'Released in 1965, one can imagine Tamiya’s 1/50 scale C6N1 Saiun as a shot across the bow to companies like Monogram and Revell, but I’m not sure anyone took much notice here in America. I don’t recall even seeing the kit until 1967, in a wonderful shop that was a national mecca for railroaders, Bobbye Hall’s Hobby House. As Michael Whiteman noted on the MRH Forum two or three years ago, 'The first time I went there I spent all day. I thought I had died and gone to the Walther's Warehouse.' Ms. Hall was a savvy and gracious woman who could charm anyone who walked through her door just by being herself. That customer might not know that she had built her own product line and knew the model railroad business inside and out. She didn’t exclude plastic model builders either. There one could find the most exotic stock in Dallas, including English Airfix, Fujimi, Hasegawa, and Tamiya. But it came at a price. I wanted those 1/72 Tamiya Hayate and Shoki kits with the wonderful box art, but they were a shocking $3.50 each. The same amount would buy five of the newly released Monogram 1/72 Bearcats, Mustangs, or P-36 Hawks. I finally asked Ms. Hall why they cost so much - 'Because they cost me so much to import', she replied. One day I spied the 1/50 Tamiya C6N1 Saiun there. I think it was $5.50 or $6.00, so sadly I had to walk away without it. I wouldn’t see another one for quite a long time, but there were plenty of other more affordable kits to keep a kid busy.
'Some might wonder how a person so interested in the subject could have heard nothing about a new kit release, right in his wheelhouse, for two years. That was easy: what passed for ‘the grapevine’ was almost entirely word of mouth; Dallas was a long way from either coast, and Scale Modeler, which pioneered the idea of a magazine devoted solely to the craft, was just starting its second full year. Anyone who wanted to use a computer needed a high-level I.D. badge, a large room, and industrial grade air conditioning. Every now and then there was something new in the stacks at Daugherty’s Drugs or Woolworth’s.
'I finally bought the 1/50 Saiun about fifteen years after that visit to Hall’s, and by then it was rare and foolishly expensive. I wanted to build it along the same lines as the Marusan Dinah I then had underway: take a good kit and add as much detail as possible, using the recent Maru Mechanic volumes on those types. A closer look indicated why the Myrt had been a little more expensive; it featured, as optional parts, a crystal-clear fuselage half and cowling that revealed a nice engine with bearers, and complete crew station details. Molded in silver-grey and black, the quality of the Tamiya Saiun plastic looked superior to the Monogram, Airfix, and Revell kits I had. Just as importantly, each parts sprue was bagged and carded. This meant that all surfaces were completely unscratched (a pet peeve of mine with new kits now), and Saiun’s hallmark streamlined canopy was flawless. The cockpit still seemed comprehensive. The whole package conveyed both pride in the product and respect for the modeler.
'But I was jaded enough now to find it a mixed bag. It featured movable control surfaces and sliding flaps, as well as retractable landing gear. The necessary design for these really compromised fit and detail; there were no wheel wells of any kind. The kit required a lot of work on this account. Like the Dinah, it was rewarding at the finish line; but it turned that those two had burned me out for a while. Caveat modelor.
'The Hasegawa 1/48 kit of Saiun which arrived in 2002 proved one of their finest efforts, reflecting a deep study of Myrt’s revolutionary design, and doing so without gimmickry. It was of course a much better kit, but I doubt it was as important to many builders of my generation as Tamiya’s. A friend recently sent the link to a charming online article by Mr Hiromichi Taguchi of Web-modelers, Japan from December 2013, which provides a nostalgic reminder how good the model can look when built without any modifications, especially when using the optional transparent fuselage half and taking special care with its masking. All those visible parts stem to stern were a labor of love for the model’s designers, who in a way faced the same challenge in the early sixties as Nakajima’s staff had during the war: how do we fit all this stuff inside?! Mr. Taguchi’s challenge was good-natured: if you too have had this on your shelf of doom for forty-five years…why not build it?
