Academy M113A1 ACAV in 1/35
  Started: November / 2016
Finished: May / 2017


If memory serves me well, this may well be my first 1/35 scale AFV in decades! I always saw the the M113 as a symbol of Vietnam War, and decided to give the Academy kit a go during a group build of our modeling club last year. I didn't finish it in time, so I decided to put it in a small diorama. 

And since it was a group build, I did not worry about taking in progress photos... sorry. I will show you here only pictures of the finished model.

It was a rewarding experience to me, and I must add that - after so many 1/72 projects - the possibility of holding the parts with my bare fingers unfolded a whole new modeling universe to me.

Back to modeling, this is the boxart of my sample:


Planning to display the M113 in a vignette, I knew from the outset that I would be using some figures on top of the 'taxi'. Therefore I tried to make a prompt job on the interior, as not much would be visible with the figures riding the vehicle. Leaving the engine out, all I needed was an afternoon and an evening to finish off the interior:

The Academy kit is reasonably well detailed, but I didn't even bothered with ejection pin marks. All I did was to paint the interior, add some weathering and a lot of dirt on the floor. The kit's decals add much to the realism too, particularly the many placards, even though almost nothing will be quite visible with the crew onboard:

Fast forward a few months and the model was finished, except for the figures and the base. Let me show you some photos of the finished model and then I'll go back to cover the details up close (click for a larger image):

The assembly of the model went pretty fast. All I had to add were more realistic weld fillets along the joints using stretched sprue and liquid cement. The color is my own mix of Tamiya paints starting with the XF-13 J.A. Green and adding yellow, green, and grey. In the end I think I just turned 360 degrees and arrived at the same XF-13... Anyway, this is a perfect start for a Vietnam era olive green, and there are plenty color photos showing that. One thing that I've been doing more and more in my recent models is to add X-22 Gloss Clear to Tamiya paints. This not only results a satin finish to the model - sometimes sparing a clear coat preparatory for the decals, but also leaves a better surface to washes, filters and all the weathering that follow.

Once the main color was dry, I added a bit of white to make a lighter tone and highlighted several panels. This worked as a regular fading, and also as an initial dusting. The next step was to use the sponge method to create paint chipping on the steel parts. I said steel parts, for the M113 hull was made of Aluminum and wouldn't oxidize as dark as the steel. More on that later.

One of the aspects that I like in Vietnam vehicles is the messy disposition of things spread out all over the vehicle. I tried to replicate some of them, following what I saw in the photos. First, canvas belts were tightly tied around the commander cupola. They were made with painted Tamiya tape, pieces of thin plastic and photoetched buckles.

Another item that I saw repeatedly in wartime photos of ACAVs were bandoliers hanging on the M-60 shields. Crews used them to store granades, extra ammo, cigarettes, magazines, bottles, you name it. I thought it would be a learning challenge to scratchbuilt one, which I did using lead foil. Interestingly, I made it right in my first try and really liked the process and the final result. I left my bandolier with empty pockets, though.

And since I was at it, I also scratchbuilt smoke and fragmentation granades and hanged them along the belts. The ammo belts came from Academy and Dragon gun sets. The later is more detailed but molded in a very brittle plastic, so I had some trouble to pose it draped over the right side M60 shield. Crews used to do it sometimes to keep rounds dry...

The .50 cal MG assembly was added only at the end, but an eagle eye will note the tracer rounds in the ammo box. It also came from the Academy gun set:

At this point I was really pushing myself to make the hull look realistically busy. Extra fuel/water cans were added to the rear left mudguard, again following photos. I tied them with lead strips and photoetched buckles. A water can was marked with a red tape, simulated by airbrushing not well thinned GSI red paint. This creates a maleable layer of paint, so when I pressed my fingers around the can, the red tape ended up looking like it was stretched.

