Ultimate Soldier 1/32 M4 Sherman Kit First Look
|Date of Review||November 2004||Manufacturer||21st Century Toys|
|Kit Number||N/A||Primary Media||15 parts (3 major subassemblies, 6 separate 'detail' parts, 2 vinyl figures; 2 screws; 2 vinyl tracks)|
|Pros||Perfect 'first model kit' for a young child, solid enough for 'play value' as well as detailed enough for many collectors; also available as a 'built-up' version||Cons||Not a true 'kit'; where was stuff like this when we were little?|
|Skill Level||Novice||MSRP (USD)||Out of Production|
While many iconoclasts spend their time bashing this or that kit for missing one or two details, or whining as a kit of their favorite subject has a "horrible" 2 mm error in its length, one thing which should be observed by all of us is this: where are the "starter" or "entry" level kits today that we can start our children on?
Many of us - no ages mentioned - began in the 1950s with a wealth of then-new kits that beckoned to us from store shelves, even down at the neighborhood "Mom and Pop" grocery. Aurora kits for 49 cents to a mighty one dollar of everything under the sun, Revell matching them stride for stride, and Airfix coming out with - wait for it - common scale kits! Anyone of us with a dollar from a favorite aunt or several weeks allowance could pick up some of these styrene beauties and slap them together in an afternoon (hey, who needed paint?)
My first armor kit was an Aurora M46 Patton the year it came out. I never did get the little caps on right so the wheels never worked, but hey, it had four guys that came with it and it was a TANK, so who cared? I can't recall how many Tootsietoy trucks it blew up before becoming a victim in its own right.
But as kits got more expensive - and kit reviewers like me showed up to start raining on the manufacturers' parade - kits got more and more accurate but more and more complex. It's one thing to give a kid a model with about 100 parts or less and a simple method of construction, and another to give him a kit with 700 parts that 50% of adults cannot correctly assemble. With that high a cost to hours spent on the hobby or hours spent versus frustration level, it's easy to see why kids are less and less interested in modeling as a hobby.
I spotted these models in a Wal-Mart last year but did not manage to get one before they sold out. This year I saw the same kits back again and picked one up to see what it presents to the younger modeler. I was quite surprised at what I found.
First off, this is essentially the same offering as 21st Century Toys (a Chinese import company exclusively under contract with Wal-Mart) makes as a completed model in a "window" box with the figures in their "action" poses. All this "kit" does is provide in a semi-knocked down form so that "dad and lad" can put it together, together. Not a bad concept, that.
The model is not bad either. It represents a standard production early hull M4 tank with early turret and the M34A1 gun mount, albeit fitted with late-model ("upswept") return roller brackets, T48 rubber chevron tracks, and applique armor on the hull and turret. That beats the old Revell kit, that looked like a Sherman but had nothing in common with any specific prototype.
No sponson liners are included, so it is at least as good as any of the Tamiya modern M4 series kits.
The model measures 181mm long x 82.5 mm wide x 84mm to the top of the commander's hatch, which makes it about 1/32 scale. That's better than the old Tamiya 1/30-something kit.
What you get when you open the box are a bunch of bags of parts or assemblies. The hull, turret and belly pan are shipped as nearly complete but separately bagged. Each is painted (albeit in a hurry) and complete as is, less a handful of small detail parts for the lower hull. "Assembly" consists of snapping the six extra parts in place, slipping on the tracks, snapping the hull sections together, and then using the two screws to hold them together. My own example had a stiff-fitting turret and an underscale (and off-axis) hollow bore to the main gun.
Some license has been taken. The hull hatches are overside and rectangular, mostly to ensure the crew figures will fit in them. Tools are molded onto the hull and quite high in relief, but at least in the right places.
The model has been painted in the European camouflage used by most of the 1st Army Group tanks with black stripes over olive drab. The crew figures come painted as well, and consist of a seated driver with tanker's helmet and a standing commander figure with steel pot. Both the figures and the "kit" stowed on the tank have been washed in black so they are essentially partially weathered. The model does come with 10 packs, 2 crates, 2 oil cans, 2 gas cans, 2 spare wheels, 3 sections of track, and 3 helmets as extra "kit" stowed on the tank. Markings consist of generic stars.
The tracks and wheels roll, the turret traverses and the gun elevates and depresses, the hull and turret hatch both open, as do the ejection port door and the engine air intake access hatch (the front one, not the one over the engine itself).
Overall this is actually a pretty impressive model, given its limitations. There are a lot more in this family; I am not sure how big it gets, but I have seen the usual Tiger I and 88mm kits, plus others such as a US halftrack, M24 Chaffee, Wirbelwind and Moebelwagen, Sd.Kfz. 7 8 ton halftrack, and even an early model Pzkw. III. If you want to get kids interested in armor and armor modeling, this seems to be a painless way to go. (But you HAVE to go to Wal-Mart, as they seem to have a "done deal" on distribution in the US.)