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Turning a Sow’s Ear Into a Silk Purse

Upgrading Revell-Matchbox' Ancient 1/72 Fiat CR42

n by Peter Ibes (IPMS Netherlands)

(For our non-Anglo-Saxon readers, ‘Turning a sow’s into into a silk purse’ is an English expression for making something beautiful out of something useless. - Author)

Alright, to call the little Revell-Matchbox Fiat CR42 a sow’s ear might be a bit of a stretch. After all, it is quite a nice little kit, but it does have a few contour problems. The most obvious is the engine cover, which is too long and narrow and looks like it is actually based on the Fiat CR42’s prototype. Further the interior is virtually non-existent, with just a seat and something that resembles a pilot. But, with a few basic modelling skills and some rod and sheet, this can be turned into a little gem.

Italian aircraft of World War 2 have always intrigued me, because of their camouflage schemes and the fact that they, in spite of being outdated and outnumbered, achieved some remarkable results.

One of the most important fighter aircraft of the Regia Aeronautica in the early stages of the war was the Fiat CR42. This biplane actually performed better than the British Gloster Gladiator or the Russian I-153, but unfortunately for the Italians it was doomed when faced with the monoplane opposition.

Historic Background

The CR42 was a direct descendant of the Fiat CR32, which had been used so successfully in the Spanish Civil war. The prototype flew in 1938, and continued to be produced practically unchanged until the summer of 1944.

Its first operational use in World War 2 was not with the Regia Aeronautica, but the Belgian Aéronatique Militaire, in an attempt to stem the Luftwaffe’s onslaught in May 1940. The Regia Aeronautica took the CR42 to war from June 1940 onwards, after Italy had declared war on France.

After the surrender of France, the CR42’s were moved to the Channel front. They were used in the Battle of Britain, but proved to be no match for the Hurricanes and Spitfires of the RAF. Nonetheless, this nimble biplane carried on and fought on all fronts; the Balkans, in Greece, in Libya and Abyssinia, against Malta and in the end in Italy itself, both in the role of a day and a night fighter.

After the Italian surrender in September 1943, the Luftwaffe managed to seize a considerable number of CR42s. These were used as trainers and as fighter bombers for night harassment attacks on the allied forces and against partisans. Further both the Aeronatica Nazionale Repubblicana and the Aeronautica Co-Belligerente used the CR42 as a trainer, with some even being used in that role for several years after the war.

Apart from Italy the CR42 was used by the air forces of Belgium, Sweden, Hungary and the Luftwaffe. Further the British captured several examples, which were flown as ‘hacks’ with British markings.

Other interesting versions were the ICR42, a hydroplane version of which only a prototype was build, the CR42 DB, with a Daimler Benz DB 601 in-line engine and the biposto dual control version.

The Kit

I build a few Revell CR42s years ago, both in Italian and Hungarian marking. But I was never completely satisfied with the ‘look’ of the result. Of course, nowadays there are several alternatives, such as the magnificent resin model by Mister Kit, or the new Pavla injection moulded kit, but to pay more than 20 Euros for a little biplane kit…

Now while going through my stack of unbuilt kits, I came across the vacuform model of the Fiat CR25 from Airmodel. This also includes injection moulded parts for the engine covers, engines and propellers. Now what if I used these for my CR42? Comparing the engine covers with the Revell kit and against the plans in Ali d’Italia No. 1, showed an almost perfect fit. Now if I also tackled the other ‘small’ problems, I might actually get something nice here… And since the CR25 has two engines, I decided to build two upgraded CR 42s simultaneously.


Naturally I started with the fuselage. Based on the photos from Ali d’Italia and using plastic sheet and rod from Evergreen, I recreated the tubular frame, an instrument panel and various other boxes and switches, and added more detail to the seat. These were painted light grey and black, highlighting the various details by dry-brushing with silver. The instrument dials came from a Tauro sheet for the Macchi MC 202. After joining the fuselage halves, I re-contoured the vertical tail surface according to the plans in Ali d’Italia. Next a venture tube was made from rod and the steps filled with putty.


The upper wing was relatively easy to correct. Only the tips needed to by sanded to a more round shape to conform to the plans. I further added some little stubs for the navigation lights and made the cables for the ailerons from stretched sprue.

The lower wing and underside of the fuselage were a bit more tricky. The kit’s air intakes in the wing root are the wrong shape and the exhausts at the trailing edge are missing. This was corrected using a lot of putty and some thin plastic sheet. Further the wing tips were sanded to a more rounded shape. The wing chord is a bit too short, but since correcting that would involve some major surgery; I decided to leave that as is.

Engine and Undercarriage

The kits engine is fairly well detailed, so all I did here was to paint it with a mix of Humbrol black and silver, with the pushrods highlighted in silver. The engine cover came from the Airmodel kit, with new exhausts made from Evergreen rod; short ones for the day fighter version and elongated ones for the night fighter. After gluing that to the fuselage, the propeller was added using the Airmodel item.

The undercarriage legs supplied in the kit are too narrow in the chord as well. I corrected this by adding thin styrene stripes to the front and back, filling everything in with putty, and sand everything smooth. Further the spats received a closing plate behind the wheels, after which the rear was sanded to a more pointed shape. The wheels are a bit on the small side, but again, I left that as is.

Camouflage & Markings

With such a plethora of markings to choose from, which one to build? The night fighter version was easy. Tauro sheet number 72-535 includes markings for an all-black Fiat CR42 CN (Caccia Notturna), of the 377a Sq. Autonoma, from Sicily in 1942, with a white fuselage band and cross a Savoy. For this I used Humbrol gloss black (two layers) for the best decal adhesion. After putting on the various decals, the model was coated with Model Master dull cote.

For the day fighter version the choice was bit more difficult; there are so many after market sheets available (the kit's decals cannot be used as they are undersized, with the codes belonging to a Regia Aeronautica bomber squadron). Hungarian Armour decals provides markings for a Luftwaffe version, Kits at War has one for the Belgian air force, while both Tauro and Third Group Decals have markings for various Italian and Hungarian aircraft. In the end I decided to build the CR42 of Maggiore Tito Falconi, the commander of the 70° Sq, 4° Stormo CT, Libya, 1941, from the Third Group sheet. This particular aircraft had a striking camouflage scheme of Giallo Mimetico 2, with Verde Mimetico 3 and Marrone Mimetico 2 spots, for which I used Humbrol H83 (sand), H116 (olive green) and a mix of H33 (black) with H174 (red). For the underside I used H64 (light grey), with H25 (yellow) for the Giallo Cromo engine cover. Again after adding the decals, the model was coated with Dull Cote.

The final additions was to add bracing wires between the outboard struts from stretched sprue, and presto, two good looking (at least in my eyes) CR42s, for a fraction of what one of these high end kits would have cost me, with double the modelling fun.

Additional images, click to enlarge

  • Ali d’Italia No. 1 – Fiat CR42, La Bancarella Aeronautica, Turin, Italy, 1995

  • Courage Alone – The Italian Airforce 1940-1943, Chris Dunning, Hikoki Publications, 1998

  • Colori e Schemi Mimetici della regia Aeronautica 1935-1943, Umnerto Postiglioni & Andrea Degl’Innocenti, Gruppo Modellistico Trentino, 1995

  • Air War Italy 1944-45 – The Axis Air Forces from the Liberation of Rome to the Surrender, Nick Beale, Ferdinando D’Amico & Gabriele Valentini, Airlife Publishing Ltd., Shrewsbury, United Kingdom, 1996


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