set new standards in terms of accuracy for 1:48 Bf 109 kits when they released their Bf 109F some six years ago. With the Friedrich receiving pretty much universal acclaim, it was only logical for Zvezda
to build on its success by following up with a Gustav, and the modelling world looked forward to a head-to-head race between Zvezda
and Eduard as the two companies announced new-tool Bf 109Gs. Zvezda
looked all set to capitalise on Eduard's painfully public stumble at their first attempt, but in fact their reworked kit still beat Zvezda
to the shelves around the world by a clear margin and has enjoyed huge success, while the latter's kit is only just becoming available.
But it's definitely been worth the wait, because the new Zvezda
kit is another beauty. While it's clearly based on their original Bf 109F kit, it improves on it in some respects and this, combined with the company's reputation for accuracy on the Bf 109 definitely makes it worth adding to any serious collection of '109s - even if you've already bought the well-received Eduard kit.
The new kit arrives in what has now become Zvezda’s
standard packaging style; a very solid plain flip-top box within a lighter printed sleeve. From an environmental point of view, I guess it must use more resources, but from the practical modelling angle I really like it; the flip top box is so solid, the kit is almost guaranteed to reach you safely, plus it's ideal as a tray for the parts during construction.
Inside, the main sprues are all bagged together, with the clear parts and decals packed separately. The box is satisfyingly full as the kit combines two new sprues along with those from the original Bf 109F models and comprises:
208 x grey styrene parts (32 not needed)
8 x clear styrene parts
Decals for 3 x colour schemes
The immediate impression when you scan the sprues and flick through the instructions is one of complexity – hardly surprising when you consider that the kit has nearly twice as many plastic parts as Eduard's model. The kit can be built with the gear raised or lowered, and the engine fully revealed with open cowls. If you want to build the kit “in flight”, a stand can be purchased separately.
In terms of moulding, the original sprues have held up very well after six years' use, with no real signs of flash or wear creeping in. But the new parts are a clear improvement in my opinion, because the exterior finish is polished, as against the satin texture of the old parts. Something I did notice, though, are a couple of faint hints of sinkage here and there where there’s a change in the thickness of the plastic )but nowhere near as prominent as on Airfix's recent Ju 87B).
The first thing you notice if you have Zvezda’s
old Bf 109F to hand is that the breakdown of the fuselage parts has changed. Gone is old separate tail section. Instead, you have a more conventional - and simpler - fuselage running from the firewall all the way back to the rudder post, with just the top of the fin separate to allow for the standard or later "tall" tail. The fit is spot on and, similarly, the stabilisers slot in perfectly.
The wings use the old full-span lower section with new top panels with integral bulges over the wheel wells. The wing tips are separate - and while that means a seam to fill, they score over the Eduard kit by including clear navigation lamp covers.
Using the lower wing from the previous kit means you still have the separate drop-in panels which I never really saw the point of. Yes, they show off a small section of the wing's internal structure, but I’m not convinced that’s a real “plus” for most of us because they do need a little extra effort to blend in seamlessly. The large open holes for the panels inevitably make the lower wing part rather flexible and the part in my kit has a slight droop straight from the sprue. Thankfully, the wing tops are both rigid and straight, which sorts everything out perfectly. Indeed, with everything taped together, the fit at the wing roots is exceptionally good.
The ailerons, flaps, slats and elevators are all separate. One other hangover from using original wing parts is that the ailerons rather mysteriously only have surface detail on their top surfaces. It would have been nice to see Zvezda
rectify this little slip in the new kit, but master modeller Sergey Kosachev addressed the issue (among others) in his Vector resin upgrade set
for their original Bf 109F, so I hope he also turns his attention to the Gustav.
A Few Details
Just like Zvezda’s
earlier kit, construction kicks off with a comprehensively detailed nose compartment. The 38-part engine puts Tamiya’s effort with their new Ki-61 to shame - and it can all be displayed, along with the new guns, thanks to separate cowlings that are detailed on their inner surfaces. Obviously, there’s still a mass of additional cabling and pipework that superdetailers can add, but it’s a great start straight from the box.
The cockpit is nicely detailed with around 25 parts. Zvezda
include two styles of seat; a conventional seat that I always think of as an early type, and a simple pan on the floor where the rear bulkhead forms the back of the seat. The instructions are a little confusing, because they show the latter style is only to be used if you install the optional pilot figure. Personally, it’s the type I’ll go for and send the full seat off to the spares box. The figure is well sculpted with a separate head and arms, so it should look very good with careful painting.
