The M103 was the U.S. Army’s last and only major commitment to deploying a heavy tank. Developed as a counter to the Soviet heavy tank forces, the M103 served until the adoption of the “main battle tank” concept by NATO armies.
Cleanly molded in gray plastic, Dragon’s new M103A1 is the first 1/35 scale injection-molded kit of this tank. A wire tow cable and single-piece Dragon Styrene tracks are provided.
The M103 bears a strong resemblance to the M48, and Dragon appears to have reused many of the parts from its recent M48 Patton. I carefully studied the instructions to note which parts to use and which to ignore. The running gear is taken directly from the M48 kit with additional parts for bogies, suspension arms, and shock absorbers.
I started construction with the road wheels. These are built in two parts, the inner bogie wheel and the outer tire. The tracks are an appropriately lengthened version of the M48 track. They painted up nicely and installed easily.
The hull comprises several parts. Pay careful attention to alignment to avoid problems installing the engine deck.
I noticed the hull parts match Dragon’s M48 hull very closely, and this choice has created many problems; it looks as if the hull was extended only back from the turret race. According to my references, this makes the hull front and the overall hull length too short. This issue also affects the turret position, which looks wrong when viewed from the side.
The turret built up quickly and without a problem. When checking the references, I found the shapes around the mantlet were off. Surprisingly, the kit does not include the mantlet cover depicted in the box art. If it were included, the mantlet shape would be less of an issue. The turret provides a separate hatch for the commander’s cupola, but the loader’s hatch is molded closed.
I was impressed by how long the gun barrel was, but, when checking my references, I was surprised to find the kit’s barrel is actually short! My primary reference was R.P. Hunnicutt’s Firepower: A History of the American Heavy Tank. (Presidio, ISBN 978-0-89141-304-2).
The exhaust cover proved problematic. On test-fitting, I found it prevented the turret from being mounted. I determined that if I installed the turret I could carefully fish the cover into place under the turret overhang. This was not the end of the problems, though. Once in place, the turret would only rotate a few degrees left or right before being stopped by the cover. Argh! I am not really sure where Dragon went wrong here. Unlike many other armor kits, the periscopes and headlight are not in clear plastic.
I painted my M103 with a combination of Tamiya acrylic and spray paints. Decals applied well with the help of a small amount of decal solution; the sheet provides three sets of markings.
This kit can be handled by modelers at all skill levels. I completed mine in 22 hours and was left with mixed feelings.
In terms of molding quality and fit, it was a fun kit to build. On the other hand, the inaccuracies were extremely disappointing. I hope Dragon considers retooling it in a future release.
Note: A version of this review appeared in the September 2014 FineScale Modeler.