Tamiya 1/20 McLaren MP4/4

KIT #: 20020
PRICE: $20.00 'used' about 15 years ago.
DECALS: Two options
REVIEWER: Scott Van Aken
NOTES: 1988 release


The McLaren MP4/4, also known as the McLaren-Honda MP4/4, is one of the most successful Formula One car designs of all time. Powered by Honda's RA168E 1.5-litre V6-turbo engine and driven by teammates Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna, the car competed during the 1988 Formula One season. It was designed by American engineer Steve Nichols, the full responsibility for the design of the chassis having been conferred on him by Ron Dennis. Gordon Murray, as Technical Director, subsequently confirmed this in an internal memo allocating responsibilities for the design department, nominating Nichols as chief designer for the car, and giving himself the role of liaising between the drawing office and production. Neil Oatley, Gordon Kimball, Pete Weismann, Tim Wright and Bob Bell also contributed towards the design of the car. Murray set parameters for Nichols and the design department that the MP4/4 had to be a low-lying car, the concept being derived from Murray's Brabham BT55, which competed 1986 season. This car, however was unsuccessful largely due to the tall height of the car's BMW straight-4 engine.

Honda had made the Constructors' Championship-winning engines of 1986 and 1987, and for 1988 they switched partners from Williams to McLaren, who had struggled with their dated TAG-Porsche engines. Nichols based the design MP4/4 on the MP4/3 from 1987 using the same design principles, but with more time, different components (smaller fuel tank, smaller engine, for example) and different rules the car was a significant development.

The Honda-powered MP4/4 is one of the most dominant Formula One cars ever built, winning all but one race and claiming all but one pole position in the 1988 season.


Tamiya has been a leader in the popularity of some modeling scales. 1/35 scale is a direct result of Tamiya and while 1/50 and 1/100 did not seem to catch on, 1/20 for Formula One kits is another of their successes. This scale is perfect for this type of car as it allows good detailing without things being too small. Add to their excellent engineering and you have a kits that make into excellent models.

This particular kit is typical of their line with a nicely detailed, but non-fiddly engine, a nice interior that really only need a seat harness, steerable front wheels and a body shell that one can remove to show details.

The kit is molded in several colors with the main body parts molded in white and in this case, other parts molded in black. This is quite appropriate as most of the other bits like the chassis, wheels, and interior being black anyway. This helps to facilitate painting. Some other nice details are rubber/vinyl tires with decals for the tires that actually fit well.

Instructions are quite well done and as usual, provide Tamiya paint references. Often when a car kits needs an odd shade, Tamiya will produce a spray paint to match that shade. This is not required of this particular kit as the color scheme is really quite basic. All the color items in the scheme are provided by decals. The decals are very nicely done and fit extremely well. What is missing on the sheet is something that is mandated by law and that is the lack of Marlboro sponsor logos. There are aftermarket sheets that can provide those items if so desired. Conversely, the modeler can use kit decals as is for several nations also prohibit cigarette advertising in motor sports. Numbers and unique decals are provided for both Prost and Senna.


If you have never built a Tamiya 1/20 F.1 car kit, this would be a good one with which to start. Probably the most difficult part of building one of these is the painting of details. However, doing so will truly make for an excellent model for your display.



September 2021

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