Marui 1/35 Mercedes-Benz G4/W31 (OOB)

In the ‘90s, if you wanted to show how pimp you were, you got yourself a Hummer. Before it was a commercial brand, having a Hummer meant literally having an army transport and driving it around. If you had a Hummer you showed you were bigger, better and badder than any other car or truck on the road. This thing was military grade, from the massive I-beam frame and external support on the doors to the truly massive tires and rims. The Hummer oozed machismo and announced to the world not to mess with you in terms that a punch-in-the-face would find rather brash and impolite. At the time, it seemed that this was a new height of ridiculousness.

Well, it was ridiculous, but it wasn’t new. In fact, long before Hummers, G-Wagons and other large, rugged military hardware became something of a status symbol, another hardy military-spec vehicle had already trod the same ground. This vehicle was the Mercedes-Benz G4/W31.  The G4 was a six-wheel-drive staff car that weighed in at over 8000lbs. It originally had an 8-cylinder, 5.0L engine delivering about 100hp, although later variants had larger and slightly more powerful engines. The first were delivered in 1934 for the German Wehrmacht for use as staff cars. Eventually, many were used by Adolf Hitler and the SS for parade and inspection duties.

The G4 really was the “first Hummer”. Its extended body could seat 7, and they were armoured and extremely strong. They had excellent cross-country ability, although they were very expensive and thus rarely served near the fronts. They were slow; top speed was about 40mph, but this was because the tires were so aggressive for off-roading that they couldn’t take going any faster! In many ways, the G4 is like a mid-‘30s Mercedes 540K on steroids and Red Bull. It has all the hallmarks of the graceful Mercedes-Benz cars of the era (the beautiful grille and distinctive shell with tri-pointed-star hood ornament; lovely flowing fenders, side mount spare tires and a convertible top), just amped up! Perhaps the most vivid example is the side mounted spares; rather than artistic and colourful white walled tires, they are aggressively treaded off-road brutes, although still with a nice chrome holder in the middle. If that doesn’t spell dichotomy, I don’t know what does!

Because this vehicle is closely associated with Hitler, it has long been a source of fascination for modellers and historians alike. Like Hitler, the car is almost cartoonishly larger-than-life, and it tries to exude supremely cultured finesse, all the while only barely veiling the savagely blunt military nature of its core. It’s a mailed fist in a velvet glove, and it’s both stylish and brutish by turn. Given the vehicle’s dichotomous nature, it has been the subject of numerous kits over the years. There are several excellent newer issues from CMK and Revell Germany, so interest in this behemoth hasn’t waned.

However, to me, both of those new kits are too complicated for what I want. I just want Hitler’s Jekyll-and-Hyde parade car without a lot of fiddly bits and extra work. I want something that looks the part without making me spend forever minutely recreating every inch of it. The question then, is this: Is there a curbsider of this monster somewhere? The answer, of course, is yes! To find it, one only has to travel back in time to the 1970s and get a hold of the 1/35 Marui kit. This is not as easy as it sounds, but I recently managed to do just that! (Get the kit, that is, not travel back in time…)

So, put on your parade uniform and spit shine those boots. Let’s see how the Japanese in the ‘70s interpreted the Fuhrer’s extraordinary rolling review stand!

The Box:

The box is actually a lot like an old Tamiya armour kit box. The art consists of a white background with the subject matter right in the middle of it. There is a lot of writing at the top of the box; Japanese on the left and English on the right. Thus, even if you don’t know Japanese, you can tell exactly what the subject of this kit is.

The drawing of the car is surprisingly gritty and engaging given it is completely without context. The art is visually very heavy, a lot like the work on old Matchbox plane boxes. It almost looks like you could reach out and feel the weight of the paint on the box lid. The neat thing is that it shows the car doing what it does best; acting as a rolling podium for Hitler himself. Standing in the front seat is Der Fuhrer, giving his recognizable salute, while looking appropriately stony-faced. Riding in the back are various officers in various uniforms; two in black, one in brown and one in a bluish grey.  The car itself is in a peaceful shade of tan with black fenders, and the top is down.

The entire illustration is made more powerful because of the people in it. There’s no guessing what this car is for. Unlike the art on the boxes of the newer kits, this isn’t just some random staff car that COULD be Hitler’s. It’s not just that there are some guys there that COULD be Hitler and what appear to be Himmler and their lot. NO. It is UNEQUIVOCAL that this is a kit of HITLER’S car, and that he and his closest cronies are enjoying a nice propaganda drive, spreading a mix of fear and awe wherever they go. The peaceful colors of the car are in stark contrast to its barely camouflaged military purpose, and the easy-going poses of the Nazi higher-ups in the back seats add the final dimension to a barely cloaked malevolence.

