One of my first model tank kits that I assembled while I was a child was the 1/35th scale Tamiya M3 Lee. Since then I always had a soft spot for that ugly older red headed cousin of the Sherman. Fast forward several years I was visiting the Aberdeen proving grounds ordnance museum. With my camera in hand I was photographing as many of the collections exposed, decaying and, mostly inaccurately painted relics. It was at this time when I came face to face with an old friend… The collection’s M3 Grant. After reviewing the vehicle in person, and taking many walk around images it I decided to build a 1/6th scale model of the M3 Lee.
For the build’s base foundation I used a 1/6th scale Rotomold plastic M3 Lee kit from Plastic Panzers. Plastic Panzers is a small company that offers an array of unique 1/6th scale armored vehicle kits. Most of the kits are fabricated in a material called Rotomolded plastic, and are designed to be starter kits. The material gets the name from the way the parts are molded. Rotomold plastic starts out as a powder. The power is then shoveled into the mold and the mold is sealed. The mold is placed into an oven and is then spun. The heat melts the plastic and the plastic is drawn evenly through the mold via centrifugal force. Once the mold is cooled the casting is removed. The castings are all one piece, hollow, and are about a ¼ of an inch thick. The castings are very durable, shatter proof, and will bounce if dropped onto the floor.
The Plastic Panzers kits themselves are molded with very basic details that are meant to supply the basic modeler with something to get them off the ground. In addition to the molded in details the kit also supplies you with several resin components which include the side doors, pistol port visors, 37mm gun mantlet, and the commander’s copula / mini turret. Also included was a set of simplistic rotomold Sherman style VVSS suspension parts and two turned wooden barrels (One 75mm, and one 37mm)
Before I start on any of these builds my first task is to remove / amputate the models molded in details. The hull itself appears to be based on the old Tamiya M3 lee which inherits the large rear upper hull wall, The lower hull rear angle was also missing. Another missing feature from the lower hull was the indent of the front transmission cover. One advantage about this material is that the material cuts very easily and is also easily de-burred. For this a Dremel rotary tool is used along with the Dremel Multimax. To remove the tank’s rear wall the Multimax’s ability to precisely plunge cut into the plastic was a great asset that saved lots of time.
After the hull was gutted it was time to rebuild the missing portions. To rebuild the rear hull 1/4inch thick plywood was used. The plywood was cut to the exact same dimensions of the missing rear hull sections the plywood was both glued and nailed into its final position. Along with the rear wall the side hull was built up up to the transmission cover. These side panels give the proper indent for the tank’s transmission cover. It was at this time I realized that the rear engine deck, and fighting compartment rear plates were too short by about an inch and a half. It was a simple fix, the engine deck was lengthened and plated over with styrene, and the fighting compartment was lengthened by adding panels of wood the correct length over the kit’s panels.
Once all of the hull revisions were concluded all of the wood surfaces were thoroughly soaked with fiberglass resin, which transforms the wood surface into a plastic. Soaking the wooden parts has many benefits, it removes the wood grain, makes the panels water / weatherproof, and makes for a stronger model.