The Leopard project started in 1956 as a collaboration between West Germany and France to develop a modern main battle tank, the Standard-Panzer, to replace the Bundeswehr's American-built M47 and M48 Patton tanks. After two series of prototypes and an extensive series of 50 pre-production models, Leopard 1 entered service with the Bundeswehr in 1965. 6,485 Leopards were built: 4,744 battle tanks and 1741 special purpose variants. The Leopard quickly became a standard of European forces, and eventually served as the main battle tank in eleven countries worldwide.
Leopard 1A5 was an update from the earlier 1A1A1 series, so these were not new-build tanks. Leopard 1 was continually developed from the original four production batches of the late 1960s. This means that features from all batches can be found on 1A5 such as different style exhaust grilles and even square infantry telephone boxes from Batch 1. It continually evolved to face the Cold War threat of Soviet T-55 and T-62 and later of T-64 and T-72 tanks.
Leopard 1A5 could be described as the Ďultimate Leopard 1í, and this final update incorporated the fire-control system and thermal image site developed from the recently introduced Leopard 2. 1,225 1A1A1s were modified with EMES-18 between 1986 and 1992. This was a revolution in the world of fire-control systems, the first to use a thermal imager allowing all-weather and day and night vision. 1A5 went on to be used by Brazil, Canada (C2), Greece, Turkey, Italy and Norway. Since 1990, the Leopard 1 has gradually been relegated to secondary roles in most armies. In the German Army, the Leopard 1A5 was phased out in 2003, while Leopard 1 derived vehicles are still widely used. The Leopard 2 has taken over the MBT role. Leopard 1 hulls have been re-used in a wide variety of roles.
The model was built almost straight from the box with photos courtesy of David Parker of Meng / AFV Modeller magazine. The only additions have been weld lines and Leopard Workshop mantlet plugs.
The instructions are presented as a 22-page, small format booklet with colour used on the cover and the camouflage /decal profiles. Each step is illustrated in a logical order with beautifully clear black and white line drawings. There are 29 steps in the construction process.
Parts are as follows:
- Sprue A x4: main suspension including torsion bars, road wheels, shock absorbers, bump stops, return rollers.
- Sprue B x2: idlers, alternative sprockets, headlights, spare track, various fittings.
- Sprue D: side skirts, rear hull plate, alternative mudflaps, alternative engine deck grilles (Greek option not needed), gun travel lock, toolbox.
- Sprue E: welded engine exhaust grilles, grouser rack, driver's hatch, idler adjuster, various fittings.
- Sprue F: tools and NBC intake, front torsion bars.
- Sprue G: all new turret base, mantlet and mantlet shield, EMES-18 housing, gun-fire simulator and various fittings.
- Sprue H: more turret fittings including armour mounts, searchlight box, stowage basket, cast exhaust grilles.
- Sprue J: main gun, searchlight and PZB200 (both not used on 1A5), smoke launchers, gun mount.
- Sprue K: cupola parts, MG4 and aerial mounts.
- The previous individual plastic track links of the 1A3/1A4 have now been replaced by Mengís superb set of workable tracks.
- Other parts: lower hull; upper hull; upper turret; decal sheet; two etch frets, string for tow cables; poly caps for wheels, pre-cut foil for rear view mirrors and a jig for building the tracks.
- Sprue T - clear parts including periscopes, headlight lenses.
- Decals for three Bundeswehr tanks.
This is the second Leopard 1 from Meng. Much of it is inevitably based on their original 1A3/1A4 kit. The wheels and grilles have been improved as far as the hull is concerned, but the turret is completely new, and very nicely done.
The Revell Leopard 1A5 has been the standard until recently. That kit was produced in the 1980s and can still be built into a good model, but the armour mounts on the turret were always wanting, and the commanderís periscopes were incorrect. More recently, Takom produced a 1A5 (combined with a Canadian C2). This model from Meng however easily surpasses either of the two previous models.
The overall quality of the parts is very good, with excellent moulding. There are a lot of ejector marks but most will be hidden from view. Flash is almost non-existent. There is no sign of warping and only very minor sink marks (in the cupola rings, for instance). Once again we are witnessing state-of-the-art moulding, with crisp detail and an excellent fit of parts, although some have been simplified when compared to the approach taken by some manufacturers.
