hooks and rear body bearer tie rods are small and hard for a beginner to handle, so this kit is really for those with some experience of building multi-media kits. Those who have this experience won't be disappointed in the model, and Accurate Armour has promised us a 5.5 inch gun to tow behind it which will make a great diorama.
COLOURS AND MARKINGS
Matadors, as I said at the beginning, served throughout the war and afterwards in all areas so you have a very wide choice of camouflage schemes. I built the Cromwell model in North African colours and the Accurate Armour one in a North-West Europe finish, but you can just as well reverse these as either version of the vehicle could be found in any theatre of operations.
I do, however, have to take both manufacturers to task over their failure to provide decals. Matadors were typically used by Medium Artillery Regiments of the Royal Artillery, and the Medium Regiments were not Division or Corps-level assets but were grouped into Army Groups Royal Artillery (AGRAs). This means that they carried Army-level markings, and quite simply there are no commercially available Army-level decals. It's all very well to say that resin kits are designed for experienced modellers who have reference books and spare decals, but when there are no decals of the right unit signs no-one can possibly have spare ones! Making up the RA flashes will not be difficult but I don't fancy trying to paint Army markings so both my models will remain unmarked until one or other of these manufacturers recognises the problem they've both created and extends their existing range of aftermarket decals to include the AGRA markings which should have been included in the kits.
Those who don't want to wait for these can avoid the problem by heavy weathering, and the highly skilled can paint the Army shields. Reference for these, and for the AGRA unit number signs, can be found in British Military Markings 1939-1945 by Peter Hodges and Michael D Taylor (Cannon Publications, 1994, ISBN 1 899695 00 1) or in Malcolm A Bellis' 21st Army Group Organisation & Markings, Datafile 9, and 21st Army Group Order of Battle, Datafile 8 (both published by Malcolm A Bellis, ISBN 0 9512126 8 0 and 0 95212126 7 2 respectively). But whichever way you decide to jump about their markings, don't miss the pleasure of building an important British softskin from one of these kits!
COLOURS AND MARKINGS
Well, what can I say! With such a long career you can paint your model in pretty well any wartime or postwar colour scheme you like, in Army or RAF service. I expect most models will be marked as Royal Artillery gun tractors, so note that the Medium Regiments were mostly Corps assets with a Corps, not Division, badge and a 2 inch white bar over the unit serial square. Hodges' and Taylor's British Military Markings, 1939-45 (Cannon Publications, 1994, ISBN 1-899695-00-1) gives the applicable Corps badges and unit serials for North Africa and North West Europe, and Malcolm Bellis' 21st Army Group Organisation and Markings does the same job for just North West Europe if you're not interested in the Desert campaign. The only problem is that Corps badges and RA unit serials are scarce in decal form, so you'll have to make your own. Perhaps AA will produce a decal sheet with the RA unit serials, but meanwhile I took the easy way out and finished my model as a new delivery to the North African theatre in clean desert sand with no weathering and no markings.
Accurate Armour has done it again, providing us with a much-needed kit of an important British vehicle. Minimal warping, easily corrected, and no significant air bubbles make it a delight to build. Highly recommended.! AA has promised some artillery to tow behind it, including a 5.5 inch gun, and I'm really looking forward to seeing these.
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