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AFV Club - 1/35 M54A2 5-ton 6x6 Cargo Truck - Full Build

Kit Number:
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
AFV Club
Retail Price:
Reviewed By:
John Ratzenberger

AFV Club 1/35 M54A2 5-ton 6x6 Cargo Truck




Looking back at the First Look ....

As covered in the First Look, this is a dropside cargo M54A2C or more likely M54A1C, not a standard cargo, M54A2 or M54A1, as identified by the kit name. I am going to build the plastic I got and make it an M54A1C. Conversion of the kit to the pure cargo would require replacing sides F8, F9, F10, F11, seats H5, cargo cover M1 if desired, and maybe a couple small details.

Correcting the kit to be an accurate dropside really only requires some detail changes around the tailgate (F2), the rear of the sides (F8,F11), and fabricating two simple stabilizer bars. The bigger step would be to replace the hinges on the sides and along the edge of the floor (F1), bonus points if workable.

There are 30 steps in the build, which divide neatly into frame (1-15), cab (16-25), and cargo bed (26-29) which meet up at final assembly (30). That seemed reasonable and I started out following that until I got plastic, tools, and glue in my hands when I realized that the frame and running gear are built piece-by-piece and that leaves alignment pretty much all on the modeler. That caused me to slow up, think alignment, and be careful about what I was doing. Jumping ahead to the cargo body, I built the floor and used that as a jig while building the frame. There are a few other places where I deviated from the instructions -- some of them may just be personal preference.

There are a few views in the instructions where a part is mounted on the backside of another part; with study it can be worked out. There are several errors with the instructions.

The fit of many pins to holes and tabs to slots is tight. The parts are well-designed and a number of them "snap fit" neatly together -- it's almost like having a 3rd hand to help with the assembly. That said, the overall fit is very good, just pay attention.

Frame and running gear assembly.

Step 1 starts frame assembly with the nicely detailed winch, which will properly "bolt" on via frame extensions. However, the drum (C25) and the two sides (C26,C27) barely fit together much less move for positioning or rotation. I ran a file around the drum ends then opened the holes on the two sides with a 3/16" drill so the drum would both fit fully into the sides and turn. I painted the cable, wrapped all but a few inches tightly, then sealed it in masking tape for later. Several hands are necessary to get the 6 pieces (drum, ends, roller, etc) together neatly and aligned. The rod (C6) was too fragile to survive this and was replaced with a brass rod.

Note I left the winch off until much later in the assembly process. I was concerned it might hinder building the frame square and true and I would rather build the frame then fit the winch.

Steps 2-9 comprise the frame and major components. I test built through step 9 -- glued together major components, but mostly fit and taped down the frame parts, the engine, transmission, and transfer, the springs, axles, and drive shafts to help me understand the instructions, how things fit, and what might be the key parts to having a straight and true frame and undercarriage.

Then I backed up and started assembling, with glue, from step 2. The pictures below are a mix, with tape and without.

The crossmembers fit neatly into the frame rails and that really helps. I found the B2, B8, and A6 assembly to be the key and assembled that into one frame rail, followed by the A32, A39, A40 (there is a tiny tab in A40 that fits into A39) assembly. Then I added the other frame rail and once happy, the crossmembers A34, A33, and A4, in that order. At this point, check tightness of fit and alignment.




About this time, I had the belated thought that if I quickly assembled the cargo bed floor (F1), frame rails (F6,F7), and crossmember (F5) from step 27 I would have a nifty jig to help with alignment. I will note that does make the back side (F3) a bit touchy to get in later.


The engine, transmission, and transfer case are a different story as their locations are not positive and the instructions not always clear. I test fit all the way into the rear axles before being satisfied. The transfer case is key but the instructions show only one side of the mount to the frame rails. I did not glue A3 onto the transfer case, but rather directly into the frame rail (orange arrow), then glued the transfer case in.


With that done, I could fiddle with the short propshaft (A27) and the combined engine/transmission and fit them with the very front of the engine resting just a bit on the bracket sticking back out of crossmember A34. The tape hides this, sorry. I shortened the "shafts" on each side of the propshaft and took a little off the faces of the transmission and transfer to get a little slack in the fit.