The current trend is to have working torsion bars and this kit is no exception. The good thing here is that the bars are moulded onto the swing arms. Some kits I have seen recently have them separate which adds complexity. Unfortunately, the swing arms have no detail whatsoever on their outer faces, but Leopard Workshop can furnish better options. Where they are bolted to the swing arms, there should be a depression with a nipple in the middle. The shock absorbers are also over-simplified, portrayed as rectangular where they stick out from below their protective covers! The rest of the suspension goes together quite nicely, although the longer return roller arms (parts A3) are easily put on upside down as the instructions are not clear. Note that the angle of the arm should go on the underside. If you want better detail, then have a look at Leopard Workshopís part LW010. Admittedly, none of the above will be seen very easily behind the wheels and the side skirts.
Being very nit-picky, there are ribs under the sponsons which should not be there. Under the exhaust grilles there should be scoop-shaped bilge outlets which are missing. Both of these will be hidden under the skirts. The most serious disappointment with the 1A3/1A4 kit were the road wheels and idlers; two things were incorrect: the hub was too big and the shape of the inner rim was too right-angled. Here the wheels have been re-engineered to improve their front faces, which now have a better profile, and smaller, more accurate, hubs. However, the rims for all road wheels and idlers are still too wide. Unfortunately the rear wheels are still just as bad as before, as they are completely the wrong shape with huge Ďdrum brakeí shapes on them (for improved parts, check Leopard Workshop items LW001-1 and LW002) . The kit wheels have polycaps and can literally be snapped together without any glue needed - the engineering is that good.
The sprockets are nice!! 15-bolt sprockets (Part B1) were introduced at the time of the 1A5 modification programme and were retrofitted to many tanks after overhaul. The original 8-bolt sprocket (Part 19) is still on the sprue from the 1A3 kit. These can also be used even though they are not called out in the instructions. Check your references if you want to build a particular tank.
The lack of weld lines has still not been dealt with. They are there - but they are so narrow as to be almost invisible, although they are a significant feature of the Leopard 1 hull. The hull is a conventional tub and top - nice and simple and the fit is excellent. A nice feature is the air intake grilles along the sides which are photo-etched. Of course the main deck grille is also etched and literally clips into place. No need for glue if the etch is kept flat when positioned.
There are four access hatches on the hull top with grab handles. Meng have done a Tamiya over-simplification here and we just have four rectangles of plastic. These are best removed, drilled and replaced with wire. The hull has two driver periscope washers moulded on the glacis plate, which is correct for this version. There are numerous location slots for the hull side tool stowage. If a version is built with stowage boxes fitted instead of tools, there will be a lot of filling to do! The tools themselves are very nicely rendered with their mounting plates and numerous clips moulded on. This makes the most tedious Leopard 1 job quite easy. The perfectionists amongst us will probably want to carve the clips off and replace them with etch handles. The tools are much more to scale and in the case of the track wrench and sledge hammer, are far less anaemic than Revell's. However, the bottom mount for the saw is too long and should have a couple of millimetres carefully cut out. The axe heads are very delicate, so be careful when handling.
One thing that is very 1970s is the handle moulded on top of the rear hull tool box. It should be separate. It looks so toy-like and crude. I pointed this out last time and it hasnít been improved. The welded engine exhaust grilles on the hull sides, as supplied in the 1A3, were awful with no depth at all. Thankfully, these have been re-engineered for a better appearance. However they can still be improved upon. The same goes for the alternative cast grilles which are now supplied. Again, Leopard Workshop has better renditions of both types of grille (items LW008 and LW0-09).
The four lifting eyes, once again, don't have any welds around them which are quite a significant feature of Leopard 1. The headlights are hollow with separate clear lenses. All of the periscopes are also transparent and the guards are provided in etch. The central one has the correct peak but no hatch guard on the back (a tiny detail that only a Leo geek would notice!) The skirts have the typical dimpled texture and Meng have gone to a lot of trouble to reproduce it. They have even angled some of the skirt clips for a more authentic look. I do wonder if the dimples are a little overdone but it doesnít look too bad under a coat of paint and weathering. One small problem is that there will be a joint to clean up where the front end of the skirt meets the flap over the front of the tracks. No big deal.
