Kit Review: Dragon Models Limited 1/35 Scale Modern AFV Series Kit No.3535; M1A1 AIM; 719 parts (421 in grey styrene, 156 "Magic Track links, 102 etched brass, 31 clear styrene, 5 prebent wire, 1 spring, 1 prebent etched brass, 1 turned aluminum gun barrel, 1 length of twisted steel wire); estimated retail price US $45
Advantages: Best M1 kit of any sort on the market; amount of detail has to be seen close up to be believed; finally got the right unit with the extended bustle rack!
Disadvantages: a lot of parts!
Rating: Highly Recommended
Recommendation: For all Abrams and modern US armor fans
There are a number of M1A1 kits on the market, and over the years there has been a large and vociferous following as to who makes the best. The consensus (such as it is) was that the DML kits were the most accurate but troublesome to clean up and assemble, as well as had some niggling problems; the Tamiya one was easy to assemble but tried to combine a dressed up XM1 hull with an M1A1 turret. Up until now, the "solution" was to combine a Tamiya turret with a DML hull.
No more. This kit is as close to "one stop shopping" for an M1A1 as you will get, and for the hard-core detail fans only needs the addition of an engine and some more interior bits. Happily, DML even planned for that as the entire rear engine bay may be opened up for display.
Compared to earlier DML M1 kits (#3534 M1 Panther II mine clearer being the most recent, #3516 being the first one with a mine plow, #3517 with a crew figure set, #3524 an M1A2, and #3533 an M1A1 OIF USMC version) this kit has nothing of note in common with any of them other than its subject. Based on "Sprue Bingo" this kit's sprues start with the letter M and continue on through the rest of the alphabet, thus divorcing themselves from the previous kits. While those kits really aren't bad, this one is so much better that it is no real comparison.
First off, the lower hull (WITH SPONSONS, Tamiya!) is "slide molded: with even the lower brackets molded with the holes opened up in them. The suspension matches late model Abrams vehicles, with no "safety" rins for the drivers but the parts normally missed (such as V28, the mud scraper) included. The front idler and first road wheel station are interconnected to set track tension, but here consist of a five part assembly vice one part or simply molded in place axles. Note that there are holes to open up as you go, and DML calls them out in the PREVIOUS step as fair warning.
The upper hull and turret shell come with no-slip tread molded in, and while a bit heavy for some modelers is going to be fine for most people; a light wash and drybrushing will bring out the texture. Also all of the weld beads are include (suprise! they stand proud, not "trenches!) and there are etched grilles for the air intakes on the engine deck. Note there are two different driver's hatches, one with a reinforced lip and one without.
Oddly enough the kit claims two different styles of "Magic Tracks" but they are all in one bag. This is odd, but I am not sure of the difference (bolt heads and pin ends is usually the reason) so you will have to look sharp, as I see no difference whatsoever.
The rear plate of this model is a masterpiece of molding, as it comes with 20 parts whereas the 25 year old Tamiya hull has but one. Grilles are "see-through" and as noted may be posed open or closed.
The Chobam armor side plates come with a choice of open or closed panels, as well as etched brass top trim strips and accurate internal braces.
The turret is excellent, with the only odd choice of option a frou-frou spring for "realistic recoil" that is pretty much a waste of time. (If it compensated for the heavy aluminum barrel, that would be a better use for it.) The M256 gun barrel has to be assembled pretty much in the same manner as the real one, with the bore evacuator slipped over the barrel and a "slide molded" MRS and cap cemented on the end with ACC when that is in position. There is a complete styrene barrel provided, however, for those who do not like multimedia kits.
The simulated turret interior from the 3516/3517 series kits is gone, and only the gun breech is provided for an interior component. The very intricate commander's weapon station (used to be a cupola!) is provided with a ring to permit traverse, and the loader's M240B also comes with an etched brass base to the "rocker" mounting.
Side bins may be opened or closed, as can the extra smoke grenade stowage bins. The rails and bustle rack were the main complaints with the old kits, being nearly impossible to clean up and assemble; this kit cuts them down to only three assemblies as well as etched brass flooring vice the old mesh netting. Styrene or steel/etched brass/styrene tow cables are provided for the turret sides. Also included are two styles of blowoff plates, two different wind sensor masts, two different styles of thermal sight housings, different radio antenna combinations, and for the A Company 1-64 Armor, the correct (!) auxiliary bustle racks that they were noted for during Iraqi Freedom in2003.
The kit comes with a bunch of accessories, such as thermal ID panels, front turret panels, five-gallon plastic water jugs, a tow bar, MRE boxes, two Minigun ammo boxes, and even two final drive drip pans (parts e2/e6) for the bustle rack. A city-fighting thermal exhaust deflector is also provided.
A total of nine different vehicles may be modeled: M1A1HC "All Bout Da Bones," A Co 1-64 Armor, 3ID Iraq 2003 (sand); M1A1D "Ancient One", 1-68 Armor, 4ID Iraq 2003 (sand); M1A1 AIM 1-77 Armor, 1ID, Germany 2003 (NATO tricolor); and six different vehicles from 1-4 CAV ("Quarterhorse"), 1ID, Iraq 2004 (B-21, B-22, B-23, B-24, B-42, and B-43) (all in NATO tricolor.)
Overall this is a most impressive kit, and quite useful as it permits any one of the current M1A1 tanks on active duty to be modeled. Note that this kit made its debut at the 2006 IPMS USA National Convention, August 2006.
Thanks to Freddie Leung for the review sample.