Tag Archives: World War II

From sprawling dioramas depicting the invasion of Normandy to full-scale LEGO aircraft carriers and battleships, the Second World War is a frequent subject among LEGO builders fascinated by the conflict’s history, people, and weaponry. Here on The Brothers Brick, you’ll find everything from LEGO M4 Shermans and Tiger tanks lumbering across the landscape to F4U Corsairs, P-51 Mustangs, and Mitsubishi Zeros patrolling the skies.

Schnellboot Docked at Night

More and more it seems that we are seeing lighting integrated into a model’s presentation. When done right, it can create a wonderful ambiance for the photo. Nate Flood’s Schnellboot (Fast Boat) is a perfect example of this. The lighting and simple diorama sets the perfect mood for the image. Nate says that the photo is courtesy of Jim Liermann, so it appears this was a team effort.

Lego Schnellboot docked at night. Photo courtesy of Jim Liermann

For those that want to have a closer look, there are further photos of the Schnellboot in Nate’s flickr photostream.

Thanks a bunch to Mike for the heads up on this shot…I surely would have missed it.

8.5-foot USS Yorktown WW2 aircraft carrier by Marcello De Cicco

It is not as big as the USS Intrepid by Ed Diment or the USS Harry Truman by Malle Hawking, but you have got to admire this LEGO aircraft carrier, USS Yorktown, by Marcello De Cicco.

The model represents the second aircraft carrier named USS Yorktown. The first was sunk in 1942, during the Battle of Midway. One of the new Essex class carriers then under construction was named Yorktown in her honour and had a long and distinguished career that lasted until the Vietnam war. Like her sister ship, USS Intrepid, she has been preserved and now is part of a museum.

The model was built to a scale of 1/108. That is a rather small scale for building aircraft models and I am impressed by the level of detail that the builder has managed to achieve. Small is a relative term, however. With aircraft carriers being stupendously big things, this model is still a pretty whopping 8.5 ft. (or about 2.6 m) long. The photo quality does not really meet our usual standards, but I can imagine that something this big is not exactly easy to photograph and the ships in the background do not look shabby either.

Many thanks to Brick Tales for the heads up.

The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Sen. Daniel Inouye in LEGO

This post isn’t about politics. Well, mostly. On Monday, I expressed some anger about the way Memorial Day has become increasingly trivialized here in the United States, but I didn’t apply the nuance I usually expect from myself, even when writing about the intersection of our LEGO hobby and the real world — of which complex political issues (including my pacifist viewpoint) are most certainly a part. I’ll try to do better as I explore an issue that I think lies a bit closer to home for LEGO fans reading this blog.

Why is it that ethnic minorities are so under-represented in our LEGO depictions of military history — World War II in particular? Why are the LEGO minifigs storming beaches and liberating France presumably all white? Where are the Tuskegee Airmen, the Nisei soldiers, the Filipino sailors, the Navajo Code Talkers, and many more?

I realized recently that I was guilty of this oversight myself, as illustrated amply in the links to my own models above. I’m correcting this today with a rather simple photograph depicting 2nd Lt. Daniel K. Inouye as he marches with his platoon toward the ridge in Tuscany where he would single-handedly take out three German machine gun nests, losing his arm — and earning a Medal of Honor — in the process.

The 442nd Moves Out (B&W)

Daniel Inouye went on to become a US Representative and Senator from Hawaii, serving his state from the first day of statehood in 1959 through his death at the end of 2012.

(Frustratingly, I also realized that I don’t have the LEGO landscaping talent to attempt the ridge scene itself. And as an infantry regiment, the 442nd wasn’t equipped with the “interesting” tanks and other armor I’ve been building.)

There are historical reasons that answer my questions, of course. The United States military was officially segregated until after World War II ended, and most non-white units did not serve in front-line combat roles. Thus, the ever-popular and exciting scenes depicting the first moments of D-Day, for example, sadly but accurately exclude minorities like African-Americans and Japanese-Americans.