The horrid folded rear mud flaps (Part D6) are not mentioned in the instructions, but they are still there, so we can still have the option of folded or unfolded flaps. These are often supplied as etched parts, but the rubber on the real thing is much thicker than etch so I'm glad we have them in plastic. The reason I don't like the folded flaps is that no effort has been made defining the fold from the sides. They are just blobs of plastic. Where the side skirts stick out at the rear end, a small mounting point has been moulded onto the rear hull. This has always been overlooked until now. This T-shaped mount was the original production fitting and was replaced by a stronger C-shaped mount which was standard on 1A5. This has not been supplied, but is included in the Leopard Workshop exhaust grille sets.
The string supplied for the tow cables is best replaced with cable as the weave is too coarse. (Eureka XXL do some suitable cables, item ER-3507, available via Leopard Club). There is also no suggestion in the instructions about the length to cut them to.
While the hull has its heritage from an earlier model - which was possibly rushed into production too quickly Ė thankfully, the turret is definitely the best part of the kit. I am glad to say that this has been researched properly and I know that two well-known Leopard experts were consulted this time. However, there are downsides, so letís get those out of the way first. The gun comes straight from the 1A3 and hasnít been improved at all. The Leopard 1 gun is quite a complicated affair with its thermal jacket fitted. It is supplied the good old-fashioned way in two halves with a vertical split. This means a lot of very careful cleaning but any competent modeller won't mind this. The gun is also about 2 mm too short between the mantlet and extractor. Something I missed in the last review is that the main clamp in the centre of the gun is also wrong. It is depicted the same way up on both sides. It is OK on the left but should be upside-down on the right. The 1A3/1A4 muzzle had rifling inside the muzzle. This one does not?? Curious. It now has a nice collimator at the end with the later version included. There was an earlier version, but this is not depicted. Those welds again! There is only one of any note on this cast turret which is around the flat roof plate. The weld should run longitudinally around the edge of the plate, but the kit depicts the welds vertically down, at right angles - wrong.
Note the direction of the welds and the shape of the rangefinder blanking plates. The rangefinder blanking plates are also the wrong shape as they should be circular, apart from the straight edge on the top rear. The original optical rangefinders were round, so why arenít the plates? They are also too small. At least they are nothing like as bad as Takomís nonsense shape. The turret roof has various posts. Two of these were bent and one nearly broken off on my turret. The turret is at the top of the box when you lift the lid, so they are easily damaged with the slightest weight on top of the box.
Those are the downsides. The rest is all very much better and a very, very definite improvement on Takomís attempt at the 1A5. A Hoffman gun-fire simulator is supplied which clamps around the barrel. This is nicely done in five parts. At long last we have decent searchlight hooks to go on top of the mantlet. No mantlet plugs are supplied but are available from Leopard Club, item LW005. The rectangular plate on top of the mantlet has two small tabs which should look like upside hooks, but this is easily remedied with a sharp knife.
The turret comes moulded with location points for all of the add-on armour mounts. On top of these, the mounts themselves have to be added. This is a much better solution than Takomís idea where you are given a side-view drawing and you have to eye-ball the mounts into place! Very accurate, not.
The ammunition loading hatch in the side of the turret is a separate part so it can be depicted open. It has the correct internal locking cam moulded on, but the release wheel is circular where the real one has one side slightly flattened. This turret has the rain gutter depicted as a raised edge around the rear end. The actual gutter has a lot more depth to it and is L-shaped in section. However, with the armour in place, this depiction is good enough as it will be barely visible. There are two faint joint lines down each side of the turret which will be very easy to clean off.
There are two big highlights on this turret Ė the stowage basket and the add-on armour itself. The stowage basket is very cleverly engineered from multiple parts. Have a look at steps 24 and 25 in the instructions. Some of the bars have temporary spacers between them. DO NOT cut them off before assembly. They are there for a purpose and will help ease assembly. Once the completed basket is finished and the glue set, only then carefully cut them off, clean up the bars, and you will have a beautiful basket. Of course, this will be partly hidden away (and strengthened) when the add-on armour is fitted. Rather than use conventional hard plastic, Meng have moulded this in just four parts of flexible plastic. Some will question the wisdom of this, but David Parker of Meng/AFV Modeller magazine assures me that he found no problems at all when assembling (with conventional glues) or painting the armour. No flakey paint on this. David has kindly allowed us to use some build photos he took of an advance copy of the kit.
