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Trumpeter 1/35 scale Russian T-55 Model 1958

Manufacturer: Trumpeter, distributed by Stevens International, P.O. Box 126, Magnolia, NJ 08049, 856-435-1555
Kit: No. 00342
Scale: 1/35
Price: $19.95
Comments: Injection-molded, 319 parts (2 vinyl tracks, 3 die-cut vision ports, 1 string), decals
Pros: Best T-55 turret shape yet, decals went on without problems
Cons: Poor fit of the hull parts, vinyl tracks are stiff, some parts locations are vague, some moldings are crude
The T-55 was the main battle tank of the Soviet army for many years, and T-55s were sold to several Soviet allies. They were so popular that production continued until 1979, long after the production on the "replacement" T-62 had ended. Nearly 30,000 T-55s were built, and many are still in service.

Typical of other Trumpeter armor kits, the T-55 comes motorized. The one-piece vinyl tracks are designed to work with the motor unit, and do not capture the look of real T-55 tracks.

Detail on the moldings varies from average to excellent quality. The turret is especially well molded and features a good rough-cast texture. The 13-step instructions feature clear diagrams that are usually easy to follow. Markings are provided for four different vehicles: one striking four-color camouflaged Czech tank and three single-color vehicles in Soviet, Finnish, and North Korean service (no color reference is given but I assume they were painted standard Soviet green). This kit is one of a family of T-54 and T-55 tank kits and there are plenty of unused parts intended for other versions.

I had heard Trumpeter's soft plastic wasn't affected by styrene cement, but I found Weld-on #3 worked fine.

I removed the motorization unit from the lower hull and filled the holes with styrene. Be sure to keep the axle as you'll need it for the drive sprockets.

The fit of the rear plate (A23) was poor, requiring a lot of filling. Attaching the upper and lower hull halves presented gaps at the front and back. I filled them with strip styrene and super glue.

Trumpeter has done a poor job on the "starfish" road wheels. The raised spokes (the ones with the small holes in them) should be almost twice as wide as molded in the kit. Also, the road wheel tires are festooned with raised lines.

Adding all of the detail to the upper hull went quickly. Separate open-frame fender supports are provided where needed, a nice touch. Several tool boxes are provided for the left fender, while extra fuel tanks are placed on the right side. Reference photos show all of the tool boxes with their front edges flush with the edge of the fender, but if you put them where the kit instructions suggest, they are set back from the edge. The front toolbox interferes with the turret, even when moved out to the edge of the fender.
The engine cover is a separate piece (allowing for different variants). Screen is provided for the louvered openings and templates are included on the instruction sheet for cutting the screen.

Sadly, Trumpeter did not get the rear deck exactly correct. Reference photos show the forward louvers pointing opposite of those in the kit, and the small hatch ahead of the louvers should be hinged on the right while the kit's hinges are at the back. The front and rear fenders don't fit well, but the front ones do show the typical sag seen in photos.

Trumpeter's turret is perhaps the best part of the kit. The basic shell is well molded and does a good job of capturing the complex shape of the T-54/55 turret. I attached the forward lifting lug where there were dimples in the turret. When I tried to install the bracket for the large infrared searchlight, the right lifting lug was in the way.

A good top-view photo of a turret showed that the lugs should be mounted further back, so I sliced them off and re-positioned them. The turret also has two dimples for the rear lifting lugs, while only a single central lug was used on the early T-55s. To add to the confusion, the instructions show the correct position in step 11, while step 12 shows two rear lugs.

The position of the rear turret light (E6, B5) is not clear in the instructions. Judging from photos, it goes to the left of the center line at the top edge of the turret.

I painted my T-55 with my favorite Russian-armor green: Tamiya IJN green. The decals looked glossy and brittle, but they went on perfectly with a little Super Sol.

The final operation was painting and installing the tracks. They are meant to be heat welded together, but I've seldom had luck with this method. I wound up reinforcing the joints with staples. There was no way my "corkscrewed" tracks would achieve the natural sag of T-55 tracks, so I tied them down to the road wheels with thin wire in three places on each side. The track was the worst part of the kit.

I spent about 16 hours building and painting my T-55, about average for me on an armor kit. A few basic measurements revealed that the kit hull is a bit too tall (perhaps to accommodate the motor unit). Also, the turret should be a little more forward on the hull. My primary reference was Steve Zaloga's T-54, T-55, T-62 (Concord).

Because of the many errors in the kit, I would have a hard time recommending the Trumpeter kit to the serious armor builder. Aftermarket tracks (when available) will help. But if you're looking for an inexpensive armor kit that looks pretty much like a T-55, this is your choice.


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