by John Adams-Graf
When Eric Petosa bought a half-track more than 30 years go, it was a bit outside of his main interest — muscle cars and drag racing. He and his brother had grown up buying and restoring award-winning show cars as well as racing funny cars. With dozens of his restorations featured in magazines across the nation, a half-track just didn’t “fit in” his stable of show cars that includes such iconic muscle cars as a 1970 Cougar Eliminator that was one of just 146 to get the Boss 302 engine in 1970, a Lamborghini Diablo that once belonged to President Donald Trump, or an 18,000-mile Ford Mustang Mach 1 survivor. But, because he was in the excavation business and always had an interest in military history, he felt, “How could a bulldozer guy not want a half-track?” When talking about World War II vehicles, he likes to explain his passion with, “Green is Mean!”
While on the job in New Jersey, nearly 200 miles away from his then-home in Staten Island, New York, Eric discovered an unrestored half-track. Following his “excavator impulse” to own a piece of WWII armor, he made the purchase, then and there.
He told himself, though, “If I am goingto restore a WWII vehicle, I am going to do it right! I am going to do it with all the attention I give every one of my restored cars.”
A lot of people say that, but Eric has a reputation for living it.In a 2009 article in Mustang Monthly, the former editor, Donald Farr, wrote about Eric’s passion for detail: “I think we can safely say that Eric Petosa is fanatical about originality, right down to the stampings, date codes, and even the numbers on brake adjuster plugs!”
He had done it many times before, so why couldn’t he do the same for a military half-track? After all, they weren’t nearly as sophisticated as some of the rare muscle cars he had already restored. He may not have realized it 30 years ago, but that was a deep commitment he made. Rolling the half-track into his shop, he looked at what he had bought and began researching it.
As it turned out, it was not a personnel carrier, but rather, an M16A2 gun motor carriage — an anti-aircraft vehicle that carried a motorized, 4-machine gun turret on its back — but obviously no longer present. To make the restoration right, he was going to half to find a quad turret.
Over the years, he looked at several, but never found what he wanted — too many were missing key components. Then, after many years, he found a complete M45 quad mount, guns and all, in Michigan. It was priced high — north of $40K. But Eric knew to restore one, it would take that much plus all the time of finding the parts. He bit the bullet and made the purchase. He was “all in” now.
When the tear-down began in his shop, one of the first challenges were the tracks. Though complete, the WWII-rubber tracks showed serious distress. Eric knew he couldn’t consider the restoration “complete” if he had tracks that looked like they were 70 years old. So once again, he bit that bullet and bought brand new tracks. There was no turning back.
As he removed every nut, every hose, and every bracket, Eric made the decision to restore or replace the piece. He had the original armor and wanted to keep it, but it was pitted. He carefully filled and smoothed all surfaces. A new wiring harness went in as did new gauges, NOS carburetor, and manifold. “No sense doing it half-assed,” Eric told his buddies. He rebuilt the Hydovac but was lucky to find an NOS radiator.
“I had parts coming in from all over the world,” Eric recalled. “Everywhere you looked in my garage were OD parts and lots of packing material!”
With the restoration nearing completion, Eric made one concession: “I put MSD in it.” Anyone who has tried to start a vintage WWII vehicle can appreciate the advantage of multiple spark discharge for the ignition system. “I knew that I would be driving this vehicle, and if I went to a parade, I wanted to be sure it would start again when I was ready to take it home.”
A SECOND TRACK
Near the end of the 7-year restoration, Eric’s buddy and Green County’s Chief Sheriff, Greg Seeley stopped by the shop. Greg had been struck with OD fever long ago and was the proud owner of a WWII Harley and a Jeep. Greg had told Eric how his patrols took him down many back streets looking for trouble but also afforded the opportunity to spot things “out of the ordinary.” On this particular visit, Greg told Eric, “I spotted an old half-track like yours in an alley about 60 miles from here.” In disbelief, Eric went to investigate, and sure enough, there sat another half-track. Just a glance revealed it was very similar to Eric’s — an M16A1 — complete with the gun turret (minus the guns) still bolted to the floor!
One half-track was enough, so Eric convinced Greg that he needed to buy and restore this one. “When was the last time a restored M16A1 and M16A2 sitting side-by-side,” he asked the Sheriff?
A deal was struck with the owner, and Greg became the new caretaker of an unrestored M16A1. Eric still had a shop full of extra parts and was probably as knowledgeable about M16 gun motor carriages as anyone Greg could possibly find. So, he told Greg to bring the vehicle to his garage. Eric and his crew would help Greg and his son restore it.
Things get a bit easier when you do them several times. Instead of the seven years, it took to restore his own half-track, Eric and his crew were able to complete Greg’s in just one-and-a-half. Though a few more compromises were made (for example, Greg’s guns are static while Eric’s have been plumbed to operate on propane), the two half-tracks look stunning sitting side-by-side — just as the two imagined an eighteen months earlier.
In September 2017, the pair of half-tracks made their debut at the World War II Living History Weekend at the Mountain Brauhaus in Round Top, New York. A small reenactment, spectators as well as participants were awe-struck when the two half-tracks rolled out, guns blazing from Eric’s while Greg’s supported an infantry advance. With no threat from the Luftwaffe, the guns were leveled at the German infantry which broke and fell before the weight of the two half-tracks and US infantry.
So now, with two half-tracks under his belt (and another cover to add to his wall of more than 20 automotive magazine cover features), the question is out there for Eric: “Now that you admit that ‘Green is Mean,’ what’s next?” We think that an excavation guy could use a military Cat or maybe even a Sherman. Whatever Eric decides to restore next, though, we know that it will be show-quality, road-ready, and probably, cover-worthy!