RED-STAR WARS, The Umpire Strikes Back!

The T-54/55 in 1/72 scale, Part 1

  ACE vs PST vs ARMO

Yet ANOTHER in-the-box-review of these two recently released very popular plastic kits along with ARMO’s T-55A model in resin.


This spring of 2003, I have heard much pro and con regarding these two kits, some all in praise of the ACE version, some burying the ACE kit, and much criticism of PST’s offering.  My intent is not to bury either of them, or to try and make anyone feel bad for liking or disliking either one.  This brief, in box review I hope will be a comparison of the PST and ACE T-54/55 model features, and an introduction to two of ACE’s T-55 variants: the Iraqi Enigma upgrade and the Israeli Tiran 4/5 (a.k.a. Ti-67).  Overall, both of the PST models share most of the same parts so I believe that a review of one can be a review of the other. This also counts for ACE’s kits, all based on the T-55, though ACE included separate sprues of parts for each particular variant.  Part 2 of this will be a separate comparative construction review of the two plastic model kits.  Presently ACE offers over seven T-55 versions: the T-54A, T-55, Israeli Ti-67, Type 59 (Chinese copy of T-55), Iraqi T-55 Enigma, OT-55 Flamethrower, etc..  PST offers the T-54/T-54A and the T-55 versions, differing in the wheels included, turret and gun barrel.  Recovery vehicles based on the T-55 are also out there. 

ARMO Models also offers a T-55A in resin, the only T-55 in 1/72 scale I was aware of until the ACE and PST kits.

My goal in these three reviews is to help another modeler make a more informed choice in choosing his T-55 model, and to then help him build a better model by not encountering the same surprises and mistakes I did.


I like a little bit of history to help put a model in perspective and perhaps give inspiration for markings or for a diorama.

This vehicle began life after World War 2 as a progressive development of the T-44 tank idea.  The T-54 featured torsion bar suspension, a 100-mm gun from the Su-100, a low cast turret.  A good identifying feature of the T-54 was the lack of a bore-evacuator (which sucked propellant fumes out of the barrel), the spiderweb wheels similar to those on the T-34-85, and the turret roof vent just in front of the loader’s hatch.  The T-55’s most prominent identifying features are the 100-mm gun with bore-evacuator near the end, starfish-type roadwheels, no turret-roof vent.  Retrofits and repairs can make this advice mute though.

The T-54/55 had been under construction for over 20 years in the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and China (as the Type 59 & Type 69) and over 100,000 have been built.  It is, or has been, in service with dozens of nations.  Many nations such as Russia, Rumania, China, Slovenia, Israel and Iraq have done major rebuilds and modifications to their T-54/55’s.  The veritable plethora of T-54 and T-55 variants and modifications is too much to go into deeply here but I will mention some of my observations.  I’ve noted at least three types of sight ports for the main gun & machinegun ports, sometimes with a narrow ridge around the slot, sometimes a bulky frame as in the ACE kit.  (Armored glass protected the sight port opening so paint it accordingly).  Starfish wheels can be on the early T-54, and Spiderweb wheels on the T-55.  Some glacis plates have bars with bolts on them (for securing mine plows) some do not.  Engine decks can have a screen over the grill, or screen under a grill.  Some T-55 tanks have a bolt-on cupola for the gunner as well as for the commander.


ACE’s T-55 Enigma (Kit #72152) represents an resourceful Iraqi upgrade of this old AFV encountered by coalition troops in the 1991 Gulf War.  One was returned to the US and I understand resides at Aberdeen Proving Grounds; another is at Bovington, England.  The applique armor is composed of laminations of aluminum and one account I have heard is that it was amazingly effective against penetration by HEAT rounds such as the Milan and TOW missiles, though not effective enough against kinetic penetrating tank rounds.  The Enigma and the Tiran tank variants can be based on the Soviet T-55 or the Chinese Type 59 or Type-69 tanks.

ACES Tiran 4/5 (Kit #72157) represents an Israeli upgrade of captured Soviet tanks from their Arab allies in 1968 and 1973.  Ti-4 is for captured T-54’s and Ti-5 for captured T-55’s.  These can also be known as Ti-67’s (for Tank, Israeli, 1967 per one writer?) if armed with the 105-mm gun.  They can be found with the original 100-mm Soviet gun, or an Israeli 105-mm gun, which is a copy of the British & NATO L7 gun (the gun also found on some Chinese Type-59 and Type-69 tanks, which are Chinese copies of the T-55).


