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1/35 Academy M151A2 Mutt TOW Missile Vehicle Review

By Patrick Keenan - Editor

Basic Item Information

Item

 M151A2 Mutt TOW Missile Launcher

Stock Number

 13406

Manufacturer

 Academy

Scale

 1/35

Medium

 Styrene Plastic

Kit Contents

 213 Green & 25 Clear Plastic Parts; 5 Vinyl Tires

Retail Price

 $18.00 USD

Reviewer

 Patrick Keenan

Review Date

 October 1, 2006/January 18, 2007

Review Summary*

Review Type

 Normal Build Review

Basic Positive Features

 Major improvement over previous kits of this vehicle

Basic Negative Features

 Vinyl Tires

Overall Rating

 3.5 of 5.0

Kit Accuracy Rating

 3.5

Parts Fit Rating

 3.5

Parts Casting Quality/ Detail Level Rating

 3.0

Decals, Marking/ Painting Information Rating

 3.5

Instructions/Packaging Rating

 4.0

Recommendation

 Recommended

* For information regarding the review terms, grading scale, etc. please go to the WarWheels Review FAQ/Key

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Photos

                             

                             

         

Detailed Review

Background

This is review was done in two parts.  The 1st Part was conducted in late October 2006 as an “In Box” or “first Look” review.  It was done as a rudimentary review where I closely examined the kit parts, instruction sheet, packaging, prior to constructing the kit.  I provided comments of my first impressions gathered while viewing the contents only. The second part was the “build portion” of the kit review.  Part 2 addressed my impressions/feelings while building the kit and after finishing it.   Instead of totally redoing my review based on the construction process, I decided to leave my initial first review comments as is.  However, as I did further comments outlining my impressions and feelings after actually building the kit, I've decided to add further text when needed.  As would be expected, I also modified my conclusion a bit too.  Any text added or changed as a result of the build portion of the review will be in Dark Red font. On to the review....

When I heard of this kit coming out, my first thought was, “Is this a re-release of Academy’s earlier kit (No. 1325) or is it based on their better M151 Mutt kits of a few years back?”  Obviously I was hoping it was the latter answer, and I was NOT disappointed.  This kit IS new!!!!  YES!

I’ve always liked the TOW Carrier Version of the Mutt ever since I first bought the Tamiya offering many years ago.  I have to say I am very pleased Academy has released a new kit of the TOW vehicle.

 

Kit Accuracy

All in all, the kit looks fairly accurate and is comparable to Academy’s very good earlier M151 Mutt kits. The only thing that really stands out to me as being inaccurate is that the bumper provided in the kit is the shorter U.S. Army version, not the U.S. Marine Corp bumper.  That would not normally be a problem, but since Academy offers this kit only as a USMC vehicle, then it becomes a negative issue. Not a major problem, easy to fix, but the puzzling to me. The USMC vehicle has a longer bumper with tow hooks on the ends. 

I have also heard that the underside suspension/chassis is a bit off in accuracy, but I do not have references to substantiate those comments.  I don’t discount it, I just can’t verify it.  However, since this concerns the bottom of the vehicle, even if the comment is true, it wouldn’t bother me at all.  I won’t be able to see it!
 
Fit of Parts

I built this kit out of box for purposes of the review.  The only extra item I added besides the kit parts was a piece of wire to simulate the radio antenna.

All in all, the fit of the parts was decent enough; Nothing spectacular, yet no major problems cropped up either.  I said no “major” problems came up, but as usual, this kit had its own fit idiosyncrasies like most others.  One minor headache I did discover was that in some cases it was difficult to decide where to attach a kit part/sub assembly since there were no alignment pins or markings as to where to attach them. 

The biggest problem of this type was with the alignment of the engine inside the engine compartment.  It seemed like it just didn’t want to sit right wherever I put it and the instructions didn’t help much.  A lot more time was spent on this portion of the construction process than should have been the case.  I’ll definitely take responsibility for some of the problem, but I feel that Academy could have done a bit better on this part of their kit.  With that being said, I modeled the vehicle with the engine closed so only a bit showed on the bottom.   

