I’ll give you what I consider the pros and cons of each kit, and what I did to get them to the configuration I desired. The one big caveat is this – what I feel compelled to change other modelers might not give a hoot about or even notice – and visa-versa. Build the model you want how you want and have fun.
First is the Hasagawa kit with decals from AeroMaster sheet 72-175. This is the oldest kit of the three, and needed the most work. The cockpit and wheelwells were replaced with Aeries resin and the flaps dropped. The contour of the upper cowling was given a more rounded profile with a file. The upper wing joint needs filed back a bit at the wing root joint to get some dihedral on the wings. The ventral antenna should be moved back about 3-4 mm. I cut the flaps off and replaced them with the spares from the Airfix kit so they could be shown dropped. The kit decals had creamy whites and orange reds. I used the instrument panel decal, but it split into four pieces so the rest of the kit decals went into the trash.
On the plus side, this kit has nice surface detail. There are many additional parts included to allow the modeler to make several modifications and alternate configurations. Good to have the options. In addition to the two types of drop tanks, the kit includes both the Hamilton Standard cuffed propeller and the Aeroproducts propeller usually seen on the P-51K. Oddly, both the Airfix and Tamiya kits provide additional clear parts for the blown sliding canopy “Dallas” hood but Hasegawa does not. Hasegawa does include both shrouded and unshrouded exhausts and the dorsal DF fitting seen on some Mustangs. Duplicate parts are also included for the ventral inlet scoops and radiator door, but the differences were not obvious to me.
This is the new Airfix kit, with markings from Eagle Strike sheet IP7208. This kit does a lot of things right, the most obvious being the ability to drop the flaps without the use of a razer saw. Two sets of flaps are provided, tabbed to pose them up or down as the builder prefers. The second big thing done right is the wheelwells, which go all the way back to the main wing spar, just like the real thing. The wells benefit from a little clean-up to remove the inner lip and thin the lower wing edge. They will still be just a little shallow, but only a little. If you want to paint the wells in natural metal with only the spar in Zinc Chromate like the early “D”, this kit provides your best opportunity. Fit was good overall, with the exception of the clear parts.
Which brings us to the liabilities. The problem which gets the most attention on the Web is the panel lines. Yes, they are wider and deeper than those of other kits. I have reduced them here with coats of Mr. Surfacer. It helped quite a bit, at the expense of some extra time and sandpaper. The smaller parts also present some problems, due mainly to the soft plastic and large sprue gates. Some parts were molded badly on my example. The drop tanks have several errors, and are best left off or replaced. There are some minor fit issues with the forward windscreen. This is the first time I have built a kit with the clear canopy molded separately from the lower frame. I gave it a shot, but I have to say I prefer a one-piece canopy and will replace it with a vacuform piece in the near future.
Last of the three is the Tamiya kit. Markings are from Super Scale sheet 72-697, which performed flawlessly despite languishing in the stash for years. The panel lines here are recessed and nicely engraved, the molding is sharp. If you want dropped flaps with this kit they must be cut loose, but they are molded as one piece with the upper wing panels and can be filled out with a few lengths of half round. The wheelwells are deep and have some really nice detail, but only go back to the well opening, not to the spar. In the end I replaced them, but I’m sure many modelers won’t see that as being worth the extra effort.
The Tamiya kit surprised me with a couple of fit issues. The fit of the main wing can be fixed with some careful trimming at the center of the rear edge, above the radiator scoop where it will be hidden. Of more concern is the fit of the forward windscreen – it’s about a millimeter wider than the fuselage. On any future builds I will try shimming the upper cowl out enough to improve the fit. The main canopy is in two pieces, and I think a vacuform piece would improve the appearance here as well.