For a very long time I have anxiously awaited the release of this new series of kits from Mirage. They announced this series of M3 Medium Tanks about two years ago, and had me and many other modelers waiting with barely suppressed anxiety, and I am happy to say that every tortured day of the interminable wait has been well worth it; this is an excellent model.
Since the several versions of the M3 Medium were all very similar, a great many of the parts will be common between all released versions of this model. The first kit released is the 'standard' M3. The US called this tank the 'M3 Medium Tank' and the British designated it the 'General Lee Mk. I'. These first three sprues are common to both the M3 Lee and Grant Mk. I kits.
Mirage is continuing the standard set with their earlier models by giving us a highly detailed model. The surface detail on everything is absolutely superb, with many of the larger side plates being molded flat in order to include the heavy bolt detail common to this variant of the M3. For the most part everything is very well molded with only the barest hint of flash on some parts. There are, however, several sink marks of many of the heavier pieces. You can see them especially pronounced on the lids of the rear hull storage bins. Some of the hinge and latch detail may have to be replaced due to losing this detail when filling the plastic flaws. And that constitutes my only complaint for this kit . . .
Two main gun options are included: both the long and short barrel versions, along with a counter-weight to add to the end of the short barrel gun if needed for the particular version you want to model. Although the guns are not specifically designed to be articulated on the vertical axis, they could easily be made so by not gluing the gun in position, and instead blanking over the mounting pegs. Although, I just now noticed that the long-barrel gun lacks the mounting pegs on the sides of the gun mount, so these will need to be added, unless you simply want to glue the gun in place. Horizontal positioning of the gun will take some creative modification to make this moveable, but it can be done.
The side doors are molded open, but not the crew hatch on top of the main gun sponson. Although no blanks are included, the side doors would be quite easy to fill if you wanted to build a late version of this tank. The driver's view hatches are provided as separate parts, but there are no openings in the hull plate; only locator slots. Openings could be easily cut into the hull in order to pose these ports open.
The three-piece final drive housing is superbly done, with separate parts for the raised ridges so that the bolt detail could be included (although there is no line down the center of these ridges to represent the two plates bolted together). The wheel suspension units are incredibly detailed. I was hoping that we'd be able to articulate the wheel suspension arms such as we can on the Extratech M10 series, but alas, this ability is not provided. The open-spoke wheels are the best M3/M4 wheels I've seen in this scale.
The turret is very detailed with a complex construction process necessary for the retention of the detailed commander's cupola. As far as I can tell, there is no provision to build this without the cupola to represent the late British version of the Lee. Again, the 37mm gun can be made moveable if the modeler so desires.
The tracks look nice, and are very detailed. Normally I do not like rubberband tracks because of the difficulty in replicating track sag, but that's not an issue with this vehicle, so it should not be a problem here. Mirage informs me that these tracks are made with a new plastic formulation, which I assume allows for easier gluing and paint retention.
And finally, there is a small fret of photoetched brass included. This includes detail for the inner surfaces of the hull side doors, an engine deck screen, and headlight brush guards. Brush guards are also provided as plastic parts for those who do not want to use the brass, but the brass will look much better, and I am very glad that these parts are included.
Decals are included for an outstanding six vehicles, including some training vehicles, some in North Africa, and one in the Pacific. Although I must point out the according to the single photo I've seen of the 193rd Tank Batallion M3 in the Pacific, it should be mounting the later rubber chevron style tracks (as seen on the ESCI/Italeri Sherman kits), not the solid rubber block tracks of this kit. Replacement tracks designed for Shermans (but also suitable here) are already available in different mediums from several companies. The decal quality looks fantastic, and as a bonus, additional tactical signs are included for the 13th Armored Regiment in North Africa.
I notice that Mirage has changed the style of their assembly instructions with this kit, using computer drawn diagrams showing each step of the assembly. Although they are perfectly acceptable, personally, I much prefer their earlier style of drawings.
Although it is very difficult to measure the model considering its unbuilt condition, preliminary measurements show it to be 1/72nd scale, or very close to it.
In the final analysis, this is an awesome model and is light years ahead of the ancient Hasegawa offering. If Mirage can improve their casting technique to eliminate the sinkmark problem, this will be an almost perfect kit. (On a final note, the back of the box shows some boxart for an FT-17, which Mirage has also announced years ago. Is it possible that we'll see these on the market soon as well?)
The following photo shows a beautiful built example from Wojciech Bulhak of Mirage Hobby:
Thank you very much to Mirage Hobbies for providing the review sample.