This is the Nazi version of a Sunday Drive. the box art is stark and powerful while still classy, much like the G4.

This is the Nazi version of a Sunday Drive. The box art is stark and powerful while still classy, much like the G4.

If you can’t get enough of this art, then you’re in luck, because it’s repeated on all sides of the box, as well as in black and white at the top of the instructions. Unfortunately, the colour seems to be a bit off, since the faces of the people are a bit greenish, especially Hitler, making him look more like a demon than a man. Is this intentional, or a function of age? I leave that to sociologists, head-shrinkers and printing professionals everywhere.

One interesting note; despite everything I said above, the car depicted may not BE one of Hitler’s actual cars! The colour scheme does match one given to General Franco by Hitler. However, the plate, WH-37925 matches one of Hitler’s cars; it was light grey with black fenders and grey wheels. Maybe the Fuhrer was just being a good neighbour and testing it out for Franco. I mean, Franco let Hitler test Germany’s planes and other weapons, so it only makes sense in a way, right? It could also be that the artist got it wrong. Either way, Franco should dun the Fuhrer for depreciation.

The Kit:

The model is everything you’d expect of a Japanese car kit. It is indeed a curbsider and comes beautifully packaged; most racks are in one plastic bag, the body and chassis in a separate bag and then there are a couple of loose racks containing figures and wheel backs/chassis bits. The body is in a separate cardboard ‘pit’ as well to keep it safe. Between the body and the rest of the parts are the wheels, gearbox and some small metal bits and wires. “Gearbox?” you ask. Yep. It did say it was motorized right on the box lid, and they weren’t kidding. Tokyo Marui Toy Co. is also into making trains and R/C cars, so it’s no surprise that this kit has an actual gearbox. The only thing it doesn’t come with is… a motor. You have to buy that yourself. Well, you might, but I don’t. As Sheldon Cooper would say: “Neener, neener!”. You see, someone already went and did that for me. So, if I wanted to make this behemoth motorized, I could do it.

The Japanese get how to package car kits. Note the separate compartment for the body and the nicely packed tires and Gearbox. Yes, that IS the required motor in there!

The Japanese get how to package car kits. Note the separate compartment for the body and the nicely packed tires and Gearbox. Yes, someone put the required motor in there!

I assume that the gearbox is for delivering the slow, torque-heavy performance one would expect from such a vehicle. After all, a Mabuchi Baby motor isn’t really a slow turner. Sadly, this gearbox is an integral part of the kit. It’s large, clunky and not at all accurate. I wish that it was an option, and that there was a more realistic setup that could replace it. However, this is the price I pay for wanting a simpler kit. The good thing is, if you prime it and paint it black, it’ll be hard to see. That’s about all it has going for it.

Here's everything in the box. The two racks for figures and the one of mechanical bits aren't bagged, at least in my kit!

Here’s everything in the box. The two racks for figures and the one of mechanical bits aren’t bagged, at least in my kit!

Situated between the body and the rest of the bags are the eight tires. These are deliciously knobbly, and look aggressive and noisy, just like they’re shown in the box art. It’s nice that the side mount spares are actual tires, too; not just plastic look-alikes!

Yum! These tires look delicious, like evil black licorice Life Savers.

Yum! These tires look delicious, like evil black licorice Life Savers.

The pieces all look nice with only a minimum of flash. Typical of even newer Japanese car kits, the detail is not up to what MPC would provide in terms of detail and surface finish on things like floors, seats and the soft top, but it’s not terrible. The body and chassis are clean and fit together very well in the bag. The hood is separate so that you can put the motor into it if you wish.

Here's the underside of the "body bag". There's not much detail under there, but it's enough for me!

Here’s the underside of the “body bag”. There’s not much detail under there, but it’s enough for me!

There is also a chrome rack for the grille and window frames, as well as things like the headlights and spare tire mounts. The chrome looks well done, but alas, there will be small blemishes where it is cut off the rack and requires sanding. I may strip the entire rack down and then re-chrome with Alclad Chrome once I’m at that stage. The single non body-related bag contains the chrome, glass rack and clear parts. It also contains the decals, with the two fender pennants being very prominent. If it’s not prominent enough, then you can look to the label at the top of the bag, where the fancy Nazi standard is reproduced.

