by: Jason Bobrowich [ ]
Armoured Recovery Vehicles are unsung heroes on the battlefield compared to Main Battle Tanks. They donít have big main guns. They donít have fast spinning turrets. They arenít at the pointy end of the stick blasting the enemy. What Armoured Recovery Vehicles do is provided the ability to repair and recovery damaged AFVs under fire in order to get the tank and crew out of harmís way and back into action as quick as possible. In peacetime ARVs are indispensable for providing the heavy lifting and towing capability to maintain, repair, recover, and change parts on a multitude of AFVs.
ARVs come in various shapes and forms. Most are based on existing tank hulls and converted for the specific ARV use. Some are highly technical and some stick to more basic functions. They all are very welcome sights for tank crews in need of assistance.
During the Cold War the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries used a variety of ARVs based on in service tank hulls. The Armoured Recovery Vehicle VT-55A was one such variant that was licensed build in the former Czechoslovakia. The VT-55A was based off of the Russian BTS-2 which used the T-54 chassis. Design for the VT-55A began in 1964 and was based off of the T-55A chassis.
Between 1969 and 1983 over 1800 VT-55As were delivered to the Czechoslovak Peopleís Army, the Soviet Union, and other countries conducting arms deals with the Soviet Union in the Middle East and Africa. A variant of the VT-55A was the ZS-55A Combat Engineer Vehicle. Mounting a BTU-55 dozer blade and other specialized equipment the ZS-55A provided Combat Engineers with an armoured platform in order to conduct a variety of missions.
When the Cold War ended militaries in the West and the East were left with massive quantities of military equipment. As part of downscaling agreements some of the equipment was destroyed. Some of the surplus vehicles were sold to private collectors, museums, and companies for use in civilian applications. If you have ever heard the phrase ďbeating swords into ploughsharesĒ you have to look no further than a unique civilian ZS-55AM used in the Czech Republic. A bright yellow painted ZS-55AM is used for heavy recovery and towing tasks by the company Truck Technic which is located in Liberec, Czech Republic. Looking like an armoured Formula 1 or NASCAR race car the ZS-55AM is plastered with corporate advertising markings. The Truck Technicís ZS-55AM has been used on numerous occasions for pulling heavy construction equipment out of very precariously bogged down locations using the onboard winch while hunkering down with the spade and dozer blade. The Truck Technicís ZS-55AM is transported to and from job sites on a low bed trailer pulled by a Tatra T815 8x8 truck.
What a cool AFV you say? You got that right! Guess what? Legend Productions has produced a 1/35 conversion for this eye catching civilian AFV! Legend Productions has marketed the conversion as a Civilian ZS-55AM (LF1327).
Flat out, this is not a conversion for beginners. This conversion requires not only modification to the Tamiya T-55 donor kit hull, the use of multiple resin and photo etched parts, but it also requires you to be proficient with bending and attaching brass wire in order to create the mutli-angled headlight guard frames and right side hull stowage racks.
The Truck Technic ZS-55AM has been modified for use in the civilian world of recovery tasks. Stowage boxes have been moved, storage racks have been added, additional emergency and spot lights have been added, and an acetylene tank has been attached to the left side of the hull superstructure. All of these modifications make this vehicle more effective for the civilian recovery tasks at hand.
With a whopping 165 resin parts, 123 photo etched parts, clear parts for lights, brass rods, vinyl tubing, and nylon string this is one comprehensive conversion. Wait, there is more! A full set of decals is provided for this big yellow beast! Could there possibly be even more? Yes, in a limited amount of the conversions designated LF1327LSP (Limited Special Pack) a full set of Modelkasten T-72 tracks (SK-11) are included to make this an even more amazing conversion.
The quality of the resin parts is up to Legend Productionsí high standard of casting. The removal of casting blocks is standard for Legend Productions parts in order to prepare them for use.
There are many parts included in the conversion that are common to Legend Productionsí VT-55 Conversion Set. That makes it easier to find reference material if you need to look at specific details.
