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Vandra M7 Priest SP Howitzer conversion build

This section is for builds that are not strictly Tamiya or Heng Long. For instance, replacing the electronics from a WSN or Matorro, or even a scratch-build.

Postby lmcq11 » Thu Aug 10, 2017 1:23 am

Hi,

This is the start of a pet project of mine, an M7 Priest Self-Propelled howitzer in 1/16 scale.

In my usual style, I am looking at building the most accurate kit I can make, with a limited budget, during a one to two month timeframe.

The base for the conversion is the Vandra resin conversion kit that became available this year. I have built their M10, M3 and Firefly so I know what to expect. Although challenging, they have brought me great satisfaction so I am looking forward in this attempt at their M7.

Looking at the conversion kit, the first task is to determine what we are dealing with. At first sight, it looks like a Priest alright but the key question in order to build an accurate model is whether it is an M7 early, Mid, Late, or M7B1 or M7B2.

Let's look at each sections of the kit and compare against references that I have.

Hull: It's easy to see that this is not an Early model because it has the hinged armored plates on the top sides. The hole on the left side is a weird design by the vendor, the plug is attached to the ammo bins. This is something that I think could have been avoided as it creates filling work for nothing. The hinges will require fine tuning. I have not decided yet if I will use a Heng Long or Mato chassis, I have both available. Looks like Heng Long could be a better fit.

rsz_img_8438.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest hull


Front: Further analysis required to determine if the shape and all the angles of the parts are accurate. Seems to me some angles will require rework. There is fine welding all over and the parts are free of air bubbles, which is great.

rsz_img_8452.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest front


rsz_img_8456.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest hull


Rear hull: Unless I am mistaken, this is the rear of a M4A4 Sherman tank, same basic shape as their Firefly kit. So, the use of a M4 Sherman rear hull instead of the M3 would identify this section as belonging to an M7B1 but it should have the engine grills of a M4A3. For an accurate M7 Mid or Late, the rear full would be different, based on the M3 with a smaller engine grill on top, 2 smaller grills on the side and a totally different arrangement at the rear. So, this area will definitely need total rework no matter what Priest model this kit ends up becoming. It would have been much simpler for the vendor to use their M3 rear hull as a base...

The 2 air filters would fit an M7 based on the M3 hull, not an M7B1 which uses the M4A3 hull. The side storage bins are the same as the M3 kit. Some other small parts like the hooks do not fit the Priest. The rear plate is missing in my kit, no big deal.

rsz_img_8439.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest rear hull


rsz_1img_8453.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest rear hull


Transmission cover: This is the 3 piece transmission cover of an Early or Mid version. A Late or M7B1 version would have the Sherman 1 piece cover.

rsz_img_8450.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest transmission cover


Fighting compartment floor and rear: The floor has a double diamond tread plate, it should be a smaller single diamond pattern. The rear arrangement seems to fit pictures of the M7B1. It has parts for a deep pulpit and an M2 gun is provided. The area for the driver is just one big hole so this will require brainstorming to fill the area with something that is not too bad looking. Many small parts will need to be scratch built for the interior. The ammo bin section on the right is missing 2 ammo slots, I will need to fix that.

rsz_img_8447.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment


rsz_img_8449.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment


rsz_img_8458.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest m2


The Gun: basic parts are provided for the 105mm M2A1 gun. I can see many parts that will need to be redone or improved. There is no gun sight provided, which is quite annoying because they are difficult to make. I saw some parts on Shapeways that will help bridging the gaps in this area. This is definitely not an M7B2 with the raised gun. Ammos are provided but they are not in their container.

rsz_img_8446.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest Gun


So, this leave me to ponder whether to make an M7 Mid or an M7B1 model. I think the least work would be to make it an M7B1, but the thing is that I really wanted a Priest based on the M3, with M3 road wheels, early suspension and 3 piece transmission cover. If I just wanted a tank that looks like an M7, it can be left as it is, but I really want an accurate one.

So, seems we are dealing for a composite Priest kit... decisions will have to be made as to what it will be.

In any cases, this is a good base to start with and building this kit into an accurate model will just be a bit more complicated than anticipated. I will likely need the help of a 1/35 model to guide me in the conversion.

The fun starts here.

Regards, Louis

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Postby Will01Capri » Thu Aug 10, 2017 12:43 pm

Wow, the detail. This i am convinced is going to look great no matter which way you go.
I am now wondering if the same company do an M37 kit for converting an M41!
Good luck

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Postby lmcq11 » Fri Aug 11, 2017 2:39 am

Hi,

I decided to make a Mid production M7 version. I will give it early bogies, early spoked road wheels, 3 piece transmission cover and the M3 rear hull adapted to the M7. After analysis, I selected the Heng Long M4A3 chassis over the Mato.