It’s also challenging to use LEGO as a medium to reflect real-world diversity. With LEGO Friends as a welcome exception — Heartlake City is certainly a multi-ethnic LEGO society — theoretically, only LEGO sets from licensed themes like Star Wars and the Lone Ranger include explicitly non-white characters. Why is it that a person of color has to be in a movie in order to be included accurately in a LEGO set? (Try asking LEGO that the next time you call Customer Service.) LEGO has claimed in the past that yellow minifigs are somehow race-neutral. Rubbish — tell that to a 9-year-old African-American girl wondering why people like her are so grossly under-represented in LEGO minifigs. And yes, LEGO is a Danish company, but that’s no excuse either.

Thanks to LEGO, we builders don’t actually have too many “non-white” minifigs to work with. For my Nisei soldiers of the 442nd, I had to dig up LEGO Ninjas minifigs from the 1990s, along with a few Ninjago minifigs. I shouldn’t need to go to themes with stereotypical ninjas in their name to find Asian minifigs. And for my African-American tank crew from the 761st Tank Battalion (below), my choices were even more restricted.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

But I can’t give us WW2 LEGO builders a pass for focusing so obsessively on Normandy (with a bit of North Africa or Stalingrad thrown in from time to time) at the expense of the much-larger historical context, which did indeed include people from every thread of the vast tapestry of American society. Nor is the “limited LEGO palette” an excuse. What’s a bit sad about our collective obsession with D-Day is that we’re overlooking heroism and drama that is just as interesting and just as “buildable” in LEGO. By starting with the question “What can I build?” I’ve learned about people and events I’d never have learned in my high school American history classes (and certainly not in the Japanese history classes during elementary school earlier in my life).

Unfortunately, I’ve also encountered darker obsessions among some LEGO World War II builders. I can’t count the number of teens (apparently) who’ve included references to the Third Reich in their Flickr screen names — some going as far as to include the SS lightning bolts or even swastikas. I’ve also seen casual use of dated and hateful terms like “Jap” and “Kraut.” It makes me angry, but it also makes me very sad. Such behavior is unacceptable, and flies in the face of the very values that the Allies fought to defend in World War II. These are the kinds of actions I was alluding to with my “trite hand-wringing about ‘kids these days’” in my Memorial Day post. It’s hard to believe such attitudes toward fellow human beings don’t color what these builders choose to create with LEGO (or how they treat their fellow human beings in real life).

Whatever the reasons, we can and must do better.

The LEGO Military Annual Build Competition is happening now through July 10. With that in mind, I’d like to issue a challenge to those of us who are building something in the numerous contest categories: Build your models and minifigs in ways that reflect the true diversity of the men and women in the armed forces — whether you’re building something historical from World War II, Vietnam, or more-recent conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan, or whether you’re creating something from an alternate or future timeline.

African-Americans, Japanese-Americans, Filipino-Americans, and other minorities fought racism and prejudice during World War II even as they battled the Axis Powers in the war itself. When they arrived home, they built on that experience to begin the Civil Rights movement, as well as the drive toward Hawaiian statehood and an independent Philippines. Those of us building LEGO creations based on historical conflicts like World War II owe it to the men and women who served to accurately reflect their experience.

Only the monstrous anger of the guns / Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle

I get angrier and angrier with each passing Memorial Day here in the United States. Baseball announcers blithely wish each other “Happy Memorial Day!”, car companies attempt to entice me with “low, low APR”, and everyone celebrates the service of active-duty and surviving military personnel. No, Memorial Day is a day of somber remembrance, not to be confused with Veterans Day, and it’s a day — like Remembrance Day in other parts of the world — to honor those murdered by their governments in defense of long-forgotten political agendas. It’s a day that should remind us just how evil and unnecessary war is — not how cool it is.

And yet, there is real heroism in what many men and women in the armed forces accomplish in the face of such horror. I’ve mentioned before how much World War II fascinates me, not least because I grew up surrounded by abandoned bomb shelters in Japan and because my American grandfather served as a medic during the war.

