The M551 Sheridan was pretty underserved until Tamiya and Rye Field Models each released a variant in 2019. Rye Field took care of the newer M551A1 that served in Desert Storm and Panama while Tamiya’s release is Vietnam vintage.
The Sheridan really earned its stripes in Vietnam, serving mostly with cavalry units and the kit comes with markings for 1st Squadron, 11th ACR and 2nd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 25th ID. The two options have some minor differences and I chose to build the variant with the 11th ACR. I’ll highlight these areas as we get to them.
Lower Hull (Steps 1-7)
Unlike many armor kits the Sheridan’s lower hull comes in a handful of pieces. They fit together well but were really kind of a pain in the ass to get together at first. Step 1 has you attach sidewalls to the bottom of the hull with a support in the middle. It was difficult to keep everything lined up here. If they were going to go this route, a more positive fit between the major pieces would have been helpful.
The rest of the lower hull goes together as you would expect. There is a series of tie-down lugs in step 2 that all drop in place with minimal cleanup. Suspension arms are also well engineered and fit with minimal play between the arm and hull. This will help to keep all the road wheel and track links on the ground. The arms do get a bit tedious while cleaning up the sprue gates they’ll be relatively hidden once everything is on.
The idlers, road wheels, and drive sprockets all go as expected but oddly do not use any poly caps to grip the suspension arms. The drive sprockets do utilize a poly cap on each side but those are the only ones holding the tracks on tight. Minimal cleanup was needed here, mostly just a mold line around the rubber section of the road wheels. Really not a big deal as the rubber on road wheels typically gets chewed up.
There is one thing that I really want to bring up here. The sprue gate attachment points on the drive sprockets are some of the best that I’ve seen. First, they are attached to the sprocket on a flat part of the tooth that is easy to clean up. Second, they don’t even really need much cleanup because the gates are small. Tamiya hit a home run here.
Tracks (Step 8-9)
Before I say anything else about the tracks…
Link and length!! What!?
I’ve built a handful of Tamiya armor kits now and one of my biggest gripes are the rubber band tracks that they’re known for. They’re sorta ok for something like a Sherman that keeps their tracks taut. In fact I used them on my Sherman 105 with success. But any subject that has any track sag, they just don’t cut it.
Needless to say, seeing the link and length tracks included with this and no rubber bands was a very welcome surprise. Not only was it great seeing them, but once I started working with them I found that the fit is damn near perfect. Tamiya also hides the ejector pin marks, for the most part, under road wheels. There are only a handful that show but they are very shallow and shouldn’t take much to clean up.
I found that, instead of following the order the instructions direct, it’s easier to build the tracks if you start on top with the longest piece and build over the idler and drive sprocket from there. The instructions do a good job, however, of showing how the track should be aligned. You’ll just need to keep in mind the direction of the tracks, as they do go on a certain way.
Upper Hull (Steps 10-19)
The upper hull continues a typical progression, building the inside stuff before moving to the outside. The Sheridan has an interesting drivers compartment in that the whole hatch spins so that when it’s open, the hatch is actually inside the hull. This gives you a real opportunity to add a lot of detail if you’d decide to open up the hatch and leave the driver out. The whole hatch also goes into poly caps that securely hold it in the hull, giving you the option to add or remove the driver. It’s a nice option to have, but you can also install the driver from the outside with the hatch on, so it really isn’t necessary.
Speaking of the driver, he’s decent. All three figures are multi-piece affairs and they fit well. Because Tamiya broke the figures down into multiple pieces, there are no sink marks anywhere. About the only thing I didn’t like with the figures are the crew helmets. They’re split into two pieces, which allows for a better fit to the figure’s head, but adds some cleanup if you’re using the figure. The loader does come with a one-piece steel pot helmet option, so no problem there.
Another interesting feature of the Sheridan is the built in floatation screen which allowed travel through water. This screen has a forward shield that includes a glass section for the driver to see through. It’s not hard to work around this, but it’s something you’ll have to pay attention to. You’ll need to paint and weather under the glass before permanently attaching the front shield to the hull.
Moving to the rear of the upper hull, Tamiya includes mesh that is used as the grilles on the engine deck. Photoetch replacements are definitely the better option here but the mesh is passable if you’re looking to build strictly out of the box. This mesh is also used as chain link fence for marking option A. This fence was used as add-on “armor” for RPG protection. I did not build option A so I can’t make any judgements here.
However, I will warn you that you need to pay attention in step 14 or you’ll give yourself some extra work. The instructions guide you to drill two holes in the front shield of the floatation screen. Now, the instructions do say it’s only for option A, but it’s not necessarily marked well. It’s not hard to clean up two small holes but you also don’t need to drill them if you’re not building A.
Finally, the upper hull attaches to the lower hull almost flawlessly. They designed the connection points around natural connection points so the seams hide pretty well.
Turret (Steps 20-38)
Like most armor, Tamiya starts the turret construction with the barrel assembly. They continue their use of a moveable barrel and at first, I really liked how they did it. Instead of having two poly caps on either side of the mantlet, they use a pin that is supposed to move through a poly cap that is attached to the turret itself. In theory, it’s an interesting idea. Unfortunately, the fit is so tight that I’ve bent the plastic parts holding the poly cap and it doesn’t really move as it’s supposed to. I’m honestly not that concerned about it because I don’t move the barrel around once I’m done, but it’s a little concerning that I almost broke the parts just moving them the way they are supposed to move.
The barrel itself is one piece and only has a small mold line which is much easier to clean up than a two-piece barrel. A turned metal barrel is still a better option, but like the mesh used earlier, it’s passable.
Another frustrating part of the turret was the need to drill a bunch of holes for the ammo and fuel cans that attach to the turret. And I mean a bunch. 29 to be exact. It would have been much easier for Tamiya to mold the holes in place and then just have the builder fill them if they decide not to use them. The ammo cans are a bit tedious as well as each one is 4 parts. That’s not too bad if you only have one or two cans to build, but you build 8 of them if you do the full compliment. I will admit that the cans have much better detail than what I’m used to with older Tamiya kits.
The commander’s cupola starts with his viewports and Tamiya used 10 individual clear parts to represent the windows. I would have much rather had this as one part but the glass does fit well. Again, just rather tedious. I used Gator Grip glue here to keep the glass clear. On top of the cupola is the armored hatch for the vehicle commander. There are some differences here for the two options so be sure to pay attention. It’s marked well so it shouldn’t be an issue.
The included .50 caliber M2 machine gun for the commander is rather nicely molded. Much better than previous Tamiya kits in my opinion. There are some extra options for the M2 in step 38 so it’s another thing to watch for.
More tedium incoming…
The Sheridan has a series of smoke dischargers under the turret and, though these are nicely modeled, the 8 dischargers are 3 pieces each. Like everything else they go together fine, it’s just a lot of extra cleanup and time expended.
Man, besides some tedious construction, this thing is stellar. Everything fits well, Tamiya made some smart engineering decisions, and it was just a fun build overall. Biggest highlight for me were the link and length tracks which were such a great surprise. If I had to pick a low point (besides some tedium), it’d have to be using the mesh instead of photoetch. I think Tamiya could have provided a small PE sheet without affecting the price much instead of needing aftermarket.
I don’t want to fall into the “highly recommended” trap, but it’s so, so good.