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The Panther Project Vol. 1 - Drivetrain and Hull - The Research Squad (Lee Lloyd, Brian Balkwill & Alasdair Johnston)
Today, the market for walk-around photographs on German armour is seeing a surge of new publications, both in book form and on the Internet. While generally of a very high quality, most of them are of vehicles that have already been covered in numerous publications. Furthermore, most of the vehicles are photographed "as-is", i.e. showing only parts which are immediately visible. This is fine so long a modeler wish to portray a finished vehicle, but those who wish to build a destroyed vehicle, or one undergoing repair, it isn't enough. The Panther Project book series will cover the restoration to operational condition of the Panther Ausf. A (chassis number 158134), located in the private Wheatcroft Collection. Thus, it does not only thoroughly showcase the restoration of a Panther, but do so with a vehicle to which the general public does not have access.
The Wheatcroft Collection is a large private armour collection (possibly the largest in Europe) in the UK, owned by Kevin Wheatcroft. Many of the vehicles have been bought as wrecks, or in bits and pieces (it is claimed that the collection own 80% of a Tiger II, in spare parts, with the remaining 20% being active sought for). Other notable German vehicles include three Jagdpanzer 38s (originals, rather than back-fitted Swiss G-13s), a Panther Ausf. D, a Tiger I, a Flakpanzer 38 and a Sd. Kfz. 251/21 D "Drilling" (a complete list can be seen a The Wheatcroft Collection's website).
The vehicles at The Wheatcroft Collection are being restored. using original parts or (when the original parts are too deteriorated) custom-made, new parts. Aside from using modern, stronger, raw materials, all new parts are carefully modelled from the originals. Of course, when using newly-constructed parts, there is always the risk of a wrong part being used, but the parts will likely be the best that money can buy - for example, the book explains that after it was discovered that the gun cleaning rod storage tube caps were incorrect, they were removed again. The collection is not currently publicly accessible, due to public health regulations, but it is planned that a museum will eventually be constructed.
This first volume (a total of four to five volumes, covering the entire vehicle, is expected) covers the drivetrain and hull. The books starts out with an interview with the Kevin Wheatcroft, including a few photographs from the collection (more photographs would have been nice, but this is of course not the scope of the book, and The Research Squad's website mentions that a future edition will provide a general look at many of the "spare parts" in the collection). The books also has a brief history of this specific Panther, and some photographs of the other Panthers at The Wheatcroft Collection.
The main contents of the book, the photographs of the drivetrain and hull (and a small section on the turret, which gives some interesting photographs of the otherwise-inaccessible gun housing), fills 70 pages. With 311 photographs, covering everything from torsion bar fittings to ammunition panniers, this is about 4,5 photographs per A4 page, ranging from one-sixth-page to full-page photographs, depending on detail level.
The photographs moves from the radiator compartment, over the engine and fighting compartment and onto the driver's and radio operator's locations. The final section shows several minor parts, such as the crankshafts and automatic fire extinguishers. This allows for a more detailed view of the different units, which will no doubt be helpful to the modeler who wish to e.g. show the internal wiring of a Bosch headlight (don't say you haven't thought about it).
The far majority of the photographs are of a very good quality, and are printed on semi-glossy pages (giving a nice feeling of quality, without reflecting light while reading). The photographs are well-captioned, and the pages are labelled according to the general area where the photographs are taken. An additional nice touch is the inclusion of drawings from the original German manual, which acts as a guide to photographs of 44 different locations, making it easy to find the photographs of the exact location you are looking for.
A few of the sub-assemblies (most notably the gearbox and the final drive) are unfortunately not covered in detail in the book, as they had already been completed by the time photography started. Fortunately, there are still a couple of decent photographs of these units, taken by the restoration crew.
The Panther Project Vol. 1 can be bought through The Research Squad's website for GBP 15,99 + shipping (2,81 in the UK/5,71 in other countries). For the book as the whole, the price might seem a bit on the heavy side, but the price per photograph is not unreasonable. For anyone who wish to build a Panther Ausf. A or D (since the hull was basically the same for both versions, with only minor changes), it's certainly an invaluable resource. The Research Squad is currently preparing a second volume on the Panther, which will cover the engine, and a walk-around of the Tiger I (chassis number 250058) in The Wheatcroft Collection is also under preparation.
Review copy kindly provided by The Research Squad.