T-55 Mod. 1963 – Full build
This is the full build review of the MiniArt T-55A Mod. 963. The first look of this kit can be found here:
First Look Review
This is a super complex kit with 1284 parts according to the instructions. So I decided to follow the instruction sequence as much as possible.
The first series of steps (1-7) are building up the engine. Everything was pretty straight forward for these steps and the fit was good. Oddly though, I noticed that there are additional parts that make up the overall engine assembly later in step 34. Since these parts are attached to the engine before the entire assembly is mounted into the hull, I saw no reason not to build them too so I could paint and weather them together. The overall assembly is quite with only the wiring missing. I didn’t add it since I’m going to build this model completely out of the box.
I decided to paint the engine at this time since it needs to be done before its installed. For the most part I followed to the kit’s painting guide since it matches my reference photos. I did paint the valve covers in red since that’s what the reference photos show. Then I gave the engine a series of washes with black, burnt sienna and raw umber oil paints. I wrapped up the painting with some light drybrushing with flat black.
Next I tackled the lower hull plate. The kit’s hull consists of a lower hull, the side hulls and a rear plate. This makes a lot of sense so that it’s easier to install the interior parts versus making a traditional hull tub. The lower plate though, has a lot of parts to attached for the suspension system.
To begin, you must glue in place all of the rocker arm mounts. I’m not sure why MiniArt has these as separate parts, maybe because they are different for different variants? Mounting these is a delicate job because there isn’t a definitive position for them and it’s critical that you get them properly aligned or the roadwheels won’t be lined up later on.
Then the rockers arms and torsion bars must be fitted. The rocker arms are split into upper and lower halves and the torsion bar glues in between them. This is a bit complex but overall the fit is good. I found that I couldn’t fit the torsion bars through the holes in the mounts so I had to drill them out. They then fit into a hole on the opposite mount which I also had to drill out. But the most challenging parts is to make sure that all of the rockers arms sitting level in the neutral position. There isn’t a very clear position for them to be attached so you have to work carefully to make sure you have the arms rotated to the same level or again, the roadwheels won’t sit on the ground when the tank is on level ground.
After that, there is a housing cover that glues to the mount on the outside and a slam locking bracket that glues to the rocker arm and sits over the housing. If you want the suspension to continue to work, you must be super careful not to get glue on the opposing parts. This is a tough job that I spent an hour or so continuing to move each of the rocker arms so that the glue wouldn’t set on the opposite part.
In general, I’d say that the super high parts count and complexity of these steps is overkill. Since nearly all of this won’t be visible once the rest of the interior and roadwheels are installed, going through this much work seems unnecessary.
I wrapped up the basic work on the lower plate by install interior components in the next steps (8-13). This work is straight forward and the detail on the items like the transmission selector, and floor plates, and the rest of the driver’s station is quite good.
At this time I realized that sooner or later I’d need to deal with the ammunition. Fully loaded, the kit calls out for 47 rounds of ammo. Some is loose and fitted into main rack, and the rest have various straps and mounts molded in depending on where they’re located in the interior. So it’s crucial that you have a plan to keep tracks of the part number of each piece of ammo or you’ll never figure out where it fits during the assembly.
But for now, I was faced with the daunting task of cleaning up 3-4 sprue attachment points and a mold seam on each piece. Once done, I then had to paint all of them. There are four types of ammo but oddly no sabot rounds (not in use in 1963?). MiniArt calls for the warhead to be painted dark grey and the shell brass. But in looking through the photos I found of T-55 ammo, it seems that you can see the warheads a several different colors and the shells in both brass and steel. So, I decided to mix it up for a little variety.
To be blunt, prepping and painting the ammo takes a long time. No way out of it and MiniArt did as good a job and they could with these parts. As the saying goes, ‘you don’t have to like it, you just have to do it’.
So with the ammo done, I moved on to the rest of the hull interior parts.
There are a large number of very small parts that go into assembling the interior of the hull. To be honest, it’s tough work. Besides needing to be cleaned up and installed properly, a key job is to identify which parts to glue into larger assemblies and which to leave separate for painting reasons. For the most part, I followed the painting guide in the instructions and left off the parts that were different from the part of the hull that they mount onto. Of course, keeping track of which part is which is also a big job. My solution was to write the part number on the toothpick to which I mounted the parts for painting.
By and large, the interior is really complete. There are lots of small details that matched well with my references and even a lot of the pluming and cabling is represented. The most visible item that missing is the wiring behind the instrument panel. Another item that is also missing detail is the underside of the front glacis and to a lesser extent, the roof. In general, neither is a big deal unless you plan to show those parts left off and upside down.
At this time, it is worth determining how you want to display your model. For me, fully assembled but with the hatches opened is NOT visible enough to show all the detail. So I decided to look at way the show more of the interior without just leaving off all of the hull top plates.
