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Doug's hints for enthusiasts. (Ver 5.)
Are you interested in owning an Armoured Vehicle?
These hints are purely to get you thinking; they are not legal advice, nor do I claim them to be comprehensive or complete. They are an opinion only, from an Australian perspective.
To begin with, do you want a static "gate guard" vehicle or something that can be driven? This article discusses ownership of a driveable vehicle. A lot of the points raised are irrelevant if it is only a display piece that you want...
Some things to consider beforehand..
- Have you got the mechanical knowledege to work on the vehicle?
- As they are based on truck (or heavier) engineering, can you afford the maintenance costs?
- Do you have a chain block and a place to mount it?
- A place to store the vehicle under cover?
- Are you physically agile/fit enough to climb in and out of hatches and cramped spaces?
- Are you able to afford the money to buy the vehicle comfortably?
- What sort of driver's licence do you have?
- Do you mind being in a vehicle that has no heater, air conditioning or overhead cover?
- Do you have enough room or access to it to drive and enjoy the vehicle?
- If it comes with a weapon(s) are you able to pass the police requirements for criminal history etc, and comply with the security requirements for the vehicle - this applies to de-activated weapons, don't even consider trying to own a live cannon or machine gun.
- Where are you going to drive it?
- How many years will it take to restore?
- Where are the parts going to come from (especially tracks)?
- If it is not of a type that can be registered, what about insurance, especially 3rd party personal?
- Are you prepared to be conservative and operate the vehicle with due regard for others. Which is to say, no yobbo behaviour or chucking laps or anything else for that matter which will draw any more attention than does the vehicle by itself?
(The 3 paragraphs below also appear in the Ferret article.)
Are AFV's that different? I suppose it comes back to what you are used to working on. It may be the era of there design but once you leave the 40's, those of the 50's and 60's onwards are complicated.
Think of it this way: an aeroplane pilot is expected to be able to locate most of the controls, buttons, switches etc by feel and to know the systems of the aeroplane and whether his actions will do damage or worse. In a way, AFV's require a similar degree of familiarity. They are not a car so just don't get in and drive one. The military spends a lot of time training AFV drivers and although much of this training is battle related there is also quite a bit that is system related. This is so that they operate the vehicle correctly instead of breaking it.
If anything, you will need to have a much better understanding of the vehicle than an Army driver, as you will need to know not only the layout and operation of the vehicle, and it's maintenance but also its repair. Being familiar enough with the parts you will need (by sight) helps a lot, as very few people are any good at remembering part numbers.
Have I discouraged you? I think you need to keep in mind what you want out of an armoured vehicle. Is it to be a gate guard, or is so that you can drive it and have some fun?
For a fun vehicle look at a Ferret or White Scout Car, I don't only say this because I already own a Ferret; but because they are about the cheapest available of what you can call "street legal" ie., able to comply with registration requirements, are old enough to be accepted for Vintage registration.
They are technically Scout Cars but for all intents and purposes we can call them Armoured Cars.
"Real" Armoured Cars are heavier, have less performance and tend to be more complicated. In Australia you would be looking at Staghound, Saracen, Saladin as the more common vehicles. There are lots of others available overseas.
Half Tracks in Australia are usually one of two types..
- American M3 and relatives, commonly known as the "White Halftrack", there are various models made by various manufacturers using various brands of engine - not all parts fit the different brands of vehicle. Then there is also the reworked ex-Israeli vehicles which have lots of changes and can be very far from original. The track is a continuous strip of rubber which has steel cable in it lengthwise and steel cleats crosswise. When used in sand I believe they have quite a long life - say several thousand kilometres. When used on Bitumen, rocky areas or humid or salt air there life is severely shortened. The trouble is that the rubber cracks, moisture gets in and once the steel bands start rusting then the tracks' days are numbered. The most recent price I have heard for a replacement set of recently produced (read - later than 1974) is $5000 in Australia.
- OT-810, looks like a German WW2 Sdkfz 251, which it is not! The basic shape is the same but the working parts are very different. The "251" had a petrol motor, open top and rebuildable tracks (lots of needle bearings and seals ie., lubricated). The OT-810 is a Czech copy made post war and has a very noisy air cooled diesel, dry pin track and a closed top amongst other differences.
Full Tracked - Bren Carriers, Light Tanks and Tanks:
It is easiest to divide these up by size/weight:
- Bren Carriers, Scorpion Light Tanks, Stuart Light Tanks, APC's etc.,can all be moved reasonably easy as they will fit onto a semi-trailer,but once you go to anything heavier/bigger you are looking at over width permits and a "low loader" $$$$$!