First step is to completely strip the chassis, including removal of the battery box. The gearbox needs to be lowered at the rear so the mountings at the back were removed and the gearbox will be installed inclined towards the rear. The back screws will go strait into the lower hull.

rsz_1img_8462.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


Access to the electronics will be available from the bottom through the former battery trap.

rsz_img_8463.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


Be aware that the Heng Long Sherman gearbox coming with the chassis is too high for this conversion. It needs to be replaced by a lower Heng Long Panzer IV gearbox or equivalent. Good thing I had a spare one or I would have needed to wait. The front and top of the gearbox metal frame needs to be cut with a saw and then grinded smooth in order to fit the 3 piece resin early transmission cover over them. Be careful with the metal grinding and wear protection.

rsz_img_8466.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


rsz_img_8468.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


The transmission cover is installed. No problems.

rsz_img_8472.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


I started to dry fit the floor and hull to examine the overall look and feel and determine needed adjustments. I must admit that I am so far very satisfied. This conversion should go pretty fast.

rsz_img_8474.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


rsz_img_8476.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


This is the driver position on the left. There are no parts provided to cover this area. Normally, the driver seat would be positioned behind the window but the gearbox is there... So, I will likely just cover this area with plasticard, maybe simulate the top of a seat and keep the area dark. I'll see.

rsz_img_8478.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest conversion


Need to determine if there is enough room to manage gun rotation and elevation. It would be tricky and not sure it is worth the effort.

Regards, Louis

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Postby B_Man » Fri Aug 11, 2017 12:23 pm

Interesting looking build, I'll be following along. :thumbup:

I have the Vandra Jagdpanzer IV kit in my shed. Not a bad looking kit but the barrel traverse and elevation is going to take some thinking so please feel free to do that one next so I can shamelessly copy your good work. ;)

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Postby AlwynTurner » Fri Aug 11, 2017 2:43 pm

Hi Louis, what I did on my M7 scratchbuild with my driver is chop his legs and lower body off and glued him to the plate over the gearbox so it still looked as though he was sat there. For the traverse I used a mini servo which might fit in the back of one of your gearboxes, looks like there's some space there. I found that elevation took a lot of work and I'll be interested to see how you manage that.

Anyway good luck with the build, it looks a well turned-out kit.

Alwyn :thumbup: :wave:
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Postby lmcq11 » Fri Aug 11, 2017 4:38 pm

Hi,

Thank you for your encouragements.

Now I'll take a few days to plan the next moves. References on the M7 are few. Some restored vehicles are composites or have post war modifications, so need to be careful.

I did some dry fitting of the gun base parts and location, and noticed a few things that I will need to correct.

In the picture below, i can see that the gun is located too much on the right. The right trail (leg) should have an angle and not be strait parallel down. Also, as per reference pictures, the part on which the cradle of the gun is mounted should not be raised like this on top of the sides, It should be flush with the sides. Playing with the height of this part will impact the height of the gun in relation to the upper body and gun shields, I will need to be careful and plan quite a few steps in advance. I will also need to redo the floor and rear wall of the fighting compartment for proper configuration for a M7 Mid production.

rsz_img_8479.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment dry fitting


The trails are too long in relation to the other parts/references and will need to be reduced.

rsz_img_8480.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment dry fitting


I will need to apply heat to the resin of the trails to give them the right shape. They are too strait, they needs more angles going down. I'll see how successful I can do that with the provided parts, otherwise I will need to scratch build new ones.

rsz_img_8482.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment dry fitting


The resin upper body will likely need to be permanently fixed to the chassis because it is fragile and has a natural tendency to warp on its own. Great care will be required when positioning it.

rsz_img_8483.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment dry fitting


The gun cradle parts were simplified. Decisions will have to be made as to the extent of the rework to make them more accurate or look better. The gun elevation and teeth for example are too low.

rsz_img_8487.jpg
Vandra M7 Priest fighting compartment dry fitting


Regards,
Louis

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Postby AlwynTurner » Fri Aug 11, 2017 5:10 pm

Hi Louis, I think the gun mount position may also be too far forward. It might be worth your while downloading a blueprint - here is one which looks pretty good
https://www.the-blueprints.com/blueprin ... iage_1942/
If you scale that and print it 1/16 size I think you would find it enormously useful - that's what I did when I did my scratch build.

Good luck with the build, it looks as though it will be challenging.

Alwyn
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Postby AlwynTurner » Fri Aug 11, 2017 5:19 pm

I also used this info - there are good examples of camouflage
http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/US/M7_Priest.php

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Postby lmcq11 » Fri Aug 11, 2017 5:23 pm

Thanks Alwyn,

yeah, I will need that. I am thinking about building the Dragon 1/35 kit as well. Compared to a tank turret on top of an upper hull, an open fighting compartment like this has a lot more variables at play.