'If someone at Revell or Monogram did see and professionally admire Tamiya’s new sleek Saiun model, it couldn’t have caused much concern. Both firms were hitting their stride on the way to their salad days, with strong domestic sales, increasing foreign interest, and expanding product lines. But by the eighties, Hasegawa and Tamiya had undeniably made deep inroads into their markets. The Japanese firms had developed kits which were as accurate or more so, with fewer fit problems, nicer box art, and better packaging. American model builders had become an older demographic with more than pocket money to spend, and apparently didn’t mind the higher prices they typically commanded. In two moves only a few months apart, Odyssey Partners of New York purchased Monogram and Revell, and these classic American competitors now saw their molds pooled as Revell-Monogram. It didn’t bode well. By 1994 the company’s seeming last gasp was the Pro Modeler line of kits, with a trumpeted focus on accuracy of detail, ‘archive-oriented’ instruction sheets, and well-researched decal markings. It was an ironic way to bow out: as an apparent attempt to compete with the companies which had now outstripped them, it was too late and too little. Almost thirty years later, Tamiya has gone from strength to strength, each release fueled by the same pride of product and regard for the builder that I had sensed when holding that Saiun kit for the first time at Hall’s Hobbies.
Some Build Notes
'As I recall, this was my first build using Tamiya paints. All the markings except the cowl numbers are painted; national insignia were sprayed by making stencils with frisket paper, the rest brush-painted. The panel lines were re-scribed, often using the raised ones as guides, then all the pieces sanded and polished. In places I could preserve some of the kit’s rivet detail.
'The canopy was too long to fit on the Mattel ‘Vac-u-form’ stage. While it felt wrong (!) the kit canopy was cut into two pieces, and after several attempts I got some copies that were usable with .010 K&S Butyrate Clear Sheet. I think this is worth noting even though there is now much less need for home-made vac-forming – a few aftermarket canopies I have are yellowed now; nothing one can do, and pretty disappointing, but none of the K&S ones I’ve made have suffered this, including this one, over thirty-five years later. I don’t remember the kit canopy fitting very well, especially front and back edges. But after the molds were cut into the seven different sections, as long as the sills were cut square, they fit better than originally. The pop-up central section of the windscreen was cut longitudinally, but only scored across, until that section could be gently canted up, without use of glue.
'The landing gear and flaps were the most problematic things on the project, in ways lost to memory. The landing gear doors were wrongly shaped, but were easily corrected and then vac-formed, as these appear extremely thin in photos. I reworked the wheel forks and oleo links and took the wheels from another kit. The wheel well ‘roof’ is embossed sheet plastic, and its edges made from the same. The pale shade of Aotake reflects not the true appearance of that finish, but general appearance of the color in the Maru Mechanic. On top of that, I don’t think the wheel well surfaces should be in that color. But taking the photos I liked seeing it all again.
'The leading-edge slats were made by vac-forming the kits parts, but the result was very delicate and they were knocked off over the years and replaced more than once. If I had tried to fair those kit parts into the leading edge, I would have had a place to safely pick up the model! Overreach. There is a parallel in my mind here to Jerry Jeff Walker’s maxim, 'Never write a song you can’t play drunk at two in the morning.' And never build a model which you can’t pick up.
'The last thing I would add re nostalgia was that this model used seat belt buckles and that lovely gunsight from etched parts, which were still relatively new on the scene, but otherwise, no aftermarket that I can recall. The instruments were done with toothpicks and paint, and much younger eyes and hands.'
With very special thanks to Mark for another fine trip down memory lane together with images of a very finely built model. In July 2015 Mark and the late Mike Quan co-authored an excellent article on the C6N1 here - The Need for Speed: Developing and Delivering Saiun - which features Mark's build of the Hasegawa kit mentioned above.
Image credit: All model photographs © 2022 Mark Smith; Boc art images © 1965 and 1970 Tamiya Inc.