by: Gareth McGorman [ ]
In the interwar period, all the major powers experimented with new ideas in armoured vehicles. While the United States, Great Britain, France, Italy and others all had a fairly solid industrial base and an established automotive industry, the Soviet Union needed to catch up to everyone else in a relatively short period of time. To address this problem, the Soviets, secured a series of licensing deals with manufacturers in the west to procure tooling, designs and industrial expertise which they could use to modernize their industrial and military capability.
The BA-20 armoured car was a direct result of this approach to industrial and military modernization. Having produced a license to build Model A's, GAZ purchased the rights to build a copy of the Model B car from Ford in the mid-30s. There were some significant changes to Ford's original design, including a strengthened suspension, and a slightly modified fender. This new car came to be known as the GAZ M-1 and was the first car made widely available on the civilian market in the USSR.
Since, throughout its history, the Soviet Union placed military production over the needs of the average consumer, it was only natural that a military use would be found for this new car. The idea of building armoured cars based on civilian vehicles was by 1936 somewhat outdated, and comparable armoured cars that were manufactured around the same period in Great Britain, France and Germany were being constructed with off road performance as a high priority. The BA-20 had roughly the same off-road performance capabilities as a Ford Sedan of the early 30s (probably worse, given the added weight of the armour) and in many ways carried some obvious similarities in appearance to its civilian counterpart. Either to save money on tooling or because the designers didn't bother changing this feature, the fenders and running board are identical to that of the GAZ M-1. The Bracket for carrying the spare tire also appears to be very similar.
What we have in the box are 168 parts distributed across 9 sprues and a small photo-etch fret. With the exception of the seats and the DT machine gun, most of the components that would be shared between the civilian car and the armoured vehicle are kept on separate sprues from those that would have been exclusive to the armoured car.
At first glance, the assembly seems as though it will be fairly straightforward and might even seem to be a reasonably good beginner kit. This is definitely not the case. In some ways building, this model might be a bit of an educational experience and a demonstration of why dry fitting parts together before glueing is very important. I would recommend test fitting everything at every stage of the build. The kit seems reasonably detailed despite the low parts count. There is almost no flash, and the number of small and easily lost or broken bits and pieces is minimal. Part B1 was already broken on the sprue before removal.
Engine and Chassis
The engine assembly is very straightforward and among the simplest and easiest I've yet encountered. The one major shortcoming that's immediately noticeable is that some pieces, particularly the two halves of the engine block, lack little holes and pins to guide placement. It's not a massive impediment though. The level of detail here is pretty basic, but the engine, even with access panels open will not be fully visible once assembled. There are some minor fit issues and some plastic had to be shaved off of part B9 to allow it to fit as intended.
The chassis is also not too complex, though they could benefit from clarifying that there are two options available for hubcaps to choose from. Part B1, as mentioned earlier, was already broken on the sprue when opened, but this is not the end of the world since most the car's underbelly will be invisible once assembled.
The instructions also make a bizarre recommendation that the muffler should be added after part of the lower cross struts are glued in place. I made this error and can assure you that it's not really possible to twist it into place and fiddling around trying to force it isn't really all that fun either. This part isn't really all that visible, so you can get away with leaving it off.
The most glaring problem here is that the rear axle is too wide and will need to be trimmed down to fit. For most this will be the point where they seriously question the idea of casting this kit aside in favour of something less frustrating. It was fairly clear to me by this point in the build that this kit was never subject to a test build by the manufacturers.
Lower Body and Interrior
The floor and fenders are all one piece. The interior assembly is very basic, either because this is a more basic representation of the armoured car's interior or because the BA-20's interior really was that sparsely furnished. Ammunition stowage racks for the Machine gun are not present but can be scratch built without much difficulty. There's no radio either, which would have been useful. Apart from that, everything falls into place as intended. It is not a full interior, and items such as separate gas and brake pedals would have been appreciated, but the basics of everything you would expect to see if you leave the doors open are there.
The Stowage bins should not be added at this point as per the instructions. For ease of fit, it is best to glue these in place once the upper body has been attached.
The instructions have a bizarre tendency to show things out of sequence. If at step 7 you feel confused about the illustration portraying the body already mounted on the chassis – do not be alarmed. It's them, not you. The intention seems to be to show the assembly for positioning the frontal vents open or closed and they could be slightly more clear about this. The same is true for the appearance of the spare tyre mounted with the body removed in the following illustration. The assembly for all of these all appears later in the instructions.
The upper body is one slide moulded piece. It looks good. While the instructions recommend attaching doors, antennae, pioneer tools and towing hooks prior to glueing the body to the chassis, I personally prefer altering the sequence slightly. First, attach the driver and passenger vision ports and the front towing hooks. After that Attach the body to the chassis. Then comes everything else. The fit is tight enough that you will have to squeeze the body slightly to get it to fall into place as intended and the risk that anything already glued to it will fall off or be damaged is pretty high. It was at this point that I realised that attaching the two stowage boxes to the running boards after this step would have been a good idea, instead of step 4, as instructed.
The turret is absolutely bare bones as a turret can get. As with everything else on this kit, everything is beautifully detailed – especially the DT Machine Gun. My only complaint here is that no magazine for the MG is provided. The top hatch doesn't allow much of a view inside, but if left open, the breech of the MG will be clearly visible. A much bigger problem (literally) is that the turret ring is too small, and without some modification, the turret will not actually fit.
Decals and Painting Options
If you're the kind of person who really likes painting things green, then you will certainly get a kick out of the finishing options provided with the instructions. The decals are vehicle numbers, with no additional information about the unit, location etc provided.
While far from being a perfect kit, I won't hesitate to recommend it. The fit issues, while annoying, are all easily corrected. All things considered, the build is simple and straightforward and the end result is a fine looking armoured car.