- Medium scale - is really only Matilda's or Lee/Grant, track changes etc, are very heavy work but can be done.
- Large scale - Centurion's, now you are talking about a 52 ton vehicle, there are quite a few in private hands and I suggest you locate one nearby and talk to it's owner. They are an impressive vehicle but you should know what you are taking on before buying one. As an indicator: final drives are the Centurions' weak point, they have a known life (I think it is 1000 hours) and then they tend to fail. A replacement final drive will cost anwhere from $2,500 and up, which is a lot cheaper than rebuilding one yourself, just one of the bearings retails for $5000!
If you begrudge paying for petrol then forget anything ex-military, particularly armour. Expect to get no better than 9mpg on the road from anything that carries armour plate and off road 6mpg (for wheeled armour). Tracked armour starts at about 3mpg and gets much less as the weight goes up till you are talking say 1/2 to 1mpg for tanks such as the Centurion.
Although some of my English friends get a bit miffed about my attitude to English vehicles it does have some basis in fact. As you would have seen elsewhere in this site I do own a Ferret, so it is not as if I sit on the sidelines and criticise.
What it comes down to is this: it seems that English engineering, especially military engineering goes about everything the hard way (for the mug who has to work on it). Perhaps it goes back to the pre-WW2 technology race with the Germans and is a case of who can design and build the most technologically perfect (and expensive) systems? We all know that the Germans won that race, the Tiger tank being a classic example - and ultimately they over did it and it was a factor in their defeat. The only trouble is that the English don't seem to want to concede the fact. Thus they have produced such complicated joys as Saracens, Stalwarts, Chieftain engines etc. Talk to anyone who has worked on one of these or a Centurion and you will soon get an earfull about their secret desire to one day meet the designer.
Whilst I was at the Oshkosh airshow in America in 1987 there was a Marine Corp Harrier (AV-8B in American speak) and when it landed a whole heap of us went over to have a look. Almost instantly a baricade was placed around it and everyone was warned not to try and touch any of the exhaust areas as they were still so hot. Just near me a conversation started between one of the support crew manning the baricade (mechanic) and an onlooker. It turned out the onlooker was an aeronautical engineer who had worked on the Americanisation of the Harrier and he had fought a long battle with his superiors over wanting to move some device out from between the engine and wing spar. The gist of what he said was that in order to work on or replace this device either the engine had to come out or the wing had to come off. He asked the mechanic if this was still the case and he was told that it was and that it was one of the biggest issues they had with the Harrier. From what he said, he was told that the cost of relocating this device was unacceptable.
Makes you wonder why they put it there in the first place, doesn't it? To me, this is typical, so much is designed to suit some other agenda with the practicalities of maintenance and down time coming a long last in the priority list.
Another instance is the carby on "B" series engines (Ferrets, Saladins etc) tends to go dry if not used regularly, particularly in the hotter climates. These engines come with a manual lever on the fuel pump so that you can quickly refill the carby. But in the Ferret it is unreachable, so did they add a modification such as an extension handle - not likely. The end result is that with Ferrets you grind the motor over on the starter for 10 minutes or more before it will start. I modified the carby air horn so that I can quickly fill the carby by hand, rather than wreck my engine bearings or starter.
So, be warned, if you are going to get into English AFVs, be sufficiently motivated or suffer the consequences! As Alex (an ex-military mechanic) has said "there are not enough hours in the day for me to own and maintain both a Ferret and a Saracen, it had to be one or the other".
For a very detailed story of the realities of English engineering have a read of Richard's article in Area 1 Section 11 of his saga with his Scorpion. It may only be small, but it is still a handfull.
But, at the end of the day I still like my Ferret, despite all the frustrations, they are a fun vehicle that has no equivalent and if the English had not designed and built that class of vehicle nobody else would have.
By all means, if you have your heart set on tracked armour thats fine; it will be the pride of your collection. But the sort of vehicle you can drive to the corner store for a milkshake it is not.
Ideally buy wheeled armour first so that you can drive it and have your tank as your long term restoration project otherwise by the time the tank is finished you will have a lovely piece but you still won't be any more mobile!
Why do I say this: because I bought an unrestored tank first and then wheeled armour afterwards, although admittedly in my case I had to put 2 years work into my Ferret (it had spent 15 years in a paddock) as it was nothing like the straight-out-of-wharehouse Ferrets that have been showing up in recent years.
If thinking of importing from overseas be prepared to have to pay at least $5000 for freight and 25% of the value as sales/import tax plus who knows what other taxes and fees?
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