One other caution you should be aware of is with the spare wheel.  Academy shows the spare tire in the instructions with the rim convex side (curved out like a dome) facing outward.  It doesn’t fit correctly or look right that way.  I just flipped the wheel where the concave side (curved inward like, well, a cave) was facing outward and it looked much better and fit well too.  So, no harm - no foul.  I (and the rest of my family) did live through the building experience with most of our mental facilities intact and I didn’t cuss too much.  The wife disagrees with me on that part though.

 

Quality of Casting/ Detail Level of Parts

The quality of the casting of the kit parts is very good.  There is no flash on the pieces and only a few knock out pin marks.  Most of the knock-out pin marks are on the back or underside of pieces, so not much filling (if any) will be needed.

The detail of the kit parts is a bit basic however.  They aren’t badly detailed, but they aren’t as detailed to me when compared to new kits from other companies (e.g. Tamiya, Dragon, Tristar).  However, there are a lot of parts included in the kit, and these make up for the limited detail of each individual part.  To me, this is a true case of synergy (the positive effect of combining the parts is greater than the sum of the parts acting independently). 

Also, the kit layout seems very logical in how the sub assemblies are created.  Sometimes, model companies create kits with many parts so they can say the kit is made up of X amount of parts.  They feel (and assume some of the model builders do too) that the more parts in a kit, the better the kit.  However, in many of those cases the kit becomes over complicated and needlessly difficult to build.  In the case of this M151 kit, although Academy gives us a ton of pieces, the parts appear to be designed in a logical way, and not overly complicated.  

The one true negative aspect of this kit (to me) is that Academy provides Vinyl tires.  Dang, I hate vinyl parts in model kits!  They don’t look real, it is hard to remove flash, seams or molding “nubs”, you can’t fill mistakes with putty, they are darn near impossible to make look realistic when painting and some vinyl wheels in kits have been known to eat away the styrene plastic they come in contact with.  As a fairly involved hobby modelist, I really see no logical reason for the practice of providing vinyl parts in a model kit by model companies; the only exception being the poly caps some companies provide to help wheels “roll” or move.  To me, the only “reason” for following this practice is for the same reason why companies provide colored plastic; as a gimmick to cater to the novice/rookie modeler by being able to state that they don’t have to paint the kit.

After finishing the kit construction, I only have a bit to add on the section regarding quality of casting.  I did find that there were a few knock out pin marks in strange locations, but any decent modeler should have no problem fixing them.  The reason I bring this point up is that in some of those few instances, I was a bit puzzled why Academy didn’t just change the pin release area.  For instance, while constructing the suspension, I found pin marks on the springs (parts B14), where they would show.  I don’t know why they couldn’t have been on the other side where they wouldn’t be seen even when turning over the vehicle.  Again, nothing major but a head scratcher none-the-less.

In terms of the detail level of the parts, the only thing I have to add for Part 2 of the review is that in a couple instances, I found that Academy really could have made separate parts from one in order to increase the detail level.  For instance, the windshield wipers were molded into the window frame, whereas they would have looked much better as separate parts.  On the flip side, they did improve the detail level of the earlier M151 kits by adding additional parts for some assemblies.  Why they didn’t do that with the wipers is beyond me.  For instance, the replaced the original cargo bed back plate which had clunky molded on details, with a nicer, more detailed one.  Kudos to them on that account.  

Warning! Danger! Change of Opinion coming!!  In Part 1 of my review I made a comment to my utter dislike of the practice of using vinyl tires in general and specifically that they were included in this kit.  However, after reading my own comments, I started thinking there “has to be a better way” of dealing with vinyl tires.  I tried some new techniques (for me at least) and found one that MUCH worked better than what I had done in the past.  In fact, they worked so well and so easily, I must take back a lot of what I said previously about vinyl tires.  I still wish model companies would supply plastic tires instead of vinyl, but I really don’t dread working on them like I did in the past.

The technique I employed to clean up the M151 Mutt tires was to fully use sanding materials (steel wool, sanding sticks and fine grit sand paper) instead of using cutting instruments (scalpel or hobby knife).  In the past, I tended to use a hobby knife most of the time when cleaning up kit parts, with vinyl tires being no exception.  This time around, once I nipped off the tires from their mold trees, I did not touch another cutting instrument.  I used a variety of successively finer sanding materials to take off the mold seams and casting plugs until they were completely smooth.  The material Academy used for the tires, responded well to this method. 