PST’s standard T-55 Model 1958 (Kit # 72046) and T-54 Model 1951 (Kit # 72045) have been covered in other in–box-previews so aspects of these kits will not be covered further here except in relation, or comparison to the ACE and ARMO model kits.  Please see my reference section below for links to other reviews, T-55 reference sites, and for related books.  All thre e plastic kits come in attractive boxes and the parts in plastic bags.  ACE’s bags are nice heavy Ziplock-type bags.

The ARMO T-55A (Kit # 72 026) represents a T-55 Model 1970 upgrade from the T-55 Model 1958 and incorporates NBC protection.  Actually with the machinegun added to the loader’s hatch it is the T-55A Model 1970.  The T-55A is most easily recognized by the anti-radiation shielding around the cupolas.  Generally a nice turret, the ARMO is missing a few rooftop fittings such as the two periscopes.  Perhaps these fittings can be shaved off and taken from the extra PST T-55 turret?  The ARMO T-55A is packaged in two plastic bags and a box.



Both ACE and PST have well laid out “exploded view” instructions showing the variation choices we have and what parts not to use.  Both kits come with some extra parts.  ACE adds new sprues for their plethora of variants.  Much of the parts for PST’s T-54, T-54A and the T-55 all come in each box, except the wheels are different between the T-54 and T-55 kits.  Above-left are the ACE Enigma instructions showing layout of the applique armor.  Above right are the instructions for the ACE Ti-67 with the extra storage bins and boxes, etc. 

The ACE Ti-67 came with water slide decals for three Israeli tanks (see scan of Ti-67 instructions above).  The Iraqi Enigma T-55’s photographed did not display markings and the model came with no markings at all.  Each of PST’s models come with markings for about five vehicles. (see  ARMO supplies no markings.  Application of the decals will be covered in Part 2.

Above are part of the instruction sheet for the PST T-54 model.  Note that in the instruction diagram that the turret shape appears rounder than the actual turret part in the kit, and the commander’s hatch is larger than that in the kit (more on the turrets later).  Overall the instructions are clear.  More discussion of the instructions and parts fit will be covered in Part 2, the Construction Review.

Above are the instructions for the ARMO T-55 A (a.k.a. T-55M).  ARMO’s instructions are not as complicated as the ACE and PST instructions but are also less confusing and are adequate.  You’ll note that rather than using separate links around the sprocket & idler, ARMO resins tracks wrap around the tracks after heating them in hot water.


Above are parts for the Enigma applique (add-on) armor, which generally has good detail.  There is a lot of flash in my kit, and the ACE plastic is soft and I found scratches on some parts.  The applique armor parts are well shaped and appear accurate except the side hull armor does look to be not thick enough (based on photos).  [I understand that molding the applique blocks their appropriate thickness would have lead to sinkholes.]  Assembly and fit of the ACE parts will be covered in Part 2, a construction review of the Ti-67 kit.

Above are the kit parts for the ACE Israeli Ti-67 variant.  Again, there is a lot of flash and details are a bit softer and less sharp than the PST parts.  At the far left is a dark green 105-mm gun barrel I stole from a Hasegawa M1 Abrams model kit.  Next to it is the white ACE 105-mm gun barrel still on the sprue.  You will notice that the Hasegawa barrel is finer and with sharper detail than the ACE offering.  Both the Soviet 100-mm gun barrel and the 105-mm gun barrel, and two sizes of rear stowage bins are included so as to build either version of the Tiran 4, Tiran 5 or Ti-67.  One source I read explained that the Ti-4 and Ti-5 both used the 100-mm Soviet gun and the smaller rear stowage bin; while the Ti-67 used the 105-mm and apparently used the larger rear stowage bin on the turret.  On ACE’s Ti-67 sprue, note the inclusion of browning 30-cal. And 50-cal. machine-guns.  These machine guns are well detailed.


