In late 2011 Zvezda issued this 1/35 scale Soviet Motorcycle M-72 with Sidecar and Crew. This continues their quite adventurous subject matter as far as WW2 is concerned, is another example of their giving equal consideration to both German and Russian subjects, and balances out their BMW R12 motorcycle combination from 2009.
In fact, the M-72 has both a Russian and German origin. The highly successful BMW R-12 had been produced from 1935, originally as a civilian road bike, and although adopted by the German armed forces, it was eventually replaced by the military-spec R75. Between the R12 and the R75 however, was an interim BMW, the R71, of which only 3500 were built. This is the bike that found its way to the Soviet Union as a by-product of the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939, or more precisely, as a result of one of the subsequent trade agreements in which the USSR received both finished products and designs of German engineering in exchange for agricultural produce and industrial raw materials. When manufactured in Soviet factories, this bike was designated the M-72.
All of the above bikes are shaft-drive 750cc flat twins, but comparing the specs it seems that the M-72 was much closer to the old R12 in terms of power output, weight and frame type, than the R75, which was a bigger, heavier and more powerful bike with wider tyres and a massive fuel tank. The M-72 did at least have both front and rear suspension, whereas the R12 had been a hardtail.
First produced in 1941, the bike was built at various plants but remained in production at Irbit, Siberia, in more or less the same form right through to 1955. Updated versions of essentially the same machine were built until the early 1960s in the Ukraine, and in China, where it is known as the Chang Jiang 750, for several years after that. It is probably therefore possible to use this model, perhaps with some modifications, in scenarios other than WW2, such as Korea, or practically any Communist military context, probably up to the 1970s. As a result of the large numbers produced over many years, there are certainly plenty of surviving and functioning examples around now, and it probably isnít that hard to buy one. Motorcycles are of course simple and cheap to maintain compared to other vehicles, and inspire an especially devoted following, consequently there is a great deal of information available on the web to aid in building this model. Some references are included at the end of this review.
The kit is of a motorcycle with sidecar and comes with four different crew figures, and some other optional parts, so that either a combat or a "recreational" scenario may be represented. The kit came packed in a very sturdy corrugated wall box, but no plastic bags, and unfortunately somewhere on the long journey, Russia to USA to England, a little damage was sustained to a couple of delicate parts. This is also an end-opening box, which means you need to take care when unpacking and repacking.
The kit is 138 parts of tan polystyrene, including a small decal sheet that allows for two different options to be built (though no details are given as to what they represent), on four sprues, roughly divided so: 1) frame, engine and wheels, 2) the cycle parts, 3) sidecar, weapons and combat figures, and 4) the rambunctious boozing and singing figures are kept to a sprue all of their own.
Building the kit
I have so far built the kit in terms of completing all of the sub-assemblies, but am intending to do a good deal of the painting prior to final assembly. I did however follow the basic sequence of the instructions, and so we start with the nice simple engine case and oil sump in step 1. Step 2
adds the cylinder blocks either side with the crank case on the front, and though the fit is all very positive, you can see a little gap where the gear box and clutch fits on the back. The cooling fins are quite finely moulded, the little mould seam down the centre of the cylinder head fins can be left as theyíll be mostly hidden by the valve/rocker covers that sit on top. The instructions want you to add these valve covers in step 3
but I left them off for separate painting; the visible holes are for the bolts which fix them to the finned cylinder heads which are also finned laterally, giving a distinctive open appearance, so you want to make sure the heads are properly painted underneath the valve covers. Carburettors, kick starter, gear lever and neutral selector were however attached at this stage. The angle of the neutral gear selector is a little hard to get from the instructions, but hopefully is clear in the photo, likewise the position of the gear lever and the kick starter, which sits at the back of the engine.
is a busy stage of sub-stages, starting with the horn attaching to the rear frame member (with integral battery), then the rear shocks to the left and right hand frame members. The front forks are moulded in one piece which gives a sturdy base for that big front mudguard, which will need some work to eliminate the central join line; the stays all connected up nicely. The rear mudguard and fuel tank require similar care to remove the joins, but again the parts all fitted together well, including here the rear rack and drive shaft. The frame and forks come together in the main part of this stage and itís a little tricky in that you need to hold the forks in position against one side of the frame while attaching the other frame half; I achieved this by wedging a cocktail stick into the top of the forks thus pinning the frame half in place and allowing me to apply cement to the other half and get it in position without gluing the forks themselves. Though you may not want the toy-like feature of moveable front forks once complete, it comes in handy during construction, painting and final positioning of figures etc.
Turning the now bike-resembling model upside-down we are asked in step 5
to mount the engine and drive shaft into the frame, but I only dry fitted at this point, wanting to paint the engine separately from the bike, the same going for the rear mudguard and fuel tank at step 6. Step 7
is the assembly of the twin exhaust pipes, which are joined together by a balance pipe; while the join was still soft they were lined up dry against the engine to ensure that theyíll fit the exhaust ports on the cylinder heads. Donít be tempted to attach them to the engine if you havenít mounted it in the frame yet!
