Military Vehicles Past and Present
by Ivan Delgado
images by Ivan Delgado and Doug Breithaupt

Military vehicles have been built as scale miniatures since the very beginning of the toy car industry. As time passes and the old makes room for the latest in the world of warfare, so the scale model industry follows upon, creating miniature pieces that constantly challenge current levels of detail and accuracy. In this article we will review the changes with time of five categories of military vehicles of the United States Army, in which several fine recreations in small scale are featured. These categories are the armored infantry transport, the light transport, the cargo truck, the helicopter and the tank.

Lately, toy car makers Matchbox, Johnny Lightning, Yat Ming and Maisto have given extra room in their lineups to military vehicles. Hot Wheels has fallen behind in the last years, being the Hummer (1993) the last military new release. Notwithstanding, Hot Wheels have produced some interesting military vehicles such as the Battle Tank, Big Bertha, Gun Slinger (Jeep), Command Tank, the Tank Gunner, Troop Convoy (2 1/2-ton. truck), Assault Crawler, and the Rocket Tank. Other miniature vehicle manufacturers with very notable military lineups are Guisval, Corgi and Dinky, but these have been widely available only in Western Europe.

During World War II, American soldiers were able to move long distances effectively with the half-track transport, the standard US Army personnel carrier of the period. This reliable troop carrier left its mark in history throughout Europe. After WWII it continued to serve many armies, including the Israel Defense Forces in most of its wars against Arab foe. In small scale the half-track is represented here by Johnny Lightning's remarkable M-3 anti-aircraft variant. This is a nicely executed collector's edition with amazing detail for such a scale. It includes a 50-caliber machine gun and mortar, rubber tires and tracks, and authentic wheels and marking. This model is a conversational piece and can quickly turn any non-military collector into one.

A modern version of an infantry transport is the LVTP7/X12 Amphibious Personnel Carrier (APC), used widely by the US Marine Corps. This vehicle can accommodate up to 24 Marines fully geared for combat. A year-2000 new edition of the APC has been released by Matchbox in 1:102 scale, painted in OD Green with tampoed "dirt" and unit numbering. As with most Matchbox vehicles, detail and proportions are quite good. This model has a movable plastic turret with a belt-fed .50 cal machine gun along side a small caliber machine gun. Tracks are cast as one piece with the plastic chassis, having small wheels on the underside.

Another infantry transport used widely in today's American armed forces is the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle. It is produced by Matchbox in 1:98 scale in two color versions, sand and OD green. Maisto also produces the Bradley in a rather larger scale. Both are good recreations worth a prominent spot in any military collection.

One vehicle that has captured the hearts of many, civilian and military alike is the venerable Jeep. In WWII, Korea and Vietnam it left its mark indelibly, with additional help from Hollywood of course. Most diecast manufacturers have recreated the Jeep in many forms. This vehicle, famous for its reliability and ruggedness was used in several variations and upgrades from early WWII, up to the 1980's, when it was slowly replaced by the Humvee (Hummer), manufactured by AM General. For our review we have selected a nice iteration of a military jeep by Galoob's Battle Squads collection. Even though the model is a very accurate plastic representation of the beloved Willy's MB Scout Jeep, it includes a very unrealistic, large caliber machine gun mounted in its rear deck. True, several versions of the MB were fitted with a rear-mounted Browning .50-cal. machine gun. But the gun in this model is too large and way out of proportion, meaning this vehicle was intended more for play than as collectible. Furthermore, Galoob also fitted this same machine gun to its Kubelwagen vehicle from the same collection (which also includes a British Ferret scout car). Nevertheless, Galoob's jeep features nice details such as authentic wheels and tires, a flip-down windshield, spare tire and water can. The combat pack includes scaled figures and (quite unrealistically) a towed gun that they call howitzer, but looks more like a 30-mm anti-aircraft gun.

Since the late 1980's the US Army uses the versatile Humvee for light transport duties. Our example of the Humvee is made by Matchbox. This configuration was very visible in the open desert fields of the Gulf War because it represents the M-1026/A2 Armament Carrier variation with the sloping, fiberglass canopy in the rear compartment. This is used to store a TOW missile gun, which mounts on the roof.

Maisto makes a cargo/troop carrier variation Humvee with a plastic cover. This model is typical late-Maisto, with the tinted windows to conceal the lack of detailed interiors. One interesting inaccuracy is the civilian name (Hummer) on its rear tailgate, when the US Army has a policy of not displaying brand names or civilian model designations on its military vehicles. Also, the US Army vehicle is officially referred to as Humvee, not Hummer.

Johnny Lightning by far produced the most accurate and collectible of all Humvee models, as part of their 6-vehicle Lightning Brigade Collection. This is the M-998 cargo version, painted in desert colors. It is somewhat larger than both the Matchbox and Maisto models, but much more realistic, including authentic wheels and tires, paint detail with unit identification, and a highly accurate molded chassis, displaying suspension, and engine. In none of the models just reviewed a front bumper winch was included.

The third military vehicle category featured is the cargo truck. In WWII the U.S. Army used the GMC 6X6-cargo truck in all theaters of operations from Europe to the Pacific. This vehicle is represented here by Johnny Lightning's excellent model. It features remarkable detail, tampoed unit designations, opening hood which shows the engine, rubber tires with spare, authentic wheels, pioneer kit, water tank and more. This is the kind of diecast that, due to its quality and attention to detail, motivates enthusiasts to start a new collection.