Louis

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Postby AlwynTurner » Fri Aug 11, 2017 5:32 pm

I don't know what value it might have for your build but this is my build thread
viewtopic.php?f=23&t=14394&hilit=m7+priest

Hope it's useful
Alwyn
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Postby Will01Capri » Fri Aug 11, 2017 7:57 pm

AlwynTurner wrote:Hi Louis, I think the gun mount position may also be too far forward. It might be worth your while downloading a blueprint - here is one which looks pretty good
https://www.the-blueprints.com/blueprin ... iage_1942/
If you scale that and print it 1/16 size I think you would find it enormously useful - that's what I did when I did my scratch build.

Good luck with the build, it looks as though it will be challenging.

Alwyn


Good link that, found some blueprints for M37 nice one :)

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Postby Raminator » Sat Aug 12, 2017 12:08 pm

Off to another great start, Louis. The clarity of the casting on this kit is miles beyond the Juckenburg Nashorn. It's a shame about the inaccuracies, but I've no doubt you'll set them straight.
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Postby lmcq11 » Wed Aug 16, 2017 3:10 am

Hi,

I determined the next best step is to install the upper hull on the chassis to get a clear view of the base. Then I will scratch build the floor and position the gun according to blue prints.

As you can see, the hull was installed and the M4A4 style rear deck was sanded and a replacement plasticard layer closer to the M7 mid production will be build on top. The whole thing will undergo major surgery, specially at the rear end. I need to go to a hobby store to replenish my plasticard reserve, the Nashorn build of last spring depleted it completely.

rsz_img_8488.jpg
M7 priest rear deck prior to new construction


In the meantime, I received the Shapeways parts that I ordered from shapeways.com. They are real nice. The discount coupon GREETINGS15 gave me 15% off on my order.

These are the M7 Priest gun parts: contain sighting apparatus for both sides of the gun that I was looking for because they are not provided with the Vandra kit, plus other fine parts that I will probably use as replacements. Those sights would take hours to scratch build.

rsz_img_8499.jpg
M7 Priest gun parts


rsz_img_8508.jpg
M7 Priest gun parts


These are parts to convert the Heng Long Sherman M4 bogies into early M3 type that fits the M7 early and mid production. I do not know how they will end up once installed but they are intriguing, well made, functional and solid. I wish I had seen these before my M3 Lee build. They provide the only kit option available that I know of to have M3 suspension. The upper part of the HL M4 bogies need to be cut above the screw hole and replaced by these plugs, 6 are provided. The M4 roller will be re-used. I have great expectations for these. We'll see.

rsz_img_8504.jpg
M3 early bogies


rsz_img_8507.jpg
M3 early bogies


These are early Spoked M4 road wheels, 12 are provided. They really look great. These would be useful on many Sherman types. But spoked idlers are not provided and do not seem to be available.

rsz_img_8516.jpg
Spoked M4 roadwheel


These are 105mm shell containers. 10 are provided per set. I may order more.

rsz_img_8503.jpg
105mm shell containers


Regards,

Louis

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Postby Son of a gun-ner » Wed Aug 16, 2017 3:36 am

Wow Louis, that's quite some build you're doing, and quite some decent shapeways haul.

One thing I've noticed with those M 3 bogie conversions, not all the volute detailing is there, only the centre two 'tops' have both spring details, any reason for this?

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Postby lmcq11 » Wed Aug 16, 2017 12:24 pm

Hi,

Oh, i did not picture them yesterday, they are provided in separate bags. They can be positioned individually.

rsz_img_8520.jpg
M3 volute springs


Louis

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Postby T.Watson » Wed Aug 16, 2017 5:47 pm

Hi Louis
I have this kit as well which I have yet to start so I will be watching this with great interest, Good to know I will have to get another gearbox from a panzer IV.
I have done a Vandramodel M3 and the PAK 40.
If you want to want to manipulate the resin castings with heat use HOT water (I use boiled water in a basin) to soften the resin for few seconds then you can manipulate with your fingers (it is hot by the ways so do short bursts)
Hope that helps
T

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Postby Son of a gun-ner » Wed Aug 16, 2017 10:17 pm

lmcq11 wrote:Hi,

Oh, i did not picture them yesterday, they are provided in separate bags. They can be positioned individually.
Louis

Good, I was worried you had them missing.

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Postby Raminator » Thu Aug 17, 2017 10:50 am

Those 3D-printed parts look great, Louis. Which material did you choose? How do you find the print quality?
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Postby lmcq11 » Fri Aug 18, 2017 11:41 am

Raminator wrote:Those 3D-printed parts look great, Louis. Which material did you choose? How do you find the print quality?


Hi,

The parts were printed by Shapeways. I do not know the material they use but the strength is somewhere between resin and plastic. Its the first time I use this material in model building so I will know more in a few weeks. The quality is good as you can see below. The print lines are very thin, well aligned and a close up view is needed to notice them. Almost no preparation is required.

rsz_img_8527.jpg
Shapeways M4 Sherman/Lee Spoked roadwheels


rsz_img_8529.jpg
Shapeways M4 Sherman/Lee Spoked roadwheels


Louis

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Postby Ad Lav » Fri Aug 18, 2017 5:12 pm

Nice build!

Watching with interest!
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