by: Bob Kerr [ ]
IntroductionIn the early 1950s, the U.S. Marine Corps began looking for a light, mobile vehicle it could carry into combat with its H-19 helicopters. The Marines set a vehicle weight limit of 1,500 pounds and were looking for high mobility and maneuverability.
The answer was the M442 "Mighty Mite." Though it weighed in at 1,700 pounds when fueled, the Mite fit the request as well as anything and production began in 1959 by AMC.
The Mite featured an aluminum body, an air-cooled aluminum 106cc 55 hp V-4 engine mated to a four-speed transmission, and two- or four-wheel drive. The M442 also featured brakes mounted in-board on the differentials, which were revolutionary for the day. The M442 was 60.5 inches wide, had a 65-inch wheel base and a 107-inch overall length. The later M442A1 added six inches to the wheel base and overall length, and 90 pounds to its weight.
By the time the Mighty Mite was accepted and fielded, it was obsolete. The Marines had replaced the H-19 with helicopters capable of sling-loading the heavier M38 and M151 quarter-ton trucks, so only about 4,000 Mighty Mites were built at a cost of about $5,200 each. About 1,045 M442s were built, with the rest of production being M442A1s.
Scuttlebutt is that the Mighty Mite was intended to be a "disposable" vehicle, meant to last only a few hundred miles during USMC "in-and-out," short-term operations. It had plastic universal joints, offered little crew comfort or protection and was issued without a top. Provisions were later added for a tarp top and simple folding seat backs were added to mount over the rear fender wells. A spare tire was also added. It also had a pintle to haul a quarter-ton trailer.
The Mighty Mite served in Vietnam and many photos of it can be found on USMC veterans' websites. Most photos show them obviously "in the rear, with the gear" on firebases and in garrison. I have yet to see one in an out-in-the-bush "combat" role, but I keep looking.
By the late 1960s, the little vehicles were being scrapped or sold off to the civilian market. Because they were made mostly of aluminum, many Mighty Mites have survived way beyond their anticipated life span and have ended up in the hands of military vehicle collectors and restorers.
The KitPlus Model of the Czech Republic comes to the rescue of USMC model fans, as well as those of us who like to build something a bit different, with kit 294, the M442A1 Mighty Mite.
The multi-media kit comes in a corrugated box, 17.5cm X 12cm X 7 cm. Box art shows the built kit, nicely rendered, with photos of the windshield options, as well as the bottom of the vehicle. It includes 94 resin parts, a large sheet of photoetch brass parts, a vacuum-formed top canvas, clear resin headlights, a sheet of acetate for the windshield, a couple pieces of wire and a decal sheet. The parts are packed in seven sealed bags and are well-wrapped in bubble wrap to prevent damage in transit.
No bubbles were found in any of the resin parts. Only a couple parts had separated from the carriers in transit, but neither part was damaged, having broken off where they met the carrier.
The body comes with the frame attached and scales out well with my references. Flash is minimal on most pieces and carrier attachment points seem logical and I do not anticipate any problems removing the parts or cleaning them up.
The photoetch sheet is well laid out and contains many tiny bits to detail the model. Among the details is a weapon rack, which I have yet to find in a photo of a period or restored vehicle. Modelers might want to omit this detail and instead scratchbuild a fire extinguisher mount and flashlight clips, as seen in many Mighty Mite photos.
The kit gives the builder several choices. First off, there are two dashboards and two windshields. One is an early, simple square two-pane windshield with the wipers mounted below the glass. The second is an M38-style windshield with a rounded top and top-mounted wipers. Another choice is whether or not to use the wading gear.
The kit includes all options for a "fully-loaded" Mighty Mite. Resin and PE "rear seats" are included, as is the spare tire. If one chooses to model the vehicle without the spare tire option, it will be a chore because the mount is molded into the tailgate.
Also of interest is the vacuum-formed tarp top. Combined with PE parts and the wire, it looks pretty sharp in the kit's box art. I must, however, mention that the top seems a lot more common on restored vehicles than on in-country Mighty Mites.
Probably two-thirds of the parts in this kit go into the frame and suspension, which is rather intricate. The engine and drive train are also very nice and if someone wanted to detail the engine to be shown with an open hood, it would not be difficult. There are lots of photos on the Web that can help with this, as well as the G503.com forums.
The decal sheet covers four vehicles, none of which are identified by unit, location or date. They do match restored vehicles I have found on the Internet, but do not match vehicles I have found in "in-country" Vietnam photos, so it means modified or custom markings if I choose to do a Vietnam War Mighty Mite. Also, my decals were either damaged or were badly printed, as some markings have chunks missing.
The instructions are a 12-page booklet, lots of arrows and whatnot, but pretty clear. The markings instructions just point a decal number at a location -- with no idea what the final vehicle looks like. The instructions tell you to paint it "dark green." From the in-country pics I have found, it looks like the tarp top was OD and the body color was indeed dark green, but with a bit of shine to it, like many late 1950s, early 1960s vehicles showed. I may go with a semi-gloss.
mystery solvedSpeaking of the G503.com forums, the restorers and collectors there helped me clear up one of the "problems" I originally had with this kit. Many book references and on-line articles state that the Mighty Mite ran its exhaust through a tubular steel frame, but the kit has a square box frame and a separate exhaust system.
I thought that perhaps the original tubular steel frames had been destroyed by rust and that restorers had replaced the frames and exhaust systems with easier-to-obtain parts, i.e., a boxed frame and separate exhaust. I went to the Mighty Mite collectors and restorers for an answer.
According to the restorers and other experts on the G503 forum, the tubular exhaust frame did exist in the prototypes with the Porsche engine, but that all changed when the pre-production models had the AMC engine.
Verdict: The kit's frame and exhaust system are correct for a production vehicle.
ConclusionPlus Models comes through with a very nice kit of an interesting little vehicle. I look forward to building it.