One thing to consider is that MiniArt does NOT provide any interior parts aft of the engine. As I looked at it, it became clear to me that I would want to close up the entire aft part of the hull behind the turret and only leave open the two engine access doors. Otherwise you can view into the empty area behind the engine. So, I then decided to assemble the rest of the hull top plates. This work takes you, in part, through step 50 in the instructions.
So now it is time to paint the interior. I started by painting the major colors of gray, green, and white. Went a lot lighter on the gray than what’s really used on the tank in part to compensate for scale effect but mostly to make sure the interior won’t end up too dark for viewing.
Then came the long and very time consuming task of painting all of the little details. Be sure to have good references. It’s worth doing this so they’ll show up when you view the model. Also took the timing to do some initial weathering by dry brushing with two colors of brown, black and some aluminum. My final result is planned to be a worn tank but not overly misused. One last thing to note is that MiniArt does not provide any decals for the instrument panel dials. I scavenged some generic ones from my stash.
With the painting done I gave the model another flat coat and then a wash using thinned Raw Umber oil paint. After which I proceeded to assemble the remaining hull parts. I was worried that with something like 400 parts in the interior, something might not go together correctly. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were no significant fit issues.
The next step was to install the roof and engine decks. But I still needed and option for the front of the hull where there is a ton of detail. I thought about just leaving the front glacis loose so I can remove it for viewing. But this introduces a couple of issues. First, one of the tow cables attaches to the one of the front clevis and the glacis. So making it removable also means coming up with a way to connect and disconnect that cable. Second, the area in front of the driver’s station is pretty barren both in the kit and the real tank. After thinking about this for a while, I decided to make a modification to the kit. I cut out a panel in the front glacis on the left side, above the splash guard.
This isn’t a prefect solution since the vertical cut is quite visible, but it was the best compromise I could think of.
So with the hull closed up, I turned to the suspension. Here I ran into a problem with the idlers.
The idler on the left in the photo is the one needed for this kit and the other is unused parts on the sprue. The problem is that there should be a pocket in the outer facing part and the hole should go all the way through. There is a pin that passes through to enable it to be mounted to the swing arm and still turn. Clearly, MiniArt has had an error in the design of this part that needs to be fixed. Thankfully, the immediate fix is pretty simple. I just cut the pin in half and glued it to the idler through the hole in the inner part. It won’t turn anymore but I really don’t like to have rotating parts anyway so no big deal.
I then assembled the road wheels and sprockets. These are designed like the idlers to have a pin pass through so they can rotate. I had no problems assembling these parts. But when I went to attach them to the rocker arms, it was clear that the extremely small attachment point would not be strong enough so instead I glued the wheels directly to the rocker arms for a solid mount.
To be honest, MiniArt have over engineered these parts. They could have accomplished the same thing with a lot less parts using a traditional polycap design. Mounting the wheels to the rockers arms also eliminates them turning but again, I see no reason to have them do so anyway. But the sprockets also have this design and so I’ve left them off until I assemble the tracks so I can adjust them for mating the track links together.
Speaking of the tracks, they were up next. MiniArt provides a very nicely rendered set of non-working link-link tracks on ten sprues of 19 links each. Of course having them be non-working pretty much negates the value of the working suspension so if you plan to have the suspension show in anything other than a flat position, you might think of getting a set of workable aftermarket tracks.
While the links are nicely rendered, unfortunately the 4 sprue attachments on each link are set in a design that makes it impossible to just use a sprue cutter to clip the link off for easy use. Instead they must all be cleaned up to some extent. With 4 attachments per link and 182 links required, that’s 728 attachments! Plan ahead. Mounting the tracks is like any other link to link assembly. I made long runs for the bottom, and some shorter runs from the first and last roadwheels to the idlers and sprockets. Then I used individual links to wrap around the idlers and sprockets and made another long run for the top stretch. I found one side to fit well and the other to be about a half link short so I stretched the tracks on the upper run while the glue was still wet and it worked well.
With the tracks on I turned to finishing the back end of the hull. The main job here are screens.
As you can see from the photo, these are complex photoetch assemblies. Each cross brace is a separate part and there are small indentations in the plastic frame to hold them. I found assembling these parts to be pretty straight forward but delicate. The result are very fine and detailed parts but I think MiniArt should consider offering fully plastic alternatives as well since this work can tax those without much photoetch experience.
After these were done I mounted them and the remaining screens to the hull along with a series of small photoetch brackets. Again, the work is straight forward but delicate.
Up next were the fenders. These can and should be fully assembled before mounting so you can fill the holes on the underside. The right fender contains the fuel tanks and the kit has a very nicely rendered set of fuel lines. But there is a lot of clean up of mold seams and sprue attachments on some very small diameter parts so care is required.
The left fender is actually a set of three pieces that are then glued together. There’s far less parts on them so assembly is much easier.
