Hidden Treasures: Finding a Historic Military Project Vehicle on a Budget

by: Jeff Rowsam

May 08, 2012

Ever think about getting an old army vehicle but don’t have a clue where to start? One expert offers his opinion on three military vehicles that are amazingly affordable and relatively easy to find.

Just like vintage airplanes, old yachts, and exotic European cars, rare or in-demand military vehicles can inspire a prospective owner to spend huge sums of cash in pursuit of the ultimate show winner. 

Most people thinking about getting into the military vehicle hobby start out wanting a Jeep. But high demand tends to put these beyond the means of the average collector.

So what about an ex-army truck? Military trucks are like hidden treasures for a new collector on a budget. Here are three that are still under the collector radar. Each is distinctly military, lots of fun to restore and drive, and still common enough to be affordable.

The Dodge M37 

The ¾ Ton 4X4 military tactical vehicle class quickly evolved in the 1940s, primarily during WWII when Dodge provided a rugged 4X4 that was similar in size to a civilian pickup. But by the end of the war, the U.S. government began looking for an improved design to replace its aging fleet. The Dodge M37 Model 4X4 ¾ ton truck in several configurations was the answer.   

Hidden 

From the 1950s thru the 1960s—M37 Dodge 4X4 trucks

Need to Know: After beginning production in early 1951, many M37s served in Korea. For the conflict in Vietnam, Dodge started production of a second series that began in the early 1960s with some small differences (turn signals among them). The M37 is relatively quiet and comfortable to drive, and very collectable thanks to a plentiful supply of spare parts, including a number of dedicated vendors who reproduce everything from body panels to headlights.   

Target Acquisition: Truck-trader papers and military club vehicle magazines and newsletters, such as those published by the Military Vehicle Preservation Association, are a great place to find surplus vehicles. Projects can still be found for as little as $1500 to $2000; even a nicely restored M37 will only go for about $8000.

The Dodge Military 880 Series

Needing a replacement for the aging M37s, the U.S. government looked to purchase an off-the-shelf commercial vehicle that could have a few military requirements added without the cost of designing a complete new vehicle. Enter the Dodge M880.   

Hidden2 

1977 Dodge M880 Five-Quarter Ton

Need to Know: In 1977 and 1978, the U.S. Army purchased a dozen different Dodge pickup configurations, all based on the civilian ¾ ton W200 model and equipped with a Chrysler 318 V-8 and automatic transmission.

Target Acquisition: When passed out of military service, many surplus M880 trucks were bought and used by state forestry departments and volunteer fire departments across America. Today, many of these M880s can be found on internet sales websites conducted by the General Services Administration (GSA) or at local municipal equipment disposal auctions. Unique military features can include rear troop seats and cargo covers, military lights, and heavy axles. If you find a sales ad that says “1978 Dodge W-200,” chances are it’s an ex-military M880 model.

The CUCV Series

Still having trouble finding an inexpensive military collector vehicle? Can’t afford a $40,000 HUMVEE?  Then consider a “Kuck Vee”. In the early 1980s, the U.S. military needed to replace the old Dodge fleet and again looked to purchase a modified civilian production model for the same Five-Quarter (or 1 ¼) Ton utility vehicle class. Chevrolet won the contract for what became the Commercial Utility Cargo Vehicle or CUCV series (pronounced “kuck-vee”).  

Hidden3 

1984 Military M1008 CUCV with radio shelter

Need to Know: The 1980s civilian Chevy pickup, known as an M1008 (“ten-oh-eight”), and its cousin the Blazer, or the M1009 (“ten-oh-nine”), entered military service in 1984 with the usual military variants. The trucks were equipped with the GM 6.2 liter diesel engine, automatic transmission, and featured front lock-out hubs. Interchangeability with civilian Chevrolet replacement parts and availability of surplus components make the CUCV an attractive diesel bargain.

Target Acquisition: The fact that the federal government conducts monthly internet sales through Government Liquidation means anyone with a computer, internet access, and a credit card has a chance at owning a CUCV. Collectors may find the local, municipal auctions and classified ads listing these as “1984 Chevy diesel pickups.” By shopping around, obtaining one of these bargain military vehicles for a couple grand or less is a real possibility.  

Got a great story about a bargain military vehicle you found? How about a military vehicle restoration project you currently have in the works? The Historic Vehicle Association would love to hear about it. Please log you comments below or, if you have some pictures to share, please head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page .  We look forward to hearing from you.

