Formula one

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Building an improving the Protar Mclaren MP 4/2C

1/12 scale

by Mario Covalski © 2003 - 2013

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In 1981 McLaren presented what would be one of its most successful series of racing cars: the MP4. The most important feature was the monocoque construction, there was no more aluminum in it; instead of that, it became a solid tub made out of compound materials, such a carbon fiber, etc. 1984 was the beginning of the turbo era for the MP4 series with a six cylinder Porsche Tag turbo engine; this power plant would take Niki Lauda to his third world championship that same year, and Alain Prost would do the same in 1985/86. Protar choose the 1986 model for their kit but the 1985 was very much alike, so it would not be very difficult to build this version. In fact, I have seen some pictures of very good examples on this conversion.


The kit

I made a short analysis of the Protar kit when I bought it, back in 2000. >  Here
The final conclusion in that note was that the kit had good quality; however, I must make two remarks: the kit is very simple (lack of detailing) and you have to work a great deal in order to make it look "convincing", and the plastic was very fragile, they would break at the simple contact with CA cement (this is a common conditions when the plastic is too porous). And another detail, almost every part had "sinks", this is due to an incorrect cooling process of the parts tree, or inadequate temperature at the time of the plastic injection into the mould. My personal conviction is that each model must have a clear objective for the modeler, as well as each note must have it for the reader. My objective when I built the PM4/2 was to have a depiction of that car, with the quality aspect of Tamiya's McLaren MP4/6 kit, due to the similarity of both cars, and the building materials.
The purpose of this note would not be to tell you how I built the model, because this kit has been discontinued more than ten years ago, so it is quite difficult to get one. I don't think it is reasonable to write a thorough note on specific details; so I will concentrate in general detailing that can be applied to other models with similar characteristics... and quality.

Where do I begin?

Opening a kit box for the first time and looking at all its contents, even try to fix a couple of parts, is always wonderful. But believe me, beginning to build a kit like this poses a great amount of questions.
If you go by the instructions leaflet, is almost sure that you would have the model finished in a few hours... but we all know that this is not true.


Generally speaking, building a Tamiya kit in this scale is something quite clear. You can build it "out of the box", or superdetailed, but you will always know where to begin, no matter the experience you have.

First of all try to get as many pictures as you can from the real car, even if you are not planning on superdetail the model; building an out of the box model does not imply that you have to use all the parts that come in the box, there are several parts that could be unusable. When you open a kit like this, you have to make a previous analysis of each part, followed by a visual inspection and then, you have to determine three basic things:


You must determine if it is necessary to make any modification to the parts, that is, if the parts faithfully represents the real thing. I'm not talking about details, we have not decided yet our level of detailing, I'm just talking about common sense, for instance, if the steering wheel is not round… then we have to discard it, or modify it substantially. This is something that the expert modeler does almost instinctively. You don't have to analyze each part of the model before beginning to build it, you can do it along the building process.


How much "cleaning" does the part need. Low quality kits usually need a lot of flash and moulding lines cleaning. There are times when it is a lot easier to replace a lousy injected rod by cutting a length of plastic rod and putting it in the part, in place of the original.


Do not take anything for granted, you must verify the fit of the parts several times before gluing them. That may sound a little bit trivial, but when it comes to a low quality kit, you must do it. That way you will avoid the frustration of having to severely modify the parts before installing them.


The above steps imply a lot of time, with this kind of kits you must be some kind of an engineer in order to solve the problems that arise at each step of the building process. In order to ease the building and detailing process of a model like this, I will explain each step, providing copies of the building instructions, as well as suggestions on how to detail and paint the parts.

Building process

One of the most important, and visible, part of a formula one car is the chassis, because there is the cockpit, the front suspension components and the engine with the transmission and the rear suspension; moreover, this section of the model must depict metal and composite parts. According to that, we will have to decide which parts are very visible and which ones are not, and decide if a certain part is worth an extra detailing work.


Tip 1

I usually prepare all the parts before starting the building process, sometimes this process even takes a few months, and its not always fun, but it allows you to make corrections as you go over the parts, and check them thoroughly beforehand. I don't think is a good idea to assemble and paint a sub assembly, because maybe a month later you will discover that it has to be modified, or that it can be improved. Instead of that, I suggest you to prepare the parts and put them away separating them by the colors they will be painted. In order to avoid the possibility of a mixup, you should make notes in the instruction manual like: "shorter", "longer", "L", "R", etc. That means that it may be necessary to "review" all the steps twice, one when you are preparing the parts, and another one when they are painted and ready to be assembled.

Tip 2

I spent several hours analyzing the assembly process for the monocoque, because it comes in two parts; the problem was what to do first, paint it before the assembly, that could ruin the paint (in fact, it happened that way). But I could not find a way to glue both parts and assemble the interior after that. This is the kind of problems that must be solved BEFORE trying to initiate the building process. Generally speaking, the instruction manuals are made without thinking in the painting process.

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