Attaching the fenders to the hull proved complicated as there aren’t very specific mounting points. I had to finesse them into place and once I got them fully mounted I found out they were a little low in back. So be real careful.
The last major project on the hull are the rear fuel drums. These are super complex assemblies with even the support brackets consisting of multiple parts. Take it very slowly as it’s easy to get them misaligned. But before you mount the tanks, you must mount the unditching log and connect the tow cable.
Here I ran into an interesting issue with this kit. While the kit provides 1284 parts, it does NOT provide a tow cable, just the ends. Instead the instructions have a note the ‘scratch built’ this part. Seriously? MiniArt should have included a piece of cord. I had some in my stash but it does make the model feel incomplete.
So that wraps up the construction of the hull. On to the turret.
Construction of the turret starts with the interior much like the hull. Like the hull, it’s important to look at the painting guide in determining how much to assemble versus leaving separate. I went for a bit more assembly than the hull since there are a lot of parts that hang and I didn’t want to worry about how well I’d glued them after painting.
Painting also mirrors the hull with a series of major colors to be airbrushed followed by a good amount of hand painting. Like the hull, I did a notable amount of weathering since I’ll be making a well worn T-55.
With the interior painted I was able to close up the turret. It’s at this point the you have to decide how you want to display the interior of the model, and in particular, the turret. MiniArt has molded the two roof plates where the hatches are located as separate parts and the fit is pretty good between then and the cast part of the turret. So I decided to leave them removable so I could show more of the interior. It’s really hard to see in the turret with just the hatches open.
The next step is the barrel and mantlet cover. The kit actually offers an uncovered mantlet option as well. The barrel is a single plastic part. Overall, it’s got nice detailing, especially at the muzzle. But there is also a notable seam line and several sprue attachments that need cleaning up. The mantlet cover is made up of four plastic parts and a photoetch ring. The fit is good but some sanding and light filling is needed.
But, when I went to mount the barrel and mantlet to the turret I ran into a major problem. The barrel passes through the mantlet and mounts to the breech. But when I tried to assemble it, the result is that the mantlet sits way to low to fit on the turret flanges. Try as I might, I had no fix for this.
Thankfully, the solution I ended up using turned out to be pretty straight forward. I simply cut off the end of the barrel that attaches to the breech and glued the barrel to the mantlet cover. With all the parts being plastic, there was no problem with the assembly being strong enough. But this is a serious problem that MiniArt really needs to address.
However, I still ran into another problem. The mantlet cover is not long enough so there ends up being a significant gap on the top and bottom. I had to add some plastic shims so that I could then add the photoetch bolt strips shown in the photo below.
Once these steps were done, I moved on to the rest of the turret parts. The big assembly is the main light. It’s a really nicely done assembly and the kit even has the option of showing it with the cover off for night operations.
I finished the turret assembly by adding the tie downs that are on the left side and rear of the turret. MiniArt chose to represent these in photoetch. To be honest, I think this was a mistake. The real ones are beefy pieces of bent rod welded to the turret. The photoetch parts are square in profile and look a little flimsy. The instructions indicate that these are to be mounted in little slots in the turret. But my kit turret didn’t have any slots or other indications of where to mount them. So I had to pull out the references to figure that out.
Even then, it was clear to me that just trying to use CA glue to attach the tiny ends of each tie down to the surface of the turret would result in a very delicate mount. The kit only gives you the 15 tie downs you need so losing one will leave you in a bind.
Instead I drilled two small holes for each tie down, filled them with CA glue and stuck the photoetch part into them. The result is a much stronger mount and a sort of approximation of the welds. If I wasn’t building this kit out of the box, I’d just replace the photoetch parts with bent plastic rod.
So that finished up the assembly of the kit. To quote a song from one of my favorite bands, ‘what a long strange trip it’s been’.
As I mentioned in the first look review, there are painting instructions for 12 tanks. But only some actually have markings and most have only one or two views. So, I decided to loosely follow the painting guide for an Egyptian T-55 in the 1973-74 time period. It’s a pretty generic tan tank with brown camouflage so I didn’t worry too much about improvising the camo scheme for the areas not shown in the instructions.
I used Tamiya paints and just eyeballed to colors to match photos in the instructions. After basic painting, I added the two decals ‘315’. They’re actually not called for in the instructions but I wanted to try out the decals for this review. They laid down well over a gloss coat.
Then I did a lot of weathering using drybrushing, washed and some pigments. After a final flat coat I was done!
Well its safe to say that this kit is extremely complex. Not only is the part count very high, but there are a lot of super small parts and they all need clean up and assembly. So, this kit is best left to advanced modelers up for the challenge.
But, if you’re willing to take on this project, you’ll rewarded with a remarkably detailed model that is far beyond what I’ve ever built right from the box.
Recommended for Advanced builders.
Thanks goes out to MiniArt for this review kit.
Reviewed by James Wechsler
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