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Skif T-55A

Skif 1/35 T-55A Kit First Look

By Cookie Sewell

Date of Review April 2007 Manufacturer Skif
Subject T-55A Scale 1/35
Kit Number 0221 Primary Media 277 parts (237 in medium green styrene, 34 etched brass, 6 in steel colored vinyl)
Pros Dimensionally relatively accurate; provides the basics for a complete interior Cons Details very soft, wheels totally wrong, undersized hatches
Skill Level Basic MSRP (USD) $25-36

First Look

The T-55 has fared a bit better in model form than the more widely operated T-54 series medium tanks, but their history in kit form has not been a great one.

The first 1/35 (well, nominally anyway) kit to see market was a motorized one from Tamiya that came out in the mid 1960s. As the ONLY kit of this vehicle out for years, it did enjoy a great deal of popularity among kit collectors up until 1989, even though it was a PA kit – as in plain awful.

In 1988 a company called Twentieth Century Industries (TCI) displayed artwork for a new 1/35 scale kit of the T-55 in Nurnberg, but they never made it to market. Apparently Lindberg bought their molds, as they released all of the announced TCI kits the next year. The T-55 was eagerly awaited, and when released did at first glance look like a T-55. Alas, its details were all a bit off (angles, sizes, wheels, fuel tanks, etc.), the turret was symmetrical, and as such it soon became known as a "dog."

About two years later ESCI announced three T-55 related kits and once again Soviet armor fans got excited. But when the kits came out they were a bit better than the Lindberg one but still had major errors, albeit new ones. This kit had wrong wheels and even a wrong suspension (the last road wheel station was "leading" link, not "trailing" link as shown in the kit) and many, many more detail errors.  Result: 0 for 3.

Finally, SKIF announced that they would do a T-55A kit. This was met with more than a bit of trepidation given SKIF's notorious erratic kits (either reasonably good or awful) and modelers waited to see which was which. Unfortunately, shortly after this kit was released, Tamiya announced a new kit of the T-55 which would build up as a T-55, T-55A, T-55 Model 1970 or T-55A Model 1970.

I have to feel a bit sorry for SKIF. At any other point in time this kit would probably have been reasonably well received, but alas it came to market just before the Tamiya one and as a result took an initial pasting by kit reviewers and modelers. But once the Tamiya kit was announced, this kit was ripped to shreds and decried as awful. Looking at the kits side by side at the time, I had to concur that it was not even close.

Fast forward to 2007. I picked up one of these kits at AMPS 2007 from Baseline Hobbies to see if in the cold light of day it was still that bad. The answer, surprisingly, is no.

What SKIF tried to do was make a kit of a T-55A Model 1970 (e.g. with DshKM AAMG mount for the loader) with some basic upgrades such as the RMSh (T-72 style) tracks and a laser rangefinder. They also gave the kit a relatively complete interior.

The good news is that dimensionally the kit is accurate within limits with the only major flaws being the gun barrel is about 2.5 mm too long, and the wheels appear to be a bit narrow. The turret's shape drops right on top of a good set of T-55 plans that I have in 1/35 scale, so it got the asymmetric shape right. Hull angles and dimensions also match well with the plans. Shapes are also very good.

The rest, alas, is not so hot. The wheels – other than the correct diameter – have little in common with standard production "starfish" wheels for the T-55 and are best chucked. The tracks are thin and lack definition but are tangibly RMSh tracks; they are marred by ejection pin marks on their faces, which are virtually impossible to remove from vinyl. The drivers and idlers are thick but shapes are again close.

The rear of the engine deck is not bad with etched brass screening, but the access hatches are not right in shape and are raised panel lines which are not right at all.  The fender fuel tanks are primitive and there is no fuel system for them (at least they got all three the correct size, unlike ESCI.) The same goes for the fender stowage bins.

The turret shape is right, but that is about the limit of things. The hatches are "drop-in" parts which are far too thick and as a result they are underscale and not close to the actual vehicle's hatches. The gun is designed to work and therefore SKIF tried to simply use the "pig's snout" mantelet without the cover; that in and of itself is not wrong, but the result is too big and too rectangular and is therefore not very good. The gun's diameter is about right, but the bore evacuator is too short and too small in diameter.

Inside the hull the details are in the right places, but again are very soft and need a great deal of work to come up to acceptable levels. SKIF tried to be creative by molding both sides of the belly pan with details; the torsion bar bulges are on the belly, and the floor and interior location ridges are on the other side; result is that the part is too thin and the rear is very oversimplified, but at least it was not 1/4" thick like the Alan SU-76 kit. The engine, transmission, "guitar" transfer case, and other engine compartment bits are very simplified, and to make matters worse, SKIF left out half of the major parts – the radiator, oil cooler and air cleaner are all missing! The driver's compartment is very spartan (the parts are at least correct for what is provided) as is the turret.

Brass parts are used here and there, with the main components for the engine deck grilles (with no louvers under them as on the actual vehicle) and fan blades being the majority of the parts.

The kit comes with a small decal sheet for a Soviet Guards vehicle and for an East German NVA vehicle.

The reason I even bring this kit up is that with some parts from the soon to be redundant Tamiya "T-62A" kit this model may be made into a very presentable T-55A. I say that as the new Trumpeter T-62 Model 1966 and T-62 Model 1970 kit test shots show they have fixed most of the errors in that 30 year old kit, and as they can usually be had for $5-10 at model shows and flea markets now they are a useful supply of spare parts.

By taking most of the details from that kit such as the fuel tanks, applicable stowage bins, DShKM, hatches, searchlights, and other minor details and using a set of resin wheels from companies such as Chesapeake Model Design or Miniarm this kit can be done right, or it could be converted into a T-54 variant with a bit of work and one of the Miniarm conversion kits plus "spider" cast wheels and the early metallic tracks (like the ones which came in the "T-62A" kit but from another company such as Fruil.)

I will give it a whirl at some point in the future and report back on my results.