The most recognizable military vehicle is probably the WWII-era jeep. Why are jeeps such popular military collectibles? Well, there’s an incredible range of size and weight among army vehicles, much more so than in the automotive world.  Jeeps are easy to garage and service, they’re wheeled, and they’re easy to drive on roads. Parts are widely available, too. If you have a checkbook and a catalog, you could build one from scratch.


Jeeps proved so essential to the American WWII effort that it’s hard to imagine that, at first, the army had only a vague idea of what it needed for quarter-ton, fast battlefield transportation. The jeep concept was born when American observers in the mid-1930s saw pairs of German soldiers zooming around battlefields in motorcycle sidecars. The observers realized the U.S. Army needed a vehicle with a flatbed and, crucially, no doors so that soldiers could scramble in and out quickly.


When the tiny American manufacturer Bantam produced the Blitz Buggy, the U.S. Army leaped on the idea. However, Bantam didn’t have the production capacity the Army needed. “So they gave Bantam a contract for trailers and put it out for a bid. Willys-Overland accepted the bid, but nobody build cars faster or cheaper than Ford, and by this time the Army needed volume,” Robinson says. “So the government took the Willys concept and gave it to Ford.”


Ironically, for having a hand in the earliest stages of Jeep history, Willys-Overland didn’t secure rights to the name until 1950. There are many theories behind the origins of the name and many believe it actually comes from the Popeye cartoon strip—from Eugene the Jeep, who was a magical dog. The Jeep name was out in the world; people would name their dogs “Jeep”—or anything that had general do-anything usability. Even airplanes. The name simply stuck to the trusty, go-anywhere military vehicle. After the war, Willys spent years coordinating with the Federal Trade Commission to secure rights to the name—but not after a strange stint in 1945 and ’46 when the FTC ruled that Willys could only use the “Jeep” name if it appeared in quotes.


Smaller military vehicles like jeeps tend to be more expensive because of their accessibility and ease of maintenance. In contrast, monster-sized, tracked beasts tend to be cheaper because they present owners with all kinds of challenges. For some, the wrench to get the wheel off weighs 100 pounds. However, the mechanical complexity and (literal) heavy-lifting is precisely what attracts some collectors.


Whether you’re looking for a jeep or a tank destroyer, Robinson suggests looking in Europe. The U.S. Army made a deal with automakers back home to leave most of the vehicles in Europe to avoid flooding the domestic market, so it’s far easier to find an authentic model where it actually saw combat.


Today, the truly big stuff—tanks, bulldozers, tow trucks, and troop carriers—is largely restricted to those blessed with very deep pockets.  A good Sherman tank is $350,000. Those collectors aren’t the initial saviors of these massive vehicles, however.  Welders or those who worked with heavy equipment were the first to get into it in the early ’80s when the government started shedding all this stuff. They were the first ones to rescue these machines from the scrapper.


Armored vehicles require many headaches worth of paperwork in the states, but for those who are truly enthralled by them, it’s worth it. Surprisingly, eBay has a decent selection but limits you to stateside vehicles. One armored vehicle that’s proving popular among collectors is the British Daimler Ferret, built between 1952 and ’71. Powered by a Rolls-Royce inline-six, the Ferret sports not just one, but two driveshafts. It’s not only mechanically fascinating; with its low turret and side-slung spare tire, it looks seriously cool. It’s the Jaguar E-Type of the military world,“but driving one makes a Lamborghini feel like a fishbowl.

Military vehicles quite literally saved the world in WWII; they’re in a category of their own when it comes to vehicles truly worth saving and passing on to the next generation.

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