Christmas is in the air, colored lights and holiday shoppers everywhere… It just makes me want to jump into a 60 ton tracked vehicle and go defend Poland. Forget nativity scenes; all I want for Christmas is a massive diorama of the North African Campaign.
Serbian builder Milan Sekiz created this fearsome trio of steampunk hardware entitled Steam Party. Individually each piece stands out on its own. But with the addition of some greenery, wreckage and tire tracks, the whole ensemble is definitely greater that the sum of its parts.
I particularly love the tank (aka “Mr. Rust and two smoking barrels”) with it’s earthy color scheme, brick-heavy studs-hidden design, aggressive details, and of course those tracks! Check out Milan’s Flickr stream for lots of hero shots and closeups…
Here’s a creative take on a tank by Luke (LukeClarenceVan). You don’t see white tanks every day, and especially not monotracked ones. I particularly love the way the armor sits all the way down on the sides, and all those little antennae make me think of a caterpillar. Luke also makes great use of stickered and printed pieces on the sides.
Before I hand things over to Keith for the weekend, I think I owe our readers a somewhat more adorable chaser to follow all the super-serious discussions about LEGO and the military this week. This “MK45-Toad” is brought to you by Pate-keetongu.
The use of binoculars for the tank treads is brilliant, and even the minifig includes some interesting part combinations, like the modern/space visor on the LEGO Castle helmet.
For a long time, the T-72 was the Soviet Union’s main battle tank and it was widely exported, basically to whoever could afford it, including wonderful holiday destinations such as Iraq and Syria. The T-72AV, which is the version modelled by Chris Lee(Babalas Shipyards), is an upgraded version fitted with explosive reactive armour to defeat shaped charges.
You can’t hold the base upside-down without bits falling off, which may not be to everyone’s liking, but I like the effect. Iraqi T-72 units got comprehensively clobbered in the Gulf War of 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003 at the hands of American tankers and British tankers, with their far superior M1 Abrams and Challenger II tanks, but this model is a winner in my book.
Brian Kescenovitz‘s (mondayn00dle) Tachikoma style tank was inspired by Deviantart user flyingdebris’ concept art. It is beautifully done and elegant in its execution. It almost appears to be a Mondrian inspired work of art. Notable design elements are the deft use of sticker remnants, the smooth clean lines, and the use of the chainsaw elements to create a one plate stud reversal in the turret. The offset mounting of the white half-domes of the legs/ wheels is also an impressive bit of design work. This “tank” is so esthetically pleasing and friendly looking, I think it would actually make any town it invaded that much more pleasant for it.
After reviewing the Brickmania M4 Sherman and WC54 Ambulance custom LEGO kits last week, I’m going in a bit of a different direction by reviewing something I haven’t managed to build myself — the M2A4 Light Tank in United States Marine Corps livery.
For comparison, here’s Dan Siskind’s M2A4 Light Tank next to the M4 Sherman I reviewed last week, with a Citizen Brick Marine for scale:
The M2 Light Tank was produced in limited numbers in the years leading up to World War II — only 375 left the assembly line — and they only saw combat on Guadalcanal, with the US Marines. Nevertheless, the tank was an important evolutionary step along the way to the subsequent M3 “Stuart” (photo below) and M5 light tanks. (The M2 Light Tank never entered British/Commonwealth service during WW2, and thus didn’t get a nickname like the Stuart, Lee, Sherman, Chaffee, and so on. It was only later that the US military formally adopted the British convention for naming US tanks after American generals.)
For me, though, I love the M2/M3/M5 tanks because they’re so small. Modern main battle tanks like the M1 Abrams or Challenger 2 are like battleships on land, with low profiles that give them a distinctly sinister look. We drove past Fort Lewis on our way from Seattle to Portland recently, and I pointed out an M2/M3/M5 sitting on a plinth near the highway to my wife. “Oh, what a tiny tank! It’s adorable!” she exclaimed.
My sentiments exactly. Yes, the M2 and its immediate descendants were machines of death and destruction no less so than a Merkava or Leopard, but they are just a teensy bit more twee. (The adorably tiny light tank has also influenced popular culture, in games like Advance Wars and movies like Tank Girl.)
So, the M2 Light Tank would seem like a perfect fit with LEGO. I tried building an M3 Stuart a couple years ago, but I failed miserably (though I still have my tablescraps in a little plastic bag). Thankfully, Dan Siskind has managed to fit nearly every detail of the M2 into his custom LEGO kit, at a scale that fits neatly on my 1/35th schematics for the M2 Light Tank in World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles. (Still slightly too tall, but I give LEGO tanks a pass for that at this point.)
The Brickmania M2 Light Tank includes a rotating turret with a gun that can move up and down, proper bogies and road wheels, a BrickArms M1919 machine gun, nicely angled glacis armor plating at the front, and even rear engine doors that open and close.
