Cesidio Bonanni's scratchbuilt Space Marine hover tank.

Starship Modeler - The complete information source for modelers who build sci-fi, fantasy and real space subjects

Scratchbuilt Space Marine Hover Tank

By Cesidio Bonanni - images & text © 1999

Games Workshop's 25 mm miniatures are really wonderfully sculpted, but I prefer using them more as diorama figures than playing at the Fantasy wargames they have been designed for. The "Warhammer 40,000" universe isn't "relaxing" at all, but with its characters, weapons and uniforms, it provides a challenging scenario for scratchbuilt and/or modified vehicles. "Warhammer 40,000's" heavy weapons, in my opinion, have a distinctive "old-fashioned" look (sort of hi-tech WWI), but I wanted to build a more modern-looking medium tank: a fast and well armed hover-tank.

Building the Tank

After spending a few days searching among my old sci-fi drawings (ideas and sketches for starships, vehicles, etc.), I found some drawings to start from, and I began making a first choice among the thousands of spare pieces I save (kits and plastic stuff of any shape). I wanted the tank to be not too tall and equipped with a rounded turret (like all Russian tanks since the end of WW II). I also wanted it to have a modern-looking, radar-guided weapon system with a missile launcher on each side of the turret.

The basic structure of the turret was made using a plastic spoon with the handle cut. The double door on top (and almost all of the tank's detailing) was made with pieces coming from various tank kits (1:35 scale) and other plastic pieces. The cannons' shield was scratchbuilt with plastic sheet and the barrels came from plastic tubes and hypodermic needles' covers. The missile launchers' arms on the sides of the turret were created using the central part of the suspension system of a WWII American M4A1 Sherman tank in 1:35 scale; the launching tubes were made with pieces of aluminium tube (note the tip of the missile in the tube: it was a USAF's Skyraider non-guided rocket in 1:72 scale). The turret was then "enriched" with various details from many kits.

The hull was completely scratchbuilt with 1.5 mm plastic sheet. First, I made four drawings in real size (top, side, front and back). from which I calculated the inner structure - designed as a boat hull turned upside-down and holding the external panels and the turret - and the shape and the size of the external panels. First I cut the "floor" of the tank (it's nice when you don't have tracks or wheels to deal with, isn't it?), then I glued on it the inner vertical panels. Finally, I "closed" the hull with the outer panels. Before glueing it, I cut two rectangular holes in the upper panel behind the turret, to bear tulle fabric pieces simulating a cooling grid.

More than a anti-gravity vehicle (like many others in the "Warhammer 40,000" world) I wanted an "armored hovercraft": so it had to be fitted with hovering engines to sustain itself off the ground, as well as thrusting ones to move horizontally. The latter were built using two engine covers from an old WWII German Junkers Ju-88 light bomber in 1:72 scale. Inside them - as propelling fans - I glued two road wheels from the old 1:35 Sherman.

The basic structure of the hull needed, now, to be detailed. I basically used plastic sheet and many, many pieces from various tank kits in 1:35 scale. The aerial is a 0.9 electric guitar string. On the lower side of the tank (the one facing the ground) I glued five "hovering fans" made with plastic sheet rings, framing a disc of metallic mesh.

Painting the Tank

Click on each picture for a larger view.

[Front view]

^ The basic shape for the turret came from a plastic spoon.

[Overhead shot]

[Side View]

^All the extra details bring the tank to life.

[Another side view]

^Even though most of the detail parts came from other kits, they're not immediately recognizable as such.

[Marine officer]

[The little generals room is that way, sir!]

^The figures are especially well detailed - despite being barely an inch tall!

I thought that avoiding any kind of camouflage pattern would enhance the tank's shape and detail. So I decided on a lightened version of the WWII German Panzergrau for the base color. On this I painted the blue/yellow heraldry stripes on the sides, and the golden eagles on the sides. The decals come from some American modern plane kit (1:72 scale). The tank was brush-painted (I didn't own an airbrush at the time) and - a couple of days later - I covered it with a wash of dark grey water paint. Once dried, I began taking it off with a hard brush until I obtained the "not-so-dirty" look I wanted. Then I dry-brushed all the tank with a medium gray.

The Figures

The figures were the starting point of the idea of the tank: "Warhammer 40,000's" Space Marines feature really nasty-looking but fascinating armours. I have many metal-cast Space Marines, and among them I choose an officer in a thoughtful (??) position and a Marine, modified into a standard-bearer. The standard pole is a piece of brass rod. The standard and the banner on the tank's aerial were created on my Macintosh, printed on a black & white laser printer and colored and weathered after. I painted the marines in white to enhance the colour difference between them and all the rest of the diorama. The Marine officer was mighty but static and, maybe, needed someone to talk to. More than this, the armored Space Marines couldn't be a tank's crew, so I bought a Games Workshop's box of plastic Imperial troopers and modified one of them to make the tank's crew-officer. It already had his finger pointing out, but I decided to fold the arm to a more straight position, indicating something to the Space Marine's officer.

The Diorama

The scene decided, all that was left to do was complete the diorama. I decided for a shallow and alien environment: dried land and stones. The colours are cold and unreal... for our planet. I glued some stones on a piece of plywood, added a sick-looking bush, and, with vinyl glue, I covered the ground of dried earth. Everything was then painted, washed, and dry-brushed. The tank had to be raised from the ground: I drilled two holes in the lower side and glued in two pieces of clear plastic sprue. Then, I drilled two more holes in the ground and glued the tank. Then, I glued the Space Marine officer on the tank - as he was listening to the crewman - and the second Space Marine near the tank.

I spent about 6 months building this diorama (working about 5-6 hours per week).

Go back up | Starship Modeler Home | Site Map | Feedback

This page copyright © 1997-9 Starship Modeler™.
Last updated on 3 June 1999.