by: Jacques Duquette [ ]
The GAZ-M1 was made possible when the Ford Motor Company signed a 10 year technology sharing agreement with the Soviet Union in 1932. Gorky started production of the Ford Model-A as the Gaz-A, but the Soviets wanted a more modern and durable vehicle, so they bought production rights to the Ford 1934 Model B 40A in 1935. This was a much improved vehicle, with all metal construction of the frame and body, a more powerful engine (initially a Ford V-8 40 and later a Chrysler Flathead I6), and a sleeker design, in the GAZ-M1. The Soviets introduced enough changes to the design, over time, that the GAZ-M1 is considered a separate model vehicle. 62,888 were produced from 1936 to 1943, and although parts production ceased in 1941, there were enough in stock to keep building the vehicle until 1943. During wartime they were most often used as staff cars for officers and government officials. During peacetime, both before and after WWII, they were the ubiquitous taxi of the Soviet Union, especially in Moscow. The vehicle holds a special place in the hearts of many Russian auto enthusiasts. Many are now in the hands of collectors.
Zvezda has given us this vehicle in entirely new tooling. It has a sturdy box...actually nice if you happen to have to travel around with it. The plastic of the kit is good but is a little brittle on some of the thinner, smaller parts. Part locations on the sprues are...interesting. If you like the “Where's Waldo?” books, you will love these sprue setups...the parts are numbered but their placement is sporadic, almost haphazard. It would seem this kit was started by one group of designers and midway through, it was finished up by another, with new parts added to the sprue trees as needed.
Detail on the kit itself is very nice, and in some ways overdone. This kit would be excellent for a diorama with parts removed or exposed. For example, the transmission has some marvellous detail and it is all hidden once you have placed it on the frame.
Another aspect of the build is that it pretty much has to be built as per the instructions since several of the assemblies build off of others. For example, leaving the engine off to paint and add later is not going to work because of the way the chassis framing is attached to the car body/engine. The roof top, doors, wheels, and windows can be left off with a little worry, but leaving both engine bonnet covers (?) off requires a bit more creative building than I was able to do, so I only left one off before painting. I found out a bit late that the engine really needed to be added when it said to in the instructions, and while I was able to shoe-horn it in, it was a bit of a nerve wracking ordeal. There is a fair amount under the vehicle that could be left off (engine, transmission, etc...) if it is not going to be picked up (such as in a diorama) but if the underside of the car will ever be seen, it all needs to be there.
Starting with the undercarriage, Zvezda exceeded my expectations in most areas with nice detail except in a few areas that will be noted. The suspension and chassis had more parts than I am used to for a military car build. The pieces went together very well, showing excellent engineering for build-ability – EXCEPT for one place. Parts A4 and A5 need to have a locator removed. I think it is just an error where they wanted to put in a positive placement and put in the “pin” but forgot to cut out the notch for it to fit into. Just cut the “pin” off as shown in the red circles (left is off, right is still on). Another let down was the leaf-springs on the suspension. Instead of showing the layered leaf detail, it is a solid blank to the sides, and is very apparent if you leave a wheel off, or look for it. This is sloppy considering the detail level on the rest of this kit. Battery box detail is ok, but is it needed? You are not going to see any of it unless you build the car without the front seat.
The body consists of a rear and 2 side pieces (themselves made up of 4 pieces each) that build up very nice into a 3 piece shell for the rear body. The connecting seams between major pieces will need a LITTLE work, but not as much as you might think. The interior area of the back compartment has good detail and the back seat has a good shape. The leather loops that the passenger can grab just in front of the side windows, are a little thick, but look the part and are not too delicate. Many parts build over knock out points and seams, making the build even nicer. The floor is detailed for some sort of matting, it is not simply smooth. The front seat area has no major issues and builds up into a good representation of the real vehicle. The main front seat, a bench, has 5 pieces to it so it looks convincing. I cannot say that the dashboard is perfect, there are supposedly variations, but it looks close when compared to source material. If you glue the door supports (A7 and A11) between the front and rear doors carefully, and you use the roof piece as an unsecured guide, you can install them and still keep the roof piece free for painting the interior later.
The engine compartment is detailed well with plenty of pieces to give a good, general representation of the major pieces and framing, though there is always room for improvement in an engine bay. The engine itself builds up into a nice replica of a Chrysler Flathead I6 engine that really only requires some wiring to finish it off. The transmission and exhaust system, likewise, are very nicely done. The end of the tailpipe is oddly shaped as presented off the sprue, but it can be easily dealt with mainly by hollowing it out. All of these items, suspension, exhaust, engine, transmission, fit and build up very well, almost like a Tamiya kit in some respects. I admit I was surprised how well it all went together.
The grille and hood are ok in look and detail, but are a little fiddly. The only way to get a solid fit among all 4 parts (grille, hood halves, and center brace) that does not have large gaps is to glue at least one of the hood pieces (B55, B56) on when gluing the center brace and grille. Some trimming of the center brace piece (B33) is necessary to get a proper fit. If you are not going to showcase the engine by leaving one or both hood pieces up, you can just glue it all together now and get a very nice fit.
The drive train and steering mechanics are both straight forward and also a bit confusing to put in all together even with good resources. I have highlighted location points with red circles to help identify how the pieces all ended up getting into proper place as some of it is a bit of mystery, with parts B25, B86, B39, and B81 being the ones to keep close eye on. The wheels are both good and bad, with representative hub detail and a choice of hub caps or no hub caps, but they do let down as they have no tire tread, missing the 4 circumferential grooves. This can be addressed by scoring the grooves in, but is a disappointment considering the detail of the rest of the kit. The completed tires fit tight to the axels, I had to open the holes up a bit to allow the wheels to slide on.
Each door consists of 3 major parts (inner, outer, window) and several handle details. The handles are very small but well-shaped, be careful how you put them on. Did I mention they are small?
All of the windows on this vehicle can be left off until painting is done provided you LEAVE THE ROOF OFF. The main windshield and all three rear windows need to be put on from the INSIDE. Care will have to be taken with the windshield wiper (B16)
The kit is inherently made to be equipped with license plate holders. Part B24 on the rear, and a part of B19 that needs to be carved off, may be removed to build versions that may not have them. This is noted in the instructions. Photos of both Soviet and captured vehicles show that these license holders are not always present (front, rear, or both missing), even on pristine military vehicles.
Decals are provided for pinstripes, dashboard instruments, emblems, taillights, and license plates.
Two versions are shown in the paint guide. Version 1 is overall black with red pinstripes with only the rear license plate. Version 2 is midnight blue without pinstripes with both license plates.
The model all goes together nicely enough and there are very few gaps at the seams when all parts come together. The doors, roof, and wheels all fit very tightly and will require little, if any, putty. In fact, the doors fit so tightly they may need some light sanding to allow them to fit properly without too much stress on the frame. The roof will need a little work where it meets the front windshield frame as there is a slight gap/warpage, but this is no issue, just a note.