Above is a scan of the green PST T-55 hull at far left, the white ACE T-55 hull in the middle, and the resin ARMO hull at far right.  All three appear to compare well in size and features.  There are some differences evident in the engine hatches, the size & design of the driver’s hatches (the ARMO driver’s hatch has a bulge of radiation shielding), and the front fenders.  With the great variations in small details in all the reference photos I have examined, I cannot point out any one that is incorrect or exaggerated.  For those interested I think this will entail a tape measure, calculator, and a half dozen real tanks to crawl over.

Make note that the turret ring of PST’s model is smaller than that of ACE’s model (the ACE model being more true to the real T-55 tank).  I’ve seen two photos of the T-54 turret being lifted off and the turret ring is clearly larger than what PST represents and more centrally located on the hull. This location and difference in size of the turret hole will prove to be a critical feature in later assembly!

PST has sharper detail, thinner plastic, and less flash.  PST offers a choice of separate engine decks, which also may allow future installation of an engine?  PST’s instructions tell us to cut 0.5-mm off each side of the separate engine deck to allow it to fit and I have heard criticism on the web about this obvious design error.  In defense of PST, ACE’s instructions tell us to move the location of the #2 and #4 torsion bar suspension arms to correct the model, an apparently similar design or molding error.  ACE also instructs us to move the drive sprocket further to the rear.

I have heard criticism of the PST kit’s detail accuracy.  At this time both hulls seem pretty similar except PST offers greater fidelity.  While not an expert on the T-54 & T-55 series like Zaloga and Cookie Sewall, I am overall reluctant to be concerned over minor detail differences of the models when compared with a particular reference photo or diagram.  Being the most mass-produced tanks of the 20th century by four Soviet factories, and by four or more nations, I would not be surprised if there were many variations in fender brackets, tools, lights, cupolas and weld seams, etc.

In the above photo you can see that the engine hatches on ARMO’s resin T-55A extend a bit farther forward than the engine decks of PST and ACE.  When assembling the ARMO model do not assume that the raised circle on the hull is the location of the turret center or we will have the same problem as with the PST turret & hull.  These two issues will cause problems with turret location when assembling.  Do not worry about the different driver’s hatch on the ARMO hull, this is the T-55 version with added radiation shielding and is accurate.  The fender-mounted fuel cells are notably deeper than those by ACE and PST.  Where with ACE and PST we must scratchbuild a headlight guard from wire ARMO gives us a thick though well-cast resin one.


Above are the two turrets included in the PST kit (T-54 and T-55 left to right) the white styrene ACE turret at the right, and the ARMO resin T-55M turret at far right.  ACE’s turret looks a bit rounder though overall sizes of the three turrets are about the same.  I have heard reviews that shape of the PST turret is incorrect and that ACE’s turret is truer.  In photos though, some turrets to me appear to resemble the turrets of both model makers.  I posed this question at a website forum.  Though I got no firm answers one way or another replies came back that the T-55 turret shape was a mature design by the time the T-55 entered production.  Steven Zaloga states that he has never noticed major differences in the basic shape.  He goes on to say that he does not know how many casting plants made the T-55’s turrets but this could be tracked by examining the turret stampings.  My illation on this, at this time, is that it does not look great for the PST turret though we do not yet know enough information to form a firm conclusion that its shape is incorrect. 

Interestingly, the ARMO turret appears to be a compromise of the ACE and PST shapes: more egg shaped than the ACE but more round than the PST turret.  Ace and ARMO has well-cast separate cupolas.  The ARMO T-55A (model 1970) commander’s cupola is the cupola with added radiation shielding for the commander.  This ARMO T-55A turret actually appears to be an upgraded Model 1958 turret with no radiation shielding around the loader’s cupola.  Make note that there are two periscopes present on the ACE, PST and real T-55 tanks that are not on the ARMO turret.  These will have to be added.  ARMO gives us the nicest looking AA machine gun.  The ARMO turret is missing two small spotlights that are on the T-55M turret, and the large infrared spotlight that is included does not appear accurate.  Fine looking lights may be borrowed from the PST and ACE kits.

One of the significant differences between the PST T-54 turret (far left) and the PST T-55 turret is that on the T-54 both hatch openings are supposed to have a cupola.  At least one vehicle reference stated that the T-55 gave up the loader’s cupola though I have seen many photos of T-55’s with a loader’s cupola.  PST’s molded-on rendition of the cupolas are a bit poor compared to ACE and ARMO; I feel this is the PST turret’s greatest drawback and PST should rework their molds to improve this.

