ARM: Review - AFV Club M40 SP 155mm GMC

Kit Review: AFV Club 1/35 Scale Kit No. 35031; M40 US 155mm Gun Motor
Carriage "Big Shot"'; 486 parts (441 in olive drab styrene, 23
etched brass, 12 black vinyl spring sections, 6 clear styrene, 2 black
vinyl track runs, 1 turned aluminum gun barrel, 1 length of nylon
string); retail price around US $46
Advantages: long awaited kit now out and worth the wait, nicely done
details, very complete kit
Disadvantages: tracks only used by stateside prototypes, still using
vinyl springs in the suspension bogies
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: for all US Army and Military Assistance Plan
"Redlegs"
F I R S T L O O K
For some reason big self-propelled guns have always resonated with
modelers, and back in the 1950s one of the most popular was the Adams
kit of "Big Shot," which was the M4 series tank based chassis
mounting a 155mm "Long Tom" gun on it. Even though the kit, done by
Revell friend and military mold cutter Adams in their odd choice of
1/40 scale, was pretty bleak by today's standards, for the 1950s it
was great. The tracks moved, the gun elevated, traversed and
"recoiled" with help, and the back plate folded down along with the
spade as well as had the crew platform extend. Add a crew of scale
figures, fanciful if totally incorrect decals, and it was a great model
for the then princely sum of $1.49.
Over the years the kit remained popular, even as its molds began to
break down as it changed hands, to SNAP, then UPC, and finally to
Life-Like. But no kit of this vehicle appeared in the more popular 1/35
scale. Matchbox produced one in 1/76 and ROCO in roughly 1/87, but
nothing else of note for nearly 40 years.
About ten years ago AFV Club from Taiwan produced a new and exciting
1/35 scale model of the famous M2 (M59) 155mm gun, better known as
"Long Tom" for its reach, and many people hoped they would soon
follow that with an M4 high-speed tractor or better still a complete
M40 kit. But while AFV Club did released a limited distribution version
of the very similar M115 8" howitzer, no tractor or SP variant
followed.
For a number of years modelers have been waiting for AFV Club to
"drop the other shoe" on its self-propelled 155mm gun kit, having
come out with ammunition for this weapon with their very first release
of a Vietnam era M548, and then the gun itself, and finally the M4
series HVSS suspension and T80 and T84 series tracks three years back.
Now the full kit has finally been released, and overall it has been
worth the wait. While not inexpensive, it provides a great deal of
value for the money and is a really decent effort.
AFV Club packs it very neatly, with the rear of the one-piece
slide-molded lower hull protected by a small box to ensure it does not
break or warp in transit. The entire hull less the transmission cover
and top sections (obviously!) is one molding. The suspension trees
(there are two) each come with a late-production M4 series "sharp"
cast bow section, so you even get a spare with the kit.
The suspension as noted is the one from the M4 HVSS set, but alas
still includes the frou-frou vinyl springs for the bogies which
accomplish little other than add one more notch up the rung of
complication in assembly. The rest of the bogies are nicely done and
fit the bill. The drivers provided are the later "cast" ones, but
most photos of M40s in service show the plain "disk" ones with
solid rims so if you have a large selection of Sherman stocks you may
wish to replace them.
The tracks are the one odd thing in the kit. For some reason AFV Club
provided a very nice set of T66 single-pin cast tracks in black vinyl,
rather than the more common and accurate T80 steel-faced cleated track
or the final T84 rubber chevron tracks. Photographs of the so-called
"Zebra Mission" to Germany that saw the prototype T83 155mm gun and
T89 8" howitzer prototype used against Cologne (the latter with a
standard M2 barrel vice its M115 barrel) show them with T80 tracks,
which were then the standard in Europe and had replaced many of the T66
sets. Both of those are available from AFV Club as a busy four-piece
single link set but look great when assembled and installed, so anyone
wishing to make a Korean war version should get the T80 set instead.
Only the very early production models in the states of the M40 and M43
(8" howitzer carriage) used T66s. (They can be used to fix other kits
though, such as the DML M4A3E8 "Albin Irzyk" kit that comes with
incorrect-for-its-time T80s).
The hull is pretty straightforward with a central bulkhead joining the
rear floor and the front decking. Alas, for those planning to convert
the model to the M43 the kit only comes with the 155mm racks and
lockers and thus you will have to find and create your own racks for
that vehicle. (Perhaps AFV Club will release an M43 with the different
barrel tip and ammo racks later on.)
The gun is virtually the original M2 (M59) 155m gun upper carriage
components verbatim. The stability brace used on the M2 kit is not used
here, and instead the gun comes with "batwing" gun shields for the
crew as well as the loader's tray (parts A5 and A11.) Note that on
the original vehicle this item is stowed on top of the gun breech with
the handles straddling the "horns" of the gun mount. It can easily
be seen in a number of reference photos of the early production
vehicles. Note that while only the front end of the barrel is aluminum
it is muzzle heavy when left loose.
The fighting compartment comes with a wealth of details and options,
including a semi-working ramp winch for the firing spade as well as
pulleys. The string is solely to be used for winding around the winch
and through the pulleys, and a rigging diagram is included for
installation. A work platform is included (parts B1 and B8) but the
support bracket has to be fixed, so you can choose either open or
closed for that part. Ditto for the work platform (which makes it a bit
odd that AFV Club would permit the spade to operate but not the
platform.)
The hull front details include an odd choice - T84 track links in
the stowage racks (parts A40) which is odd if they meant to use the T66
tracks from the start. However, since the M40 was still in service with
the ROC Armed Forces and probably uses the asphalt-friendly T84s this
may have been an oversight. The only part I noted missing from the kit
was the odd "comb" device in front of the co-driver's position,
which was apparently used for setting the parking brakes externally
when shipping the vehicle.
Seven finishing options are provided, all for American vehicles. One
is unfortunately for the "Zebra Mission" which as noted this gun
has too many variances to match; British Royal Artillery, 1960s (again,
wrong tracks); one is for the 204th FA in Korea, with a large dragon on
the left side of the fighting compartment; and the remaining four are
for all three batteries of the 937th FA in Korea - A Battery
("Aitas Ankies"), B Battery ("Big Bruiser") and C Battery
("Courageous Confederate" and "Cyd Charisse", which
unfortunately has "Cyd" spelled "Cyo.") No bumper codes are
provided for the 937th FA vehicles, which is also unfortunate. (There
is a web site with some amplifying data however - see
formatting link
for
more info.)
Overall this is a really nice kit and most of the quibbles with it are
things many modelers would fix anyway, such as the tracks.

Cookie Sewell
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AMPSOne
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