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Imai’s THUNDERBIRD MOLE in 1/72 scale

By Neal “Supermarionation” Izumi


The Mole appeared in the 1965 TV show “Thunderbirds.”  It was used by International Rescue whenever a situation required reaching people trapped underground.  A tracked transporter tank raised the Mole via a gantry into launch and recovery position.  The Mole has always been one of my favorite Thunderbirds vehicles from way back in the late 1960's, when we used to watch the show in preschool.  Imai’s Mole is an all-new tooling, which shares nothing in common with the ancient Bandai kit.  The model faithfully captures the details of the original prop, down to the service stenciling. Two sets of serial numbers are provided for the two Moles used in the TV show.  However, the end cap provided in the kit for the Mole unit is for the second machine.  (As a side note, Aoshima re-released the Mole kit with an optional end cap for the first machine, along with an extended rocket nozzle.  The motorization system was deleted from the re-issued kit.)  The drill is molded as one piece and has a satin chrome plated finish.  Provision is made for motorizing the drill tip, drill, side treads, and tank treads.  Two Mabuchi RE-130 motors are required, but must be purchased separately.  The drive system in the Mole includes a cam lobe which controls a blinking red “grain of wheat” bulb (which is included).



The treads are made up of flexible, continuous rubber band tracks with plastic plates.  Although this system may seem crude, it faithfully replicates the tracks of the original prop.  Spring loaded pins in the movable gantry act as electrical contacts for the tank unit.  When the gantry is raised, the tank treads become inoperative.  There is an on/off switch located on the Mole, and a forward/reverse switch on the tank unit.  The kit is designed such that the motorization components are fully accessible after construction.

Aoshima's Thunderbird Mole in 1/72scale
Aoshima's Thunderbird Mole in 1/72scale

Assembly was straightforward, as the majority of work involved the motorized parts.  The multitude of gears, shafts, and contacts looked intimidating at first, but they all went together easily.  The grain of wheat bulb fit loosely in it’s mounting socket atop the Mole, so a small piece of index card was colored black with a permanent marker, then curled around the bulb to shim it.  Except for the individual tracks, there weren’t many plastic parts for the Mole and tank unit.  To simplify painting, the small detail parts were left off until final assembly.  Parts fit and  engineering were good, so the kit was built straight from the box.  There were a couple of sink marks on the Mole body halves, which were easily filled with putty.

The Mole unit was primered with Tamiya’s White Surfacer and pre-shaded with dark orange enamel.  The parts were then painted in “Thunderbird Yellow,” which was mixed from Aeromaster Yellow and Orange enamel paints.  Highlighting was accomplished by airbrushing Yellow straight from the bottle.  The kit provided decals for the red hatches on the left side of the Mole, but I painted them on so that I could shade and weather these areas along with the rest of the model.  The interior of the Mole unit was painted Flat Black to prevent the innards from being seen from the openings for the side treads.  The tank unit was primered with Testors Flat Black, then painted with Testors Dark Sea Blue.  Blue Angel Blue was used to lighten the base color for highlights.

  The drill had prominent mold parting lines and a couple of ejector pin marks, so the entire part was sanded down and imperfections were filled with C/A glue.  The drill was then primered with Tamiya Grey Surfacer, White Surfacer, and finally Gloss Black.  The “beanie” drill tip, wheels, and small detail parts were also primered with Gloss Black.  The wheels and tracks were finished with Alclad Steel, while the other parts were airbrushed Alclad Chrome.  The parts which were not finished in metallic paints were given a blast of Tamiya Clear spray paint, then received heavy enamel washes.  Molded-on details were then carefully masked off and airbrushed Alclad Chrome.  The outsides of the rails on the gantry were painted Alclad Stainless Steel.

  Aoshima's Thunderbird Mole in 1/72scale

Tamiya’s Silver paint maker was used to paint in the ladder-like detail on the sides of the Mole.  I tried using the marker on the recommendation by club member Mark Sindiong.  He had mentioned that the silver paint was the finest grained he had ever seen, and it drybrushed extremely well.  I first drybrushed the detail to get all of the corners, then filled in the middle areas with a fine tipped brush.  I must say that Mark was completely right about the paint, as it brushed on very smoothly.  The tracks were also drybrushed with paint from the Tamiya paint marker to simulate wear.

  The model was then decaled as per the instructions.  Gunze Sangyo Mr Mark Setter was used to help the decals settle down.  Mr Mark Softer was used in spots to help the decals conform to small recessed details.  The right side of the Mole unit had fewer markings, which matched the studio prop.  Since the kit depicted the second machine, the serial number for that unit was selected.  The thin red stripe decals which had white backing suffered from mis-registration.  However, the  rest of the decals were fine.

Aoshima's Thunderbird Mole in 1/72scale

The tank unit and metallic painted parts of the model were fairly coated with gobs of brown pastels from a Gundam Marker Weathering Set.  This set of paint pens contain pastel powder suspended in water, so they apply like paint.  I transferred the pastels into a paint palette and applied them to the model with a flat brush.  The pastels were scrubbed off in uneven patches to produce a nice splotchy mud effect.  Finally, Testors Dullcote was airbrushed on to seal the pastels.

Imai’s Mole is a tour-de-force of scale accuracy and working gizmos!  The kit was well researched and engineered, and was easy to assemble. This was the first model that I have built in a very long time which I felt was good enough to be built out of the box.  Coming from a person diagnosed with terminal AMS, this is high praise for Imai.  The finished model looks terrific on the shelf, and can provide hours of motorized fun!  This Thunderbirds kit is definitely “GO!”

  • Mole-1LQ
  • Mole-beaconLQ
  • Mole-bottomLQ
  • Mole-detailLQ
  • Mole-pistonLQ
  • Mole-raisedLQ
  • Mole-separatedLQ
  • Mole-treadsLQ
  • Thunde7
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  • Thunde1
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  • Thunde5
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