Vintage car restoration can be an exciting hobby, but an even more extreme variety has recently been gaining popularity – vintage military vehicle restoration.
Fans of old military equipment collect and restore anything from military-issue motorcycles and Jeeps to tanks, minesweepers and missile carriers – all disarmed of course. Long a very niche hobby limited to hardcore history enthusiasts, the rise of the internet has allowed an unprecedented level of access to not just old military vehicles themselves, but also manuals, user guides and the advice of fellow enthusiasts worldwide. Also helping the new generation of budding tank-restorers are the recent advances in auto recycling and auto parts sourcing. Since many of the most popular vehicles with restorers, such as Willys Jeeps, World War II and Korean War-era tanks and halftracks, as well as general transport trucks, were built on auto plants re-purposed for war production, they use many of the same parts as cars from the era. Being able to pull up maintenance manuals and schematics from the internet, as well as the ease in locating replacement parts, has made the hobby much easier to get into and allowed a younger generation to get involved in this fun activity.
An illustrative example is the story of Jon Jennings who, at 22 years old, is restoring an M2 half-track from World War II. He purchased the vehicle from a buyer across the country over the internet, which would be impossible to imagine only 20 years ago. Today, a quick browse of eBay can turn up anything from a recently-discontinued US Army truck to an old Soviet T-34 tank, with some of the vehicles even having single-digit odometer readings. Depending on one’s interests, there are even specialized blogs dedicated specifically to buying, selling and trading both components and whole vehicles. Similarly, it is very easy today to find like-minded enthusiasts to share the various creations with and solicit advice from. The Military Vehicles Preservation Association not only releases two magazines focused specifically on restoration of old military equipment, but also hosts an annual convention at which members show off their latest projects. With so many resources available, it is no wonder that many new enthusiasts are flocking to the hobby.
The actual process of restoring many of these vehicles is not much different from restoring a historic car. Many of the hobbyists who restore these vehicles document their process for others to see and follow, such as this restoration of a Willys Jeep. In addition to removing rust and repainting many of the worn-out exterior components, many of the old, worn away or simply missing parts need to be replaced. Some of these enthusiasts prefer to do their own parts sourcing, often producing one complete functional vehicle from two or three damaged ones. Others rely on more traditional sources of parts, such as an auto recycling company, and yet more rely on a network of sources, including recyclers, other enthusiasts and friends or relatives. There are even some specialized businesses that exist specifically to provide out-of-production parts for military vehicle restoration projects.
Of course, this rise in interest in old military equipment has also significantly increased the value of a lot of the older military and civilian vehicles that may not be functional, but contain many sought-after or hard to find parts. Now, more and more traditional auto recycling companies are interested in getting their hands on some of the more rare vintage military trucks or their civilian analogs. While this is still a relatively niche area, with far fewer fans than the more conventional historic vehicle restoration, it is a rapidly growing hobby, especially as time goes on and many of these important artifacts of history are becoming lost or worn down.
Anyone who is interested in getting into the hobby will be well advised to be patient and know that they are getting into a long-term project; many of these vehicles take years to bring to operational and display-worthy shape. Just like with historic auto restoration, there is an emphasis on authentic and true-to-life restorations, with the most prized vehicles being ones that have been rebuilt with all-original parts. And of course, it is important to have a great auto recycler to help locate the right parts for this latest proje