One way I explore that fascination — and learn quite a bit of history in the process — is to research the people, places, and equipment of World War II. This year, I’ve been building for more than a month leading up to Memorial Day, and I have quite a few new builds to share.

The M7 Priest was self-propelled artillery (a “Howitzer Motor Carriage” in WW2 parlance) based on the chassis of the M3 Lee/Grant series of medium tanks.

M7 Priest (1)

My M7 Priest incorporates a 105mm gun that I reverse-engineered from the Brickmania M2A1 Howitzer kit (since I’d built a complete one to tow behind my GMC CCKW).

The Priest has an open top, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to get the interior right. I built ammunition stowage (by inverting 1×1 bricks and attaching them with the One Ring) and gave the floor corrugated steel plating with printed tiles from Citizen Brick.

M7 Priest (5)

See more photos in my M7 Priest photoset on Flickr.

The GMC CCKW 2.5-ton truck, or “Deuce and a Half,” served in many roles during and after World War II, with numerous variants to support all those roles. Even though I’m quite happy with the other models I’m unveiling in this post, my favorite is definitely this maintenance/recovery version of the CCKW.

GMC CCKW Maintenance/Recovery Truck (1)

The details are all modular, and I can quickly convert this rather complex truck into a number of other variants, including this one with a towable M45 Quadmount anti-aircraft gun.

GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (1) GMC CCKW Truck with M45 Quadmount (2)

My Willys MB Jeeps also got an upgrade, with two new variants — both with Bantam trailers.

Willys MB Jeep with Bantam Trailer Willys MB Jeep Ambulance with Bantam Trailer

All these non-combat vehicles were making my minifig soldiers feel a little under-powered, so I built them an M5A1 Stuart light tank and an M8 Greyhound armored car.

M5A1 Stuart Light Tank (1) M8 Greyhound Armored Car (1)

Finally, it occurred to me recently just how little the average World War II LEGO model reflects the real-world diversity of the men and women who served in the United States armed forces during World War II. The segregated U.S. Army resisted placing African-Americans in front-line combat roles until fairly late in the war, but the all-black 761st Tank Battalion served with distinction in major engagements like the Battle of the Bulge. I made some minor modifications to my M4A3 Sherman tank, including the addition of a lip that overhangs the wider tracks, thus making this the M4A3E2 variant. While I was at it, I replaced my crew with members of the 761st.

M4A3E2 Sherman "Jumbo" of the 761st (1)

I’m currently working on something for the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, or “Nisei Soldiers.” In the meantime, you can see more photos of everything I’ve posted here in my photostream on Flickr.

The title of the post is an excerpt from “Anthem for Doomed Youth,” by Wilfred Owen, an English poet who died in combat one week before the end of World War I. It seems doubtful that I can convince a generation of youth who’ve learned more about war from the “Medal of Honor” video games than from challenging poetry to read Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, but it’s worth a try…

Brickmania M2A4 Light Tank (USMC) [Review]

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:

Brickmania M2A4 & M4 Sherman tanks

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.)

M3-Stuart-Fort-Knox-1For 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.

Brickmania M4 Sherman tank custom LEGO kit [Review]

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.

M4 Sherman tank variantsThe 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.

M4 Sherman comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (1)

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:

M4 Sherman comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (2)

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:

Yanks of 60th Infantry Regiment advance into a Belgian town under the protection of a heavy tank.

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):

Affordable Sherman Project01

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:

Peleliu Beach, September 15, 1944

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.

Brickmania WC54 Ambulance custom LEGO kit [Review]

Dan Siskind of Brickmania and I recently decided that it might be interesting to review a few of his custom LEGO kits from the perspective of someone who’s designed their own version of the same iconic vehicles available in his store. Prepare for a series of reviews with a bit more personal focus than your average LEGO set review…

The Dodge WC54 was an ambulance used by the US Army throughout World War II, and for a few years afterward. You can see them lined up on the beach at Normandy and it features prominently in the TV show M*A*S*H. It’s a wonderful vehicle, with rounded corners and a beautiful purpose — bringing safety and hope in the midst of the horror and chaos of war. My late grandfather trained as a medic during World War II, and I can imagine that if he had been deployed to the invasion of Japan (thankfully, he wasn’t) he would have served in a Dodge WC54.