And that was steps 2-3. In step 4, I did not glue the springs (B13) to the axle A6, thinking the wheels might be fully articulated.

In step 5, there are about 20 pieces for each rear axle. They are identical but many times only one part on the sprue is numbered (e.g., B17, B27, B49, B30-33). My method was to use the unnumbered part on the 1st axle so I could find the right one for the 2nd axle. Sand down, a little, the face of B27 and B32 to give the propshafts a little wiggle room later. Pay close attention to the drawings.


Step 6 is a nightmare because the axles will not be articulated when finished and all axle movement will be lost so they must be square and aligned. The propshafts (A12, A26) are crucial to this which is why there needs to be some wiggle room to prevent stress on the whole assembly which might lift a wheel. I spent hours over a couple days with parts and tape trying to hold everything together preparatory to gluing things down, trying to avoid the dreaded floating wheel.


One of the issues is that the instructions do not show, clearly, where the torsion bars (B22) mount on the inside of the frame rails -- but all is revealed below ….


And, as I said, by this time all articulation in the rear axles has been lost -- it would not be easy figuring out how to make an uneven ground scene.


Steps 7-9 are the front axle which is very much like the rear axles. I am going to spoil the suspense - the kit box says "steerable", in the First Look I allowed "positionable", and after getting to step 10, I'll reduce that to "wiggleable". The point being to allow for how the front wheels will be displayed on the finished model.

To preserve that wiggle room, do not get cement on B20 and B21, pay close attention to the alignment of the steering knuckle arm (B44), get no glue near the tierod (C15), and again, allow some wiggle room for the propshaft (A11) as before. The tie rod is a press fit onto B20/B21 but needs to be carefully drilled out with a #58 to make that happen.

At this point, I mounted the front axle and did my best to make it all sit level. Note some propshafts and such are missing.


Continuing on with step 10, there is an error in the instruction drawing. The red outlined lever is C51, but is not identified; before I outlined it, it wasn't even easy to see. So, C10 pins C51 to the frame, see orange arrow, mind the glue.


Then the upper drag link (C19) connects the lever (C51) and steering box, and the lower drag link (C50) connects the lever (C51) and the steering knuckle (B44).


And there went "steerable" and "positionable" because the upper drag link is just solid plastic. If the lever (C51) is free on the pin C10, if the upper drag link (C19) is allowed to ride free, and the lower drag link (C50) is free in the lever (C51), then the steering is "wiggleable" within some narrow limits, just enough to be sure it is fore-and-aft with the rear wheels.

Now, in step 11, there is an error, identified by AFV Club, that the two airhose connections (C2) should be rotated aft and rest on C52,C53 installed in step 9.

I would hold off on A17/C1 and A18/C3 until after the cab is installed so there is a clean fender line. I also waited until the end to finalize the winch.

The polycaps hold the wheels well but the fit of the wheels on the drums is loose, possibly so they rotate freely, and this means they wobble a bit. If precise alignment is desired then glue on the brake drums or on the display base is needed.

And finish up with steps 14-15 to complete the chassis with fuel tanks, air cylinders, gas can, tools, etc.




Cab assembly, steps 16-25.

I resolved early on to leave the mirrors off until the end; I am not a gentle person. I also decided to use the soft-cab but to leave the side windows "rolled down" (off) and to protect the front windshield by leaving it until near the end. Lastly, I assembled and painted much of the cab, then installed the painted and decaled dash - so I hopped about a bit. I built the cab interior as shown in step 16, but also left the gear shift (D20) for later.

I know what AFV Club tried to say/do with "sail color", but IMO it's too tan for vehicle canvas, even in the variety of faded, weathered colors we all might have seen at some time. FWIW, I made a mix of unrecorded portions of PA 314 Canvas, AK 4006 Buff Light, and MA 71.050 Light Grey.

In step 17, I masked the glass (N2) then assembled everything but the wipers (E18) and painted it all. There is an error on the windscreen glass (N2) -- in the First Look I noted what appeared to be wiper marks, but when mounting the wipers (E18), I noted the marks/arcs are upside down !! Good intentions, but ….


