Being nearly as popular in the British and Commonwealth armies as the Jeep was in the American army the Universal, or Bren, carrier from Tamiya makes a nice little addition to an allied collection.
The Universal Carrier came about to give the British soldier an all track vehicle for carrying the squad’s machine gun, as well as other equipment. Several versions of the basic carrier design were developed over the years. A good history of the carrier can be found at http://www.universalcarrier.org/history.html
Tamiya has chosen to make the Universal Carrier three times over the last two decades. The original kit, 35089, came out some time in the mid seventies as a desert vehicle. This was at a time when about the only British kits available were those that served in the Desert. It was apparently updated as the European version, kit 35175, in the late seventies. Finally the version of this review, 35249 Forced Recon, came out in 2001. Except for the color of plastic, and the figures included, I can find no information that anything else has been changed in these kits. While kit 35089 has figures wearing desert shorts, and 35175 has figures wearing northern European uniforms in relaxed poses, the forced recon kit has them in the northern European uniforms in tense, “forced” posses.
What’s in the box? The Forced Recon version of the Universal Carrier includes the carrier itself, several accessories such as storage boxes, a pack, canteen, and the like. Also included are three versions of a Bren gun. One has the tripod folded and a large elevating mount, another an open tripod to put on the AA pole mount, and a third to go on the sidewalls. Also included are two Enfield rifles, and a pistol. All together there are five figures, two older ones in desert shorts, molded in the same green as the kit, and the three newer ones molded in gray plastic that have been added to the Forced Recon set. These include a driver, a gunner, and a radio operator. I have chosen not to show these figures, since I haven't quite gotten the hang of figure painting yet.
The kit itself assembles easily. I put mine together in about 3 hours and found no problems with assembly. One thing to watch for is to wait to glue the front plate of the forward fighting compartment in place until after you’ve mounted the figures. It’s quite a bit harder to try to fit the driver and gunner in once the plate is in place. I found no major problems with fit or finish, and the plastic was easy to work with. The kit contains the newer style of “rubber band” type tracks that can be glued. Personally I have no problem with these tracks, though I’ve seen several people mention how bad they were. Decals are typical Tamiya quality, meaning they are fairly thick, but good quality. Being used to American armor I found the decals to be a bit more colorful in their unit markings.
The earliest kit, 35089, is apparently out of production. Lucky Model, www.luckymodel.com has it for $12.92. The second kit, 35175, is available from the same source for $9.99. Finally 35249 are listed there for $11.99. To me I can find no reason to buy the older 35089 kit since the two figures from it are included in 35249. The forced recon kit is worth the extra money since it has five figures, instead of the three from the middle kit. With the dearth of British figures on the market it’s almost worth the price of the kit to get the three figures from it.
If you’re interested in taking the kit to a further level Steve Zaloga has written a good article for the Boresite, the newsletter of AMPS. http://www.amps-armor.org/Boresight/article-03.asp
In it he shows how you can upgrade the kit using scratch building techniques as well as a resin conversion kit.
I liked this little kit. I found it a fun build and a kit that can be personalized to your own tastes. It can fit in a diorama anywhere from Italy to Northern Europe, or you can even use the desert figures provided to put it in North Africa. For fans of Allied armor I’d consider it a must have.