The 1/4 ton 4X4 truck manufactured by Willys and Ford for use in WWII, and commonly known by almost everyone as a "Jeep" is one of the most recognizable vehicles ever made. It was used in every theater, by almost everyone in every army, and was a rugged, dependable, reliable vehicle. Bantam, Willys and Ford were all competing for the contract, which Willys initially won, but production demand resulted in Ford also being awarded a contract to build the vehicle.
Features of the vehicle were standardized by the War Board to make parts replacement easier. Among the standardization requirements was a change from a radiator grill with individual slats fixed to a formed frame that was being manufactured by Willys, to the now familiar stamped radiator grille that Ford was using. The first 25,000 vehicles, approximately, were manufactured at Willys using the "slat grill".
have stepped into unusual territory with the release of a new kit in 1/20 scale representing the "slat grill" version of the Willys MB. Due to what I assume are the usual copyright issues, the model kit represented is called the U.S. Army 1/4-ton 4 X 4 truck (slat grille). I received a sample kit from Armorama which is the subject of this review.
The kit comes in a top opening box roughly 9"x12"x5"high. There is a photo on the box top showing a restored vehicle. Inside the box there are two separate packages of sprue parts and two booklets. The first booklet is the instruction manual and the second is a gloss paper reference book with the kit title on the front page and good, color photographs of the restored vehicle presented in a very clear and detailed walk around.
The sprues are marked A, B, C, D, E, and G. A decal sheet is also included with markings for three vehicles.
The body, suspension and engine parts are scattered over the first four sprues. The slat grille and early steering wheel are on a separate E sprue, along with a rear body panel. The G sprue has a single piece windshield and headlights.
There are several parts included on the sprues that are marked not for use. This includes separate wheels that look like they are for vinyl tires, a small plastic battery box and what look like switches and parts to hold metal axles and maybe a gear box for a motorized version. There are also Jerry cans that were not installed on the slat grille vehicles, so more releases may be forthcoming.
For references on this build, I used these online sources, as parts for the slat grille production appear to have been fairly specific.
has a simple photo list of individual parts that were unique to the slat grille vehicle.
is a discussion forum for enthusiasts and restoration specialists regarding these vehicles. You may find an actual vehicle for sale here as well. These folks are quite specific when it comes to the various vehicle parts and their authenticity.
I also used the walkaround at Toadmans pictures found here:
Toadmans Tank Pictures
There is a walkaround of a later slat grille at Toadmans as well.
The vehicle used as reference in the included booklet is nice for some details, but (according to what I read at the g503 site) is not entirely accurate. It has a fuel sump with rounded corners, a rifle rack which was not mounted on early vehicles and later style rims.
To start the build I began with an examination of the parts on the sprues. There is some good, some not so good, and some very ugly molding present. Very fine details, such as the numbers in the speedometer, which are legible, lettering on the tires and the snaps around the door frame for the canvas door are included in the molding. Bolt head detail is very fine. The early, simple steering wheel is very good and small details on the lights are clear.
On the not so good, many sprue attachment points are thick and heavy, as is much of the molding. There are heavy seam lines on most parts, and ejector pin marks are visible on some surfaces, particularly on the seat backs and windshield frame.
The decals are crisp, in register, and clean looking. They are on carrier film that looks to be on the thicker side. The markings are for (1), a vehicle in the US Army in New Guinea, 1942, blue serial on OD paint, with small white stars on the rear quarterpanel and what looks like a clout or fat thunderbolt on the left front bumper. (2), US Army 981st Engr. Maint. Co, Luxembourge, Jan 1945, OD body with white lettering, star in circle on the hood, and (3), British Army, North Africa, Feb 1942, Sandy Brown body with black lettering, British tricolor circle on hood. Decals are included for the dashboard placards and instrument faces.
The very ugly is the major letdown of the kit. The pedals are all molded in place as large lumps on the floor of the vehicle. Features of the gas and clutch pedals are indented rather than raised. The axles are very roughly molded and have surface issues that give them the appearance of molded wood grain. There were flecks of what appear to be plastic shrapnel on some parts and quite a bit of flash to clean up. I was really very surprised to see how messy the sprues and parts were. The steering wheel shaft, gear levers, axles and drive shafts and mirror stem were all thick, heavy and the mold halves slightly off. I chose to make a couple of what I thought were simple corrections but for the review I built the kit out of the box as it came.
Step 1 is assembly of the body. Fit was not as clean and precise as I would have liked, but was not much different than most any other kit I have built. I could not get the left rear corner to match up smoothly but I was able to gently sand down the small edge.
Steps two and three add details such as the footmans loops, spare tire mount, shift levers and seats. Detail on the seats is very poor, with no indication of fabric texturing or separation of the seat cushion and frame. The seats also appear to be very generic, and not any actual variant type. The rear seat has a half mold of a tire pump on underside of the seat. Fortunately, this will be hidden from view.