With a conversion this big you need good instructions. Provided in the conversion are five colour pages of assembly snapshots to show you how the parts are to be attached to the Tamiya T-55 hull. As well, images with measurements are provided to show you how to cut and prepare the T-55 hull for the conversion parts. You wonít be using much of the T-55 kit except for the upper hull, lower hull, suspension, a stowage box, and the commanderís hatch. The kit drive sprockets will also be modified in order to use the Modelkasten tracks.
Templates in the instructions are provided as a guide for bending the brass rods to form the pulley storage racks on the right hull sponson.
The inclusion of the clear emergency light was an excellent idea. This part will have be tinted or painted amber for accurate use. This vehicle has multiple headlights and spotlights. They are all provided in solid resin and clear resin so you have a choice as to how to replicate the lights. The clear resin lights arenít as fancy as reflective resin lenses but they are a great improvement over solid cast resin parts. White nylon string is provided for the tow cables and winch cable. Black nylon string is provided for the crane cable. The string is good for the winch and crane cables but copper wire cable would have been excellent for the tow cables. That would have been the cherry on the top for this conversion.
The conversion steps include the following:
1. The Tamiya T-55 upper hull is prepared by cutting out the engine deck and a significant portion of the hull top for the new resin superstructure.
2. The Tamiya drive sprockets require a slight adjustment to make them wider in order to fit the T-72 tracks.
3. The superstructure, winch hydraulic reservoir, and engine deck are placed in the Tamiya T-55 hull.
4. The left sponson is detailed with spare track links, exhaust details, the acetylene tank, various towing and lifting shackles, hull storage box, tow cable, and the driverís periscope washer reservoir.
5. The right sponson is detailed with lifting/towing pulleys with storage racks, additional towing/lifting shackles, tow cable, towing bar, and the kit front right stowage bin.
6. The crane is assembled and detailed and added to the right rear hull sponson.
7. The rear deck is detailed with winch rollers, winch cable, and hydraulic lines.
8. The rear hull is detailed with the spade assembly and a spot lights.
9. The superstructure is detailed with hatches, the light bar, and various spot lights and the emergency light.
10. The front hull is detailed with the dozer blade, headlights and guards, mirrors, and various fittings.
In reviewing reference images I found a couple of details that modellers can choose to add or omit.
1. The acetylene bottle should have a line running from a valve on the tank regulator to an entry point on the superstructure side. This is an easy add with some additional vinyl tubing and some minor drilling.
2. The dozer blade support arm and depth guide donít appear to be mounted in the Truck Technic ZS-55M. This is an easy part to leave off of the build and add the double pin detail on the mount.
A complete set of decals is provided to finish this great looking AFV. The decals provide vibrant colour to the model and make it look even more race car-like. A separate two page colour sheet is provided for decal placement.
In comparing reference images with the kit decals I did notice a visible difference. Black numbers for 408 are provided for the hull front and left rear storage box. In reviewing all of my reference images I cannot locate an image with the 408 on the vehicle. In reference images there is what appears to be a tool company advertising logo in the same locations. This might have been a change on the vehicle since the decals were produced.
As stated earlier this is the Limited Special Pack conversion and it includes a full set of Modelkasten T-72 individual link tracks. A small assembly sheet is included that shows how to assembly the tracks with the plastic pins. Unofficial reviews of the Modelkasten T-72 tracks have stated they are easy to assemble and they are accurate. Win-Win!
If you are looking for a unique AFV model that is eye catching, extremely detailed, and will for sure be a conversation piece then this is the conversion for you.
I have to reinforce this is not a beginnerís conversion. The bending of the brass for the headlight guards and the right hull storage racks will require pre-planning and a delicate touch to get the angles correct. Some modellers might be hesitant to cut up the upper hull in order to fit the conversion parts. My advice to you; study the instructions, measure and re-measure, cut cautiously, and finalized with lots of dry fitting and fit adjustments.
The decals and tracks and excellent inclusions and make this conversion really stand out.
I applaud Legend Productions for stepping outside the box and producing this great looking conversion. Hopefully we will see more civilian AFV conversions in the future.