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M40 US 155mm Gun Motor Carriage 'Big Shot'

AFV Club 1/35 M40 US 155mm Gun Motor Carriage 'Big Shot' Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review October 2006 Manufacturer AFV Club
Subject M40 US 155mm Gun Motor Carriage 'Big Shot' Scale 1/35
Kit Number 35031 Primary Media 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)
Pros Long awaited kit now out and worth the wait, nicely done details, very complete kit Cons Tracks only used by stateside prototypes, still using vinyl springs in the suspension bogies
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $46.00

First Look

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 http://www.koreanwar-educator.org/memoirs/clark_jimmie/index.htm 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.

Sprue Breakout:

  • A 71 seats and details
  • B 47 gun mount and rear wall details
  • B 54 braces and OVM
  • C 59 155mm cradle and upper carriage parts
  • E 28 ammo racks and braces
  • F 8 Front deck and platform details
  • G 23 etched brass
  • H 2 Vinyl track runs
  • I 1 lower hull
  • K 6 clear hatches and viewers, lights
  • L 25 hatches and jerry cans
  • M 1 turned gun barrel
  • P 1 Decals and string
  • R 12 Vinyl springs
  • S 74 x 2 suspension and drive line

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