Renowned military-vehicle dealer Mike Stallwood, has pulled off an incredible coup and imported 16 WWII-vintage M3 Stuarts tanks from Brazil. One would think that, 63 years after the end of the conflict, the chances of discovering a large cache of WW2 military vehicles—let alone tanks—in reasonably good condition would be virtually zero. But that is exactly what Mike Stallwood of RR Motor Services has done. Almost single-handedly he has extracted 16 M3 Stuart light tanks from the wilds of Brazil, and brought them to the UK.
The tanks formed part of a consignment gifted to Brazil by the US Army between 1942 and 1945. Some 30 years ago, 40 of those remaining were sold as surplus to a Brazilian businessman who, although there wasn’t the interest in vintage military vehicles that there is now (and none at all in Brazil), recognized their potential as historical artifacts. In the intervening years, some were disposed, but in September 2007, Mike received a tip that there might be a sizeable number left. Within 10 days, he was on a plane to Brazil. There he discovered, on a remote ranch some 125 miles north of São Paulo, an amour eldorado.
“There they were,” he said, “a line of M3 tanks on a muddy, red-ochre field beside some dilapidated farm buildings. There were hornet’s nests in every one, plus snakes and spiders the size of saucers. The tanks were in remarkably good condition inside considering how long the owner had had them, although they were under cover until about five years ago.”
On the spot, Mike committed to purchasing every tank that was still available, five M3s with nine-cylinder radial Guiberson diesel engines—which are very rare, only 1,285 were manufactured—and 11 M3A1s with seven-cylinder Continental radial engines.
But shaking hands on the deal is one thing, getting the tanks back to the UK is another. The folio of mandatory notarized and legalized paperwork was a full-inch thick and took almost a year to complete! And then came the logistic nightmare of actually moving the tanks. Mike is nothing if not hands-on and, in August 2008, flew out to Brazil with nothing in his luggage except loading straps and chains. There, in conditions that would give a UK health and safety person a fit, and with the help of a couple of farm laborers, a hired teleporter, much sweat and not a little blood, he loaded the 16 tanks (each of which weighs around 14 tons) plus 60 tons of associated spares into 10 containers.
Shipping delays meant that it wasn’t until October 17, 2008, that all the containers were safely unloaded in RR Motor Services yard and Mike could reflect on the operation. “I’m highly delighted. The more I look round these tanks, the more I realize that, apart from this being a personal coup and one of the biggest adventures of my life, I don’t think anyone is going to find 16 WWII tanks of this ilk again. The first two we’ve tried have run and I’m hopeful that the majority of these tanks will work without major surgery, but if it is necessary I have two spare diesel engines, 11 spare petrol engines, and tons of spares.”
Which brings us to the question of sales. Mike hasn’t yet finished adding up the total cost, but the first few will go to preferred customers who have already put down deposits. Certainly, he is under no particular pressure to dispose of anything, and makes it abundantly clear that a falling economy will not lead to bargain basement prices. Indeed, he would like to hold on to a few and is quite taken by the idea of restoring one to driving condition, but leaving the exterior as is.
“By the time the serious collectors and museums have had their pick,” Mike concludes, “there won’t be that many available to sell. I can foresee already that I’m not going to have difficultly selling as many as I need to sell, and I’m inclined to wait and see what happens with the rest. After all, this is the single, largest outright purchase I have ever made and, without a shadow of a doubt, the most interesting, challenging, and stimulating. I’m in no hurry.”