The front and rear wheels are identical, assembled at step 8
, with the sidecar wheel at step 9
featuring a bolt head on one side instead of a straight-through axle. Wheel construction is in two straight halves, and there is a fair bit of delicate cleaning up to be done if you want to get a flash-free and sufficiently thin appearance to the spokes; obviously care needs to be taken not to whittle too much away, nor to break any spokes in the process. As for the join seams around the tyres, I gave them a fairly heavy going over until a more squared profile was achieved; conventional bike tyres have a more rounded profile than a car tyre due to the need to lean round bends, but with a sidecar attached thereís no leaning, and the tyres fitted will be squarer and will certainly wear that way. Again, these werenít attached at this stage, but put to one side. This stage also calls for the fitting of the centre stand; now I may be wrong, but I donít believe that a bike built in the factory for the purpose of attaching a sidecar would have such a thing, although it is possible that the bike and sidecar were manufactured in separate factories prior to attachment, and so there was a need for the bike to be able to stand up on its own. In any case, I left it off.
The sidecar frame, suspension and mudguard are assembled in step 9.
My rear mudguard had suffered a little damage in that the rear attachment member had snapped off and gone missing somewhere, but the parts sit so closely together that it isnít too noticeable and I havenít yet decided whether to replace it or not. In the photo some Blu-tac is keeping the bike and sidecar frame in alignment for a dry run, the attachment points all met up and provided a good and definite connection. Also at step 9
is the assembly of the headlamp, and it can be seen in the photo how the part doesnít quite resemble the drawing in terms of the mounting being rather short, which creates a problem when you try to attach it to the forks.
sees the attachment of the tank locker cover, rear saddle mount and the left hand foot pegs, while the saddles themselves were assembled, but put to one side rather than attached. The sidecar itself is the subject of steps 11
and while it goes together easily there are a few issues to note. The right and left outer walls sandwich the nose and you are left with pretty noticeable and thick side walls visible around the nose; photos suggest a more smooth appearance, although good quality close-ups do suggest the real thing is constructed in a similar way, but with a much thinner and less noticeable, albeit not perfect, weld at the joint. Iíd suggest that the machine gun mount socket is left off until these joins are dealt with as it will be in the way of any brisk sanding. Another issue is that the join line running the length of the floor is quite noticeable and I had wondered about the lack of any apparent detail on the floor, such as the duck boards that I recall being in my Tamiya R75 sidecar. Here there is just the join and the ridge which contains the front frame member. Photos indicate that the floor is in fact just smooth metal, with no tread pattern, the ridge over the lateral frame member is correct and should be accompanied by two pairs of mounting bolts on each side of the ridge, and on each side of the car, while the central join line should be eliminated. Note that the top rear cover is in reality an opening storage compartment door and so the join should not be completely filled in. I left the seat pads out at this stage.
Returning to the part of step 9
where the sub-assemblies come together: a couple of overlong 0.5mm rods were attached over the vestigial headlamp mounting bolts; while that was setting, the sidecar and bike frames were cemented. The headlamp mounts were then trimmed down closer to their real length and the unit attached to the brackets on the forks. Once set, the mounts were trimmed down further, and later Iíll add a hex bolt to either side. Thatís as far as I have got with building the bike itself, most of the sprues are now empty, and it is a series of sub-assemblies waiting for some further clean up prior to primer and paint.
As mentioned already and apparent from the back box art, the kit comes with four figures. The combat pair wear helmets, the rider coming with a choice of hands that can be married up to the bare handlebars, or there are also handlebars with hands already moulded in place, for an extra close grip. What I believe is a PPS submachine gun is provided to be slung over the riderís body, along with a magazine pouch. The helmeted sidecar passenger is depicted aiming a DP machine gun with the usual pan magazine, mounted into the sidecar socket via a bracket that receives the bipod; as with the handlebars there is a choice of separate trigger hand and gun, or another weapon that has the hand moulded on. The faces of these two figures are nicely represented as being creased by grim determination. I canít vouch too much for the accuracy of the weapons, although bear in mind that they are just one piece of moulded styrene, and no doubt there are aftermarket alternatives if required.
I have so far only assembled the other pair, which wear pilotka side caps and look to be celebrating not so much a lull in the fighting as the end of it all. The rider leans forward, cup in one hand, looking quite serious as he pours what could only be vodka into another tin cup resting on the sidecar, while his comrade is in full voice, accompanying himself on a nicely detailed accordion that may provide an interesting painting challenge. To me these figures look quite natural and in proportion, and the parts fit together well, although as seems common, the detail on the clothing is softish. I have only semi-cleaned up the figures, and the heads are only tacked on so that I could pose them on the machine for the photos and to get the positioning of the limbs correct. I suspect the rider will need some work on his posterior in order to get him to sit down convincingly on the saddle Ė his feet will need to reach the foot pegs for one thing. I also wanted to check out how much of the floor of the sidecar is obscured by the occupantís legs, and the answer is not all of it.
This has been a fun kit to build so far, with no problems encountered and parts fitting together very well. If youíre a 1/35 scale only modeller, but fancy a break from big vehicles, this is maybe more like building braille scale and will only take a few evenings to put together in this basic form. Then again with two figures and all the scope there is for adding details such as brake and plug cables, you could well find yourself wiling away quite a few more evenings. I think it represents great value, being available in the UK for around £10. The figure choices add real interest and no doubt the partying pair will prove to be popular as they drink to their relief at having survived, and look forward to returning home.
Who knows, perhaps he is singing "Katyusha"...
"Let him remember an ordinary girl,
And hear how she sings,
Let him preserve the Motherland,
Same as Katyusha preserves their love."