The grab handles on the armour are very finely cast, so be careful when handling the G sprue to avoid breakages. If you decide to depict the ammunition loading hatch open, the flap in the add-on armour will have to be physically cut. If you want total reality, then you will have to devise the bar that goes along the inside of the flap and through a hoop on the hatch.
Many people will wonder about the shape of the turret as no one in the past has really got it right - with the possible exception years ago of Heller in their otherwise awful Leopard 1. The nose of the turret has always been the problem. The old Italeri / Revell cast turret had a nose that was too long and the side walls were too sloped. Takom managed to make it even longer. Comparing Mengís turret to the drawings I have, they have done the best job so far of all the plastic manufacturers. I could have done comparison photos of the other turrets but did not see the point. This is the best plastic one so far, so why compare?
Thankfully, the Meng kit has corrected a long-standing problem that afflicted the Revell kit. The commander's cupola now has the right number of periscopes! These are supplied as a clear ring with the periscopes in place. The fit is tight from under the turret so make sure to clean off the numerous sprue gates. The tall forward looking periscope is also clear. Originally, the 1A5 had a shorter version, but taller than its predecessor on the original turret. It was extended later on to provide a clearer view over the EMES-18 housing.
This time the mantlet does not have any polycaps, as any movement is negated by the plastic dust cover which goes between mantlet and turret. Alternative covers are supplied which allows two positions for the gun - horizontal and slightly elevated. The commander's hatch has the circular locking wheel moulded to the bottom of the hatch, but it is barely visible with the hatch open as it is located underneath. Aerial mounts are provided but there is no indication about aerial length. The smoke launchers are a bit skinny and have no etch chains for their caps (about to be remedied by Leopard Workshop). Finally, we have quite a good rendition of the MG3 machine gun and its mount.
The building options are limited to just three alternative Bundeswehr schemes:
Armour School, Y-128 441, turret No. 514. This is the 1A5 currently on display in the Deutsches Panzermuseum, Munster (German Tank Museum).
2nd Company, 183 Panzer Battalion, Boostedt, 1990s.
5th Company, 74 Panzer Battalion, Altengrabow, 1990s
Extra decals are also provided. The remaining decals are unit symbols and call-signs from otherwise anonymous tanks, so you will have to do your own research to find a use for these. All three are in standard NATO green/black/brown.
Going back to the hull, the wheels are better than before, and so are the exhaust grilles. However, both could be better still and replacements are available from Leopard Workshop. However, it is a shame Meng didnít take the trouble to add some realistic welds, correct the dreadful handle on the rear tool box, and do something about the folded mud flaps, etc. There are plenty of reference materials out there and it seems they just haven't looked closely enough at some of the detail. However, it is better than the old Revell kit, and certainly better than the far more recent Takom model.
Engineering the 1A5 turret as they have done, it does beg the question of whether Meng, at some stage, are going to re-engineer it without the armour mounting points, without the rangefinder blanking plates, and without the open base for the EMES-18 to depict the naked cast turret before the upgrades were made? Or even simply without the EMES-18 base but with the optical rangefinder heads, AND leaving the armour mounts in place to depict a 1A1A1 series. This could get complicated for Meng. I have the feeling that this might be the only cast-turret Leopard 1 that Meng will do. But that is all it is - a feeling. Never say never. Before anyone suggests anything, I do not have any connection with Meng or know any of their plans.
Michael Shackleton: Leopard 1 Trilogy, Volume 1: Prototype to Production
(Barbarossa Books, 2003)
Michael Shackleton: Leopard 1 Trilogy, Volume 3: Foreign Usage
(Barbarossa Books, 2003)
Frank Lobitz: The Leopard 1 MBT in German Service - Early Years
(Tankograd Publishing, 2006)
Frank Lobitz: The Leopard 1 MBT in German Service Ė Late Years
(Tankograd Publishing, 2006)
Yves Debay: Leopard 1
(Histoire & Collections, 2005)
Modelling Leopard 1 - everything you need to know about what's available
Information about Leopard 1 - everything you need to know about reference in print
Prime Portal: Leopard 1