M3 Lee (MiniArt) Build #1 – Parts Layout and Getting Started

I’ve been wanting to build a model of the M3 Lee since I saw the Bogart movie, “Sahara,” when I was a kid (like thousands of others, no doubt). I had intended on using the Academy kit because it had an interior, but dealing with other Academy kits made me think that I was going to have to do some updating and changing to get the interior details a little less soft than I’ve found Academy’s kits to offer. To my delighted surprise, I found this gem:

2021-05-22 01

Not only does it come with an interior, it also has an engine and engine bay! I hadn’t even considered doing the engine on an M3 but now…

I was favorably impressed upon opening the box. The parts (LOTS OF THEM) are molded in gray styrene and are all packaged in one of what feels like a cellophane bag. The packaging leaves a bit to be desired, cramming everything into one bag (except for clear parts and decals, which are in one little bag with the clear parts fret and the PE parts which are packaged in a cardboard packet which protects them nicely). Opening the bag shows that some very small parts, some from the tracks, one that looks like a small engine part, had already broken off the frets. I fished them out of the bag and put them in a small container figuring that eventually I’d go looking for a part, not find it on the sprue and know I didn’t remove it, which would then send me to the little container (I wouldn’t have to wait all that long).

If you look at the back pages of the instructions, there are paint/decal diagrams for three Russian M3s, two captured Wehrmacht M3s, two US M3s , and one Canadian tank. When you look at the decals, you’ll see there are early US markings included:

2021-05-22 02

2021-05-22 03

2021-05-22 04

2021-05-22 05

2021-05-22 09

2021-05-22 08

2021-05-22 07

2021-05-22 06

I prefer to get the tedious and/or odious tasks out of the way first. When it comes to individual track links, that’s generally the tedious task I start with.

::clears throat meaningfully::

I don’t know who engineered these tracks to go together this way. The copyright date of the kit is 2019 so this is a recent, current, MODERN, kit. Simple, effective, ways have been figured out how to assemble 79 track shoes and two track guides per shoe years ago. MiniArt decided to ignore all that.

Tracks. Lots of parts for tracks. The body of each link is molded in halves and the end connectors have the pins molded to them which in turn fit inside each link. I know many people don’t like individual track links, I’m one who does like them. What I don’t like at all was how MiniArt engineered the tracks to assemble. HATE IT. Instead, I’m using tracks from Panda. I used a set of Panda’s tracks on my M4A3 75 ( W ) Sherman which were easy to assemble… Since the M4 Sherman was based on the M3 Lee, I expected that these tracks will fit, assuming that MiniArt nailed the scale.  The Panda tracks that arrived are just as nice as the ones I used on my M4A3 build. They also fit the kit’s drive sprocket as if they were made specifically made for them. Panda doesn’t offer the T48 tracks, which were reversible once one side had worn down too far. What they do offer are the T51 tracks, which were thicker on the outside and not reversible. Yes, if you look closely at the tracks and know the difference, it’s evident. Otherwise they’re indistinguishable from the T48 track shoes. Yes, there are a total of 162 track shoes and since there are two track links per shoe, that comes out to 324 links. And yes, there’s a lot of tedious work to cut each shoe and each link from the fret and then remove the sprue attachment points, two per shoe and link. However, unlike MiniArt’s tracks, once the minimal seams and all sprue attachment points are cleaned up, they go together easily and (unlike Bronco’s tracks) they stay together. I modified the inner edges of the rubber blocks that will wrap around the sprocket and idler wheels by filing the edges round so that they would wrap around the sprocket and idler wheels tighter (the same as I did with the Sherman M4A3):


Each bogie has its own fret which contains all the parts to assemble one complete bogie. Road wheels are on separate frets.

The engine seems to be quite complete and superbly detailed. I won’t know how all the parts fit (and there are a lot of engine parts) until assembly time. The engine seems to be a kit of its own and I hope it’s available as a separate kit. [It is, kit #35321!] At present, the only other R975 engine available is Tank Workshop’s resin AM set and“available” is a relative term. The business is up for sale and the owner has stopped answering emails so “available” doesn’t mean much at this point (unfortunate…I liked his line of products and customer service). Just looking at MiniArt’s engine shows me that it’s a MUCH better representation. Comparing the two isn’t fair to TWS’s effort. A modern corporation had better produce something better than a cottage-industry offering! From my initial inspection, it would be a shame (bordering on criminal) to build this model in such a manner as to hide the engine; this thing begs to be displayed…and I will build it in such a manner that it can be. It appears to be sufficiently detailed that if someone wanted to hang the engine from a chain outside the tank, it wouldn’t require much more than the base, a hoist, and chain.

Looking over the other frets (and there are a lot of them, too…this thing has a high parts count!), I’m generally impressed with details molded onto the parts and for provisions for detailing parts that would be too difficult to mold as one part. (Protectoscopes are too often rudimentarily detailed in other kits, not so this time!)

