Wednesday, June 1

Construction Review Pt.II: Andy builds Takom's 35th scale T-55 AMV Russian Medium Tank

The contentious areas of the fuel tank and lines, the ERA armour and road wheels and suspension are put to the test today with Andy’s build of the Takom T-55amv kit in 35th scale. See how he has built up his tank in readiness for painting with Pt:II in his construction review.

Construction Review: T-55 AMV Russian Medium Tank (Part 2)
Manufacturer - Takom
Kit Number - 2042
Scale - 1/35
Price - £38, ¥6,120, US$55, €49 from Hobbylink Japan

In part 1 we looked through the box of Takom's new T-55 AMV, the first in a series of T-54/55 kits coming from the manufacturer. There was plenty of nice looking plastic inside, so now in part 2, we'll see just how well it all goes together, and if we end up with a worthy replica of this iconic cold war warrior.

Before cutting any plastic, I made sure to pin the two correction sheets to the relevant pages in the instruction manual, otherwise it would be very easy to forge ahead with construction, only to realise later that an incorrect part had been used in an earlier step, which may then be very difficult to fix.

Construction gets underway with the lower hull. Before attaching any parts, a few holes need to be opened up to allow the appliqué armour panels to be added.

With the holes opened up, the floor armour drops into place, along with the armour panel on the front of the hull and the support frames for the ERA blocks. In some ways, it's a shame that all this detail is hidden on the finished model, but it does open the door to building a knocked out tank on its side.

Next, up we deal with the suspension arms. This is one of the areas covered on the correction sheet, so make sure to take the part numbers from that sheet and not those listed in the manual. The arms are a very tight fit into keyed holes in the hull, and I was a little worried that they may not end up sitting level. However, a quick dry fit showed that Takom's engineering is very precise, and all the arms lined up straight and true.

With the arms in place, I ran some liquid cement around the join to fix them, and this is where I ran into a small issue. I normally use Tamiya Extra Thin cement, but I'd just run out. I switched to a bottle of Gunze Mr Cement, which has a different formulation to Tamiya, having I believe a higher acetone content. This had an immediate effect on the plastic, causing cracks to appear, despite only being applied sparingly. Lesson learnt, I picked up a new bottle of Tamiya, and had no further problems.

This could have simply been down to the tight fit of the arms putting pressure on the joint, which had been softened by the cement, but I'd advise some caution if using this cement on Takom kits.

The instructions call for a row of ERA blocks to be added to the forward hull at this point. I elected to leave them separate to make painting easier. I'm going to be building the white African Union option here, and you're hard pressed to find a photo of an African T-55 which isn't in a general state of disrepair. To that end, I decided to cut away half of the row of ERA blocks, as many examples have gaps were damaged blocks have been removed. The cut end needed a styrene plug added but was otherwise a simple modification. The empty bracket was bent a little to show damage.

The road wheels were also built up now, having first scuffed up the tyres to remove much of the rather heavily moulded ribbing. I left the tyres unglued so they could later be removed for painting. The wheels themselves don't feature poly caps, but all the same are a very secure push fit onto the axles, so they too can be left separate for painting.

With the suspension done, attention turned to the upper hull, which is supplied in three section, no doubt to allow different versions of the tank to be produced.

The three sections join up to make a very sturdy assembly, which drops perfectly onto the lower tub. I reinforced the joints on the underside with some styrene pieces, but I was just being over cautious, and this isn't really necessary.

Before the upper hull is permanently attached to the hull, the PE engine screens need to be added. These are inserted from below, and held in place by a styrene panel, with engine vent detailing which can be seen through the screens.

Unfortunately, Takom hasn't really provided a lip for the screens to sit on to, and the opening is about the same size as the screen themselves. This means it's very easy for the screen to push straight through the opening in the engine deck.
I managed to get the panels to stay in place eventually, but this would be much easier if Takom had made the PE screen larger and moulded a lip on the underside of the engine deck for the screens to sit into. Before adding the engine panel to the underside, I sprayed it black to avoid the possibility of any unpainted plastic showing under the screens.

