by: Shawn [ ]
The T54E1 represents one of three experimental tanks in the T54 series built in the early 1950's by the US to explore the possibility of using autoloaders and larger caliber guns on future tanks. The T54E1 features an oscillating turret that allows the AFV to accommodate a much larger caliber gun than the turret ring would otherwise allow. The T54E1 also featured a 105 mm T140E2 main gun with a nine round drum autoloader. The T54 series (T54, T54E1, T54E2) were abandoned by 1957 in lieu of other designs. Currently, the 1/35 Black Label offering of this unique experimental tank is the only one of its kind. As of August 2017, there are no aftermarket PE sets or metal barrels available for this kit, however, the DS tracks included in the kit can be replaced by individual tracks offered by AFV Club or Friulmodel.
Unboxing the Kit
The kit contains 330 parts on 9 plastic sprues, one PE fret, DS tracks & turret dust cover, and components specific to the T54E1 that are marked as ‘B’ and ‘F’ sprues. In typical Dragon fashion, the majority of the sprues are recycled from other kits in the M48 family and have the expected high detail and crisp molding. The ‘B’ Sprue specific to the T54E1 is poorly molded and has a lot of flash and soft detail while the ‘F’ sprue is clean and devoid of many defects. The turret on the T54E1 is very unique, and its design is a big departure from the other American turret designs from that time period. The turret is a complex design and is made from two halves (Parts B1 & B2). The instructions include 12 steps, and the decals provided are very simplistic US registration markings. The DS tracks and dust cover also have a lot of flash and will require delicate cleaning. This build will be completely out of the box and nothing will be done to correct the dimensional inaccuracies with the kit.
Assemblies of road wheels, drive sprockets, return rollers, some of the suspension on the lower hull, and details on the upper hull. The first major issues with the build surfaces during step 3, as the instructions mix up the placement of parts A3 and A4. I did not realize the error in the instructions until step 9, in which you install part L21 onto A3.
Step 4 combines the upper and lower hulls, and has no issues. Step 5 has numerous issues, which I’ll try to explain in detail. The engine deck (Part L2) and rear deck (Part L6) are added to the upper hull at the start of Step 5. The instructions have the incorrect depiction of part L2, and it highlights 4 of the grab handles without providing any guidance. The instructions tell you to install parts L18 and L3 towards the rear of part L2. Six louver handles will need to be cut away from the rear portion of L2, and the two tabs will have to be removed from L3 for the assembly to fit properly. Refer to pictures. Another interesting point is that the CAD drawings on the box depicts the part L3 centered on L2 – which is exactly where this exhaust cover is installed on the actual M48A1. The deck of the T54E1 was modified so the exhaust cover was to the rear to accommodate the turret. Another small discrepancy was with the gun travel lock. The CAD drawings on the box claim that the travel lock can be modeled in stowed or deployed positions, however, there are no instructions provided for modeling it in the stowed position. No issues with Step 6.
Step 7 incorrectly identifies the fenders and is opposite of the actual part numbers. The left fender (F4) is labeled as F3 and the right fender is labeled as F4. Step 8 is the construction of the pioneer tool rack and includes some PE work. This step was one of the most time consuming parts of the build. Step 9 features the installation of part L21, which could be problematic as previously mentioned if you followed the instructions for Step 3.
Assembly of the oscillating turret. The turret dust cover (Part E3) molded in DS does not seat correctly with the lower turret (B4) or the upper turret (Parts B2 & B1) and will require some extensive gluing to make it fit correctly.
The instructions identify parts H7 (molded in clear plastic) for the coincidence range finder sights. The ‘B’ Sprue includes two sights molded in gray plastic and can be substituted for H7.
This step includes the assembly of the barrel (Parts F1 & F1) and numerous small details on the turret itself. The loaders periscope (Part B16) is installed in this step, however, there are no instructions for the installation of the periscope cover. The periscope cover can be clearly seen in the box art and in the CAD drawings. The CAD drawings also highlight the detail on the gun flange. The instructions even make it clear that the parts for the gun flange (B10 & B11) need to be assembled with caution to ensure the alignment of the details. The actual parts do not feature the same details seen in the CAD illustrations or instructions. Interestingly, there is a small Ziploc bag in the kits box, which contains a small PE band featuring the missing detail. The instructions do not include anything on this PE part, and it’s not even included on the parts listing on the front.
Turret fitting issues. The turret is clearly not the same as the one depicted in the box art by Ron Volstad, and causes a problem when attaching it to the hull assembly. The turret will not rotate 360 degrees without hitting the storage bins on the fenders or part L21 located near the drivers hatch.
The instructions also do not include anything about the antenna mounts on the ‘B’ Sprue.
Overall, the whole turret is marred by soft details, poor fittings, and will require some extensive putty work to fix.
Paint & Markings
As previously stated, the kit contains only the most basic set of US vehicle registration markings. The painting guide provides three options for ‘Unidentified Unit, 1950’s’ one in traditional OD and two in fictionalized camouflage patterns.
I finished the T54E1 in an overall OD green with some markings taken from Dragons M48A1 kit. I added the nickname ‘Freak Show’ on the gun tube and I kept the weathering to a minimum. All paint and weathering products came from the AK Interactive or Ammo of Mig lines.
The Black Label series was introduced by Dragon in 2014 to be an independent line of models that provided maximum value for its price. The series has included several obscure modern/cold war era AFV's like the M6, M103, KpZ 70, and now the T54E1. There have been plenty of reviews of these kits that highlight the inaccuracies and dimensional issues, and from what I have seen there is a negative stigma towards the Black Label series. I wanted to give the Black Label line a fair shot, and I was truly disappointed. Although Dragon instructions are notorious for their flaws, I felt like this kit featured more errors than normal, and really made me wonder if anyone even proofed them before production began. The soft detail, copious amounts of flash, and horrible fitting issues with the turret really detracts from the overall appeal of this unusual kit. The main highlight of the build was the M48 hull, which went together with relative ease. I am very interested now in purchasing one of the other M48 offerings by Dragon. The main selling point for this kit is that it really is the only model of this experimental tank in any scale or medium. That fact alone might not be enough for the serious modelers who can clearly see the tremendous work required to make it an exact replica of the real T54E1 (the turret alone will require extensive work). I’d recommend only buying this kit if it’s on deep discount.