In modern times, the US Army uses the 5-ton M-923 A-1 Truck and its many variations to haul its cargo and troops. Maisto's model is a nice example, but has one major inaccuracy in its OD Green version by having the Army white star, not used since the Vietnam days. It has the typical Maisto 5-crown type tires, which detracts from an otherwise fine diecast. This model has a removable canopy, spare tire hoist assembly and an acceptable level of detail in the casting. A tanker version of this model, also by Maisto, is available.

Next we feature the helicopter, an indispensable means of defense in modern armed forces. For over 30 years the Bell UH-1 Iroquois (Huey) was the bread and butter of the US Army tactical and logistical airlift operations, first becoming famous in the jungles of Vietnam. Our example of the Huey is made by Yat Ming and comes from the Soldier Bear Military Playset, sold only at Army-Air Force Exchange Stores in military installations. This model is a 5-piece cast in metal with plastic parts and painted in jungle camouflage. It also features movable blades, of course. From the late 1980's on, the Huey was slowly replaced by the Blackhawk/Nighthawk. In diecast, we have two good examples of the Blackhawk, both by Maisto. One model is the MH-60K Nighthawk version in olive green, which includes drop tanks for greater range. Another version is the UH-60A version, painted in sand. It includes AGM-114 Hellfire missiles and unguided rocket pods. This is a larger model, included in Maisto's Air Force Collection.

Finally, but not least important is the tank. The armored behemoth that gives the army not only its edge on the battlefield, but also one of its most popular marketing (read recruitment!) tools. Today many adventure-hungry 18-year olders just can't resist the temptation of becoming operators of one of the most advanced and powerful combat vehicles in the world. In WWII, one of the most important tanks used was the M-4 Sherman Tank. This was the workhorse of US Army Armored units from Italy to the Ardennes. It was not the most powerful, advanced or had the strongest armor, but it was an overall superior tank whose ease of maintenance made a big difference in the lightning battles that took place throughout Europe. Afterwards, the M-4 served many armies around the world.

The M-4 Medium tank is represented by Matchbox's new introduction for the year 2000, in 1:92 scale. So far it has been produced in 2 variations of green, the more interesting of the two being the darker olive drab with the star and splattered "mud". Unit designations are also tampoed. Matchbox claims this model represents the M-4/A3 version, which after several upgradings saw action in the Korean Theater. It appears that this model combines the angular welded upper hull of the M-4/A3, but has the rounded, one-piece cast turret typical of the M-4/A1. The model features a 75mm gun, a 0.3-in. ball-mount machine gun, pioneer kit, gun-cleaning kit, side appliqué armor plates and spare tracks, all molded in the casting. The black, plastic underside features the original vertical volute spring suspension (VVSS), and a rear gate for crew entrance and escape. The turret is movable but the gun does not tilt.

In modern times the US Army goes to armored combat with the M-1 Abrams Main Battle Tank. This war machine is combat proven and clearly demonstrated superiority over Russian-built tanks in Desert Storm. Maisto, Matchbox and Johnny Lightning have all recreated the Abrams in diecast, but the model to review must the one by Johnny Lightning. This model pays tribute in a big way to those who served in the Gulf War. It includes a 120mm gun, a 12.7-mm anti-aircraft gun, and a 7.62-mm machine gun. However, the third 7.62-mm machine gun at the right of the main gun is not included. Nevertheless, the level of detail is amazing. It even includes a rear mounted power unit to be used when the main engine is off. The turret fully rotates and the 120 mm gun tilts. The model does not roll, clearly stating that it is not intended to be a toy.

Surprisingly, since the mission at Kosovo in the Balkans, the US Army has recognized serious limitations in the 70-ton Abrams tank, leading to the decision to develop a Light Armored Vehicle, capable of faster deployment, faster speeds, greater off-road agility and mounting a large-caliber gun. The 19-ton. LAV III interim vehicle, made by GM and General Dynamics seems to be the immediate answer to these requirements. In diecast, we have an early version of a LAV, which mounts a large caliber gun (possibly a 105-mm) on a turret. It is made by Yat Ming and marketed by Soldier Bear. In close examination one notices this version is quite unlike the Army's LAV in several aspects. The most prominent is the turret; the Army LAV's gun is mounted on a low profile, howitzer-type low recoil turret, while the diecast LAV features a round armored shell turret. The low level of detail from the casting, and that the model probably represents earlier Canadian, Australian or Saudi Armies LAV versions, are probably the causes for other differences. However, the top access doors, engine grills, and center tire gaps are clear indications that this model represents an original Canadian-built LAV. Yat Ming also produces an LAV Rocket launcher version. Hopefully we will be seeing new versions of the LAV III in the future from other manufacturers.

Collecting quality military vehicles in small scale has probably never before been easier and as affordable. Thanks to brands like Matchbox, Maisto, Yat Ming and Johnny Lightning, many new combat vehicles are becoming more available in small scale. Other brands such as Corgi and Dinky have produced over 100 military vehicles each, mainly from Western European armies, and very interesting as well as collectible. Unfortunately, these models are not available to most collectors in America. Many of us would like to see more military vehicles in diecast from Mattel. Or maybe several 5-pack featuring reissues of armored combat vehicles in real US Army desert, camouflage or OD-green colors.

Military vehicles might not be one of the most popular subject for collectors, but for those of us who relate in one way or another to modern warfare, it provides a very interesting pastime when trying to identify variations and upgrades in available miniatures. One advice I would give to anyone interested in collecting military vehicles is to avoid collecting models that are not produced in the real world. The fun about collecting military vehicles is to know the history behind the model, its variations, and uses.

For a list of military vehicles by manufacturer, click here.