The axe and shovel, to be mounted to the driver's side, are simply awful, with the shovel looking very out of proportion and crude. The shovel head appeared to be slightly offset as well. On the real vehicle, the copyrighted name of "Willys" was stamped on the rear panel in the lower left corner.
Step 4 is construction of the tires and drive assembly. The front tires are positionable and all of the tires are to be movable. The tires come in two halves that glue together. As I mentioned earlier, there is very fine lettering on the sidewall, although lacking the trademarked "Goodyear" stamp. The tires are generic, and not as square looking as the actual tires used on the slat grill jeeps. Also, the wheels have extra bolt detail and sharper contours and are not as simple as the slat grill wheels. The parts go together well enough, but texturing on the axles, as well as flash and mold lines, was heavy and cleanup extensive.
I also encountered the only two errors I could find in the kit. The transfer box covers are shown being installed the wrong way. The rib should face opposite, as shown in the photos of the restored vehicle. Some details, like the hubs (later style) seem nitpicky to point out, but if they can make the speedometer legible, I don't understand why so many other features are so toy-like.
For step 5, the body frame, the fuel sump is rounded for later vehicles. On slat grill production it was square. The leaf spring assembly needed some dry fitting and trimming to get things to line up, and then the gear box and drive shafts were added. The front drive shaft is slightly too long and the rear is slightly too short. If you try to fudge the parts, the engine won't attach to the gear box at all. The skid plate is a later style.
The engine assembly is in steps 7 and 8. It is detailed enough, but lacking any lettering on the engine top (the firing sequence is cast into the surface on the real engine). I trimmed down the radiator fan blades. The completed engine looks very nice, and could easily be detailed with wiring and such and the photo guide gives clear views of the actual engine.
Step 9 adds the body to the frame. It lined up fairly well. Dry fit the slat grille while setting the body so that the front fenders line up properly. The exhaust pipe is molded solid and will need to be drilled out for better appearance. The radiator is assembled and shown ready to attach to the frame, but wait until the engine is set in place. It took a lot of dry fitting and trimming to get the engine in. The tabs on the body sides that act as the mounting blocks put the engine too high and it wouldn't meet up with the gear box. I also had to file down the corner of the oil pan where it meets the front transfer case. then the radiator and grille can go in and the rest of the engine details can be added.
The hood receives two T handle clamps per side, but no surface detail is present for their mounting position. The hood also features the later style fabric covered wood bumpers for the windshield. Early models had the rubber blocks which are clearly visible in the reference photo booklet. The windshield has thick, clumsy wiper blades and has the mounting holes for the rifle rack. To be a true early windshield these would not be visible. I don't have a set of calipers and so didn't measure the actual kit windshield height, but early windshields were three inches shorter than later production models, although the glass was the same size. My guess is the kit part is generic.
The dashboard is assembled next, and mine was thick on one side, thin on the other. When installed, it was inset on the thin side and overhung on the thick side. The center handle on the dash was molded in place as a single thick part, which I tried to clean up by undercutting. The instrument dial faces are all clear and highly detailed. The mirror stem was poorly molded and a prominent sink mark was in the center of the mirror face (there were sink marks throughout the kit as well).
With assembly finished, I can offer my assessment of the kit. I had wondered why Fine Molds would release a model kit in this scale, as most other manufacturers had gone with 1/24 or 1/35. I had hoped it would be something special, like a collector's item. It looks now like it will be a motorized toy. There are some nice features, but so many issues, big and small, that I don't quite know how to categorize it. It could use a good aftermarket set to replace the pedals, shift sticks, seats, wheels, hubs, tires, windshield and pioneer tools. Fine Molds does offer a set of etch parts that give you a spare tire mount, rear bumperettes, jerry can rack and strap, safety straps for the door openings and tie down handles, pioneer tool brackets, square fuel sump, dashboard placards, windshield wiper blades and side brackets, and is listed at $29.99 at DragonUSA.
With a lot of time invested, this can be a highly detailed, very accurate looking depiction of the slat grille model of the Willys 1/4 ton MB. The kit looks like a jeep when built, but it also looks very toy like. As such, I don't know which group this kit will appeal to. It's too expensive, in my opinion, to be a simple toy kit. It will require a lot of reworking for serious modelers. It has nice exterior shape, a good engine and can be the basis for a very nice build.
This is not Fine Molds' best effort. Aside from a major rescue from the aftermarket world, or some serious scratchbuilding, the kit will be very basic upon completion. If you are a true jeep enthusiast, this may be an interesting version for you to try. With molding issues and very little attempt on the part of Fine Molds to produce an accurate slat grill vehicle aside from providing the actual grill part (and early steering wheel), I can only rate the kit at a "C" grade, 70%.