Before going any further, I thought it would be a good idea to deal with the tracks. Indi links are never my favourite thing to put together, but these actually went together very easily. The fact that this tank has side skirts meant the job was easier still, as I didn't need to add the upper run. The tracks needed very little clean up, just a small moulding pip in the centre of the link, and that was only present on about half the links. A full run would need 92 links per side, but here I used 64 which was enough to wrap around the drive sprocket and idler at each end. The required links were glued together with a slow setting cement (Revell Contacta in this case), then carefully wrapped around the wheels and held in place with tape while the glue dried.

Next up for assembly were the fenders, and here I decided to add a little extra detail. The retaining bar for the front mudguard is moulded on, which looks a little flat and has a split in it where the mudguard joins the fender.

I carefully sliced the moulded bar off, drilled through the mount, and fabricated a new one from a thin guitar string. The wire was cut into two sections so it could be inserted into the mount from either side, and the clip on the inside edge of the mudguard was made from an off-cut from a PE fret.

As already mentioned, many T-55's are often seen in less than perfect condition, and it's a common sight to see one or both mudguards missing. I decided to leave the right-hand mudguard off, and that required a little modification to the mounting hinge. The sections of the hinge that would be attached to the mudguard were carefully cut away leaving just the ones that would be on the fender side. I also decided to leave off the spare track links that would be mounted at the front of the fender, adding the mounting points from a brass tube.

There are a couple of stowage boxes that need adding to the fenders before they're attached to the hull, but for some reason, Takom has only moulded the top, rear and outer face of the box. It's true that all the subsequent fender boxes and side skirts partly hide this area, but the lack of a front side to the box would still be noticeable on the finished kit. It was a simple job to add the missing side from plastic card, but it really shouldn't have been necessary.

With that done, the fenders can now be attached to the hull but, before doing so, I brush painted black primer over some of the areas that would be inaccessible later in the build. That way, even if these areas proved hard to reach with the airbrush, they'd appear to be in shadow, and no bare plastic would be seen.

There's quite a bit of PE to go around the engine deck and fenders and, apart from the previously mentioned engine screens, it all went on without issue, and gives a nice refined look to the area. The triangular fender support brackets are all subtly different, with some of them featuring cut-outs for the various stowage boxes and fuel tanks mounted on the fenders, so double check which one goes where as you're fitting them.

With the fenders on, a small problem (of my own making) became clear. I'd intended to paint the track runs separately, then add them at the end, before attaching the side skirts. However, it became clear that the overhang of the rear mudguards would hamper this as they prevented the drive sprocket, which would need to go on with the tracks, from sliding onto its axle (the fenders were yet to be glued in place in the photo below).

I could have solved this by leaving the rear mudguards off until the tracks were on, but they were already glued firmly to the fenders. Doing it that way would also have complicated the painting process. I also considered leaving the fenders off entirely until the end, but this to would have made the painting more problematic. In the end, I found the simplest solution was to glue the fenders in place and cut down the sprocket axle, leaving just a short stub. This gave enough space to slide the sprocket and track run under the mudguard, while leaving enough axle to mount the sprocket to.

Now it was time to add the various stowage boxes and fuel tanks to the hull. Most of the boxes were built up but not glued to the fenders, for now, allowing me to paint their partially concealed edges more easily. The fuel tanks did need attaching though, due to all the fuel lines that were subsequently added. The tanks themselves are well detailed, but some care is needed when cleaning them up as the sprue gates are quite large, and extend over the central seam of the tank.

One of the selling points of this kit is the inclusion of the fuel lines for the fender tanks. It's certainly nice that Takom has included these, but the parts themselves are very fragile and hard to clean up. Inevitably there's a mould line running the length of the pipes, and this is almost impossible to completely remove without damaging the parts. In fact, I had one pipe that was already broken on the sprue, and I had to replace this with copper wire and brass tube. I applaud Takom for including these features, but in truth, this is probably going beyond what's practical for injection moulding.

