The WLA motorcycle is a classic Harley-Davidson designed to a US Army specification for use by messengers. There is a ton of reference out there that describes the bike, its development, and its history far better than anything I can summarise here.
For ages the only real option in 1:35 was the ancient Tamiya kit, with a low parts-count and consequent compromises in accuracy and detail. Then a few years ago MiniArt came out with its first incarnation of the bike. Other versions followed, mainly with a change of rider figures, and this most recent kit has the rider lying prone behind the bike while firing his Thompson submachine gun. As a result, the bike itself has been reviewed previously, including 35168 US MP with Motorcycle
, 35085 US Military Police
, and US WWII Motorcycle WLA
This version has parts for a single bike on one grey sprue, a figure on its own sprue, a PE fret, and decals. Also included but not used are clear parts for the windscreen. That’s a total of 92 grey parts and 34 PE parts. The bike sprue has only a little flash, much of which is around the ejector-pin marks deep inside the alignment slots, so while clean-up is not tedious it can be a little tricky. (And yes, it gets in the way if not removed!) The figure on the other hand is very flashy, requiring a good scrape along the seams on all parts.
I started with the figure, since that’s the “new” bit of this kit. Clean-up was a pain, as the mould seams coincide with the clothing seams in many places so it is a fine line between clean-up and detail removal. Fit of parts is variable – the legs and torso are ok, but the arms are a bit vague. This is made worse when trying to get both arms on the Thompson with the butt-stock tucked into the armpit. The head is moulded bald, and appears a bit under-sized at the back, perhaps to fit into the helmet. That means the headgear is mandatory, and the angle of the neck will make replacement with a Hornet head a challenge. The helmet itself is a bit of a blob, but as it is meant to be covered with netting this can be forgiven. It is improved by adding the goggles. Placement of the holster and ammo pouch are loose, although I did find the long edge of the holster sat well in the trouser seam. Note the instructions do not cover the figure in drawings – only in a colour illustration with part numbers and paint references. This shows a pouch that is not included, but is labelled as the ammo pouch, which I could not fit at that location. Then there’s the SMG, which is just too thin a moulding to represent the chunky lines of the Thompson in my opinion. Still, a coat of paint may flesh it out a bit.
The Harley is an amazing kit in its own right. The first thing to note is that you need at least three hands and microscope-eyes to build it! And it definitely starts off very flimsy, only gaining rigidity as more parts are added. This definitely ain’t
your chunky Tamiya bike. Some of the attachment points are a bit less than positive – especially the bottom tubes of the tail frames. Since these directly affect the alignment of the rear wheel, getting them right is important. I found the PE spokes a challenge, since they are a slip-fit inside the plastic wheel rim. This means filing down the fret attachments is a necessity, but the PE is rather bendy when trying to hold. I’d have preferred it if MiniArt had designed the PE to have tabs that could be trapped between plastic parts for a firm assembly. You could leave the rear wheel loose for separate painting, but the tiny attachment points will need to be glued eventually if the wheel is to remain properly aligned. (Some effort with a drill and some brass rod could create a decent axle?)
There are two PE wingnuts that are added to the box under the seat – these are just too microscopic for me! They don’t have any mounting tabs that could fit into slots for positive alignment, which makes them nearly impossible to install. Fortunately nobody will miss them. Then there are the half-dozen bolt heads on the underside of the fuel tank that are so small I could hardly see them on the fret, let alone cut them free and install them – they went on eventually, but next time I’d drill holes for plastic rod instead. It should be noted that the exact location of these bolts is vague since there are no marks on the plastic, and the instruction picture is less than clear. This lack of clarity affects a number of parts, such as the lower end of the gear shifter. I chose to leave the PE off the rear mudguard until after it was glued in place, since I knew it would only get mangled otherwise. The catch for the kick-stand is another part where vague instructions hamper the build. Despite all the brilliant detail in this kit, I was surprised to see that the saddlebags are open at the back – I would have expected them to be solid lumps or multi-part assemblies to achieve a solid look. They are also a bit too smooth and idealised, whereas the real things developed lots of folds and creases along the edges. Another oddity is the scabbard – we are instructed to carve away the SMG so it can appear empty. Why not just add an empty scabbard to the figure sprue? (As I intend to use the bike separate from the figure, I left the MG in place.)
The front wheel has similar issues in terms of vague parts location and clarity of instructions, but with a little effort it builds up well. Note that the front wheel has to be glued in place during assembly, so cannot be left free for separate painting. One thing that was tricky was shaving the windscreen attachments off of the handlebars without breaking them – I found it easiest while still attached to the sprue. Of course, the windscreen parts are included, if you want to use them, but there are no instructions. If MiniArt really wanted to be kind to us they would have included plastic alternatives to the complex photo-etched brackets for the scabbard and box – this reviewer found them difficult to build, due in part to the lack of positive alignment guides. And the separate PE hinges for the stowage box are perhaps complication for complication’s sake.
The only detail omissions I noted are the brake and throttle cables, and wiring.
There is only one set of fairly generic markings offered. Fortunately a motorcycle like this was unlikely to have much in the way of variation.
This latest iteration of the MiniArt WLA hog is definitely a cracking kit, if of course you can manage to build it. The new figure is an interesting pose that will no doubt lend itself to any number of non-motorcycle dioramas. But it remains a complicated build that will put some potential buyers off.
some useful reference images
The internet is brimming with images of the WLA, but some of the most useful for this build are:
…and a nifty YouTube video of a WLA being assembled!