In step 18, the dash (D28) has a minor flaw. The decal drawing in the instructions is correct and the decals are correct but the dash has the bottom 3 gages located to the left side rather than the right. I ignored this. See comments about decals under Painting and Decaling near the end of this review.


In step 20, the left door fits just fine. The right door appears to have a gap at the front but that is where C41 of the exhaust assembly fits -- see step 23.


At step 21, I held the exhaust pipe (C43) until step 23 to allow me to wiggle it in place with the other exhaust parts. I also test fit the cab to the frame at this point, to be sure everything matched, in particular part C9 which is not well illustrated.

At step 23, there are no tabs on the aircleaner parts, so I used the four feet as an alignment tool. Leave the aircleaner off until the right side US Army/USA# decal is applied (See Painting and Decaling near the end of this review). The exhaust stack (C23) is not open at the top. The position of C33 is not precise. I fit C41 into the door gap, sanded and fiddled with C33, the stack (C13), and piece C43 (step 21), to get them in place and the stack as vertical as possible. After all that, adding the PE screen (G2) was a piece-of-cake. Note a vertical stack is important to the right side mirror arms later on.


Note that D25 positively locates the windscreen assembly and the dash (D28) so it is easy to fit them later in the process, although it is also easier to add the steering column (D30) to the dash at the correct angle before gluing the dash to D25. There will be a small square hole on each side at the top of the door -- that’s' for the mirror arms later. And as mentioned, the mirror assemblies of step 25 were left until much later as were the windscreen and cab top.


Having left off the side glass (N1), I ran a strip of Evergreen on the door to represent a rolled-down window. There is no provided "rear window" for the cab top, but IIRC there should be clear plastic.

At step 24, the brush guard is not as fine as I would have hoped and needs a bit of careful cleaning between the bars.

Cargo bed assembly: steps 26-29.

I had jumped ahead and used the floor (F1) and some underside parts (F5,F6,F7) to make a frame alignment jig, so when I got back to steps 26-27 I just added all the other parts. The instructions do not mention that the bottom half of the splashguards (H1) should be (painted as) rubber.


One could make a dropside with the sides down by cutting the sideracks off F8 and F11 then gluing the sides at the hinges on F1. The chains and hooks (G4,Z,G7) are not correct for a dropside (see pictures below). I used them anyway but it is necessary to open the little hole in F8/F11 and F9/F10 and open up the hook G4 to enable it to fit "naturally".


Steps 28-29 are placing troop sets, bows, and cover as desired. Not all configurations are possible without modification or scratchbuilding. Only part of the bows are represented; the long piece which slides down into the sideracks is not and thus one cannot stack them in the very front of the bed, which doesn't have the "box" to receive them anyway. While the tailgate chain (G4,Z,G7) is correct for a cargo, the comments above about a dropside apply.

The seats are not a complete representation unless shown in the down/open position. If shown up then the seat supports (H4) should lay down onto the detail on the underside of the seats (H5). I made supports from Evergreen channel, opened up a bit. In the pictures below, the down seats are kit parts, the up seats are modified. Note the supports (H4) should be glued back from the edge (orange arrow) to hold the seats at the proper height.



The bows are not used if the cargo canvas (M1) is used. There is a slight warp in the canvas part I received, probably not enough to cause problems if it were glued well. Even if not warped, the canvas does not sit well against the side racks and probably needs babying to ensure it is down straight and even. However, there are no grommets or tiedowns provided and the clips on the sides are not useable for same unless replaced. I would note/suggest that the photoetch clips (G5) provided for the cab canvas would have been a great substitute if there were about 16 more of them.


Constructing the cargo strap (G9, G10, and material) is an exercise left to the reader. The pattern in the instructions is not 1:1 so cut to the dimensions given, even longer - when assembled it needs to be 2-3/8" hook-to-hook and fairly tight because there is no weight to make it sag naturally without help.


There is no part to mount the spare wheel to, it's behind the wheel and only the barest hint shows through the end racks, so just glue it as desired.