Takom provides a braided steel wire for the tow cable, which is better than the string that some manufacturers include for this purpose, but I found the steel a little too springy to be usable and replaced the cable with a length of copper wire from Eureka. The copper is far more malleable, allowing the cable to be shaped to sit on the hull.

The fender mounted brackets for the tow cable are moulded as one with the cable eyes, and these looked a little unrefined. The real brackets are just an angular U-shaped bar with a retaining pin through the top. I used some off-cuts from a PE fret to make replacement brackets, firstly drilling holes at each end, them bending them to shape. A rod can them be inserted for the retaining pin.

With the brackets in place on the fender, the tow cable can be dropped into place after painting, and secured with the retaining pin, just like the real thing. This is just a small and simple modification, but it helps add an extra level of realism to the model.

The majority of the kits has excellent detailing but one area that's less than perfect is the cage around the headlights. This comes in two parts, both of which are slightly misshapen, and it's almost impossible to get a good join between the two.

In the end, I decided it would be better to replace the cage with one made up from brass wire. Three hoops were formed and attached to the glacis with superglue. The headlights were attached, then the remaining bars of the cage were added to the top.

With the hull together, I turned my attention to the turret. The first job was to attach all the mounting brackets for the ERA blocks, and these can be a little tricky to apply. The brackets come in two sections, with only the top one having a distinct mounting point. The lower on simply butt-joints to the turret, although there's a small scribed line to show you where it should go.

Despite looking quite fragile, the brackets are actually pretty sturdy once the glue has set. Before adding the ERA blocks, I decided to paint the area under and around the brackets as, despite remaining visible, it would be hard to paint with the blocks in place. As I mentioned earlier, I'm doing a white African Union tank here, so why didn't I paint the area white? Well, the tanks would be in their regular camo colours before being employed in AU service, at which point they'd be over-sprayed in white, similar to military vehicles in UN service. As the white is simply sprayed directly over the vehicle, many concealed areas will remain in the previous colour, and the same applies to the model.

With the ERA blocks added, you can see just how inaccessible the area underneath them is. The final white paint finish will hit those areas that are more open, leaving the more obscured corners in green, just like the real tank.

The small tie-downs on the turret are quite fiddly to clean up, and you may well choose to replace them with wire for a neater look. The turret has moulded lines to show the placement of the tie-downs. I sliced these away, and used a pin to mark the location points. You can also see the weld bead I added around the cupola base. This was done with a length of stretched sprue glued around the base, then softened with liquid cement before being textured with the tip of a knife blade.

Although I used the kit parts for the tie-downs, I did replace the larger hand rails with wire. The kit parts were quite delicate and had a mould line that needed removing. A bead of superglue was run around the three attachment points of the wire rails to simulate a weld bead.

Takom supply the dust cover for the mantlet as a flexible vinyl moulding. This can be secured with either superglue or normal styrene cement. There are quite a few other components that mount on to the piece, and the instructions recommend attaching these first.

Due to the flexibility of the vinyl, I felt that some of these smaller parts would most likely break off while attaching the dust cover, so the cover was fixed securely onto the turret first. The rangefinder box, which sits on top of the cover, was built up but not attached, as I'll paint the area beneath it first.

The DshK machine gun is a real highlight of the kit, and is built up from 11 components including a PE sight. It's a little fiddly to get together, and the instructions are a little vague as to how everything connects, but the end result looks fantastic on top of the turret.

So, that wraps up the T-55 AMV build. Some parts such as the side skirts, tracks and wheels, and the rear fuel drum I'll be leaving separate to make painting easier.

The kit went together very well, with excellent fit and great details, the only exception to that being the rather poor headlight cage. This version requires a little more work than some of the other T-55 variants due to the complex ERA structures, but Takom have done a great job in making this as simple as possible, while keeping a high level of detail. The balance between plastic and photo-etch is just about perfect, with PE only being used for those parts that really benefit from it. All in all, a great kit to build.

Stay tuned for part 3, where it will all turn a whiter shade of pale.

Andy Moore