And while speaking of frets right after the engine parts, a bit of a warning. If you’re doing this kit, be prepared to have most of the very fine lines supplied with the engine set break. No…I’m not talking about breaking them during the process of removing them from the fret. I’m talking about them breaking off the fret in the bag before you get to them…or even open the bag. ALL the frets are packed in one large bag (that feels more like cellophane than plastic) and boxes get tossed around during shipping. Of eight very delicate lines (probably oil lines), which were very nicely done, seven of them had broken. I found one of the parts inside the cellophane bag when I (carefully) removed the frets from it. It was in the bag totally broken off of the part it should have stayed attached to, as were a few other parts as yet unidentified whose location(s) I have yet to find. The rest of the broken engine lines were at least still attached which simplified gluing…just align the broken ends and a light touch with the glue brush does it.

If the fit is decent, this kit could build into a very impressive rendition of an early M3, once the errant belly hatch is closed over; early Lees didn’t have them (MiniArt provides a plug for the hatch hole):

2021-05-25 01

The Academy kit (also in my stash) suffers in comparison.

Construction begins by assembling the lower hull bottom and all the pieces that comprise the interior. My initial intention was to follow the kit’s directions, as I’ve never done a MiniArt kit before. That notion didn’t last past step one (page 6), when I started assembling the interior parts. Most of the interior is painted white as usual. There are details that get painted other colors. Without even being very conscious of it (probably in the morning…all I’m conscious of is the location of caffeine and the state of my bladder in the morning) I just departed from the instructions. The interior of this tank seems to have been full of stuff. I wanted to get as much of the interior that gets painted white assembled as I could. I’m not certain at this point how much of that I can do (well, I can do it, it’s just the order of assembly that’s uncertain).

Speaking of directions, before I go any further, a warning.

Attach parts Db3 (there are two) AFTER you’re completely done adding the interior parts. Otherwise you will get the repeated opportunity to break them off, crawl around on your workspace floor looking for them, and then reattaching them. A LOT.

Having that warning out of the way, the first thing I started with was the transmission. Then I did the raised floor sections that go on either side of the transmission, the control levers, the driveshaft cover, and glued the escape hatch plug in:

2021-05-25 02

Then I attached the rear of the hull bottom to the front of the hull bottom. Once I made sure that the bottom was level and straight, I set the assembly aside overnight so that I had a solid assembly to start populating with lots of delicate parts. The following day I finished puttying the hatch plug to invisibility, added the driveshaft cover, then used the driveshaft cover to help me align the transmission/differential assembly:

2021-05-29 01

2021-05-29 02

2021-05-29 03

Be careful when assembling, particularly when attaching the transmission/differential housing to the front edge of the hull bottom. Actually, be careful when attaching the transmission to the differential housing! The vertical face of the transmission should be perpendicular to the underside of the differential housing and that can be a little difficult to see. When that assembly is attached to the lower hull bottom, the underside of the differential housing (one of several parts with a nicely rough surface texture) should extend straight out from the hull bottom.

Also be very careful when detaching and cleaning up attachment points for the many control rods that comprise the driver’s position. I snapped pretty much all of them and I was careful (clearly just not enough…it appears that my razor saw is going to get a workout!). The steering levers can also be a bit of a pain. I broke one, fixed it, and when adding them realized that I should have glued them to their attachment points much later in the construction sequence (like just when their subassemblies were being glued to the floor). I had to snap one off so that both levers were installed at the same angle (thankfully, the raised floor sections in the driver’s position hid the minor surgery).

Also difficult to see is the exact attachment point of part C17. There is a ridge on top of the driveshaft cover. The shorter side of C17 should attach with that ridge inside C17. Sometimes the exact placement of a part can be difficult to ascertain; look at later images because they will often be quite helpful about where parts earlier in the recommended sequence go. (Thankfully MiniArt’s directions will show all the previously installed parts and their locations, unlike some manufacturers who shall remain unnamed [Bronco]. Oops…that just slipped out. I’m so embarrassed.) In the following photos, the driver’s seat is just set in place for illustration:

2021-05-29 05

2021-05-29 04

2021-06-17 02

Things inside needed to be painted, detailed, etc., before the outside(s) go together. I’m at that point where getting things ready to paint is what’s driving the build. There is, of course, flat white. There is also OD Green, steel, leather, flat black (both for pre-shading and coloring parts), and rubber black. (And while all that goes together and ultimately gets painted, I really like the details provided by the kit, particularly the 75mm breech!):

2021-06-17 01

The turret basket on the right in the above photo is for the top turret and was comprised of three pieces. Since what’s driving the build at this point is getting things ready to paint for the interior, I wanted to do that as well.

And there are more interior parts…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: