08/19/13- Once you've got an Elefant and no more space to put another RC tank, what do you do?
Get a Jagdtiger, of course!
RC tankmania easily trumps common sense. The Jagdtiger is actually a natural choice for an RC tank junkie of my ilk, since it and the Elefant are Darwin-esque oddities from the WWII battlefield: German tank destroyers that were too big and heavy for bridges, had underpowered engines, broke down frequently, and were too ungainly to tow. But they did have the... uh, big'uns that Hitler was so fond of. My desire to buy one more tank makes as much sense as Germany's hail-Mary production of them. However, I'm not bent on world domination so I have the luxury of gratifying my simple fascination with bigness. For me, it evokes some pleasant memories from junior high-- building Tamiya's 1/35 "Hunting Tiger" kit; pics of a brunette Morganna Roberts in the Stars & Stripes newspaper. Yep, big things from childhood that portend the shape of things to come...
"Hey! Did y'all pay for that?"
Purloined pic, from the Internet.
PHASE 1: PLANNING
Routes to the Jagdtiger: Unfortunately, none of the mass market manufacturers currently sell a Ready-To-Run 1/16 RC Jagdtiger. There are a few 1/16 RC Jagdtiger builds on the Internet, and they usually follow one of several paths: Start with a Tamiya King Tiger and scratch build the rest (or buy a conversion kit), or buy a Matorro RTR Jagdtiger and jazz it up (or not). If money weren't a factor, I'd get the Tank Zone or WeCoHe conversion kit and probably have someone else build and paint it. Obviously, the cost to go the Tamiya route is pretty high even if you buy just the necessary bits and pieces and scratch-build the rest; a Heng Long KT would be cheaper, but that would incur additional costs, time, and effort to achieve a comparable build quality. Either way would be an ambitious undertaking requiring great scratch-building talent and the deferral of "finished-model" gratification for a long time.
The Matorro Jagdtiger: The Matorro/Heng Feng - Heng Long route is more accessible, saving you the task of scratch-building the upper hull and at a more palatable price. It's a cheap-assed toy quality tank, so it's not a good choice for someone with aspirations of owning a museum-quality replica (unless they're willing to put in a lot of time and effort). The limited window of availability has made it more difficult to find nowadays, and at a jacked-up price. Even so, the price is usually about half to a third of a Tamiya King Tiger kit. They still pop up on eBay every so often, which is how I got mine (pic above, from the auction). Besides being a Jagdtiger, what really sold me was the interesting finish the seller had done: The crude zimmerit is cool, and I love the unusual coloration. It's a dirty dark yellow bordering on olive drab or khaki, and totally unlike any of the historical paint schemes I'd seen. Why buy something for the finish if you're gonna mod? Because I liked it: I'm not saying that I'm a smart shopper. I guess I paid for the inspiration... mods were planned, but I'd try to preserve the color scheme and "the look".
Based on what I'd read, I had fairly low expectations of it as an RC tank. A lot of that was true: Funky electronics and inaccuracies, etc. The plastic sprockets were cracked, so it barely limped along. That was irrelevant since I'd bought it for its potential as a rebuild project; I fired it up because I was curious about how cheesy the sound was. (I'd heard that it was worse than Heng Long's.)
Word is that the Matorro Jagdtiger is simply a custom top grafted onto Matorro's King Tiger lower hull, intended to be a special release for a particular vendor. (Dig around on the Internets if you're interested in that rumor.) The lower hull front does have the peculiar hump for the gearbox that the Matorro KT had, zimmeritted there and on the rear, but nowhere else. So yeah, stories of its heritage are probably true.
There are other structural inaccuracies as well; it's too short and should be about 1.6 cm longer. The slope of the hull sides and upper housing should be the same angle. The front deck should be slightly lower than the rear. Those are the kinds of inaccuracies that are fairly common in toy/budget tanks. Fortunately for me, I'm not that discerning about stuff like that. I'm okay with the turret shape inaccuracies of my HL Tiger 1, and the wheel placement on my Pzkpfw IV. If something bothers me enough, I try to fix it. (In fact, I tend to be more obsessive about the little details.)
Of the 3 main issues, the length is the only one I considered fixing. As a challenge, it would be fairly stiff. The top and bottom both would have to be cut, extended, reinforced, and blended... whew! The difference is detectable, but not from any great increase in bigness or presence: It's only 1.6 cm longer, but it results in a wider gap between the last road wheel and the idler. You can usually see when someone has done the work for this mod, and when someone hasn't. (In some cases the gap is more exaggerated than what's evident in actual WWII photos of the Jagdtiger.) The other two issues (hull slope, front deck height) are harder to see unless you're a Jagdtiger aficionado.
However, there are some reasons not to do it: First, it's a lot of work! If you're not concerned about doing an accurate replica and it doesn't bother you, then it may not be worth the time and trouble. (If you are, then the slope angle and the deck height should drive you nuts as well.) It won't improve or enhance the performance: From my experience with the Elefant, I see gaps between wheels as places where pebbles, rocks, and twigs can lodge to jam tracks. Finally, you need more track links if you lengthen the chassis: Buying an extra set of metal tracks to accurize a Jagdtiger is more obsessive than I'm willing to be. (If I had the extra tracks and wanted to increase the idler/wheel gap, I'd first try rotating the idler arm further back-- much easier.)
Replacing the Lower Hull: I was more concerned with the drivetrain and motive performance. For drivetrain upgrades, the usual suspects are metal tracks, sprockets, idlers and reduction gearbox. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to find this stuff specifically for the Matorro Jagdtiger since it was a special, limited release. Assuming that it's likely the same chassis as the Matorro King Tiger, that's little help: It's not particularly easy to get parts for the discontinued Matorro King Tiger, either!