A brass chain was laid on the back of the vehicle, painted and slightly rusted with Rustall. The pickaxe head is from the kit, but I made a new wooden handle using stretched sprue:

Still trying to make things look busy, I replaced the kit's top hatch opening cord (part B15) by a real metal chain encapsulated by a length of wire insulation. I think it looks now more natural than the kit part:
Other items added included a pair of C-ration boxes, tied on the top of the rear hull. These were laser printed in light brown paper, weathered, folded and glued in place. Extra ammo boxes were glued beside the commander cupola, as well as 
rolls of tying belts. Remember to paint these things in varied colors, ranging from olive drab or kakhi to olive green:

Another interesting find in photos of M113s in action are the usual extra wheel hanging on the sides of the hull. Evidently this was an extra precaution crews adopted to increase the armor protection, but at times also to conceal the white star, an excellent aiming point to the enemy (many M113 had their insignias overpainted in black or olive drab in Vietnam):

The interesting thing is that these wheels were usually hand by ropes, and would swing back and forth during the ride. Whenever the metal rim of the wheel scratched the hull wall, it would leave metalic arc-shaped marks, while the outer rubber band would smudge the wall with black arcs. I reproduced the effect using silver pencil and charcoal pencil over a 
drafting template (do the math to find where the center of the arc is!):
Another signature of the M113 in Vietnam were the heavily scratched hull sides. These marks appear in a number of patterns, and I can only guess that most of them are the result of dense vegetation scrapping the factory paint. Now, mind you, these scratches may be very long - in some cases running all the way along the hull side - but most of the time they seem to be concentrated on the front and rear sides - check these extreme examples:

I simulated the effect in three ways: (a) running a hard bristle scrubber to produce more light scratches; (b) using gray pencils to simulate old scratches, and (c) silver pencils to simulate recent scratches. Don't go overboard, not everything you see in the photos looks nice in scale!

You will also note that one wheel on each side is moved out of the horizontal, I mean, not aligned with the other wheels. This was done purposely, as the diorama road will not be perfectly flat. These little changes make things look more natural in your model. Click to enlarge:

Now the fun part. Early in this project I saw several photos showing M113s with a whole list of stuff on top of it, but many seemed to carry a rolle fence and a set of poles. These fences (called 
cyclone fences) were mounted with the poles around the vehicle to force premature detonation of RPGs (rocket propelled granades) whenever the crew had to spend the night in the field:

With time, these accessories
almost became a mandatory item in the cargo load of most M113s... and it shows in the photos:

To simulate a fence was the easy part, in my case: I just painted and weathered a length of Tulle fabric, rolled it and attached it to the front hull using lead belts decorated with photoetched buckles. The poles are L shaped plastic beams that I had in my stash, slightly bent, painted and dirtied.

The difficult part was to add a realistic shovel and an axe. These were also mandatory items, as the practice back then was to dig a dugout and then park the vehicle over them, forming a bunker to sleep. I don't remember if the shovel came with the kit or from my spares box...

If you look closely at the flotation cells you will note that I added a few dents. They were very thin boxes prone to damaging under the slightest hit (click to enlarge)...

The mudguards were also removed, as they were not very useful in combat. A number of other smaller details were added, too...  (click to enlarge):

I forgot to mention that the decals came from the kit, but I had to retouch some of them due to the lack of register. Interestinly, the basic color was semi-gloss, but after applying a brush coat of light earth pigment heavily diluted in water over the whole vehicle, plus the several weathering layers, it gradually became flat, with a few variations and shiny spots here and there, just like the real thing (click to enlarge):

Once everything was in place, I added wet pigments from True Earth line. These are actually an acrylic paint with texture, so there is no need to fixing them. On the top of the M113, I used dry pigments of light and dark earth colors, and smudged the effect wherever I found it too exagerated. I could go further, afterall there are plenty of photos showing how filthy the top of an APC could be, but like I said before, not everything in real life looks good in scale.

The last weathering step was to splash diluted pigments around the lower hull and wheels, concentrating the effect on the rear door and mudguards. This was done by blowing a pigment loaded brush with an airbrush. This technique is quite effective, just don't go overboard like many models I have seen lately.

The driver mirrors were not installed in the photos, but I'll add them once the diorama base starts. The .50 cal machine gun mount is just test fitted and will be glued only once the commander figure is cemented in place.

Here are a few glamour photos before I start to work on its base (click to enlarge):

Stay tuned...
Technical file
- Academy 1389
- Dragon .50 cal machine gun and ammo belt.
- Eduard ammo belt from machine gun set.
Basic colors: 
- Primer: GSI Mr.Surfacer 1200 in spray can
- Interior green: Vallejo mix
- Camouflage green: Tamiya mix based on XF-13 IJA Green
- Several scratchbuilt details (see text).

Rato Marczak 2017