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Skybow 1/35 scale M38A1 1/4-ton 4x4 Utility Truck

Kit: No. TP3503
Scale: 1/35
Manufacturer: Skybow, available from VLS, 811 Lone Star Dr., O'Fallon, MO 63366, phone 314-281-5700
Price: $29
Comments: Injection molded, 135 parts, decals.

To exploit the civilian popularity of the World War II "Jeep," its maker, Willys, restyled the vehicle, rounding off the front fenders and adding a sexy (for a Jeep) raised center to the hood. Thus was born the famous CJ (for civilian Jeep) series that continues to this day.

It wasn't long after the end of the war before age and attrition dwindled the supply of military Jeeps, so the U.S. Army approached Willys to resupply it. Rather than revert to the original body style, Willys simply brought the CJ model up to military standards. The new vehicle was dubbed the M38A1 1/4-ton 4x4 Utility Truck. The new Jeep would serve the U.S. armed forces from the early 1950s well into the '60s, when Ford's M151 Mutt replaced it.

A new company, Skybow from Taiwan, has chosen the M38A1 as its first complete kit. Molded in a dark olive-green plastic, the kit features excellent detail and molding. The parts remind me of an AFV Club kit.

The parts are packaged in resealable plastic bags, a nice touch. Decals are provided for three vehicles. While I could not find any references for the exact markings, they do match general marking practices for the time. Included in the kit is an optional .50-cal. machine gun and mount for behind the front seats. You also can pose the windshield up or down, and the hood may be displayed open or closed. A complete engine is provided if you choose to have the hood up.

I assembled my Jeep with painting in mind, so I built it in several subassemblies. I was impressed with the engine detail; only the wires and fuel line are missing. Originally I intended to leave the engine off the chassis until after painting, but found that it would be difficult to position the drive-train parts without the engine in place. The frame is molded in one piece, which makes alignment of the suspension easier. The transfer case (part Nos. A40 and A36) and differential (A38) both had heavy sinkholes. These would be difficult to fill without damaging the delicate detail. Fortunately, the defects are hardly noticeable once the parts are installed on the chassis. Take care adding the axles and springs so everything lines up square. Pay particular attention in adding the brake drums (A7, A8, A57). If they are not square to the axles, your wheels won't mount straight. The steering linkage (A41) and tie rods (A52) are easily broken.

Considering all the small parts, I was surprised how well it all fit. Another nice surprise was that the engine and chassis parts were on one sprue; there was no searching for parts. The finished chassis only lacked brake and fuel lines.

I removed a few ejector-pin marks on the insides of the body. The fit of the body panels was good, and the assembly went quickly. I left off the seats, dashboard, and steering column until after painting.

I added the top support bows (C3, C4, C5) from step 10 before painting. The long bow with the hinge pins should be on the bottom. The instructions don't show this clearly. I installed them upside down and broke the delicate parts trying to correct my mistake.

If you glue carefully, you can allow the wheels to rotate. The play in the wheel discs will help keep all the tires touching ground even if your chassis is out of square. I decided to leave all of the front body parts separate until I finished general painting.

I painted with Tamiya and Polly Scale acrylics. When the paint was dry, I brushed on a coat of Future floor polish before decaling. The decals were a little thick, and Micro Sol didn't seem to affect them. Solvaset was aggressive but the decals snuggled down into the detail. Postwar Jeeps had a semigloss finish, so I oversprayed with Polly Scale satin clear.

Take your time assembling the front fenders, radiator, and grille. I punched out small discs from a silver Mylar snack bag to put behind the headlight lenses, reflectors (coated with Tamiya clear red), and rearview mirror. The discs were attached with a drop of Future. The headlight lenses fit tight and didn't require glue.

A nice touch is the tiny clamps for the hood. I glued these in the unclamped position, so I could display the hood either opened or closed.

The only thing I could find wrong with the model is that the hood should extend slightly over the front grille, and I had a small gap between the hood and the grille.

I spent 19 hours building my M38A1, a little longer than usual for such a small vehicle, mainly due to the large number of small parts. Because of that, I recommend it to experienced builders. The finished model matched exactly the specifications in the U.S. Army technical manual supplied by a friend who owns a restored M38A1. What's next, Skybow?

- John Plzak

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