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Ford Model T Ambulance

RPM 1/48 Ford Model T Ambulance Kit Build Review

By Mark Nickelson

Date of Review January 2015 Manufacturer RPM
Subject Ford Model T Ambulance Scale 1/48
Kit Number 48001 Primary Media Styrene
Pros Iconic subject, sophisticated modelmaking project Cons No clear parts; small parts are very delicate
Skill Level Experienced MSRP (USD) $19.98

Build Review

Midway through the Model T production, the U.S. entered World War I, and Henry Ford turned out 6,000 ambulances. Among the ambulance drivers of the Great War were Walt Disney, Ernest Hemingway, Somerset Maugham and Robert W. Service. We know this vehicle from the films A Farewell to Arms and The Razor's Edge (any iteration of either movie). You can see one at the Museum of the United States Air Force near Dayton, Ohio.

The RPM 1/48 kit of the Model T Ford ambulance has been on the market for about four years. It's generated surprisingly little fanfare, but its mere existence is all the promotion it needs. Try to order one and you'll need to be quick. These kits all find good homes as soon as a dealer gets a shipment. Besides making a very needful and appropriate flightline accessory, this kit will lend itself to easy conversions to other Model T truck applications, whether you want a flatbed, a pickup, stake bed or even a tanker.

The RPM Model T van has as much sophistication and fidelity to detail as those 1/16 Model Ts by Bandai we used to see in Entex boxes. It is an ambitious kit and demands an earnest focus on the assembly process. The results are worth the effort. A Model T stands high on its thin wheels and willowy suspension, exposing lots of underside detail, all credibly represented. If you're clever, you'll leave off some of that bracing until the assembly is nearly complete. Otherwise, you'll find yourself replacing some of those rods with stretched sprue or wire. If you start this project reconciled to the idea of replacing some of the skinny linear parts, you'll spare yourself the mental anguish when they break.

The engine is modeled in four pieces not counting the exhaust manifold, fan, etc. Although as built you can't see the engine, you need to put it in the truck, because the upper radiator hose helps position the radiator and other important underside things like the exhaust pipe and drive shaft attach to the engine. 

You could leave off the fan and the fuel cell (another four-piece assembly), but there's no real labor savings in hidden parts triage in this kit. There's a chassis casting that most of the model is built onto, with the front fenders, oil pan and floorboard. Though it's the largest piece in this kit, I found it handy to leave it on the sprue while I attached the engine parts, springs and axles, and other tiny bits. Well represented are the engine crank handle, the brake lever and its linkage, the three pedals (not the same three you and I know how to drive with), and the unusually convex-dished steering wheel. The gearshift lever is absent because the Model T did not have one, something I didn't know until I investigated it online.  The Model T kit includes no clear parts, and the omission is most noticeable in the big headlamp pods. There are no photo etch or resin parts.

I finished my ambulance with Model Master olive drab (both topside and underside), European I gray for the tires, and wood tan on the interior. Online photo references for Model T ambulances abound, including some fitted out with the same details as the model. The large Red Cross decal has to wrap over a rib, and no additional width is provided in the decal, so I split the decal and painted the rib red and white, to preserve the proportions of the cross. The decals are printed on a solid film.

Ford Model T AmbulanceFord Model T AmbulanceFord Model T AmbulanceFord Model T Ambulance

There are about 90 black styrene parts in this kit, plus a decal sheet with markings for eight AEF ambulances, all meant to be painted olive drab.  The kit has also been issued as a different product number with French and Polish markings; presumably no difference in the plastic.

The non-text instruction sheet illustrates 46 assembly steps and is helpfully realistic and detailed in its artwork. You have to identify parts by the sprue drawing in the instructions; find numbers are not molded onto the sprues. The end-opening box shows Humbrol color recommendations and some photos of a 1:1 Ford ambulance in a museum. The plastic castings are fairly crisp in shape and free of flash.  I encountered no serious assembly problems, except the pannier boxes on the running boards. They required some filling.

This ambulance was a new truck in the second half of WWI; it has the rounded engine bonnet of a late T, the biggest visible design change in the 19-year production run.  The round engine bonnets went into production in August, 1916. The RPM Model T ambulance built out of the box looks like the subject it represents, and appears to be well proportioned. The humble, frail, rustic character of the Tin Lizzy is well realized in this model, and it will instantly make itself at home on your diorama or layout.

I hope the Polish producers of this kit know they've struck gold and this kit continues to be available. Its universal applicability and appeal are being proven by classical free market behavior, and RPM's superb rendering of the subject deserves its success. I will build at least one more, probably a civilian buckboard serving on a farm alongside an On30 right-of-way.


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