 

Comments

  1. John Neuenburg Northern California

    The three military vehicles in Jeff Rowsam's article were good choices for the collector on a budget. But jeeps are still the perennial favorite especially the World War Two variety. Prices are higher than for the mid-sized trucks but not out of line for someone used to collector cars. Like $7500-$20,000 for a parade ready or fully restored example of a Ford GPW or Willys MB. The other thing about jeeps is they are very small and can fit in a crowded garage or side yard. They are also likely to be popular with the whole family - a key for many looking to get into this version of the hobby. The real bargain military vehicles right now are the 10 wheeled cargo trucks. The U.S. is cutting loose all trucks of this design that came from the 1940s in favor of tactical, off-road designs with big single tires instead of duals. These big trucks can be purchased from auction for less than $5,000! Check out www.governmentliquidation.com.

  2. ted brockman sacramento, ca

    I recently purchased a 1960 Ford F100, the guy I purchased it from tolg me that the rims were from a WW II Jeep,and could be worth a few bucks, they are 5 lug, 15 inch, I cannot find ANY markings anywhere on the rim I'd like to identify them and see if they are worth anything or not. Any idea how I would go about this??? Thank You

  3. Jason On`tario

    You forgot the Unimog 404. Generally in far better condition and way more capable than these trucks.

  4. Josh in PA SW PA

    I've got the green disease pretty bad. I've been addicted to the simplicity, durability, impressiveness, and head-turning factor of military vehicles for a few years now. I have a 1967 M35A2 "deuce and a half" 6x6 truck, an M105A2 trailer for it, and my 1963 CJ5 will always be a project converting it in an M38A1. I already restored an M416 trailer for it. There is nothing like the satisfaction in owning and maintaining old military equipment. Thanks for insuring them Hagerty.

  5. G E stockton,ca

    I was assigned a Dodge 3/4 ton M37 in 1958 at ford ord, calif. I had to able to pick it out of hundreds like it at the motor pool. I was in C company 41st signal battallion. Bumper paint ID'd at C 78. I had forgotten what my company designation was..A, B. HQ...then I remembered th e ID on the bumper C78. While in that unit I was temporarily assigned to Camp Roberts, Ca for Military Police training. I was at Roberts for nearly 3 mo. out of my 2 yrs. of duty. There we were assigned Korean era JEEPS.

  6. Jerry Gardner Tyler Texas

    Good, simple article about collecting historic military vehicles. I have been doing this for sometime. If it were not for Hagerty Insurance, I would not be able to enjoy this hobby as I do. I have 3 vintage jeeps (1942, 1951, 1963) and a 1951 Ford Sedan classic car. This is a fun and rewarding hobby and much less expensive as most Classic civilian vehicles. The restoration is easy and very straight forward. Anyone with minimal mechanical skills can handle anything that comes up. Plus there are lots of dedicated parts suppliers for all military vehicles, as well as Ebay and craigs list to find parts and projects. Thanks for this article.

  7. jean renaud parkton MD 21120

    I am a Vet:

  8. Shrishail I only buy Dodge Ram trucks bucease I beleive in only owning the best stuff! I bought my first one(1978 Ramcharger) back in 1985.It hooked me with it's ability to get me in and out of my area's woods and swamps.Next I bought a 1974 Power Wagon for a farm truck.Pulled my neighbor's John Deere out when he got it stuck,also loaded 106 cement blocks on it at once to be footings for a house addition.The blocks were 30 lbs apiece,do the math,and it was a 1/2 ton pickup with overload springs.That convinced me that Mopar is Southern-speak for MORE POWER!!! I now have a 1976 for a plow truck,a 1987 for a woods truck,and my 1995 1500 Lariet Sunday go-to-meeting truck.There's just no better vehicle around for getting into and out of places that are difficult !!

    I only buy Dodge Ram trucks bucease I beleive in only owning the best stuff! I bought my first one(1978 Ramcharger) back in 1985.It hooked me with it's ability to get me in and out of my area's woods and swamps.Next I bought a 1974 Power Wagon for a farm truck.Pulled my neighbor's John Deere out when he got it stuck,also loaded 106 cement blocks on it at once to be footings for a house addition.The blocks were 30 lbs apiece,do the math,and it was a 1/2 ton pickup with overload springs.That convinced me that Mopar is Southern-speak for MORE POWER!!! I now have a 1976 for a plow truck,a 1987 for a woods truck,and my 1995 1500 Lariet Sunday go-to-meeting truck.There's just no better vehicle around for getting into and out of places that are difficult !!