The single-chain tracks work very well for a smaller tank like this, and enable Dan to keep the tank’s height manageable without losing too much detail. The suspension is interesting because Dan has built the first layer of the tank’s body using 1x plates rather than a larger plate, allowing him to attach 2×2 plates with Technic pin holes to the underside using their hollow studs. This creates a half-stud offset that gives the road wheels the correct spacing — definitely something I would never have thought to do.
The angled antenna gives the tank a jaunty look, and deserves a brief discussion on its own. Internally, Dan achieves the angled antenna by inserting a clip/claw into a 1×2 brick with a Technic pin (and then clipping on a telescope for the antenna to attach to). The clip inside the 1×2 brick’s Technic pin is, of course, an “illegal” connection. Apparently, there are actually two different molds for the 1×2 brick element — one with a fairly open Technic pin, and another with much thicker walls on the pin, preventing you from fitting anything inside the pin. Because BrickLink doesn’t distinguish between these two very different parts and Dan sources all the parts for his kits on the secondary market (like all adult builders and purveyors of custom kits), my kit happened to include a brick that wouldn’t accept the clip piece.
I contacted Dan about my problem, we identified the cause, and he promptly shipped out a “service pack” with the correct part. I bring up this minor issue in my review for two reasons. First, I just think it’s really interesting what kinds of challenges a custom kit maker has in assembling their kits in quantity. Second, I was impressed by Dan’s customer service. And it’s not just because he knew I was reviewing his kits for TBB — it’s something I experienced years back when I picked up a couple older kits to review (though my actual review was extremely brief), and when I’ve bought smaller items through his store over the years. Like Will Chapman of BrickArms, Dan is just a plain good guy, and it’s clear that that comes through in his interactions with fellow builders and with customers.
At 473 LEGO elements, this is a surprisingly substantial set for such a small tank — the completed model has a nice heft to it worthy of the name “tank.” It’s also sturdy enough for play, and fits nicely in my hand compared to larger models. If tanks could be swooshed, the Brickmania M2A4 is definitely swooshable. (What’s the non-flying equivalent of “swooshable”? “Zoomable?”) At $150, the price is comparable to other custom kits on the market.
Overall, Dan’s M2A4 may just be my favorite Brickmania kit yet. Going small can be substantially harder than going big, and Dan has pulled it off wonderfully. Ultimately, though, my positive experience with the Brickmania M2A4 Light Tank was influenced as much by great problem-solving and customer service as by the excellent design of the model itself.
Chris (Ironsniper) has been working on a near-future tank he’s dubbed the ADT100 “Coyote”. Of particular note is Chris’ use of a Technic ball joint to connect the gun to the turret.
Chris also posted a follow-up tank dubbed A2N8 “Anubis”, accompanied by a nice diorama, but I prefer the sleeker turret on his Coyote.
And in case Chris’ tan troops get injured, Project Azazel comes in from the desert with this medevac Humvee, bulbous in its capacity to bring comfort to the wounded:
Despite their square shape, Humvees are notoriously challenging to build properly in LEGO. Also notice how both builders have placed their models on a simple brick-built base, which adds a lot to the presentation (I assume it’s coincidence that they’re both dark tan).
This is my second review focusing on a custom Brickmania LEGO kit that’s similar to a LEGO model I designed myself — well, sort of, in this case. Read on…
The M4 Sherman is one of the most iconic and recognizable tanks of all time, with nearly 50,000 produced between 1942 and 1955. Because of its long production run, the tank served through most of the U.S. involvement in World War II and on through the Korean War.
The Sherman is an incredibly well-documented vehicle, and popular enough with plastic modelers that there’s a wealth of reference pictures available online and in books, from historical photos to detailed schematics and high-res close-ups of surviving tanks in museums. With so many production variants (animated GIF illustrating three of the most common ones on the right) and tank crews’ penchant for customizing their vehicles in the field, it’s also a great choice as inspiration for a LEGO model — you can definitely put your own spin on it.
After I’d tried my hand with LEGO World War II models with a couple of small Jeeps and a simple Higgins Boat for my Omaha Beach diorama, I knew I had to tackle a bigger vehicle, and I quickly settled on the M4A3 Sherman, which I included in my diorama depicting the liberation of Cherbourg.
Here’s my M4A3 (76)W Sherman variant on the right with Dan Siskind’s Brickmania M4 Sherman that I’ll be reviewing on the left.
It feels a little odd reviewing these two models as a comparison for two reasons. First, they’re very different variants. Dan’s M4 reflects earlier (initial M4 or M4A1), much more rounded hull design with a 75mm gun while mine is the mid/late-war M4A3 with an angular hull and the much-larger 76mm gun (with its correspondingly longer turret).
Side note: Remember how I said just how well-documented Shermans are? Prepare for this review to get occasionally technical about tank details. Bogies will be mentioned.
