By Rob Morgan
Those of you who, like me, have been around the wargaming world for decades will recognise the old Airfix advert here. It was a back cover in Don Featherstone’s Wargamers Newsletter in the 1960s, and shows almost all of the wargames-scale 20th century armoured and support vehicles which were available to the young wargamer. Literally, before Hasegawa and Matchbox turned up in the 1970s, this was it — the lot — apart from RoCo mini-tanks, about 15mm scale and to us table-top gamers, overpriced.
Airfix Magazine, then the best monthly publication on the news-agents’ shelves, carried endless articles by Chris Ellis and other modellers on converting and kit-bashing these few kits to make everything from a World War I supply tank to a flame-throwing carrier. Brilliant stuff! A couple of years back, sad individual that I am, I actually counted the conversions for the Bren Gun Carrier and 6 pdr. gun which turned up in those pages. I made it 34 in all — made a couple myself too.
When this cover caught my eye again, apart from the remarkable price (in those far-off days) which meant you could build a troop of three Shermans or a world-stopping Tiger unit for well under a pound, I recalled the missing models, those anticipated kits which didn’t appear.
Nostalgia, but when the Centurion Tank arrived, not only did it give the chance for a Six Day War scenario, and Vietnam, but a host of possibilities around the world. The Bren carrier, the sturdyAECMatador lorry, and the 5.5” gun were all still in British service then, as was the delightful DUKW and the 25 pdr. and the Territorial Army still had some White Half Tracks and Jeeps. The Airfix Bloodhound missile set gave us a really good Land Rover too.
But … there was no armoured car. No light stuff, nothing at all.
Now, the photograph accompanying this is of a post-WWII British “Ferret” Mk 2 scout car. Two-man, pretty fast, lightly armoured and with a single 0.3 Browning mg in the turret. A very lovely vehicle, this example still remains outside the Gloucester Regiment Museum in the City of Gloucester in the West of England. I always had a soft spot for the light recce type of wargame.
Surely, I and my friend Steve assured each other, with the appearance of the Centurion and the Matador and DUKW, the obvious light scout car would be next? It would make Colonial and bush wars accessible to the world’s vast and increasing numbers of wargamers — we weren’t an endangered species then.
No sign of it. The US Sheridan appeared, and the Japanese Chi-Ha WWII tank, some RAF refuelling and rescue stuff, but no Ferret. We wrote to the magazine, and though our letter wasn’t published, others were. Suggesting in every case that the post-war ranges be increased. By this time, such exquisite vehicles as the ALVIS Stalwart were appearing in the Army’s real vehicle fleet, but we didn’t get one of those either. Airfix was changing by the early ‘70s, of course, and there was competition from other companies. Some was good. Matchbox brilliantly didn’t actually compete with Airfix, but supplemented the original range. With a Hanomag WWII Half-Track, more enormous conversion potential, an elegant Puma armoured car, and a PzIII, a beautiful model that one, vast possibilities there. Eventually, Matchbox produced a hefty Daimler armoured car with a 2 pdr. gun which did linger into the Cold War era, and a couple of small British companies issued the Saracen AFV and the Saladin armoured car, from the 1960s. No Ferret though.
Airfix faded, followed by Matchbox, though in recent years the “revivals” have been heart-warming — expensive, but heart-warming nevertheless. Yet, 45 years on, if I want a Ferret scout car, it’s still the expensive resin and metal ranges that have to be scanned. Mind you, that’s just my own little obsession. I suppose there are others out there who feel the same way about the Carden Lloyd Tankettes or WWI Ehrardt armoured car?
I wrote to Airfix, and Matchbox about warships too, but that’s another kit or two, “sadly missed,” as they say!