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Detonation: Military Diesels

Detonation

John Lehenbauer
Jan 8, 2019
Photographers: John Lehenbauer
I’m always on the lookout for diesel vehicles of every size, shape, year, and configuration. It is kind of a pastime trying to spot or pick out all the different cars, trucks, and 4x4s out there. I like modern oil-burning pickup trucks, but honestly they are a dime a dozen. What draws my interest more are the vehicles that are a bit odder. Spotting diesel-powered vehicles I’ve never seen before or heard of is more fulfilling. My knowledge of oil-burners (at least in the U.S.) is pretty good, but I like to think of it as an ever-expanding database.
Several auto manufacturers have experimented with producing and offering diesel engines in vehicles in the U.S. for many years. Companies put oil-burners in cars, trucks, and SUVs, but the vehicles were not typically built in significant quantities and were more novelty than anything else. Since the engines were not as advanced as their gas counterparts, the vehicles they powered were less appealing to the masses, which in turn limited their production. It has only been recently (in the last 20 years) that the auto industry put honest effort into taking diesels to the level of reliability and performance most people are looking for.
These older, stranger rigs that roam the streets and highways are pretty cool. It is great to see that people keep them running and cared for. Some of the vehicles submitted for Diesel Power’s Readers’ Diesels section surprise me every once in a while, especially when it’s something I’ve never heard of before. I’m glad to see so many of you have such a strong love of all things diesel.
Photo 2/3   |   Detonation Military Diesels Front View
Old surplus military trucks are oddities as well, and I have been infatuated with them for a long time. I would love to own one of those diesel beasts. It wouldn’t matter if it were a surplus Humvee, Chevrolet K5 Blazer, Chevy pickup truck, 5-ton 6x6, or any other. All of them would be fun to tinker with. One thing that has always stood out with the military-spec trucks is how tough and simple they are (part of the appeal). There are not a lot of frills, which also helps to keep their cost down. At least the older generations are fairly rudimentary, a lot the stuff the military uses now is pretty high tech and sophisticated (computers, fancy suspension).
Enjoying off-road runs and sightseeing are major contributors to my intrigue with military vehicles. I have always thought it would be fun to have a big, 5-ton surplus truck to romp around in. Maybe one with a radio or command box on the back that can be converted to sleeping accommodations for those extended engagements in the wilderness. A simple go-anywhere RV of sorts. Even a Humvee with an ambulance package would be cool to use.
I do know there are some drawbacks to military vehicles. One major fault is their limited top speed. Most Humvees and 5-tons are good for about 55 mph wide open, so getting to and from places on the highway may require some driving endurance. On the dirt, though, the low gearing and suspension shine through. The big vehicles will go just about anywhere they’ll fit. Another problem is the military-specification 24-volt electrical system. The wiring and voltage also make them a bit tricky to work on and get parts for.
Photo 3/3   |   When I come across old military hardware like this crane truck “For Sale,” I stop and check it out, out of curiosity. Do I really have a need for a crane truck? Probably not, but there is a certain cool factor with a rig like this. Might have some fun doing heavy equipment recovery.
Drawbacks aside (they can be dealt with), the ruggedness of the chassis, chassis components, and diesel engines make them great starting points for different types of adventure vehicles. The engines are normally pretty straightforward units that are very compatible with their civilian counterparts, so parts are usually readily available or alternative parts can be manipulated to work. A slight difference with many of the military-spec diesel engines is they are multi-fuel capable. The Humvees use a version of GM’s 6.5L diesel (same basic engine as the civilian Hummer H1) so parts are pretty easy to score and there are even some mild performance products for them. Many of the larger trucks use common power sources like Cummins and Detroit Diesel.
There are and have been so many different types of vehicles sold as surplus by the government that I can’t begin to name them all. All the branches also have trucks that are specific to them for certain jobs. What seems like an endless variety of heavy haul trucks, personal carriers, dump trucks, and specialty vehicles made by a host of different manufacturers are available. Some would be really neat to have for no particular reason other than they are unique and cool. Sometime in my future, I’ll track one of those diesel brutes down and add it to my collection.

John

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