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MiniArt M3 Lee

Build review of the 1/35 scale armor kit with superb moldings
Since I first saw the movie Sahara almost 60 years ago, I’ve had a soft spot for the M3 tank. For a long time, a modern kit of the M3 eluded modelers. Then, a few years ago, Takom released a series of M3 kits. Now comes MiniArt with an ambitious series of M3 variants, including several with interiors, including this early-production Lee.

The large box was stuffed with nearly 1,300 parts molded in MiniArt’s typical gray plastic. The detail was well executed and not a single ejector-pin mark marred any piece. The cast texture on areas like the turret, transmission, and casemate looked good and included raised casting numbers. Except for a bit of flash and minor mold shift on a few pieces, the parts were perfect.

The small photo-etched metal (PE) fret provided rims for the idlers, engine screens, headlight guards, and other small parts. In addition to headlight lenses, clear plastic supplies periscopes and vision blocks.

 The instruction booklet features large assembly diagrams as well as color marking diagrams for the eight vehicles on the decal sheet: two American, one Canadian, three Russian, and two German captured Lees. 

The hull bottom builds from three parts (probably to accommodate different versions) that lock together. I accidentally removed locating tabs from the bottom of the final drive (Part B26) and it ended up too far to the left and I had to trim it to fit the left side.

I held off adding the sides until most of the interior was assembled and painted. Fortunately, those details fit perfectly. The engine was quite detailed, but most of it disappeared under the engine shroud.

I left off the motor mount (Fa13) and any parts that mount over it because its fit on the engine was vague. Once the engine was in place and aligned properly, I added the mount and remaining parts. 

In Step 44. the position of the gun’s elevation mechanism was a bit vague. Test-fit the gun with the mounts in the mantlet to be sure the elevation gear doesn’t interfere with the gun’s movement. I extended the gun’s rotation pin with a styrene disc to give the unit a secure footing.

During assembly, I constantly checked the fit of the main body panels and was pleasantly surprised to find things fitting perfectly despite how much goes inside. Adding parts to the front pushed the nose forward and eliminated gaps I was apprehensive about.

I planned to leave the roof removable to display the interior, so I taped it in place to align the body panels as the glue dried. To leave the engine deck removable to show off the engine, I carefully glued the front and rear plates together.

Adding tools to the engine deck proved a challenge. I finally gave up on the tiny PE tie-downs after a couple broke and one disappeared right in front of my eyes. Rather than providing anything for the tow cable, the kit has instructions to scratchbuild one; I used a piece of nylon tow cable from my spares box.

I had some issues building the bogies. The pins holding the wheel assemblies to the bogies are not secure so the wheels can easily fall off. I suggest gluing them in place after everything is aligned.

Once I built a small jig to hold the end connectors in place, the individual-link tracks went together quickly. I used 79 links for each run as indicated; by adjusting the idlers, a nice tight fit can be achieved.

The turret presented no issues, but you can’t see much of it even off the vehicle.

I painted my Lee with a mix of equal parts Tamiya olive drab and khaki drab with a little white. The decals went on beautifully using Microscale decal solutions

I spent 57 hours building my Lee and the model matched dimensions in David Doyle’s Standard Catalog of U.S. Military Vehicles (Krause, ISBN 978-0-87349-508-0). The quality of the molding and the parts fits especially impressed me. While not for novices, if you are up to the challenge, this kit will produce a Lee to make even Humphrey Bogart proud.

Note: A version of this review appeared in the April 2020 issue.


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