This is the fourth review in a series in which I take a close look at various models of LVTP7/AAVP7 series of USMC Amtracs - amphibious tracked vehicles. This review is quite unusual, because I actually do not have a kit I'm reviewing. Or should I write: I do not have it anymore. I bought it a couple of months ago, took a quick look inside the box, removed a sprue with EAAK parts and then got rid of the rest. So this review will be based on what I remember from my short contact with the kit and on pictures of kit sprues and instructions from this source: http://trumpeter.cool.ne.jp/box/Rev-AAV7A1.html
. As the only parts sprue I have is the one with EAAK armor parts, for pictures of the rest of the kit contents please visit mentioned website. As the Mini Hobby kit is often recommended by modelers as a source for cheap EAAK armor parts set for Tamiya Amtrac kits, I decided to show in this review how those EAAK parts actually fit Tamiya model, so in a way this review is also EAAK set review. The first paragraph of the review below is the same as in other Amtrac kits reviews in the series, so you may skip it if you've read it before.
LVTP7 (Landing Vehicle, Tracked, Personnel) was designed in late 1960s, first prototypes were built in 1967 and full scale production begun in 1970. A few of early examples were tested in Vietnam, but their production started too late for those vehicles to replace LVTP5 Amtracs in USMC units in Nam. Early LVTP7 were powered by GM diesel engine. Those earliest versions of LVTP7 are recognizable by large round recesses in front armor plate housing headlights. In early 1980s SLEP - Service Life Extension Program was initiated to upgrade the fleet of Marine Amtracs to LVTP7A1 standard. Most important changes included replacement of diesel engine with Cummins multifuel unit and installation of electric motors for traverse and elevation of the weapon station, instead of hydraulic systems used previously. The suspension was strengthened. Most noticeable external difference between A1 and older variant were new headlight clusters, located in rectangular recesses on top of front armor plate. In 1984 USMC, without changing a single bolt in the design, changed designation of the Amtrac from LVTP7A1 to AAVP7A1 (or just AAV7A1 to describe the whole family of vehicles) - Assault Amphibious Vehicle, Personnel, 7A1. In following years two construction changes were introduced: older weapons station equipped with just one M2 .50 " cal. machine gun, was replaced with Cadillac Gage station equipped with Mk.19 40mm (grenade) machine gun in addition to M2 gun. The new weapons station was sometimes referred to as UWS or UGWS - Upgunned Weapons Station. The other noticeable change was installation of trim vane kit on front of the vehicle - it was necessary to compensate the effect of increased weight of weapons station when operating afloat. Next major upgrade for AAVP7A1 vehicles was installation of EAAK (Enhanced Appliqué Armor Kit). This new armor package consists of a set of removable corrugated steel plates, bolted to the armor. All AAVP7A1 were equipped with EAAK installation brackets (small rectangular metal blocks with holes for bolts in them) welded to side and top armor surfaces, but not all vehicles received the actual armor plate kits. This became a problem during Operation Iraqi Freedom, where some USMC units had to improvise and use flat armor plates instead of EAAK sections. All mentioned changes to the original LVTP7 design caused significant increase in vehicle weight, what put excess strain on suspension system. The ground clearance of the vehicle changed from original 16 inches to less than 12 inches. Power to weight ratio also dropped significantly reducing the mobility of the vehicle. To remedy this problem the Reliability, Availability, Maintainability/Rebuild to Standard (RAMS/RS) program was started in November 1998. Under this program AAVP7A1 vehicles are being rebuilt with Bradley IFV engine, transmission and whole suspension kit. The ground clearance returned to 16 inch and power to weight (horsepower to ton) ratio increased from 13 to 1 to 17 to 1. Not all vehicles were rebuilt to new standard, so during the Operation Iraqi Freedom, the mixture of AAVP7A1 and AAVP7A1 RAMS/RS vehicles was used. Rebuilt vehicles are recognizable by new large exhaust muffler installed on top of the hull and new suspension with return rollers, not present in original LVTP7 design.
Mini Hobby Models company from China is in some way associated with Trumpeter, so this kit is often referred to as Trumpeter's product. I think at some point in time it was also available under Wasan brand. Kit comes in a sturdy cardboard box and contains six sprues of dark yellow plastic, one sprue of vinyl caps, two large hull parts, tiny decal sheet, vinyl tracks and a length of twine. Of course there are also instructions included. In some boxings of this kit there are motorization parts added, but my kit came without them, instead there was a steel rod included for idler wheel axle. It doesn't take long to realize that the kit is a copy of Tamiya AAVP7A1 kit (35159). But closer examination of parts reveals that this is a copy, but a very poor one. The kit was simplified in many areas, some parts were modified to make more room for motorization system and surface details are much softer on all parts. The only new parts not copied from Tamiya model in the kit are those for EAAK armor, but those are supposedly copies of parts from old Kirin EAAK update set (I have never seen this set, so I can't confirm it). So I suggest you read my review of Tamiya kit
now if you haven't already done that, as all problems present in the Tamiya kit also appear in this Chinese copy. Plus there is much more new ones here. Most pictures in instructions are copies of those in Tamiya kit, also paint numbers are given from Tamiya range of acrylic paints.