Second, I have to confess that I based many aspects of my M4A3 on Dan’s own M4A2. Or rather, I tried to reverse-engineer things like the front section and the suspension from his pictures (which I can’t find online today). You can definitely see the influence in details like the angled flags above the treads on the front. Given a bit of “shared DNA,” there is of course a lot more similarity between my M4A3(76)W and Dan’s current Brickmania M4A3(76)W kit. But back to the actual review…
Theoretically, both of these models are the same scale — Dan says he targets 1/35th, and that’s the same scale I used, based on schematics in World War II AFV Plans: American Armored Fighting Vehicles. But this next comparison photo shows how much larger mine is:
The problem with LEGO tanks is that they’re just plain huge — an issue I touched on in my review of the Brickmania WC54 ambulance: “The more ‘room’ you have to work with, the more details and functionality you can build into the model.” (Speaking of ridiculously huge, I hate the road wheels on my tank and will definitely be replacing them with smaller ones if/when I revisit my design.)
My point about tank scale is best illustrated by this historic photo from Belgium in 1944, with soldiers conveniently walking alongside for scale:
The soldiers standing next to the Sherman show that the top of the tank treads come no higher than mid-chest, and the deck of the tank where the turret sits is just above the tallest soldier’s helmet. Granting that the minifig is horrible for scale, but assuming that height is an acceptable measure of dimension, it’s clear that just about every LEGO tank is far, far too tall. And thanks to the minifig’s impossibly wide hips, a LEGO Sherman’s width is also affected, if you want to include space for both a driver and a machine-gunner. Here’s Dan’s photo of his M4 Sherman, with three crewmen (not included in the set):
On my tank, the tread/suspension section is taller than a minifig. Dan has managed to shave at least two plates’ worth of height off the most-common LEGO Sherman designs, but at the expense of several details most other LEGO versions include, like the larger front drive sprocket compared to the smaller rear idler, and even the bogies (hey I warned you!).
Which brings me to the price for Dan’s kit. I won’t go into the price-for-value issue again in this post (read my WC54 post for that), but the kit I’m reviewing is $165 for 505 pieces. For $350, Dan also sells his M4A3(76)W Sherman as a “premium kit” built from 796 pieces that includes a 4-minifig crew.
The difference — both between Dan’s two Shermans and between his $165 version and my own — is a matter of scale versus detail. I think this more-basic Brickmania Sherman gets the scale closer to “right,” but by sacrificing many of the details in my version and Dan’s own M4A3. It’s not just an issue of price; I think it’s essentially the same tradeoff between scale and detail that Dan and I made in the opposite direction with our two rather different ambulance designs.
The scale-vs-detail point that I’ve belabored now in two separate posts isn’t a criticism in either direction — neither “Proper scale should always win over detail” nor “Certain details must never be left out.” And I won’t include a handy comparison table this time. I do want to point out several aspects of Dan’s “basic” M4 Sherman that I really like — all differences from mine.
- The front section uses rounded bricks rather than straight slopes, similar to the even-more-rounded front that I first saw on Rumrunner’s M4A1 a couple years ago, but with much simpler parts (another good compromise).
- The two front hatches close seamlessly.
- Even with the hatches open, the turret can still rotate 360 degrees.
- The road wheels are a logical, proper size that allow the tank to roll on its treads. (Mine are far too huge and don’t line up properly with the treads.)
- The main gun raises and lowers (“fully posable” as Dan puts it). I think this is my favorite functional detail, and a design I’ll borrow should I revisit my tank again.
Even without some key details — like the bogies (and again!) — I really like the overall design, and this feels like a Sherman you could probably build a couple more of once you have your first copy, thanks to Dan’s instructions. Other than the bogies (last time, I promise), my biggest critique is the too-narrow treads — a single set of Technic chain links for each tread. Most Sherman designs use either LEGO’s wider tank treads or two parallel chains of Technic links. The single-chain treads work on smaller tanks (I’ll review one of them shortly), but as part of the overall shape, I can be convinced that it’s an acceptable compromise.
And for me, that’s ultimately why this is a positive review — that the design looks great at a lower price by leaving off a few details — and why I can heartily recommend the “plain” Brickmania M4 Sherman. It’s a fun little tank — and little is good when it comes to tanks. More importantly, it holds plenty of opportunity to make it your own with extra details and “field customizations” like hedge-cutters, applique armor, and equipment built from your own LEGO collection.
With enough M4 Shermans at your disposal, successful invasion of a Pacific island becomes a possibility:
Brickmania sent The Brothers Brick a copy of this set for review. There is no guarantee of coverage or a positive review by providing items to review. It helps when you have a good product, like Dan Siskind does with his Brickmania custom LEGO kits. We’ll have a couple more reviews next week.
Specifically the Flakpanzer IV Wirbelwind SdKfz 161/4, by A. Bellón, A.K.A. Panzerbricks. Enjoy tonight’s slice of WW2 history, and check out the builder’s website if you’re interested in more of his work.