On the Bench 188: Dave Ruther’s Thunderbirds Firefly

In this edition, we have a new project from Dave Ruther, the Firefly from television’s Thunderbirds.

I been a fan of the Gerry Anderson shows since I was knee high. Shows such as ‘Thunderbirds’ and ‘Captain Scarlet’ have been my number one inspiration to get into modelling. This is primarily to do with the wonderful special effects and totally original (and often believable) designs of the vehicles.

There have always been toys available and model kits. But to me, they were often un-realistic or just too plain small! I want something that will catch peoples’ attention when they walk into a room, something that will make them say “hey, that’s just like the one on TV!”

For me, models must be as close to the real thing as possible. These types of models are known as ‘Studio Models’, which are representations of the models used for the original film in both appearance and size. There are quite a few Anderson modellers out there and I try to opt for models that are not the most common choices. These are vehicles that wouldn’t necessarily be ‘stars’ of the shows, but would certainly be recognised by anyone who was familiar with the shows.

When it comes to Anderson’s ‘Thunderbirds’, everyone knows what the Thunderbird craft look like. Over the years I’ve built all of these (except Thunderbird 5). Also, viewers of the show would witness (most weeks) some kind of weird and wonderful rescue vehicle emerging from one of Thunderbird 2’s pods. I had already built the ‘Master Elevator Car’ in studio scale and prior to that had built a studio scale ‘Mole’. For my next project I turned my hand to International Rescue’s fire fighting machine – The ‘Firefly’.

As with the ‘Elevator Car’ (and countless other Gerry Anderson models!), the studio model of the Firefly incorporated the use of the good ol’ ‘Airfix Girder Bridge’ (now available from Dapol). From these recognisable parts, I was able to scale up my plans to suit.

I decided on balsa wood for the material of choice. I only planned on building the one model, so had no need to make moulds and fibre-glass copies. I cut the wood into sections and glued it together into an almost box section. Having recently built the ‘Maximum Security Vehicle’ from ‘Captain Scarlet’ in the same manner, this was almost deja-vu!

The ‘box’ section was carved to the basic shape of the Firefly.  The cabin section was also made into a separate balsa box section.  The most tedious part was yet to come…

As with a lot of the ‘Thunderbirds’ tracked vehicles, they used the tracks and wheels from a ‘Vickers’ toy tractor. I have yet to ever come across one of these toys and they certainly seem to be rarer than ‘rocking horse poo’. Therefore, I had to make the parts required.

These consisted of two sets of tracks, 6 idler wheels and 2 drive wheels. I cut plastic sheet into individual plates, to which were glued a smaller plastic section and two curved uprights. Each plate was drilled with 4 tiny holes. The plates were then glued to a length of thin plastic card, to enable them to form the tracks. However, when they were bent a few times, the plastic card snapped in various places. I then decided to glue them to the outside of an old cam belt from a car! Perfect, they could bend and operate like real tracks!

Next job was the wheels. I made one idler wheel from plastic, with metal panel pins glued into tiny pre-drilled holes. From this I made a latex mould and cast 12 wheel halves from resin.

I then found that the outer rim of the wheels was just too brittle, so sanded these off and replaced them with a plastic rim.

The main model was then turned to for some serious sanding, priming, filling, blah, blah, blah! The cabin was fixed onto the main body using automotive filler and then I began again – sand, fill…

I must have sprayed the thing with top coat about a million times! Because after every ‘last coat’, I would either notice marks under the surface, or the paint would react funny, or it would run! I should have bought shares in yellow paint!

Still, eventually, the task was done.

Whilst the paint was drying, the wheels were painted using dark grey paint and fitted to brass axels.

A box section was then made up from Perspex sheet to house the axels.

This was detailed with plastic card and widgets.

With elongated holes drilled through both sides to accommodate the axels, I cut a section of foam and placed it into this section, holding it in place with another piece of Perspex. This foam would serve as the ‘suspension’ when the axels were fitted.

Now that the yellow paint had dried, I masked off where the red stripes should be situated and airbrushed these on using enamel paint.

Masking removed, wallah!

The quality of the masked lines wasn’t too crucial, as these would eventually have black lines running down them.

After checking out these photos, go onto part 2

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