Sunday, October 13, 2013

Reinventing the wheel

I had my last car, a Honda Civic, for nearly 12 years. Needless to say, the "technology" in it was quite outdated when I decided to buy a new car. Well, to be fair, the Civic decided for me when the engine gave notice that it intended to retire to a nice scrap mill outside Phoenix in hopes of an afterlife as an iPhone 5 case. One of the cool things about my new car is the reading it provides informing me the air pressure of each tire. Not even Siri can tell me that! At the moment, my right rear tire is 1-2 pounds under pressure. Thank you, Chevrolet, for letting me know.

We modelers are similarly lucky. Our friends in the aftermarket industry are kind enough to let us know when the wheels provided in kits are incorrect. If you're like me, you've amassed a modest stash of resin replacements for all of the junk that the mainstream manufacturers give us.

But wait. Is the situation that dire? Are the wheels in kits really that bad? I know they're inaccurate at times, but it's interesting how far we'll go to create accurate representations of aircraft, armor, ships, and cars. Heck, I'm a sucker for a finely cast wheel, and as you can see above, I have more than a few in my aftermarket treasure chest.

Here's the irony though. In all my years in the hobby -- in the dozens of contests I've attended, in the hundreds of conversations I've had with fellow modelers -- I don't think the subject of wheels has ever come up. I've judged contests with the biggest enthusiasts and nit-pickers you an imagine, and I've never heard one of them point out the inaccurate tread pattern on a PTO P-51. When my friends and I talk about new releases, we tend to obsess over shapes and panel lines, not the overly wide tires on Navy F-4s. And when I look at my own models in my display case, wheel well covers and shadows generally obscure my careful painting and weathering of the wheels, much less any inaccuracies.

So why do we buy aftermarket wheels? I think it's because they're affordable, they're a quick and easy way to improve what the manufacturers provide, and we're suckers for a perfectly cast wheel. A couple of years ago I won an online raffle for the Royale Resin F-4 wheels you see among the other roundy things, and they're tiny works of art! Simply gorgeous. I'm tempted to paint and display them on their own and enter them in the Miscellaneous category at the 2014 IPMS Nats.

Huh. I wonder.... Maybe it's time for a wheel category!

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