Marder I on FCM 36 base (No. 35339)
It was a while ago ICM released their FCM36 Marder I kit (No. 35339) but unfortunately only now was I able to finish the review. This model really made me happy, since this vehicle is featured in World of Tanks, an online multiplayer game, and I always liked the way it looked. (Historically it has much less of an impact, however -it is a relatively obscure vehicle, with very little information available.)
ICM has been very gracious to send a review sample with a paint set for this model (the paint set will be reviewed in a different post).
The model comes in the usual sturdy ICM box, packaged well and neatly. I found no damage to the parts -nothing surprising as ICM has always packaged their kits well. The photos of the sprues were published previously, so I did not replicate them - please find the photos here.
To begin the review let's start with “the controversy”. There have been a few lengthy discussions online about the accuracy of the fighting compartment (for example ICM Marder I ( FCM ) - Interior Radio / etc ? - Page 2 - Missing-Lynx (tapatalk.com)). There is precious little information or photos available on how these vehicles looked from the inside, so ICM had to come up with something that might be considered accurate. They envisioned the top of the FCM tank covered with a flat metal plate for the crew to stand on and service the gun. This puts the gun breech essentially at knee level of the crew (and puts the crew really high) which is both very impractical and dangerous. The gunner, for example, would have to lie down next to the gun to be able to use the gunsight, and the loader would have to kneel. (The commander would probably stand next to the vehicle?) Another question is where the crew would be during a roadmarch? This is not to say that the model is inaccurate (wartime needs force people adopt many hair-raising solutions, after all), but it seems somewhat improbable.
The above-mentioned online game, World of Tanks had a different interpretation -in their (digital) model, the crew stands in a lowered fighting compartment on both sides of the gun, essentially in the interior of the tank, serving as a basis for the tank destroyer - a similar layout to the Marder III Ausf M.
This would mean a much more ergonomic layout, and a better (still not ideal) protection for the crew. I think it is a more realistic take - and a better use of the interior of the tank. When you consider (almost) all the other tank destroyers in the Marder series you will find that the driver’s compartment is not sealed away from the fighting compartment usually, you would expect this trend to hold here as well. As a counterpoint, the Marder III Sd.Kfz 139 did have the crew sitting essentially on top of the vehicle, so it is entirely possible to imagine ICM’s take to be valid. (These are personal opinions I stress. Also shout-out to ICM to actually address modelers' concerns in social media.)
To the model, then.
Regardless of the question of historical accuracy, the kit really is very nice. The parts are well-molded, they fit very well, there is no flash, and the detail is rather good. The build goes quickly; it is a very approachable model for even beginners, and a quite a good base for superdetailers. I think ICM struck a good balance with regards to detail and buildability, since they obviously are not competing with the 2000+ part models. The tank destroyer is certainly simplified -the running gear and suspension are molded as one part, for example- but since much of these details are hidden, it is not really an issue. You won’t find openable service hatches, engine compartments and whatnot - or alternative building options. It is a simple little kit optimized for ease of build without sacrificing much of the detail -essentially belongs to the "shake the box" school of building. (The MG34 is an example of this philosophy: the detail is good enough for most builders, but the bipod is molded on the barrel in a folded-up position.
If you want to open hatches to add scratch-built interior details, you will need to start cutting, though, but this has never stopped dedicated superdetailers. As far as I am concerned, later on I will add a couple of small details -MG ammunition, pieces of personal kit, etc. left over from other build -, but for this review I only used the contents of the box.
The instructions come in a large booklet format and are easy-to-follow for the most part. The sides of the tank destroyer with the mud-chutes and the armored superstructure are somewhat of a challenge, but nothing a little dry-fitting does not solve. The fit is excellent -, the whole model was built in a few hours.
The very good news is that ICM provides a one-piece plastic gun barrel -something I learned to appreciate, as my skills of gluing two-piece gun barrels together are very poor. (The muzzle break is in two halves, unfortunately.) The gun is very well detailed, but again, you can't open the breech, and a couple of levers appear to be missing from the Pak 40 anti-tank gun (based on reference photos).
There are three things I would point out. The first is the rubber band type tracks… Well, they are not ideal. Installation is certainly quick and easy, the detail is pretty good, but they need to be glued together from two pieces, and they somewhat bend bend around the drive wheel in a way the actual rigid, metal track would not. Fortunately much of the tracks are covered, so the characteristic sag does not need to be simulated (a great bane of flexible tracks). It would be great if ICM provided an alternative option. As the suspension is rigid, I think a plastic link-and-length solution would have been preferable, and it would still keep the kit in the simple-to-build category. They do the job, though, so unless you are really bothered by flexible tracks, they won't need replacing.
Also, there is no radio (not sure where it would fit, though), ammunition and replacement barrel for the MG, and other small details provided for the fighting compartment.
The last issue is the ammunition for the main gun. The detail is quite basic -it is probably a good idea to switch the ammunition to aftermarket offerings. Decals would definitely improve the detail, as well as adding the round base with the primer (perhaps PE aftermarket?). Also, there are two less than necessary to fill up the rack, but at least the vehicle will look "used" (an additional casing or two lying around would also help).
I used mainly the paints that are produced for this model by ICM (apart from the Dunkelgelb base and some metal colors). To "lively up" the interior I added some -admittedly- unrealistic level of rust and other signs of wear-and-tear.
There is a relatively small decal sheet provided. The decals were thin and easy to apply- there was no need to trim them, as the transparent "border" was very narrow -excellent quality overall. (I applied them on a semi-matte surface using solva-set, and they went on without silvering.)
I sealed the decals with ICM's matte varnish, and proceeded with the weathering. I used mainly oil paints for filters, and several dust and mud products from pigments to Vallejo's dust washes, AK's pencils, Tamiya's mud "stick", and different textured mud products by Vallejo and Green Stuff World. As a last step I used a graphite pencil to give a metallic shine to the edges of the vehicle.
Overall it is a great model for what it is. For the average model builder it is an absolutely recommendable kit: easy and quick to build, and looks unique. There is an option to buy a dedicated water-based paint set by ICM for the model. I think this actually increases the attractiveness of the brand for the casual builders, making this the perfect “gateway model”. After all, most people will start (and continue) with the simpler, Tamiya- type models, and not the 2000+ piece “monsters” -which are also great I hasten to add. Although I do build those full-interior kits with a mind-blowing part count, it was a very nice change of pace to build this model. Overall, I can (and do) absolutely recommend this model for people who look for unchallenging but nice-looking models.