Unimodels 1/48 GAZ AAA Truck Kits
Kits #503 #506 #511 MSRP $29.95 $26.95 from Great Models Webstore
Images and text Copyright © 2010 by Matt Swan
By 1929 the Russians had already gotten a bit of a reputation for reverse engineering other peoples ideas then building the stuff for themselves. I suspect that when they approached Henry Ford looking to purchase Model A and Model AA trucks that these thoughts went through his head. Rather than try to fight the Russian machine Ford agreed to sell them a large quantity of parts and to help them begin construction of the vehicles under license. Ford even provided much of the start-up labor for this endeavor. The Russian manufacturing concern building these trucks was Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod or GAZ. By 1932 the factory was producing 4X2 and 6X4 light trucks now labeled as GAZ A and GAZ AA. GAZ continued with the development of the AA truck chassis adding a pair of Timken axles which resulted in the GAZ AAA 10X8.
The GAZ AAA became a favorite with the Russian Army as a general cargo transport and was used in a wide variety of configurations. The AAA shared nearly identical cab and engine configurations with the A and AA but could easily handle 2000 kilos of cargo on rough terrain or 2500 Kg on roads. Besides cargo and general troop transport some vehicles were modified to carry aircraft starting units or Maxim quad machine gun packages for use as anti aircraft stations. The type remained in production until being phased out in 1943 and approximately 38,000 AAA units were manufactured and over 100,000 units of all three examples were completed.
These three kits all consist of an identical truck body/chassis and a single sprue of parts to represent the unique differences in each model. This actually makes good sense from the manufacture’s point of view giving them the most versatility possible from the kit. The kits are all packaged in identical sized sturdy cardboard boxes with attractive artwork.
Let’s begin with the truck. The truck is a finely detailed piece that makes me think of a 1/35 scale kit shrunk down to 1/48. The front wheels are mobile with pivoting axel mounts and a hinged tie rod. The wheels themselves do not rotate up front but do rotate in back. The rear suspension is flexible on two axis which makes it easy to set this completed model up in a diorama. This all sounds great but at this scale the parts are incredibly small to achieve the effect. Combine this with the fact that the base plastic is very soft, reminiscent of that found in ICM releases, and that there is a persistent mold separation seam on each part things get a little complicated. Not only is the plastic soft but prone to breaking if removed from the sprue with snips. The modeler must use a fine razor saw in the JLC class to successfully remove most of the parts from the sprue.
The kit features a complete engine however it is difficult to install the engine through the very tight hole on the floor pan. The truck cab is well detailed with an instrument decal and acetate window panels. It does take some serious fiddling to get some of the more complex assemblies together but once the parts are in place the end fit is pretty good. The kit includes a small PE fret which differs for each version that includes some detail parts for the truck but more for the unique assembly such as the Maxim guns or the aircraft starter assembly. Truck tires are all soft vinyl pieces that snap over plastic rims. Several areas through the drive train are designed to rely on very fine plastic pins to hold them in place and allow for mobility however these pins are so fine that they are mostly short shot so are non-existent. This leaves the modeler in a position of either gluing the assembly in a fixed spot or engineering a new attachment pin from fine wire.
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Decals and Instructions
The decal sheet for all three kits is identical, you just use different truck identifications from the sheet and really, there are only a couple markings on one of these things to start with. The decals look slightly odd because they are printed on a pink/lavender carrier paper rather than the white or blue we are most familiar with. Performance wise they are just fine, color density is good, print registry is good and they are nicely thin. They respond well to standard setting solutions and snuggle down on the model just fine.
The instruction packet for these kits consist of two A3 sheets folded to create a eight panel A4 booklet. The first sheet is unique to each kit and the second sheet is common to all kits. Print quality of the booklet is only fair at best; it reminds me of an old style mimeographed sheet rather than a 21st century printed page. The front page opens with the customary brief vehicle background, basic model building construction keys and a very short paint color chart. The next page is a complete parts map for the kit. Now we move into the common assembly instructions that cover the truck chassis, body and bed assembly. This is covered with twenty nine exploded view steps that do a pretty good job of getting the modeler there. The final two panels cover the assembly of the unique parts to each truck along with the decal placement guides.
It’s tough to decide which of these little jewels I want to build first but finally I settled on the anti aircraft unit. I began with the basic chassis using a 15 power Omni Visor to see what I was doing. This was instrumental in helping me to clean up these little tiny parts. Right away I could see that building a kit like this was going to be a major exercise of my fine parts control skills. Early into the assembly I found that the kit tie rod was just slightly short shot. If I was gluing everything in place with no functional steering this would not have been a problem. I used some heavy magnet wire to make a new tie rod with long enough pins to fit into the wheel hubs and these were locked in place with fine knobs of superglue on the ends of the rods so they would not ride up and dislocate later on. The rear axles went together fine after everything was cleaned up. The drive shafts are meant to snap in place with little plastic studs but these were so fine that they actually were missed by the injection process. Choices are to make new pins with wire or glue in place – I choose to glue them in place and sacrifice some of the axle mobility.
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One neat item in building the chassis is that Unimodels provides a plastic former block to help shape the PE front bumper supports into the correct shape. The chassis was airbrushed flat black and the engine was assembled. I had a terrible time getting the engine into the hole in the floor pan but finally got there. Next I started on the cab. Lots of test fitting is required when building this kit, it is not a shake-and-bake affair. Tires were weathered with damp ground pastel chalk then the high points were wiped clean after everything dried.
The bed is assembled and painted. The cab is finished off and the clear window panes are masked with semi-circles of tape then dusted with clear flat to represent windshield wiper marks. One hood side panel is glued to the chassis while the other is clued to the top hood panel. This allows for the hood to be removed later to display the complete engine assembly.
With the truck assembly complete that part of the build was sealed with Future then weathered with a combination of sludge wash, Rust-All and pastel chalks. From here I am moving to the Maxim Machine Guns. Nothing easy going on here, it seems to me that the designers of this kit spent a lot of time getting the truck right but only spent minimal time testing the gun assembly. I found several structural parts that were designed short and had to be remade from stock plastic. The guns are designed to have mobility on two axis but the with design shortcomings this is not going to happen. Out of frustration I choose a single orientation and glued everything in place. After several days of jerking around with these guns I finally have a series of subassemblies that can be painted before final assembly. After painting and assembly the guns go through the same weathering process as the truck did then are superglued to the truck bed. A cotton swab dipped in ground chalk is used to create the foot traffic pattern on the bed. Add a couple decals and do some dry brushing with steel and this beastie is done.
This is a neat kit but it does have some issues. On the pro side of the board the kit is well designed (for the most part) with an amazing level of detail. Instructions are good and decals are good. On the con side the plastic is soft and there is a persistent mold separation seam everywhere along with some light flash. The detail level is so fine that plastic injection molding fails to capture everything causing some construction issues especially with the fine snap pins. Not enough time was spent test assembling the accessory assemblies (guns or starter) before the kit was sent to production.
Even with the short comings I still think it is a very nice kit but without a doubt is not for the beginner. Also, if you do not have Eagle Vision that let’s you see the finest detail unassisted then you will most definitely need a good set of magnifying glasses before tackling this project.