Heller 1/100 Ship of the Line Soleil Royal

Heller's Soleil Royal is one of the more infamous and controversial plastic sailing ship kits. It is no exaggeration to say that it is easily one of the most detailed, complex and finely moulded plastic kits ever made, and in many respects is a masterpiece of injection-moulding technology. Unfortunately, as an accurate scale model of the ship it is supposed to represent, it's rather lacking.

The only way to describe the initial impressions made by the box contents is "mind-blowing". Not so much for the size of the model - with a hull length of about 65cm, it's quite sizeable but hardly a monster - but for the sheer quantity of sprues full of small, intricate parts. The box gives a parts count of 2300, which may actually be an understatement (no, I haven't counted them myself!), there are 4 sprues of blocks and deadeyes alone, each of which contains 200+ parts.

Closer inspection of the parts shows that their quantity is matched by quality. The hull + decks have excellent moulded plank + wood grain detail, and all of the smaller parts are moulded with a degree of fineness which is very good by 21st-century standards, let alone 1970s. The most impressive area, however, is the hull decoration. As far as I know, Heller based their kit on an incomplete model in a French museum (which, as far as I know, is not contemporary but actually dates to the 19th century) In some cases, Heller "extrapolated" the missing parts, in other areas they just copied the museum model. This resulted in the kit having a lot of strange and illogical as well as inaccurate features, some more obvious than others. This is not a case of "rivet-counting" (or should that be plank-counting?) but serious and obvious errors. Some of these are summarised at the end of the review.
Some of these problems - most of the more obvious ones - can be easily fixed with some extra modelling work. There are others, however, which aren't quite as straightforward. For example, the deck has no camber (this isn't too obvious once the model is completed with all the cannons + fittings on the deck, but its omission on a model as large and detailed as this can't really be excused); and most of the deck furniture and inboard bulkheads/structures are very plain and functional, more like a late 18th-century warship such as HMS Victory, in great contrast to the incredibly ornate exterior. To be honest, this latter issue isn't one I'd have noticed myself - it would seem logical to me for the ostentatious decoration to be confined to the outside whilst the working areas of the ship are more functional and practically designed - but I am no expert on 17th century warship design, and other more knowledgeable modellers have pointed this out as a serious issue with the kit. It goes without saying that attempting to fix this problem will require a considerable amount of work (and skill) carving and adding the decoration, as well as research work in finding out what it should look like.

These are some of the more serious + obvious problems with the kit - along with some suggested fixes. There may well be others which I didn't know of, or forgot!
- The lower quarter galleries are completely enclosed - what should be square windows are represented as decorated panels. Use a Dremel circular saw (or similar) to cut out the panels, which can now be glued to the sides of the hull inside the gallery. You will probably need to scratchbuild the gallery floor.

One skilled and knowledgeable sailing ship modeller described the makers of the Soleil Royal kit as "extremely skilled artisans who knew next to nothing about ships" and this is the general impression made by the kit. Given the vast amount of painstaking work that went into designing the kit's sprues with their amazingly detailed carvings and myriad tiny fittings and components, it's a pity Heller couldn't have put a bit more effort into researching the subject; even if more reference material for the Soleil couldn't be found, contemporary drawings of other ships (some of which Heller used for their other kits - the Royal Louis for example) would point out some of the more obvious mistakes.

Opinions on this kit differ very widely - my personal views can be more or less summarised as:
- Built straight "out of the box" the kit will build into a model which is beautiful + decorative but nonetheless obviously inaccurate + generally "wrong" to anyone with a moderate knowledge of sailing ships and 17th century warship design.
- With some modification and minor scratchbuilding work, none of it beyond the skill of anyone capable of building + painting the kit, it will build into a convincing + impressive model of a late 17th century ship-of-the line, if not a truly accurate model of the Soleil Royal itself.
- Building a truly accurate and fully detailed model of Soleil Royal from the kit would require a huge amount of modification, scratchbuilding and also research work, although it would probably be less work than building the entire thing from scratch.

Finally, credit should be given to the various members of the Finescale Modeller magazine's ship modelling forum - http://cs.finescale.com/forums/7/ShowForum.aspx - for pointing out the kit's problems and in some cases suggesting fixes. Without them, I have to be honest that I would not be aware of many of the kit's deficiencies, though the most serious ones - the solid quarter galleries, low waterline, missing deck camber and missing figurehead knee supports - are pretty obvious.

This review has around twice as many photos as any other on my site - not only are there many different sprues, but most of them have so many small parts that several photos of each are needed to show everything in full detail. Apologies to those with slow Internet connections!
Note that this is a second-hand kit and some of the parts have been painted or removed from the sprues by the previous owner.

Hull halves.

Sprue with smaller guns and carriages, rigging deadeyes, gratings etc. (# included)

Closeup of the guns.

Closeup of the deadeyes and gratings.

Sprue with larger guns, carriages and gun ports.

Closeup of the gun barrels.

Closeup of the carriages.

Ship's boats.

Transparent parts including lanterns.

Closeup of the lanterns.

One of the gold plastic sprues, with the bow scrollwork.

Another gold sprue with various ornamental carvings.

Closeup of some of the figures and other carvings.

More gold including the figurehead.

Closeup of the figurehead of winged Victory(?) riding a sea horse.

Various bulkheads, railings and the rudder.

Stern and quarter gallery parts moulded in blue plastic.

Closeup of one of the quarter galleries. Probably one of the most intricately detailed single parts in any plastic kit!

Aft hull/poop deck sides.

Amidships/forward bulwarks, transom and nameplate.

Closeup of the stern ornamentation.


Sprue with blocks, deadeyes and other rigging parts (# included)

Closeup of some of the many tiny parts on this sprue.

Display stand and various small parts.

Smaller mast and spar parts.

Larger spar parts.

The lower main mast and mast tops.

More spars including the bowsprit.

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