All of that is why I had to build one myself. After a couple iterations and some great feedback from Tim, I was pretty pleased with the results. It’s small, but it’s one of the models I’m proudest of, so I thought I’d first try the Brickmania WC54 Ambulance custom kit for my first comparative review.

My WC54 is on the left, and Dan’s is on the right:

WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (1)

Dan sells two versions of his WC54 design — a standard version with just the vehicle for $80 and a “bonus pack” version for $125 (which Dan was kind enough to send us). The bonus pack version includes a Citizen Brick US Army Ranger, printed BrickArms medic helmet to turn the ranger into a medic, a “Brickmania Medical Corps” T-shirt, and the whole thing comes in an olive drab medic satchel. The complete package is actually kind of awesome, even to this jaded, cynical reviewer.

The model itself includes 253 LEGO pieces. So, let’s just get this out of the way in our first review: $80 for 253 parts? These sets aren’t for someone building their collection of LEGO parts. I asked Dan about the prices of his custom LEGO kits, and he reminded me that he has to source his individual LEGO parts on the secondary market just like everyone else. Dan sells his custom kits in limited runs of fifty to a hundred (rather than the tens or hundreds of thousands of units that the LEGO Group moves), and his price has to account for the time he spends designing and redesigning the sets in a way that enables him to find enough parts in quantity to create a batch of custom kits. As someone who built a substantial portion of his World War II LEGO models from Bricklink orders, I can attest to the challenge of trying to assemble all the parts I need for a particular model from various BrickLink stores, much less attempting to source enough for dozens of the same model. No, custom Brickmania kits are not cheap, but I really do think you’re getting value for the money. Let’s move on…

The two main differences between my ambulance and Dan’s are in the overall size and the functionality. The Brickmania WC54 is one stud longer and two plates taller:

WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (2)

There is, of course, a natural interdependence between a larger scale and more functionality — the more “room” you have to work with, the more details and functionality you can build into the model. Here’s a table that compares the details and functionality between the two models:

Andrew’s WC54 Dan’s WC54
  • Opening cab doors
  • Opening cab doors
  • Windshield wipers
  • Indented spare tire
  • Steering wheel
  • Cab fits a minifig driver
  • Rear fits a minifig on a stretcher
  • Opening rear doors
  • Removable roof for interior access

Because of the complicated SNOT and panel-style window on my cab, I have to remove a minifig’s arms and legs to put a driver in the cab. The half-stud offset transition from the six-wide rear to the five-wide cab means there’s no room in the back for much of anything. Plus, the rear doors don’t open, and ripping the roof off usually brings a bunch of other bricks with it.

WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (3) WC54 Ambulance comparison - Dunechaser vs. Brickmania (4)

I could go on.

In other words, Dan gains all that extra functionality and detail at very little “cost” (one stud longer and two plates taller) in terms of the model’s slightly over-sized scale. Dan says the same is true of his Jeep:

I have also given up trying to make a decent 1/35 scale Jeep. I did one that small for a couple of months and couldn’t stand all the compromises to playability in order to make it that small. My newer jeeps are over-sized but way sturdier, cheaper and more fun to play with!

Dan’s version is also a lot sturdier than mine. Our front grilles are virtually identical — contrary to popular belief, there is indeed a finite number of ways you can achieve a particular design with the limited palette of available LEGO elements. But I built my three/five-wide engine block with its seven-wide fenders in a way that only left a single stud for the grille to attach to. Dan’s has a solid three-stud connection across the whole front of the engine block.