Mold quality is quite poor. There are numerous ejector pin marks on parts and while most of them are on hidden in places where they won't be visible in finished model, they are so big that it is just impossible to assemble some of the parts without removing pin marks first. I also noticed some sink holes and slightly deformed parts on the EAAK parts sprue. Surface details, copied from Tamiya model in general shape, here are rather soft and poorly defined in places. There is quite a lot of flash on parts, what in addition to pin marks makes preparation of parts for assembly more difficult.
Features like openable hatches and positionable ramp are the same as in Tamiya AAVP7A1 kit. Figures included in Mini Hobby kit are also copies of those in Japanese original.
DETAILS & ACCURACY
As mentioned earlier almost all parts are copies of Tamiya kit parts, so in most cases their accuracy and details are similar to those originals. Unfortunately some changes made by Mini Hobby make this kit much worse than Japanese model.
One modification, which allowed for lowering manufacturing costs by limiting the number of parts, is visible on sprues with suspension parts and wheels. In Tamiya kit suspension arms were separate parts from the hull - this is no longer the case in Mini Hobby product. Here all suspension arms are molded integrally with lower hull part. Also all road wheels and sprockets, which were assembled from two parts in Japanese kit, in Chinese copy are molded as single parts. Vinyl caps, which originally were completely enclosed inside wheels in Tamiya model, here are attached to the wheel from the outside and have wheel hub details molded on them - this means that there is quite noticeable gap around each hub after assembly.
The biggest change made by Mini Hobby to Tamiya parts is unfortunately disqualifying the whole kit in my opinion. In order to make motorization parts fit inside the model, both hull parts were modified, what completely changed the vehicle silhouette. It just no longer looks right. In Tamiya model and of course in real vehicle, the roof slopes towards the rear. The highest point of the hull is around the commander's hatch. In Mini Hobby kit the hull roof is completely horizontal! Vertical sides of the vehicle, which originally are trapezoid shape, in this model are rectangular. There is also a boxy extension added under the hull. I cannot show you this problem on photos as I don't have Mini Hobby kit anymore, but drawing below shows comparison of silhouettes of Tamiya and MH models. The difference is obvious.
Hull parts shape.
Click on picture to enlarge it.
EAAK PARTS ON TAMIYA KIT
This may be unusual to include such paragraph in the review of Mini Hobby kit, but I'm quite sure that many of modelers reading this article look for this information: how good those EAAK parts are and how well will they fit on Tamiya model. Actually the only reason I bought Mini Hobby kit was to remove EAAK parts from it and use them with Tamiya kit.
As mentioned earlier there is a lot of flash and ejector pin marks on parts, so cleanup takes some time. There is little surface detail on appliqué armor parts - just round depressions imitating some of the bolt heads present on real EAAK modules. There are no proper bolt head details molded on parts of side armor, although there are some on top armor blocks. Edges of parts are very uneven, so some work with file and sandpaper is needed. For the rest of comments read captions for photos on the right side of the text. I used parts from older Tamiya LVTP7A1 kit, because of more contrasting color of the plastic, but the armor should rather be used with later Tamiya AAVP7A1 kit.
Not shown on photos are rails and grab handles included in the kit. Mold seams on those parts would be quite difficult to remove, so I suggest replacing them with styrene, brass or copper rods or wires.
In short words: this is just a bad kit. It is available also in version without EAAK armor and there is really no reason to buy it. Sure, it is cheaper than Tamiya model, but it is completely inaccurate because of deformed hull and has many simplified details. I also hear from people who actually tried to build this kit, that fit of parts is very poor. The version of Mini Hobby model described here comes with EAAK and this is the only questionable advantage of it over Tamiya models. It definitely is the cheapest EAAK set available, but is it any good? Honestly speaking I really wanted to use it on my Tamiya AAVP7A1 model, but after playing with those parts for the article I changed my mind. Of course those parts can be used on Tamiya kit and they will look acceptably from the distance, but they are not what I expected. The fit is poor and a lot of trimming would be necessary to achieve the correct look of the armor on the model. Also hundreds of bolt heads should be added to improve the appearance of armor plates. I think I will just order Hobby Fan resin set instead. Sure, I know it is very expensive! But I have reasons to believe that it is worth the price. So please take a look at photos and decide yourself - if you feel this armor looks OK, then just buy it - at least after reading my article you can make conscious decision. If however you are as disappointed as I am, keep saving money for one of resin EAAK sets.
Link to the review of Tamiya's LVTP7A1 kit.
Link to the review of Academy's LVTP7 kit.
Link to the review of Tamiya's AAVP7A1 w/UGWS kit.