Looking at the ACE turret from the side I feel the slope by the mantlet is too great and should be filed back at the bottom to make it more vertical.  As noted in earlier reviews, PST hatch openings need to be made larger if they are to be modeled open but this may cause other problems to be covered in the Construction Review.  ACE offers prominent weld seams on the turret roof while PST does not.  All four turrets feature dimples where the side grab handles should go.  Compared to the T-34-85 turrets, the surface texture of the T-54 and T-55 tanks was much cleaner and smoother.  The machine-gun port on the ACE turret, right of the main gun, appears too close to the mantlet area.


Below the turrets in the above photo are PST’s green plastic 100-mm gun barrels (with and without bore evacuator), the ACE 100-mm gun barrel with bore evacuator, the ARMO turned aluminum barrel, the tan resin ARMO 100-mm (warped) resin barrel.  At right are the dark green 105-mm L7 barrel, and ACE’s white 105-mm barrel below right.  I find PST’s gun T-55 barrel to be better shaped and more in-scale with the rest of the model and it appears ARMO thinks so too since their turned aluminum barrel matches the PST barrel almost exact.  It is odd that in ARMO’s T-55 model they give us an unusually long resin barrel rather than their aluminum gun barrel.  Doug Chaltry prefers the ACE gun barrel as being more appropriately scaled.  I agree with him as far as the PST T-54 barrel in being too tapered and thin at the muzzle.  The PST kit’s gun is designed to elevate while ARMO’s and ACE’s guns are static once installed.


Representative wheels from the PST and ACE kit are displayed above.  Keep in mind that my green PST roadwheels in the photo above are of earlier “Spider” type wheels of the T-54 which are similar to the late T-34-85 wheels.  The white ACE wheels are the “Starfish” type wheels of the T-55.  Still it is easy to see that the PST wheels are have crisper, sharper edges, little or no flash, and well-detailed idler and sprocket wheels.  True, the rubber tires on the PST roadwheels seem too thin; they should have bigger solid tires.  The ACE sprocket and idler are too simple and a bit misshapen (again, an unfortunately worn mold?).  These ACE wheels above are the new versions, replacing those originally offered when the kit was first marketed.  Visit ACE Model’s website for further information. 

ARMO’s roadwheels are very nicely molded and come with the torsion bars molded on the inside wheel.  The one drawback to ARMO’s starfish wheels is that they are lacking the smaller holes (see reference photos of the real T-54 below) that must be drilled one-at-a-time!  During a dry fit to the hull the rear four ARMO roadwheels all touched each other no matter how they were set!  Not good.

One wonderful trait common all three kits are the individual torsion bar suspension arms for each roadwheel.  This feature gives us the refreshing choice of articulated roadwheels that can follow the terrain of your display.  This is something I have longed for with ESCI’s tank kits having torsion bar suspension.

As far as items like the rear fuel drums, PST has the better offer with a realistic thin edge around the drumheads and fewer seams to clean up.

The tracks of both plastic kits are decently molded on the outside running surface.  The ACE T-55 kits do not offer inside surface detail such as hinge marks present on the PST tracks.  Doug Chaltry’s reviews have scans of the tracks so I will not duplicate them here.  I found the ARMO resin tracks to be the most accurate except for the inside surface-detail in which PST excels.

Interestingly, the Revell T-34-85 spiderweb pattern roadwheels are the same size as the PST spiderweb wheels and could be considered as a replacement for a little variation.  In one book I have seen a photo of a T-54 sporting what appear to be the T-34 solid Dish-style roadwheels mixed with Starfish and Spiderweb roadwheels; yes, all on the same tank and all the same diameter.  Oddly, the ARMO and Eastern Express T-34 Dish roadwheels are larger in diameter than the Revell, PST and ACE T-55 roadwheels so this integration of the three types doesn’t appear practical for us at the moment.  In real life the T-34 roadwheels are about the same diameter though are about 50% narrower.


PART photo-etched brass detail set (#P72114) for the PST model T-54 & T-55 though is undoubtedly suitable for the ARMO and ACE T-55 kits as well.  Comes with brackets, new fenders, fuel drums, storage boxes, etc.

