References for I-MAGO are hard to come by, but there is one excellent publication, "The Lost Archives" that provides pretty much every photo and piece of data about this aircraft that is in existence. It has been invaluable in completing this conversion.
Any modeller who has attempted a serious kit bash like this knows that slightly sinking feeling at the start of the project that involves looking over all of the alterations that will be required and trying to figure out how, and in what order, to attempt them. For the benefit of anyone looking to do similar, here are the key kit bashes required:
- Re-profiling of the cockpit roof
- Removal of the belly gondola
- Blanking of existing side windows and creation of new passenger ones
- Smoothing of the fuselage sides and new side door
- Re-shaping of tail fin
- Extension and re-shaping of the nose
- New internal bulkheads and construction of passenger seats
- Construction of new exhausts
- Addition of solid undercarriage spats
And a number of other minor clean up elements to remove the military aspects of the Italeri kit. And of course an entirely new paint and decal scheme.
The most daunting change is the alteration of the shape of the cockpit roof area, to remove the gun bulge and port that is such a distinctive feature of the military machine. Fortunately a little assistance is available here from Pavla Models, who provide a conversion set designed to turn this kit into an SM.79 C/T racer. Much of the set is redundant for our purposes, but it does provide a suitable vac-form replacement roof, and also a blanking panel for the belly. As a bonus, it also provides nice resin pilot seats and an instrument panel.
And so I set to work. The internal cockpit came together nicely using a combination of kit, Pavla and Eduard etch parts. The fuselage sides were a little trickier. First I blanked off the existing window and door openings and then liberally smothered the outsides with filler to cover the corrugated fabric effect of the military version. Careful smoothing was then used to produce flat sides. I then used clear plastic to create the glazing in the passenger windows.
I then moved to the internals. I had decided to create passenger seats because they would be visible through the windows although it would not be worth adding too much other detail. So once the fuselage halves were together, I constructed a passenger section tub from plastic card and scratch built the six passenger seats from plastic card and some spare photo etch. I also used some steel wire to add the prominent fuselage frames that are visible through the windows.
Next I cracked out the Milliput and built a new nose. The kit nose is slightly too short and the wrong shape, so I extended it with the putty accordingly. Milliput is fantastic stuff but it does dry rock hard and is quite tough to sand down afterwards. So I always recommend getting the shape as close as possible to the correct one whilst it's still wet!
I am not a big fan of vac-form parts, but they are a necessary evil in this game. True to form, the new cockpit roof took a lot of effort and fettling to get seamlessly into place. Fortunately two pieces are provided by Pavla and I had to discard my first attempt after over trimming it, as usual.
The only other alteration to be made before the main painting was the tail fin. The kit one had a rounded rear end which is not correct for the P.III aircraft, and also the P.III rudder extends across the top of the fin. So the top of the kit fin was chopped off and replaced with shaped plastic card.
At this point I primed and painted the model, I wish it was as easy as writing this sentence, but of course getting those nicely curved blue areas was a real pig and took a lot of cleaning up and re-doing. I also used a slightly "off" art-deco white colour for the main areas, it seemed in keeping with the 1930s era in which the aircraft existed.
The decals I generated myself. Getting the font correct was very tricky, in the end I used the closest I could find and then used photo shop to alter it to match the reference photos. Similarly the "S.79" logo was cribbed from the cover of the reference book!
Once all main painting and finishing was complete, I then painted the engine cowling frontages using Alclad copper and aluminium. The kit engines were replaced with Pavla resin version and enhanced with Eduard etch - fortunately these are appropriate to the aircraft and the propellers and spinners were taken from the kit. Again, these matched the originals well.
The only other two significant alterations were the exhausts, which I scratch built from parts of the kit and spare plastic tubing, and also to add a solid plate behind the undercarriage legs over the wheels which were a feature of this aircraft and are not in the kit.
And that, as they say, is pretty much that. Whilst this turned into a pretty tough build overall, there is a huge amount of satisfaction to be had from a kit bash such as this knowing that what you have produced is unique and accurately represents a rare aircraft. I am pretty pleased with the result, and fortunately my customer is too.
You can see a full set of progress photos here.
I hope you enjoy the end result!