It all comes together: step 30-ish.

In sequence, add the cargo bed (from 29) to the frame, add the hood/front-end (from 25) to the frame, add all the wheels, add any little details that might still be left, then finish up by adding the mirrors to the cab.

The cargo bed is best addressed without the wheels in the way, and the wheels will hide any excess glue - it fits pretty well, just needs a couple-three hands to get it seated properly, some glue run, then a bit of hand-clamping to lock it down.

The cab is much the same way. Once on solid, then add A17/C1 and A18/C3 to get a good fender line and mount the windscreen and cab top as desired.

Running the winch cable is also an exercise left to the reader. The kit instructions don't match what is shown on the boxart and the boxart doesn't match (closely) what the -10 manual says. The kit chain (Z) is too fine for the winch, nor is 1.5cm long enough so I used some larger ships chain. By not attaching the clevis (C7) or the shackles (B1) early on, I was able to work with them, the hook(C23), the chain, and the cable to produce a reasonably taut and neatly stowed cable.



Painting and Decals.

Painting is easy, it's a big green Army truck. FWIW, I used Vallejo and did no washing or weathering.

I have another use for this model once the review is done and I did not apply any unit markings, front and rear, but I did want to test drive the decals so I put on the TP#s, stars, and selected one of the USA Numbers - and, of course, applied the dash decals earlier.

I have already, in the First Look, noted that white decals on a white backing sheet are hard to use -- measure thrice, cut once. I found a bright flashlight useful.

I tested for a (Future) gloss coat or none and Micro Set/Sol. I think a gloss coat is necessary, Micro Set appears to have no effect, but Micro Sol is useful. Despite the thickness of the decals and width of the backing strip, I had no silvering and a thin flat coat finished them off nicely.

However, they require careful handling. It takes about 15 seconds to release them from the backing strip. They have a tendency to roll/fold onto themselves when coming off the backing paper and are hard to get unstuck. Once laid down, they can be moved around without rolling/folding. Fortunately, they are strong and I didn't tear a one.

I made the recommendation back at step 23 to leave the aircleaner off until the right side US Army/USA# decal is applied because that's a difficult decal. It's that or do that one first and if it gets screwed up, select another USA#.

And here it is -- the M39 series 5-ton cargo truck by AFV Club.









Until the AFV Club kit, I believe the only 1/35 kits of the M-39 series 5-ton were the Real Model full resin kits of the cargo, dump, tractor, wrecker, and several gun trucks. There is also a gun truck conversion, again by Real Model, for the Italeri M-939 series 5-ton kit which probably could be used with this kit. I did recently see that Real Model will be offering conversions based off their own kits for the gun trucks and the M543A2 wrecker, so that could enhance interest in the AFV Club kit.

There are a few extra parts which indicate that AFV Club may be planning others in the M39 line, for example the hard-top indicates a tractor. I'm always up for a wrecker.

Pros: The important thing to note is it is really a good replica of a 5-ton dropside cargo and it's just the boxart and instructions that have the model number wrong. The kit is well-produced, fit is excellent. There is very good detail for the purpose of replicating the vehicle, not just for its own sake. I enjoyed the build and really like the completed product -- it looks and feels like a 5-ton truck, and I am looking forward to others in the M39 series from AFV Club,

Cons: The marking choices, 3 vehicles from the same truck company in 'Nam, with no explanation of those markings and why chosen is just lazy. Variety could have been achieved with one Army and one Marine from 'Nam and one Army from USAREUR. Labeling the marking options with unit, time, and place is standard these days. I placed a lot of weight on this.

Recommended, for modelers with some experience as there are complex places in the build.

I would like to sincerely thank AFV Club for providing the review sample to AMPS.

Reviewed by John Ratzenberger, AMPS Eastern Carolina Plastic Modelers and AMPS Central Virginia.

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TM 9-2320-211-10: Apr 1973, Nov 1977

TM 9-2320-211-20: Jun 1973

TM 9-2320-211-20P: May 1973

TM 9-2320-211-34P: Apr 1972