AMPS is all about armor modeling and the preservation of armor and mechanized heritage.

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

Catalog Number: 35300 Manufacturer: AFV Club
Published: Tuesday, July 10, 2018 Retail Price: $55
Scale: 1:35 Reviewed By: John Ratzenberger

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


Please see the Full Build of this kit.


The M39 5-ton series was designed to reduce to reduce the number of different off-road truck classes and designs post World War II, in particular the 4-ton and 6-ton.  Much as the 2-1/2 before it, the M39 series had a number of different models with different capabilities.

The M39 series were originally powered by a gas engine.  The -A1 upgrade had a turbocharged diesel and the -A2 upgrade had a turbocharged multi-fuel engine.  Visually, the gasser is most different with a down-swept exhaust under the body at the right rear wheels.  The -A1 and -A2 have an air cleaner and vertical exhaust stack on the right front fender, although transitional and rebuild variations can exist.

The M54 was the basic cargo model of the series, designed to transport a 10,000 lb, 14-foot-long cargo load off-road in all conditions.  As usual the load weight was double for on-road service.  It was the primary heavy cargo truck of the US Army and USMC during the Vietnam War, and was used by the Navy, Air Force, and ARVN.  In 1969, the M809 series, which was essentially an M39 with a (wonderful) Cummins engine, began to replace the M39 series in some units.  By 1982, the M939 series, based on the M809, began to replace both.

To facilitate cargo handling the dropside was introduced and identified by a "C" added to the vehicle model, for example M54A2C.  The base vehicles were the same, the cargo bed was the same 14'x7' size/capacity, just the difference between fixed sides and drop sides.  Visually the standard cargo bed had smooth sides with 5 equal sections, while the drop side had hinges along the bottom and 4 large sections and one smaller one up front.

Top row are cargos, bottom are dropsides. To be honest, bottom right is an M813A1.

Bottom Line Up Front

It really looks like a nice kit, but it's not an M54A2 Cargo Truck, nor is it an M54A1.  It is an M54A2C dropside cargo truck or more likely, given the provided decals, to be discussed later, an M54A1C dropside.  To be really correct, it is more a dropside than a cargo, but the implementation is not quite complete in detail.

The first clue is the (very nice) boxart that illustrates the sides with the distinctive 4 large and one small sections and hinges and locking chains.


Parts inspection bears this out and will be illustrated during the discussion of sprue F and the instructions.  I'll make a few other remarks along the way.

Opening the Box.

It's a nice sturdy top-opening box.  The sprues are pretty much individually bagged and protected.  I had no breakage or damage, although I had to fight with the rather complex bag holding the E-I-K sprues.

I did a full inspection and the molding is excellent - virtually no flash and no seams or ejector marks in embarrassing places.  I'll cover a couple exceptions later.  Sprue gates seem to be correctly sized, regular in form, and well-placed.


The instructions look good, plenty of room for notes.  I'll know more as the build goes on.  The 16-page booklet starts with a history.  I think the 1st sentence of the 3rd paragraph is trying to say the M39 series replaced the M35 series, not the other way around, but that's not really correct either. There is a paint chart for GSI, Humbrol, Revell, and Lifecolor.  Page 3 is labeled "M54 5t Cargo Truck Series" but really gives drawings of a number of different M39 series models - regardless, it is a nice touch.  The 30 construction steps occupy 11 pages, roughly 2-3 steps per page.  There is a (small) sprue layout diagram only useful for sprue-level inventory and a single page of color and decal placement.

I noted a few things in the instructions.  On the box top, "bucket" really means the cargo bed or box, so when you see "bucket seats" that's the definitely unstylish troop seats and "cargo bucket cover" is the canvas/tarp.  The only build option is whether to use the cargo cover or leave it off -- and that doesn't occur until step 29 of 30.  Note the cargo strap assembly.


The cargo sides and tailgate contain very fine molded-on tie-down hooks but they'll probably need replacement if the top is to be actually used and tied down.  No tie downs are provided, nor are instructions provided.


The box top also mentions "front wheel steering" which really means the front wheels are positionable.  The instructions, however, provide no guidance on doing this, not even simple "do not glue" symbols.  A little study indicates keeping glue off the axle (from step 7) and parts B20, B21, and C15 - plus a little care finishing up the front end later - should do the trick.


Inspection of the instructions, interior parts, and decals shows this is an early production vehicle as the instrument panel has the speedometer and tachometer, not the tachograph installed on later vehicles.  I do not know specific cut-over dates, etc, but this is another reason to believe this is an M54A1C.

Although shown not as an option in the instructions, the soft cab could also be left off but no framework is provided.


As advertised on the boxtop, there are 3 markings options, or rather one color option with 3 minor variations of markings, all from one unit in Vietnam.  I consider this a bit minimal.  The decals are printed white on white and I cannot see much and cannot get an idea of how they'll lay down - stay tuned.  Instead I took the nice blue background picture off the side of the box



There is no explanation of these markings - such as unit, location, date - as usually found on instruction sheets, so I decided to do some research.