Here's the other bag in the box; note the decal sheet in with the parts. Note the preponderance of Swastikas, too! Won't see that on the Revell Germany, that's for sure!

Here’s the other bag in the box; note the decal sheet in with the parts. There is a preponderance of Swastikas, too! Won’t see that on the Revell Germany kit of the G4, that’s for sure!

That’s one nice thing about this kit, it doesn’t shy away from history. Unlike the newer kits with their red square, white circle, black diamond flags, this model goes all-out with the Swastikas (technically Hakenkreuzen).  If you’re offended by this symbol, DO NOT buy this kit. Just as Hitler made sure this symbol was on everything, so too does this kit. Let’s face it; the G4 was a rolling personification of German pride and aggression. It was a car for the Germans to see their leader in, it’s not a surprise it’s going to be decked out in the symbol the Nazis chose for their Reich.

The figures don’t look too bad, although they’re not up to modern standards. It’s hard to tell Hitler is Hitler, so I’m glad he’s moulded standing. The other Nazis are, to my eyes, rather non-descript. If anyone out there knows who the guys in the car are supposed to be, please email me and let me know.

This is Hitler, apparently. Not the best figure, but with some paint and attention to detail, he should be fine.

This is Hitler, apparently. Not the best figure, but with some paint and attention to detail, he should be fine.

Instructions and Decals:

The decal sheet, other than having the two pennants, is pretty small. It’s got a couple of licence plates and that’s about it. I have no idea if the decals will still work, given the kit is 40-ish years old (as of writing). I’ve never built Marui kits, so your guess is as good as mine as to the original quality of the decals, too. The printing is in register, but it isn’t all that fine. Also, the red looks a bit too orangey, but maybe it will look better once the decals are folded over themselves. Personally, I think I’ll scan the decals and use paper for the pennants.

The instructions are printed on a single sheet of paper. It’s very large and unfolds in quarters. Oddly, there’s no printing on the back of the sheet; they used twice as much paper as they could have! Of course, the instructions are also very thin, and almost newsprint-like in its apparent frailty. Opening them up on a modelling table is going to cause space issues; you’re best to keep the sheet folded at least in half!

Here's page one of the instructions.

Here’s page one of the instructions.

The instructions are very clear and I was surprised to see English on them. Maybe this is an export kit? Regardless, the little tips are very good and easy to follow. The wiring required for the motorization is shown, and it is also quite clear. I do like that they camouflage the on-off switch under the trunk/boot area, and that the motor is indeed under the hood! There’s also a parts breakout in the Japanese tradition. I do love this, and I wish everyone would do it. When  buying an unsealed kit second-hand, it sure makes life easier for both buyer and seller!

Here's page two. Note the parts list at the top of the page!

Here’s page two. Note the parts list at the top of the page!

Despite the overall positive impression I have of the instructions, there are a couple of English issues on them. I particularly like that this is a “Garman Stuff Car”. What the… Yep. It’s a “Garman” vehicle, alright, those Swastikas give it away. As for the stuff, I guess it’s made of stuff, so yeah, that’s cool… Clearly, they mean “German Staff Car”.  The instructions mention that this is No. 1 in the series; it is, but it is also the only one, as far as I can tell.

Hey, you want a car for some Garman stuff? Have I got just the thing for you!

Hey, you want a car for some Garman stuff? Have I got just the thing for you!

As for funny spellings, there’s one more: The model comes with the usual tube of “Japanese Mystery Cement” (JMC). I’ve often wondered what this stuff is, but never been brave enough to find out. Of course, it’s likely all dried up, too. The best part is the label that Marui applied to the box, indicating the presence of the JMC. It says “Sement”. Oops. Sticky…

Yep. Sement. That's all I can really say about that.

Yep. Sement. That’s all I can really say about that.

It’s NOT Tilt, for the love of God!!

Trying to look this kit up online isn’t that difficult, given that it is a pretty old and obscure kit. However, there’s one thing that I found that made me shake my head. In fact, it’s still shaking. What I found was that the company that is credited with producing this kit is named as “Tilt”.

Tilt.

Yeah, like on a pinball table. And just like on said arcade amusement, when you see “tilt” you’re screwed.

Why?

I ask myself the same question. But I ask “WHY would anyone think the maker is called Tilt?” Sure, it’s odd enough to be a Japanese company name, I’ll give you that. However, right on the instructions, it says the kit is made by Tokyo Marui Toy Co. Ltd.  You can’t even get TILT as an acronym!! So, where did it come from? Several reviews online credit “Tilt” as the maker. Even Scalemates.com does it!

