It’s that time of the year when we shake off the chill of the winter and start puttering around in our garages, reawakening the olive drab seeds that may have been planted long ago. You many not even recognize that those seeds had been planted years ago when you were a kid building model tanks and trucks, pulling wrenches on the family car, or excelling in high school shop class. As you look around your garage today, you may have noticed those seeds are beginning to take root.
What was it that got you thinking about owning a military vehicle? Maybe it was when you served your country, driving a deuce, MUTT, HMMWV, or something even bigger. Perhaps, the seeds were planted when you were much younger, building Monogram, Revell, or Tamiya model kits of Sherman tanks, half-tracks, or German Panthers. Or maybe, it is just something you can’t explain—olive drab has been in your blood for as long as you can remember.
Whatever the reason, the good news is there is a full network available to you for discovering and enlivening your passion. There are thousands of people, just like you, who have the desire to drive of an old warhorse, be it a Jeep, ¾-ton truck, or yes, even a tank!
Today, we estimate more than 30,000 people in the United States own and enjoy historic military vehicles. It is one of the fastest growing segments of the automotive hobby, perhaps because it combines a lot of desirable aspects of our society: Affordability, accessibility, patriotism, and good ol’ “do-it-yourself-ism”.
Maybe those OD (“olive drab”) seeds have been dormant for years, but now is a great time to let them grow and develop into a full hobby. Gas prices are down, the military is releasing more vehicles into the surplus stream, and there are more resources for the historic military vehicle restorer and owner than ever.
You may have dreamed of stumbling onto a Jeep in a barn or an old, abandoned half-track in the woods, and that is still possible. You are far more likely to find the vehicle along a more common path: Someone in your own area might already have a vehicle they want to pass along—asking at local car shows, tractor implements, or garages may produce some good leads. Of course, the internet is where many folks start today. There are some good forums that are HMV (historic military vehicle)-specific, but of course, many have found their vehicles on Military Vehicles Magazine’s classified ads, Craigslist, and eBay.
But before you buy, there are a few things to consider.
First, what are you capable of maintaining? We all want a tank or armored vehicle, but is that realistic? Do you have the shop and tools to maintain such a beast? More importantly, do you have the wallet? Like big critters, big machines consume a lot—a lot of gasoline, time, and energy. Before you buy, consider the longtime care and storage of your vehicle.
Second, make sure you know where your passion lies: Do you prefer pulling wrenches or is driving around in a finished vehicle your desire? You might think a restoration project is an affordable way to get started, but if it takes you a year or two to finish it when you would rather be driving, it might not be the approach to take.
Years ago, an old timer told, me, “Buy the best you can afford.” That was great advice that kept me from sinking money into projects that were beyond my capabilities.
Which leads to the next point of consideration: Know your skills. If you have never fiddled around with a carburetor before, you better be ready to learn or know who can work on your vehicle for you. Don’t believe the ad line, “an easy restoration…” ALL restorations take work and time. Some are easier than others, just be sure you know what you are getting into before you buy something.
And finally, study before you buy. If you are considering an M37 ¾-ton truck, do homework before you write the check. Buy and study the manual, join a vehicle specific forum and asks a few questions, or better yet, introduce yourself to someone who owns a similar vehicle. All of these avenues will arm you with the questions you need to ask before you buy. Most importantly, don’t “panic buy.” You might feel like the vehicle you are looking at is the only one you will ever find, but remember—these are military vehicles. If the government ordered one, they probably ordered thousands. If the one you are looking at is sold before you feel ready, don’t worry. Chances are there are more just like it to be purchased.
The time is now.
What a great time to enter the historic military vehicle hobby! Gas prices have dropped significantly, many old collections are coming up for sale, and the U.S. military has had a turn-of-heart concerning surplus vehicles.
You wouldn’t think gas prices would effect the hobby, but consider most military vehicles are bigger and heavier than your average Mustang or Corvair. Those olive drab trucks can suck down a lot more fuel just to get to the local show than the average collector car.
Whereas the passing of the first generation to discover, preserve, and restore historic vehicles fills many with a deep sense of loss, we are indebted to those pioneers. Their efforts to preserve military vehicles are now changing hands as a new generation takes over stewardship of these rolling relics. More than ever, it is possible to purchase a ready-to-roll WWII, Korean War, or Vietnam-era vehicle as these early collections come up for sale. A new person to the hobby doesn’t have to be a mechanic or metal worker to participate. It is possible to actually purchase “turn-key” historic military vehicle.
For those who do enjoy pulling wrenches and bumping metal, however, this is a great time as well. While a lot of “jeeps in a barn” have been discovered, the occasional forgotten military vehicle does emerge from the woodwork. Rather than hunting for those rarities, however, the mechanically inclined can purchase vehicles directly from Uncle Sam—just like that first generation of restorers did right after WWII.
Just recently the US Military agreed to release HMMWVs (“Hummers”) for surplus sales. These join 5-ton trucks, the occasional deuce-and-a-half, and much larger trucks on the surplus auction block. A person can bid from their own computer and arrange for pick-up of vehicles that saw service during the last 30 years. Of course, if this is the kind of vehicle you want, but you don’t feel like you can do the restoration or maintenance to keep it running, there are several companies who purchase these trucks, go through them to sort out any difficulties, and offer them for sale to the public.
And what about that tank that all of us want to ultimately own? The good news is: There are more available for sale right now than there has been in the last 40 years. Of course, they aren’t cheap… Owning a set of tracks with a gun tube is going to cost you well north of $75,000. But, if you have it to spend and have the place to store it, a tank can be found for purchase quite quickly. There are many that are “turn-key” and ready to go. Where will you find them? Several vehicle brokers advertise in Military Vehicles Magazine, so subscribing is your first step to “tank ownership.”
WHY DO WE DO IT?
Why do we nurture these OD seeds that are planted deep within our souls? Well, if you ask a hundred historic military vehicle owners, you might get a hundred different answers, but all of them will contain a familiar thread: To honor those who served. By restoring, preserving, and showing these vehicles, we are reminding people of the sacrifices that have been made my so many men and women. These vehicles are rolling monuments to the service of others.
Welcome to the hobby. We welcome you to a dedicated fraternity of men, women, and families who are committed to “keeping the memories rolling!” May you find the satisfaction as thousands before you in nurturing the OD seeds within yourself.
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader
The forum that has helped me the most in my pursuit of military vehicle passion has been www.G503.com. Check it out. If you join, you will find a knowledgeable and welcoming group of people who share your passion for “all things OD.”