Something Old, Something New, Something Blue

Thanks Dave and AMPS Essex

First published in the August 2010 AMMS Brisbane newsletter

The French were very much the senior partners among the western Allies in the first two years of the Great War. While the British started with about 100,000 men facing the Germans, the French provided millions from the start. Recognition of their role was one reason for picking this subject. The other was that the grey-blue colour made a nice change of scene.

Something Old 1

Your modelling will get better if you take on new challenges. Plan reserve options for challenges that go that bit too far ... like the open bonnet and engine shown under construction here.
The original lorry was designed and built by Renault during the First World War and the searchlight was made by Harle. The dating means we have something old. The Renault/Harle combination was seen throughout the Great War and a few examples survived long enough to be used again in 1940.

The lorry was equipped with a flat load bed to carry the searchlight, seats for the crew and a box containing electrical equipment, including a generator. The light itself was on a wheeled trolley so that it could be used away from its parent vehicle, taking power from a 300 foot cable link.

Although I have considerable experience with scratch-building and have described techniques in earlier editions of MMI, this model involved some new ones. They provided something new but as far as I know, there’s still no wedding in sight.

The Searchlight

Something Old 1

The lens’ interior doesn’t show well in any of the photos, but the bulb and lens can just be seen in this picture.
To make the cylinder, I used a plastic tube, originally containing blue lip gloss. For those that know me, I retain a hirsute look and normally have no need for feminine beauty aids.

As the tube was made of clear plastic, its end provided a ready made lens. Unfortunately the tube was far too long and marking a straight line to guide a knife cut proved impossible with pen or pencil. The solution was to wrap sticky tape round the tube and use its edge as a cutting mark. So far so good but the clear plastic was brittle and pressure from a modelling scalpel caused it to crack and crumble. The solution was to use a hacksaw blade rather than a scalpel.

Unfortunately, the blade cut but left a frayed edge. I repeated the cut but this time I sliced the tube slightly shorter than its desired length. I wrapped this in paper which had been cut to the full length and had a nice crisp edge. The paper was backed by the tube for most of its length but I stiffened the last millimetre or two by coating the inside with liquid superglue.

Something Old 1

The wheel rims came from Preiser with the "wooden" spokes cut out. Wire spokes came from Retrokit etched metal. (Thanks, Dom). A button provided the rear face of the search-light and a craft shop mirror provided its reflective interior.
A trip to the craft shop provided a tiny mirror for the searchlight’s reflective interior, children’s jewellery for the enormous light bulb and a button that was just the right size for the searchlight back. Modellers looking for new and generally inexpensive materials should visit craft shops as well as model shops.

Some photographs show the searchlight carriages with wire wheel spokes and these were added to the model, using etched metal from Retrokit. Thanks, Dom.


I wanted to model the bonnet hollow and open with a miniature engine revealed. However, the bonnet has at least fifteen complex curves on every surface (I exaggerate, but not a lot) so it wasn’t long before the blue lip gloss and proposed blue colour scheme were reflected in the genteel words coming from my mouth.

It’s good to challenge your modelling skills by trying new techniques but this experience showed the value of having reserve options planned. The reserve option was to model the bonnet solid and firmly shut.

The top, bottom and rear were made from plastic card, forming a three sided box with hollow sides. The curve on the top/front piece was fixed in place by immersing the plastic card in hot water. The box was then packed with Miliput, with its left and right sides sculpted to appropriate curves. Finally, the outer plates were added using paper, soaked in water so that it followed the contours of the sides, then stiffened and fixed in place with varnish.

Cross Hatch Textures

Metal foil provided a cross hatched skin for the model’s seat cushions. You can find suitable foil wrapping on Lurpak butter so unless you’re on a diet, "bon apetit". Washing up liquid removes the residue of butter very easily and the foil can then be used to represent seat cushions, radiator grills, waffle pattern zimmerit or a host of other surfaces.


Something Old 4 The flat road surface (see photo at left) was made from Miliput, rolled out onto a plastic-card base. Before it set, nylon mesh was pressed into it, embossing the cobblestone effect before the Miliput hardened. Leaves in the curb were added from herbs.


This was not the easiest of models to produce but it was very satisfying to test my skills and ingenuity. For me, modelling is more about passing these tests than owning the latest kits, even if their quality makes me drool. What about you?

Something Old 5

This overhead view (left) may have been the last that enemy pilots saw of the searchlight, as it was sometimes used to guide anti-aircraft fire.