The instrument panel is crisply moulded, and there’s also a blank version ready for a decal to depict the instrument faces. Of course, you could always combine the two, punching out the dials to apply them to the moulded panel, but I’ve got to say the decal instruments are a bit soft compared with, for instance, Airscale’s aftermarket products, so you may want to replace them anyway.
The wheel wells are handled simply and effectively and the gear legs are nicely detailed. One point that does concern me, though, is that the same legs are used for both raised and lowered options – which suggests that the oleos aren’t depicted compressed when the kit’s sat on its wheels. The wheels themselves are unweighted and have some good detail on the hubs.
provide a comprehensive set of stores, with underwing cannons, a 250 kg bomb or drop tank, or SD 50 bombs on an ETC 50/VIII multiple rack.
The canopy parts are excellent – crystal clear and nice and thin with well defined framing.
Instructions & Decals
It’s well worth reading Zvezda’s
instructions thoroughly before making a start – and then ready them again to be on the safe side – because, to be honest, they’re not the best laid-out I’ve come across. The individual drawings are clear enough, but following the thread of the various build options could be easier.
Construction is broken down into 23 main stages, but there are numerous sub-assemblies to add to that, so you can look forward to a satisfyingly detailed build.
give colour matches for their own range of paints as well as Humbrol, but surprisingly they don’t include RLM codes.
The kit comes with decals for a trio of colour schemes. They aren’t named in the instructions, but a bit of digging online reveals the following identities:
1. Bf 109G-6, 'White 10' flown by Oberleutnant Alfred Grislawski, Staffelkapitan of 1./JG 50, September 1943
2. Bf 109G-6 , J-702, Swiss Air Force
3. Bf 109G-6, Yellow 1 ~, flown by Lt. Erich Hartmann, 9./JG 52, Novosaporovyi, Russia, October 1943
The decals look like they’re printed by Begemot and look reasonable (rather than great) quality. There’s a small blemish on one of the Swiss markings, but otherwise everything is intact. However, the smaller text and details are slightly blurry and the registration isn’t 100% on my sheet. Swastikas are provided, but they are split into quarters for the sake of political correctness, so lining them up will be “fun”. Luckily, alternatives are easily found and, of course, there are masses of aftermarket decals available for the perennially popular Gustav.
If you do use Zvezda’s
decals, one thing is a bit disconcerting; the coloured inks are matt and seem to be applied over
the gloss varnish, so it’ll be worth testing a spare item to make sure they don’t break up when wetted.
Battle of the Gustavs
enviable reputation for producing the first really accurate 1:48 Bf 109F, it’s irresistible to compare their new Gustav with Eduard’s reworked offering.
Sitting the two kits against each other and Kagero’s drawings, it’s encouraging to see how close they basically are. The rear fuselage of Zevza's
kit is a whisker slimmer, but the it's only when you hold the parts directly against each other that you can tell - the difference is so slight. Hardcore “109 Experten” will probably continue to give a slight edge to Zvezda’s
kit, but the rest of us can look forward to adding a very
decent Gustav to our collection, whichever one we choose.
In terms of construction, Eduard probably win on the simplicity stakes - especially if you go for their no-frills Weekend Edition kits. Their precise moulding makes for a very straightforward build (barring the slightly tricky radiators), while Zvezda’s
way of breaking down the nose to show off the engine inevitably complicates matters. If you’re just talking plastic parts, Zvezda’s
kit is more detailed - but, of course, Eduard counter that with the added etched metal parts and other accessories in their Hi-Tech versions.
So, it’s very much “you pays yer money and takes yer choice”. Eduard’s basic kit is less complex and includes far
better decals, while Zvezda’s
benefits from their acclaimed reputation for Bf 109 accuracy and has a very detailed engine and nose-guns section.
new Gustav is a very exciting kit. The timing of its release could have been better, because Eduard beat them firmly to the draw - surprisingly so, considering the delay caused by their embarrassing false-start. Nevertheless, the wait has definitely been worth it, and Zvezda
offer excellent value for money. Coming in at less than Ł20 in the UK, it’s a steal compared with, say, Meng’s P-51D or Tamiya’s Ki-61, which are in the Ł35 - Ł40 price bracket and are much less detailed. I’d recommend having a bit of extra modelling experience if you want to make the most of all the options offered, but the arrival of Meng’s Gustav is a real spring treat for Luftwaffe enthusiasts. Highly recommended.
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