The final step was to take away the “shine” of the tires.  I used steel wool and lightly buffed the tires until they became dull in appearance without pitting or ruining the smooth finish.  They finished almost gray in color, just like real tires.  In fact, this technique worked so well I did not need to do another thing to the tires to make them look real.   I hate to use the word “perfect”, but I have to say I was VERY happy with the finish of the tires using my “new” technique that I couldn’t have asked for a better result.  Please note: I am not sure if this technique will work with vinyl tires provided by other manufacturers, but I will not hesitate to try it out when I come across them in the future.

 
Decals, Marking Information and Painting Information

The decals themselves are very good, on register and produced in bright, crisp color.  I do have to say that I am fairly disappointed since the kit only comes with one vehicle marking option; a generic camouflaged USMC TOW carrier.  Couple this with the fact that Academy did NOT provide the Marine front bumper and this makes their markings choice a head scratcher. 

I can’t see any reason why they couldn’t have provided US Army markings too.  The decal sheet is tiny at about 1 ½” X 2”, so I really believe that it wasn’t a cost issue.  A modeler can easily depict a US Army vehicle by sifting through their spare decal scraps box and not putting on the deep wading gear parts, but I have to wonder why I should have to go through my decal scraps for something that really should have been provided in the first place?

On the other hand, the markings and painting information Academy provides is top notch.  The diagrams are very well done and not overly complicated.  The color differentiations in the pictures are easy to understand and decipher.

The only addition I have to this section is that the decals were indeed easy to use and looked good when finished.  They were very thin, but not brittle and yet surprisingly tough and strong.  In fact, during one decal application I surely thought that my ham fisted modeling manner would have destroyed the decal, but alas it did not crumble. One word of advice though, the decal backing paper is fairly thick when compared to others I’ve encountered.  Definitely use a VERY sharp hobby knife or cutting instrument when working with the decals.  I made the mistake of using a “dull” knife blade and I ruined a decal in the process.

 
Instructions/Packaging

I believe Academy produces some of the best instructions out of all of the modeling companies I’ve experienced.  That positive point really comes down to the quality of the diagrams they provide. They aren’t the prettiest or spiffiest instructions, but they get the job done in the easiest manner possible.  This might just be my opinion, but to me Academy provides diagrams with just the right amount of information to show the modeler exactly what they need to do. 

Some model companies give you so little information in the instructions that you may be guessing much of the time as to what goes where and when.  They assume you have a library full of reference on a specific vehicle.  Other model companies try to put too much detail in the instructions and they make them hard to read, understand and decipher. Academy routinely provides clear and concise instructions that definitely leave no room for misunderstanding.  With the TOW Mutt, they fully succeed again.

The packaging of this kit is also excellent. To me this is where Academy again shines.  The box top contains a nice painting of the vehicle and the side flaps have photographs of the completed model.  To me, a great combination.  Their boxes are made out of sturdy, thick cardboard and very rarely get smashed or squished on my modeling shelf.  The parts are internally bagged, almost all having their own sealed and protected envelope of plastic.  The clear parts and decals are bagged on their own to prevent damage or scratching by the other model parts.
 
Conclusion

I am very happy to see this new kit of the M151A2 Mutt TOW carrier become available.  It is the best styrene version of this cool little vehicle out on the market. Thank goodness it is not a re-release of Academy’s kit #1325.  However, I am bit disappointed in the level of detail of the individual parts Academy provides.  I guess kit manufacturers like Tamiya, Dragon, Tristar and AFV Club are beginning to spoil me. 

After constructing the kit though, the model does look nice and I am very pleased with the result.  I am very happy to have a model of this interesting vehicle in my built model collection (as opposed to my kit stash).  My first impressions during my in-box review (Part 1) were confirmed in that Academy kit does provide a very good rendition of the real vehicle when completed. However, as a result of the build review my numerical rating has changed a bit, but not my general conclusion.

Recommended.

Thanks to IPMS/USA & Model Rectifier Corporation (MRC) for providing this kit to me for Review.
 
Copyright: Patrick Keenan - October 2006/ January 2007