Despite all the odd-width construction and a few non-traditional building techniques (like tires inside of other tires to achieve a more-realistic look), Dan’s WC54 is an AFOL-designed model I’d be comfortable handing over to an eight-year-old to zoom around the living room floor. I can’t say the same of all the LEGO models I’ve handled — and a few I’ve accidentally broken — at LEGO conventions and club meetings.

You’ll notice in the pictures (both mine and the product pictures on Brickmania.com) that Dan’s WC54 has quite a few stickers. Well, they’re not actually stickers. Dan says he’s trying out something new with the WC54 — custom static-cling decals. I think it’s actually a brilliant idea: The decals go on easily and have continued to stick nicely even as I handle the model over and over during this review. Most interestingly, they come off when I want them to without leaving any gluey residue. But the decals feel a little like a work in progress. There are some spots on the larger gray decal (the one on top of the cab) that look like they didn’t print quite right. When I asked Dan about it, he said:

The static cling decals in the ambulance are a one-of-a-kind experiment to see how we like them. They’re printed on one of the laser printers in our office and not professionally made. Our customers are by and large our product testers too, so feedback like yours is what determines if we’re going to further pursue an idea or not. If clings are something we’re going to do for future kits, we’ll plan ahead to have them done in a professional shop where nicer result should be expected.

My vote is that these do definitely work — all the benefits of stickers without the mess. I only had one sticker that wasn’t quite perfect, so I’m looking forward to what Dan and his team can achieve with professional printing.

My other minor complaint is that the crosses on the side of the Brickmania WC54 aren’t brick-built. To be fair, they’re more perfectly square than mine and have a nice, thin white border around the cross that you can’t achieve nearly as well with just bricks. I asked Dan why he chose not to brick-build the crosses, and he said that the original prototype did include crosses entirely constructed from LEGO. But by using the decals he was already including, he was able to reduce the cost of the kit by several dollars, with 3 LEGO parts per cross rather than 14. Fair enough — not really a consideration for the lone LEGO model built from the bricks in one’s own collection.

Minor nit-picking aside, the Brickmania WC54 is a wonderful model built as much to play with as it is to include in your next World War II diorama or collaborative display. The slight compromise on scale has enabled Dan to achieve a level of sturdiness, functionality, and detail lacking in mine.

At $80 for the basic kit, you get a gorgeous little ambulance that might teach you a thing or two about odd-width vehicle building techniques. For another $45, the “bonus pack” version (at $125) also includes a lot of fun value. I think the “Brickmania Medical Corps” T-shirt is my new favorite LEGO-themed shirt, and the presentation with the medic satchel is priceless — the perfect gift for the LEGO military builder or World War II history buff in your life.

Look for more reviews of custom Brickmania LEGO kits in the coming days.

“Cappin Fools” – Captain America’s M3 Half-track

Project Azazel continues his all out assault on TBB in 2013 with the M3 “Cappin Fools” WW2 era half-track. The model is great, with all the detail you would expect from a builder of Mr. Project’s caliber, but the addition of America’s favorite eugenics experiment behind the .50 Cal really puts it over the top.

M3 "Cappin Fools" Half-track

World War Brick 2013 in Minneapolis, MN – June 28-30 [News]

World War Brick is a LEGO fan event organized by Brickmania that brings together builders who display LEGO models inspired by historical and military themes. The second annual event will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota at Brickmania Toyworks.

World War Brick banner

Discount pre-registration for weekend passes (the private convention) ended yesterday, but you can use a special coupon code for TBB readers when you register and get $10 off: TBBWWB

As with most LEGO fan conventions, you can also see the models on display during public exhibition times, Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

Head on over to WorldWarBrick.com for complete details

Yakovlev Yak-1

LUGPol’s Air Marshall mrutek returns to TBB with a smoothed out warbird from WW2. This time mrutek sets his sights on the workhorse of the Russian air force, the Yak-1. Although the design was Russian, the Yakovlev 1 was also used by the Lotnictwo Wojska Polskiego (Air Force of the Polish Army). Enjoy today’s offering of military history.

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