Unloved and Unwanted
Everybody remembers the 1/48th scale Airfix Bf109E, right? It was one of the earlier products of the New and Improved Airfix and was a greatly anticipated kit prior to its release, but its welcome was fated to be short-lived. The kit was roundly criticized for its skinny prop, poorly detailed wheels, clunky transparencies (including a manifestly incorrect canopy for the E-4 and E-7 variants the kit could produce, the result of Airfix using a restored 109E that had been fitted with a heavier Me109G canopy during the course of their research), a mediocre interior, and panel lines decried for their width and depth, plus main landing gear that was painfully too tall; that last resulted in an absurdly high "sit" to the model if it was completed with its gear down. A couple of the larger internet modeling sites jumped all over the kit with criticism bordering on the savage and which resulted in it languishing as a last-resort sort of model, at least in the United States. The criticisms were largely valid too, if somewhat overstated, but there was good news as well.
For starters the model was basically accurate, and the kit contained enough stuff to allow the modeler to build any Emil variant from the E-1 through the final E-7 using only what was included in the kit. It featured both normal and tropical air filters, both canopy styles (although the later E-4 style was inaccurate as given), and almost everything that could conceivably be hung under a Bf109E, only missing the semi-obscure SD 2 Bomblet rack in that regard. Everything was there to allow an excellent 109E to be produced but Airfix's kit quickly became the Emil that everyone loved to hate, largely because of those negative initial internet reviews. As a longtime fan of flawed kits and lost causes the criticisms made it a model I couldn't pass up!
With that said, I've built a couple of these now and think I can offer some insight into making the kit look a little better than its reputation would suggest. Here are the things I found it necessary to correct, although your mileage may certainly differ on that one! Most of the corrections are minor: The interior can easily be spiffed up with aftermarket or even just careful painting, although I find the UltraCast Bf109E seat with belts and harnesses to be a considerable improvement whether you detail anything else in there or not.
The propeller is one of those places where the internet crowd got it right; it's way too skinny and looks absurd once you know what the real thing is supposed to look like, but UltraCast have a great replacement for it. They also offer much improved main landing gear wheels at a very affordable price, which helps spiff up the detailing in that arena. I'm not a big fan of Eduard's Brassin' wheels for the Emil but I did use their tailwheel, which constitutes a significant improvement over the kit item.
The transparencies ARE too thick and the frames somewhat wonky, but they can be worked with. Solutions can range from careful painting (E-1, E-3, and those E-7s using the earlier canopies) to sanding, polishing, and re-framing (E-4 and E-7 using the "square" canopy stack). You can also replace the whole transparency set with those from another kit, or with vacuum-formed components.
The panel lines are a little heavy but aren't nearly as bad as some folks say. Paint and decals can go a long way towards attracting the eye away from them if they bother you.
That stalky landing gear is the biggest problem I found with the kit, but it's one that's fortunately easy to correct! It's been said that the gear legs are too long, but they aren't! The problem lies in the way Airfix would have us mount the main gear legs; take a look at the kit and you'll see that those square mounting pegs sit ON their mounting pads when they should slip inside them. The legs sit approximately 1/8th of an inch too high as given, but if you open up the mounting slots and slide the gear legs down inside them until the locating pegs that are molded to the upper end of those legs hit the underside of the upper wings, you'll have the correct gear strut length and the problem is solved. (Be sure to avoid cutting the side of that opening that faces the centerline of the airplane so the gear spacing remains correct!) All that's left is to carefully align the legs fore and aft, and make sure they splay outwards correctly. You may have to take a tiny (and I do mean TINY) bit off the angle on the rearmost part of the gear doors where they meet up against the wheel wells, but that's it unless you choose to detail the wheel wells too; Airfix missed the boat on that one but it doesn't bother me because I rarely turn my models upside down---your mileage may vary!
After that it's all a matter of cleaning things up and detailing to taste. This model was done as Herbert Ihlefeld's I/LG 2 mount as stationed in Romania just prior to the beginning of Operation Barbarossa and all of the national insignia, plus all of the stenciling, came directly from the Airfix kit, while Ihlefeld's unit and personal markings were scabbed from an Eduard "Barbarossa Limited Edition" set.
All of the paint used was Mr Color.
We now have several 1/48th scale Bf109E kits to choose from ranging all the way from Monogram's primal 1962 offering to the recently-released Wingsy kit, but my current personal favorite is this one. It's not the best detailed right out of the box, it doesn't fit as well as the more recent kits do, and it has that horrible landing gear, but the end result can be worth the investment and time and modest expenditure for a little aftermarket. It's still a viable option and it's mostly accurate. All it needs is a little love...
5 additional images. Click to enlarge.