Dragon Black Label 1/35 M-103A1

KIT #: 3548
PRICE: $69.95
DECALS: Three options
REVIEWER: Robert Myers


The Heavy Tank M103 was used by both the United States Army and Marine Corps from 1957 through 1963 (Army) and 1974 (Marine Corps). At 62 tons it was the heaviest and most heavily armed tank in US service until the M1 Abrams main battle tank. The M103 was never used in combat, but was formed into the heavy armor battalions stationed in Germany during the cold war. They were replaced by M60s.

The turret of the M103 was much larger than that of the M48 to make room for the 120 mm gun and had two loaders assigned to it, in addition to the gunner and the commander. Two loaders were required due to the two part ammunition used by the 120 mm gun. The driver sat centered in the front of the hull, in pretty much the standard US tank configuration. Starting in 1959 219 M103s were rebuilt to M103A1s.

It was powered by a Continental, AV1790, 12 cylinder, air cooled, 810 hp gasoline engine. The maximum speed was about 21 mph with a range of 80 miles.                                


The M103A1 comes in a large, box packed to the brim with parts. This includes: 10 sprues in soft, light grey plastic, packaged separately, two yellow/tan DS tracks, 1 small photo-etch sheet, 1 small length of twisted steel wire for use as a tow cable, and a decal sheet from Cartograph of Italy. The decals options include E Company, 34th Armor, 24th Infantry Division, Germany, 1959  and 2 unidentified Army versions. You will have a bunch of left over parts!

The instruction sheet covers the build in 17 steps and includes an additional sheet to show corrections to parts of Steps 1, 8 and 17. These are typical Dragon instructions. They can be confusing and require you to study the sheet carefully to decide in advance which optional positions you want parts to be displayed. Such as the travel rest for the main gun tube. I installed mine folded on the back of the tank. That requires some planning on the build sequence.

The molding is excellent and the placement of connecting tabs between the part and the tree are well placed. The only real problem is deciding where to cut the sprue. You can trim off mounting tabs if you are not careful. Trim them a little long and check the fit.


I started construction with the lower hull. There are drive wheel (sprocket) seven road wheels, one front return wheel and six upper return rollers along with all of the suspension parts on each side of the M103. I glued the suspension parts in place on both sides, made sure they were all level on a piece of mirror, then set them aside to dry for a day. I use the mirror to check and see if everything touches it. It will show gaps between it and the suspension arms if some are too high. (Be sure you check the “corrections” sheet while you assemble the lower hull and suspension. The rear drive sprocket housing is a different number/piece than shown on the instruction sheet.)

After a goods nights sleep, I painted the road wheels with a Tamiya TS-5 rattle can. The rubber part is separate from the steel wheel. I sprayed the rubber wheel parts and track Krylon primer black and set them aside to dry. After they had dried for 30 minutes, I brush painted the steel parts of the track with Model Master steel.

The next step was the upper hull. The parts glued in place with no problems. Each part has a placement mark on the upper hull. I used the photo etch where called for and had no problems, it is easy to form/glue and again they have a placement mark on the hull.

I had been warned ahead of time that the exhaust deflector on the rear deck stuck up too high and prevented the turret installation.  My easy fix was to take a Dremel motor tool and thin down the plastic inside the turret mounting ring on the upper hull. It is on the inside of the hull so it won’t show. The easy part is it only took about 30 seconds. After finishing that I glued the upper hull, fenders and lower hull together and called it a night. The fenders are very thin and look great, but they tend to be wavy. I haven’t figured out how to fix that.

After all of the suspension work the turret looked like a piece of cake and it pretty much was. The fit was excellent for the upper and lower parts. All of the small pieces are just glued to the turret with no pins or placement tabs. However, each part has a small locator mark on the turret to show you where to glue it. Again, no drama, just work slowly and stop often to check the part numbers, instructions and the “corrections” to the instruction sheet.


At this point it was time for the Tamiya TS-5 olive drab paint. Everything but the machine gun sprue, track and black rubber part of the wheels was sprayed with the rattle can. This was the first time I had used Tamiya rattle cans so I let it sit for a week; hoping for the best. It came out great! The paint is a semi-gloss, very similar to the new - slightly faded finish on the real tanks of this era. 

Time for the final assembly. I glued the wheels in place on both sides of the hull and let them sit for a couple of hours while I put the jerry cans, antenna and machine gun on the turret. With the glue on the wheels almost dry. I put the sprocket in the track, slipped the track over the wheels and pressed the sprocket onto it’s mounting. The wheels lined up nicely on the track. A little final detail painting and again, I let everything dry for a day or two.

These decals are very thin and in register. The white covers nicely. I used the decals for E Company, 34th Armor, 24th Infantry Division, Germany, 1959. They were soaked in warm water and applied over a bead of Micro-Set and smoothed out. After about 15-20 minutes, I applied a bit of Micro-Sol. The decals snuggled right down on the semi-gloss paint. There was no silvering or cracking. A couple of days later, everything was given a wash in warm water. 

The last step was to install the turret to the hull. Since I thinned the mounting ring, it slipped right into place. It now represents a clean tank in garrison, but with the machine gun installed. 


I like this kit! I have ordered the M103A2. It is typical Dragon with good molding and so-so instructions. I would like a DS mantlet cover and a tank commander!!!! I know it has some dimensional issues. I choose to ignore them in my build and this review. When I showed this build to the other military modelers at my club meeting no one picked up on the issues. This may seem like a simple review, but the build was simple. This new generation of Dragon kits go together very well.

This kit courtesy of my wife as a birthday present.

Robert Myers

September 2014 

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