Kit Review: Academy 1/35 scale Kit No. 13218; U.S.M.C. M50A1 Ontos;
(315 in grey styrene, 28 etched brass, 24 grey vinyl, 2 gunmetal
vinyl); retail price US$36.00
Advantages: first styrene kit of this vehicle in more than 50 years
and first styrene one in 1/35 scale; nicely done with good parts
layout and preparation for a number of options
Disadvantages: no interior; some scale problems
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all “Jarheads” and fans of 1950s armored vehicles
F I R S T L O O K
When I was in college in 1966 there were two Marine sergeants going
through the “Bootstrap” program in which they were allowed to attend
college on Marine time with the condition they would return to active
duty as second lieutenants upon graduation. Both had served in Vietnam
the previous year (1965) and had stories to tell.
One of the most interesting was coming into a Vietnamese village and
coming under sniper fire. The platoon leader called for help and an
Ontos drove up to deal with the sniper. The VC, upon seeing the
armored vehicle, jumped down from his tree spot and began to run for
his life. The Ontos fired one of the recoilless rifles at him – and
missed. Again. Miss. Again. Miss. After the sixth shot - and miss –
the commander popped the hatch, lined up on the now distant VC and
fired the .30 caliber Browning, taking him out with one burst. So much
for fire support.
This curious little vehicle, which began as an Army tank destroyer
project in the early 1950s, wound up going to the Marines as it was
light enough and small enough to be easily deployable and still
provide heavy firepower and antitank capability when needed. In the
late 1950s Renwal, whose only armored vehicle kits were of US Army
vehicles from the “Pentomic” Army period, released a 1/32 scale kit of
one with lots of moving parts, a crew and “no-show” gluing (e.g. you
had to attach most parts from the inside, not the outside). A popular
model of the time, as with many other kits it suffered from “sort of”
scale approaches and oversized moving parts, as well as some rough
construction problems - for one, it was nearly impossible to get the
barrels straight no matter how hard you tried.
Over the years two 1/35 scale resin kits came out, but both were very
fiddly and expensive. Now Academy has come to the rescue with a brand-
new kit in 1/35 scale which is much closer to the real vehicle and
appears to hit the target.
In the interests of full disclosure I did provide a good deal of
information to Academy via MRC for this kit – markings information, a
complete set of plans, and a complete set of photos and drawings from
the USMC operator’s manual for the vehicle. While most of the latter
covered the interior – and there is not a bit of interior in this kit
even with the huge number of parts – the exterior parts appear to have
been closely matched to the info I provided as well as that Academy
researchers found elsewhere.
The kit comes with a four-piece hull – top, bottom and upper and
lower rear plates – with slide molding used to get the details on the
lower hull. The suspension is quite complex but matches what info I
have on the vehicle and is designed to permit all of the wheels to
rotate; a standard Academy set of vinyl keepers is included but only
10 of 24 parts are used. The shock absorbers are also included and
care must be taking in installing them in Step 4.
The flip-down ammunition door (which was overscale but worked on the
Renwal kit) is included as a separate part, but there is no ammo bay
and it simply covers the opening for one. The grille doors for the
engine compartment are separate parts, but while the service access to
the engine is open the rest of the compartment is closed off and the
grilles simply cement to the top of the hull. The travel lock for the
rifle assembly is fixed but the modeler has a choice of up or down.
Etched screens are provided for the muffler assembly and care will be
needed as part PE7 is a cone shaped connector which must be formed
from flat brass. While there are a number of etched brass bits
included, the kit main directions are more than a bit obtuse on how to
use the rest or even where! I think they include straps for the rear
mudguards (PE5 and PE9) and brackets for the muffler guards plus a
replacement (PE12) for the driver’s periscope guard (B63), plus a set
of 16 bolt heads. A better description is given on the finishing sheet
along with locations.
The rifle assembly is very complete, with each rifle comprising 14
parts (lowers) or 17 parts (uppers) for those weapons with and without
spotting rifles respectively. Note that the lower weapons do not mount
spotting rifles when installed in the rifle assembly, even though they
are shown in Step 12. (They can be mounted if the rifles are removed
from the assembly and used in an M40C arrangement on a tripod ground
mount). The breeches appear to be posable in the “open” position. The
Vietnam added armor plate for the .30 caliber machine gun is also
included. Note that the rifle assembly is fixed in place and cannot be
elevated or depressed, albeit it can be set with some work during
installation in Step 9.
The tracks are one-piece vinyl runs and look the part - steel bars
bolted to a rubber base to form a continuous tracks (note that this is
pretty much one reason why you do not see many preserved Ontos
vehicles with tracks as once they start to deteriorate they are hard
to fix or replace - the APG one is a typical victim). There are three
small nubs on the outer face which require trimming, but the detail
and flexibility are very good.
The only glitch I ran into with the kit are the rifles. Each one is a
tad underscale (overall the barrels are right at 106mm in scale - 3mm
- or about a scale 8-10mm too small in diameter. With a coat of paint,
this is mostly insignificant and they do look the part. However, the
four ammo rounds provided for them are overscale and are about 122mm
instead. If you use them - as the shapes are close and MUCH better
than the “giant bazooka rounds” Renwal fancifully supplied – don’t
place them too close to the rifle breeches!
The two figures are very well done and tailored to the vehicle. The
commander has a “bone dome” with one-piece goggles and the loader has
a “do rag” bandanna. Note that the figures as molded are better than
the prototypes in the directions on details!
One finishing option is provided, “Soul Tractor” which is straight
from the Osprey book on US Armor in Vietnam. This time the markings
match the photos.
Overall, while a bit of interior could have made it an even better
kit, it should please most modelers and is one of the best efforts
Thanks to Ed Sexton from MRC for the review sample.