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Ross buys a Sci Fi Mk 2/3 (Ver 1)
It was August of 2000. It had been close to 20 years. 20 years of service with the United States Air Force and I was preparing for my retirement ceremony which was to take place in a few days I wasn't in the very best of condition as I had recently had surgery and was still recovering. Oh, but I was looking forward to being able to focus my energies towards my ranch instead of concentrating on the needs of the military.
My job was as the First Sergeant of a Services Squadron and it was the most satisfying yet emotionally draining job I had in those 20 years. I had been balancing family needs, ranch work, and the many demands of the Air Force for many years and knew that a marked change was coming in just a few more days. I needed a project! My mother, father and one of my brothers had come to visit and go to the ceremony. My father was in the U.S. Army during the Korean War and we were discussing the military when the subject of vehicles came up. I mentioned that I had always wanted a ferret scout car since I was a kid and had the #61 Lesney matchbox car version. (Which I still have) My father surprised me greatly when he said that he had read in a magazine that they were readily available and cost around $4,000. Well that was it. At $4,000 I would surely get one, so… that is how I started on my quest for a ferret. I soon found that the only operational ferrets available for around $4,000 were located overseas and that there was a ban on importing them to the U.S. (Since lifted)
I started sending out emails and surfing the internet on my quest to find one. They were not uncommon. Really, they were readily available. But they were a lot more than $4,000. I found "Doug's Heavy Metal" on the internet and read all of the ferret information he had. I took his advice and bought Pat Ware's excellent book: "Ferret, The FV700 Series in British Army Service" which I read aloud to my wife and son. It may not have been a "standard" bedtime story, but my 4-year-old son enjoyed it immensely. I subscribed to Military Vehicles magazine which was where my father believed he had heard of the ferrets "a few years ago" and I looked through the advertisements. I soon had inquired about and received some very nice pictures of what appeared to be a very fine mark 2/3 located in California. Price: $14,500. Seemed like a good deal since that price was towards the low end for mark 2/3s in really good shape. Ah, but I also knew that with my new freedom from the Air Force came a greatly reduced income, so I needed to do some careful scrutiny of my finances.
In the meantime I continued in my quest. I was contacted by a man in Oregon who had a mark 1/2 "with all the updates." Price: $12,500. Oregon was a long drive, but my family could use a "vacation" so we drove to see the ferret. It was a very pleasant drive and I was fortunate to see and inspect and drive the ferret. The seller was very kind and presented me with a 1969 version of the User's Handbook which I promptly read. When I compared the mark 1/2 and the mark 2/3 which I had information on, the mark 2/3 seemed like a better deal. I prefer the look of the ferret without the turret, but I wanted a turret anyway. After all, you can always take it off. Well, I did not want to borrow money to make this purchase and I really only had about $10,500 to spend on the whole thing which with delivery wasn't going to get me either of those two.
My next issue of Military Vehicles magazine arrived and in Virginia there was someone who claimed to be in desperate need ("must sell; make offer") to sell his ferret. I spoke with him and he had a mark 2/3 which he said was running perfectly although the carburetor needed to be rebuilt and the temperature seemed to be a little higher than he anticipated. It also did not have the right-side center storage box, He said it looked just fine without it and he promised to send photos right away. Price: $10,000. Now we were in the ballpark.
I called on another ad for a mark 2/3 which was supposed to be in excellent shape but the "tranny needs adjustment." I found that this one had also been advertised in the previous issue which included a picture. I had not paid too much attention to it since it had revolving lights mounted on posts sticking from either side of the turret. It reminded me of the robot from Lost in Space… "Danger, danger Will Robinson." Price: $9,995. It had the dummy browning and the windshield as well. Well, I had read the User's Handbook, so I knew that ferrets have a self-adjusting transmission. I asked about the transmission and found that the seller had decided it needed adjustment because it slipped. I asked if he had checked the fluid level in the fluid coupling and was told that he had not done so for fear of dropping the bolt, but he had taken off the gearbox cover and "finally gotten 1st gear to work." Well, after much deliberation I decided to get that one. Final price: $9,000 plus $1,500 freight for delivery from New York to Montana.
The pictures of the ferret in Virginia had still not arrived and I wasn't sure what had happened until they arrived about three weeks after he had sent them and I had already committed to the other. (It did look good even without the right-side box.) No extras with that one however and the problems sounded like they were a bit of work either way.
Anyway, in order to get a break on the shipping, (it was originally $1,750) I had to wait for three or four weeks for delivery. It had just snowed when my ferret arrived and the driver was unwilling to back the trailer to the loading dock I had arranged for fear of getting stuck in the snow. He also had a very large 65-ton tank on the trailer and there was a slight downward angle to the loading dock. My neighbor came to the rescue by using one of his grain trucks with a tilt bed. The problem was there was no place to attach a winch at the front end of the truck bed. My neighbor said it would be fine to attach it to the top front rail of the side of the bed. I told him that this might be a small vehicle, but it was very heavy. Well, to shorten this story, we managed to get the ferret pulled backwards far enough to put a railroad tie under the body and it was taken to the loading dock with its front wheels hanging just off the end of the truck bed. The front panel of that truck bed was bent in fairly significantly but repairable. Any additional weight on the winch would have damaged the truck bed and made a big mess of the metal sides. Well it unloaded easily and we towed it the short distance to my house were it sits awaiting warmer weather and maintenance.
The fluid coupling is low and the brake hydraulics were virtually empty, thus only emergency/parking brake use. I looked at the gearbox to find that one of the brake band pull rods (2nd gear) was even with the top of the adjuster thus telling me I need to replace at least that brake band. I thought I would do them all, as well as put in new seals in the fluid coupling and brake system. For the most part, the ferret was just as it had been described to me. I didn't take Doug's advice to make sure you see it prior to the purchase, but at the price I was expecting it to need some care and maintenance which was all part of the "project." The engine runs well although there is a crack in the top of the carburetor, where the fuel line connects to the top, which leaks gasoline. There was a replacement carburetor as well as various manuals which were included, so I don't believe that this "project" is beyond my capabilities. I plan to have it fully running by the middle of Summer and I'm pleased with it. Oh, and the brake lights are stuck on. There is a 24 volt to 12 volt converter, so the revolving lights and the cellular phone work off of 12 volts. It takes a while to warm up, so I think I may need to do something with the thermostat too. I did jack up the sides to check the bevels and it passed the "both wheels rotate" test.
Thanks to Ross for the article.
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