It took me a bit to figure it out. Then it hit me. If you look at the blue logo on the box, beside the Mercedes-Benz writing, there is a symbol. It’s an oval with two overlapped circles in it, and some kind of symbols or letters inside it.  The last letter could be a “T”, I see that. The second last letter could be a stylized “L”. Okay. I don’t know what’s with the weird proportioning, but I will give the “Tilt Faction” this. The second letter is a thin vertical line. It could be an “I”. But why is it so thin? Weird.

The first letter, well… that’s not even a letter! People have interpreted it as a capital “T”, but the last letter is also a “T”, and looks to be capitalized. The first letter doesn’t look anything like it. What kind of deformed “T” has a ball at the bottom of it?  I can barely see how, if you didn’t know any better, you could see that maybe, just maybe, the maker was “Tilt”.

If you're high, then I guess you can see "Tilt" in that blue oval's writing. Stil, it looks odd. Oh, wait! Look at the first three symbols in the Japanese above!

If you’re high, then I guess you can see “Tilt” in that blue oval’s writing. Stil, it looks odd. Oh, wait! Look at the first three symbols in the Japanese above!

However, it isn’t. The letters in the symbol aren’t English letters. Why would they be? This is a JAPANESE kit! The “letters” are the Katakana for “Ma”, “Ru/Lu” and “i”. Together, they spell… Marui! What a shock, just like it said on the instructions! On the box, there’s more Katakana above the symbol. The first word is “Marui” – and if you look, you can see the similarities between it and the enovalled letters below. Further proof: On the instruction sheet, above the same oval symbol, is the English translation of what’s found on the box. Unsurprisingly, it says  “Marui Plastic Model”.

See how it says "Marui" first? Maybe it's a translation of the symbols on the box? Huh...

See how it says “Marui” first? Maybe it’s a translation of the symbols on the box? Huh…

I’m really quite surprised that no one has thought to correct this mistake  in all the years that this kit has been around.

So, if anyone asks, you can tell them with certainty that “Tilt” never made a single kit of anything, but Marui certainly did. If what I say isn’t proof enough, then check out Marui’s current logo. Maybe they got tired of the “Tilt” name and decided they’d better go English?

"Tilt this!" The folks at Marui got tired of being on an angle. This is their current symbol. Why would they change their name? ;)

“Tilt this!” The folks at Marui got tired of being on an angle. This is their current symbol. Why would they change their name? 😉

Conclusions:

The G4 is a very unique and specialized vehicle, and it makes a neat addition to any WWII display, be it armour-themed or not. I do like that the kit comes in a traditional armour scale, although I have no other armour in scale to it, it is in scale to my Italeri Biber midget sub, and that’s cool. If you’re an armour fan, then I’m sure you will have some 1/35 stuff, and this will fit right in.

This isn’t the best kit of the G4 going. It’s overly simplified and is hugely slaved to its gimmick. That being said, if you want a “driveable” G4, this is the only game in town. For those who want nuts-and-bolts accuracy, this model is not going to cut the mustard. However, it’s better in shape and outline than the 1/72 Hasegawa, and it is nice that the pennants have the proper national markings on them.

For someone like me, who wants a nice looking, even if not supremely detailed, replica of this automotive oddball,  the Marui hits a home run. There’s enough fiddly stuff on it to keep me busy, but I’m hoping that it won’t drive me crazy. The detail is minimal, but the overall effect should be almost as good as if it was a far more meticulously moulded kit.

I don’t think this would be a good kit for beginners or even those new to cars/military vehicles. Despite its apparent simplicity, there will be enough issues just with the powertrain and some of the ‘30s-era fiddly bits to make this model a challenge. Given the apparent rarity of the kit, it would be ill-advised to let it be the cause of someone’s frustration and perhaps suffer an ignominious fate in a moment of modelling rage.  I am going to say let’s keep this one for the experienced builders.

So, it all comes down to what you want. Do you want the best? Go elsewhere. Do you want something that’s got some historical charm as well as proper markings as well as a figure of Hitler and company? If so, then this kit will do the job nicely!

The G4 is the original civilian military machine. For that alone, it’s an awesome thing to have a kit of. I’ve wanted a kit of it for ages, and now I have one. The fact that it’s got so much character is even better. I personally love this kit, and I loved finding out that it wasn’t made by a company called “Tilt”!

 

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