Option A is Truck 317, 523rd Trans Co, 124th Trans Bn, 8th Trans Gp.
Option B is Truck 216, 523rd Trans Co,   39th Trans Bn, 26th General Support Gp.
Option C is Truck 116, 523rd Trans Co, 124th Trans Bn, 8th Trans Gp.

So, these are all from 523rd Trans Co, a unit known to modelers for their gun trucks.  From the two links below, it was easy enough to let my fingers do the walking.

My research indicated that the 523rd arrived in country late in 1966 and was assigned to the 54th Trans Bn, 8th Trans Gp, at Qui Nhon in the II Corps Tactical Zone until Jul/Aug 1970, when they were re-assigned to the 124th Trans Bn in the same location.  In Jan 71, the 523rd was re-assigned to the 39th Trans Bn, 26th GS Gp, at Phu Bai in the I Corps Tactical Zone.  The 39th and the 523rd were inactivated in Mar 72.  The 124th was previously inactivated in May 71.

So it would appear the markings could be correct and cover a period of about 18 months from Jul/Aug 1970 to Mar 1972.  Options A & C would be appropriate from Jul/Aug 1970 to Dec/Jan and option B from Jan 1971 onwards.  I believe the "yellow nose" was an 8th Group standard and retained when the 523rd left.

The 523rd unit history for 1969 says that they converted from M54A2 to M54A1 early in 1969 and then in Sep 69 to the M54A1C dropside.  This makes the markings entirely appropriate for the plastic in the kit.

The Plastic

Sprue A has the frame, drive train, and other parts -- frame rails, bumper, propshafts, etc.  The mold marks on the frame rails (2nd image) are on the inside and not visible.



Sprue B has the tires, axles, etc -- there are two of sprue B.  Note the styrene tires, but also note there are no valve stems in the wheels.  I did not show the flip side as it's mostly not visible, but I did show some very small, fine detail that exists throughout this kit.



Sprue C has front-end parts -- hood, winch, grill, fenders, front axle details, etc.  Again, I did not show the flip side, but do note the very small fine detail on the trailer brake connectors.



Sprue D continues the front end parts with cab parts and details.  Again, I did not show the flip side, but note on the left side there is a hard-top for the cab - but I believe that was only used on the M52-series tractor.  Again, note the fine detail of the mirror assembly.  Great care will be needed to avoid breaking some of this detail.



Sprue F has the cargo box - bed, sides, front, and tailgate.  Top photo appears to show wrinkling of the floor and possibly the front and tailgate - I do not know if intentional or not.  There are sink marks on the inside of the sides, corresponding to the framing, but that would be covered by the troop seats unless not installed.  Here's another look at the wood grain and the tie down hooks detail.  I've also included two steps from the instructions which illustrate this is a dropside cargo box; perhaps in the full build, I'll cover a couple items which could be done to improve accuracy as a dropside.





Sprues E-H-I-K: Various parts.  There are two H, with the seats and bows, and two E, with all the tiny parts.  The other two, I and K, are gas cans and fuel tanks.  The troop seats on H appear to have inconsistent molding where the fasteners would be -- if folded up, that won't be seen.  Again, look at all the tiny, fine detail parts.





Sprues F*-G-I*-J-M-N-Z: Everything else.  The cargo cover (M) is internally braced so the bows will not be used with the cover (step 29).  There are the pioneer tools (F*), winch thread/cable (J), and poly-caps (I*).  The soft-cab (M) has stretch marks, but no fasteners.  The photo-etch (G) and chain (Z) are used with the safety strap, chain hooks, and the winch.  The clear glass parts (N) are very nice and I will make an effort to get a picture of what appears to be wiper marks on the front windows.





Until the AFV Club kit, I believe the only 1/35 kits of the M-39 series 5-ton were the Real Models full resin kits of the cargo, dump, tractor, and wrecker.  There is also a gun truck conversion, again by Real Models, for the Italeri M-939 series 5-ton kit which probably could be used with this kit.

Pros:  The important thing to note is it is really a good representation of a dropside cargo and it's just the boxart and instructions that have the model number wrong.  Move along, no major meltdown on the internet is required.

Cons:  The markings are a bit minimal.  Not having any explanation of these markings - such as unit, location, date - isn't helpful nor is it up to usual standards these days.

Recommended pending the Full Build to follow.

Thanks goes out to AFV Club for this review kit.

Reviewed by John Ratzenberger. 

If you liked this review, consider joining AMPS. Your annual membership
includes six copies of AMPS's magazine, Boresight,
and helps to support our ongoing reviews.

Click here for more information about joining AMPS

Other References:

TM 9-2320-211-10

TM 9-2320-211-20

TM 9-2320-211-20P