ARMO Model Co. # 72 743.  Turned aluminum T-55, 100-mm gun barrel that appears to be based on the PST gun barrel. #AR72743 for the T-55.

Resinmaster Co. T34/85 Starfish pattern wheels #RM2R15.  Though made for the T-34-85, these may be suitable replacements for the ACE and PST T-55 wheels, or for an upgraded T-54.

Resinmaster Co. T34/SU85/SU100 Spiderweb wheels, # RM2R5.  Possible, suitable replacements for the T-54 wheels.

MIG Productions Modern Russian/Soviet AFV crew figures.  Good scale figures can add much to a model display to give the model a sense of scale and time.  These rersin figures are very well done.


I thank both ARMO, ACE and PST for releasing these kits and look forward to more versions.  Despite negative comments about both ACE and PST kits, I am pleased with and recommend all three model kits.  In conclusion I have to concede that: no, there is still no perfect T-54 or T-55 model in small-scale I know of (as of August 2003)

I have heard a lot of comments on limited run model kits like ACE’s, many negative. .  If we waited for perfect models only, we’d perhaps be stuck with nothing to build?  Like with a great 1/72 T-34-85, if we want a perfect T-55, be prepared to kit-bash, scratchbuild, and work with after-market resin and brass (and do not complain about the cost!). Doug Chaltry comments on limited-run models better than I can and Doug states: “…with an expression of gratitude to the many manufacturers out there who expend the time and effort to make limited-run model kits. They are doing us a service by making available to us kits of obscure and neglected model subjects. I wish these companies the best of luck, and hope that they continue to read our "most wanted lists" long into the future.”

Part 2  covers the clean-up, general construction and detailing, and corrections for the PST T-54 and ACE Ti-67 kits.


Above: T-54 at the US Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland, USA.  This tank I believe was captured from the Syrians by the Israeli’s and transferred to the US.  The driver’s periscopes are raised; when driving with his head out I have seen these periscopes lowered flush with the deck.  Note the small hole in the glacis plate at the lower left-hand corner of the photo; this is a fixed, bow mounted machinegun port that went out with the introduction of the T-55. (On some websites this particular tank at APG is mistakenly identified as a T-55.)  The (Infrared) driving light next to the driver’s periscope is not standard.  [Photos by Stephen Brezinski, 4/2003]

Above: good view of the exhaust outlet, drive sprocket, and left rear quarter.  I am not positive if the paint scheme is original though I suspect it is.  Note the detail of the rear fender & brackets, which closely match that of PST’s T-54 & T-55 hull.  The ACE T-55 has an extra fender bracket in the rear that matches that of other T-55 reference photos.

Above: photo of the right front quarter of the APG T-54 tank showing the front idler wheel and the starfish wheels which I understand are more typical of the later T-55.  Note the larger gap between roadwheels #1 and #2.

T-54 T-55 T-62, Steven Zaloga, Concord Publications (1992).  About the best English language reference book on this series of AFV’s.  Unfortunately it appears to be out of print just when a half dozen T-55 models are finally released!

THE SOVIET T-55(M) MEDIUM TANK, Cookie (Stephen) Sewall, IPMS/USA Quarterly magazine, Fall 1987.

TANK BATTLES OF THE MID-EAST WARS (2), Steven Zaloga, Concord Publications (1998).  A good, inexpensive softcover featuring photos and color profiles of Arab (Soviet) and Israeli AFV’s.

MODERN SOVIET COMBAT TANKS, Steven Zaloga, Osprey Vanguard 37. (1984)  An older, out of print softcover but still providing some interesting text, color plates and photos.  Gary Zimmer’s review of the PST T-55 at Sandman & Overlords Small Scale AFV Website.  Doug Chaltry’s in the box preview of the ACE T-55 model.  ACE Models website with fantastic library of reference photos.  Japanese language review of the PST T-55 kit.  Doug Chaltry’s discussion on Limited Run kits.  Superb article on the T-54 interior at Mike Kendell’s AFV Interiors website.  Information and photos of T-54 & T-55 tanks.  Website covering the T-54 tank.  T-55 and a T-55 Enigma at Bovington, England.