Kit Review: AFV Club 1/35 scale Kit No. AF35105; M5A1 Stuart Light Tank - Early Production; 519 parts (428 in olive drab styrene; 72 in black styrene;10 etched brass; 4 black nylon; 2 black vinyl tracks; 2 turned aluminum; 1 black nylon string): estimated price around US$40
Advantages: FINALLY somebody got an American armored vehicle right; numerous options and nice touches give the modeler a wide variety of options; promise of more to come!
Disadvantages: does not provide a full set of T16 single-link track; took a long, long time to come to market (five years!)
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all US armor fans and also Commonwealth Stuart VI fans
F I R S T L O O K
Up until now it has been a disappointing year and a half for American armor modelers. Of the five most highly anticipated kits, the first four saw one hit (the Hobby Boss M4 HST), one satisfactory (the Academy M7 Priest) and two duds (the Academy M3 Lee and Grant). But now after a five year delay behind their excellent M3A3 (Stuart V) kit, AFV Club has now released the first of their M5 kits, an M5A1 early production, and it is thankfully worth the wait.
AFV Club "teased" us back in 1997 when they released two sets of M3/ M5 track, the rubber pad T16 (AF35019) and steel three-cleat T36E3 (AF35020) types and a lovely M3/"M5" suspension kit that was superior to anything else on the market. But then it took until 2002 before they released the first of their kits, the M3A3, and while a beautiful kit in its own right it was not a more common American type like an M3 or M3A1 variant. In the meantime Academy released their kits of the M3A1 (which was not) and M3 Honey which, while better in many areas than the 30+ year old Tamiya kits, were no bull's-eyes. Now as we roll into 2008 this kit has come to market and it is everything many modelers had hoped it would be.
First off, it does not use many of the sprues from the M3A3 kit and where it does supplementary parts for the correct bits on the M5A1 are provided. These specifically cover items like the new mounts and VVSS springs for the idler wheels - but being AFV Club, the provide nylon inserts so the "springing" action works! Go figure. The modeler also has a choice of either welded spoke road wheels or the welded "pressed steel" types, as well as welded open spoke or "patched" spoke idlers.
The lower hull is molded flat, but this is not a major problem as it actually permits more accurate construction of the hull. The hull also comes with a firewall and mounts for the twin fans at the rear of the compartment, but no engines or any other lower hull innards are included. The crew escape hatch is also a separate component. The engine access doors come in six parts - two folding sections and two fixed sections. Fenders and the rear section of the sponsons are separate parts, and the lower glacis is also provided with separate bolt heads molded on one of the sprues for accuracy. AFV Club doesn't appear to have tumbled to the tricks of "slide molding" as used by DML, Trumpeter and Academy, but their molding is nonetheless first rate.
The upper hull comes in a total of six basic parts - upper sides, upper glacis, turret roof, fuel tank covers, and engine deck. The bow gun is mounted so that it can move and all of the hatches and periscope inserts are separate components, and if carefully assembled the directions also indicate the hull periscopes are moveable. Brass parts basically cover two of the big grilles at the rear for the upper air intake and exhaust vents from the engine compartment. None of the lower grilles are provided, however.
The kit comes with one sprue - 24 links - of AFV Club's T16 single link track. This is only for the four spare links carried at the rear of the hull, and it comes with two acceptable vnyl track runs for the main track; I daresay most modelers will be very happy with these and will use them vice going for single links. AFV Club indicates, like most other manufacturers, these can be cemented - but in the fine print it says "Instant Glue" (e.g. ACC cements.)
The turret comes with a complete 37mm gun and a turned aluminum barrel (no plastic option.) A few other interior parts are included to include an SCR-508 radio set for the turret bustle (no No. 19 set is provide for the Stuart VI, so Commonwealth modelers are on their own here.) The base for the .30 caliber AA machine gun mount is also a turned aluminum part. A different set of turret moldings are provided for the M5A1 turret and are different from the M3A3 ones in the placement of grouser mounts and other details. There are some small ejection pin marks inside the turret but nothing of major note most places. Note the grousers are quite accurate but come in two pieces each, and since there are 24 of them this may be the most tedious part of the kit.
AFV Club offers six finishing options: "Carol", C-34, 3rd Battalion33rd Armored Regiment, 3AD, Normandy 1944; 2nd "Chasseurs d'Afrique" Regiment, 1st Division Blinde, Free French Army, 1945; ROC Army, 1950s; 4th Tanks, 4th Marine Division, Saipan 1944; 23rd Hussars, 29th Armoured Brigade, 11th Armoured Division, British Army; and D Company, 34th Tank Battalion, 5th Armored Division. "Carol" also comes with a box-size portrait packed with the kit directions. Markings look okay but the very fussy will want to replace them with dry transfers.
Overall this kit is what modelers have been asking for five years, and while it does seem to take AFV Club a while to get their kits out for the most part they arrive ready to meet the anticipation.
Thanks to Miin Herng Tsueng of AFV Club for the review sample.