Thanks to some build threads, I was steered in the direction of replacing the lower hull with one from a Heng Long King Tiger, which is currently fairly easy to find. I hadn't paid any attention to these when they came out, but they're relatively cheap and some are bundled with a "metal" package. At this time, the Porsche turret is the only one available but the Henschel version should be coming out shortly.
Cool! I didn't mind spending the money for the complete KT instead of buying the hull and metal parts separately. I was also curious about the Porsche turret KT (since I didn't have one); I might be able to use it for something someday, and I could probably use some of its other parts. I also wanted to see the improved Heng Long quality that I'd read about.
I'm skeptical about stuff I read on the Internets, so I wasn't surprised that when I was underwhelmed with Heng Long's improved quality. I realize that this was released a couple years ago, but I still expected more. I assumed that it wouldn't have an old RX-14 board (the one that fried as soon as you attempted to turn on carpet). I wasn't impressed that it had the same old RX-18 board with the gawdaful sound set and the funky full-vehicle recoil (that's still in their newly-released T-34). It was good, but not ground-breaking that the tools weren't sculpted on the hull. The metal tracks were noisy and it drove poorly. It turned out that some sprocket teeth holes in the tracks were filled with flash; it wasn't difficult to cut them out with an Exacto blade, but it honestly wasn't something that I thought I needed to check. The idlers were simply screwed into the hull with no adjustment and were "knock-kneed". To their credit, there were big improvements in the way that the road wheels were attached though: The hubs weren't glued on and could be pried off to reveal the hex-head screw. This means that the wheels and suspension could be removed without breaking plastic. Cosmetically, the level of detail was noticeably inferior to Matorro's Jagdtiger: For example, the sprocket guides and the front deck periscopes had sparce detailing. You can see some of the bare-bones detailing in the rear plate below. Not only that, but it came with the same crummy Tamiya-cloned driver figure that came with my old Tiger, LOL! These are all fixable things, and part of the fun stuff you can (and should) do with Heng Longs, but it just seemed so starkly crude compared to the Hooben Elefant I'd recently worked on; I'd considered that to have a fairly basic level of quality and detailing.
For my purposes, the best part was that it offered an upgrade path that the Jagdtiger chassis didn't have. Hopefully, the tracks could be made to work better with an aftermarket Henntec adjustable idler system, and the speedy gearbox could be replaced with a Mato 3:1 gearbox.
Thankfully, the hull was practically a perfect fit with the Jagdtiger top, with the benefit of sealing the openings at the side between the top and bottom hull of the Matorro version. However, I swapped the back plate and adapted the front sprocket guides with those from the Jagdtiger since those had better detail. The back was easy, but the front took some cutting, prying, and fitting before I was sure that it would even work.
As with most frankenpanzer projects like this, you order parts as you assess and plan based on what you've got. While you wait, you work on other stuff, whatever you can, and try not to make big design decisions based on things that you don't have in hand. I'd violated that by ordering the HL KT before receiving the JT, but there were few other options that I knew of for getting metal running gear. Once I learned how poorly the HL KT ran, I ordered the idler, then the 3:1 gearbox.
Electronics: I didn't want another Tamiya German DMD-MF unit (got 3 tanks with 'em), and I'd just done a whole bunch of ElModding with the Elefant. I eyeballed the Darkith DBC3-RC18/Benedini combo; It was attractive, but lacked some features that I wanted, like a servo-actuated barrel recoil. I still had some lingering apprehensions from my original DBC (tentative synchronization of cannon fire sound/flash/movement) and I'm sure that the new version has improvements, but the online documentation didn't do anything to sell it to me. I couldn't help but compare my memory of my Heng Long compatible DBC to the features of the Clark TK-22 board I'd replaced it with in my Pzkpfw IV. The Clark board was a huge improvement.
The Clark board isn't perfect, but it has most of what I wanted that others don't have: A great representation of servo recoil and servo-operated elevation (that I hadn't tried but wanted to) and support for the Heng Long flash unit. Also, the Clark board can run the motors with the main engine sound off. At first I thought was a weird failing. It turns out, that's exactly what you need to run it with a Benedini TBS-Mini board providing the engine sounds. As I understand it, the receiver's signal goes to the TBS board to decode acceleration and play the engine sounds, and is passed through to the Clark board to run the motors. The only mod is to join the output of both boards at the volume pot (with a resistor) so that sound comes out of a single speaker.
The Benedini site has a lot of dry but detailed information. Like ElMod, it seems to be the work of a mad genius scientist, deeply involved in making cool stuff that only a few can truly understand. However, the .pdfs do a respectable job of explaining the complex concepts and functions, even though it's fairly obvious that English is not their first language. It's really cool stuff if you're into tinkering, and I suspect that there's a lot of potential far beyond my meager immediate goal of running engine sounds.
Besides that, the other reason for checking out the Benedini is for the quality of the sound. I've watched a few videos of tanks with a Benedini board, and thought the sound was fantastic. If nothing else, it sounded unfamiliar... which is something that I want, and the reason why I did't want another Tamiya board.
As I write this, I'm still waiting for parts and eager to get going. I have my Benedini board (shipped very quickly), but getting the Clark TK22 board has been frustrating: After waiting a month with no payoff, I ended up ordering directly from Clark Models. While waiting, I've been working on surface details and the cannon mechanism (recoil, traverse, elevation), which was designed for 2 servos to be controlled by the Clark board. It sucks when a plan doesn't come together on your timetable. Worst case, I can take the Clark TK-22 from my Pzkpfw IV.
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