Estes says he's paid as little as $16,000 and as much as $40,000 for his vehicles. Most are in running order when he buys them, but many need a facelift by the time they arrive at his shop.

"It's funny to think that cosmetics are an issue with something like a tank, but there are things like grenade launchers, radio antennas, and tool packs that really dress up its appearance," Estes explains. "So we try to have all those details correct, to make it look like these units might've just come off the battlefield."

For all their years of harsh use, Estes says his tanks and armored personnel carriers have been remarkably trouble-free. It's a good thing, too, as there's no such thing as running down to the local auto-parts store when a crucial component goes south.

"We can get original parts out of England, but it takes several months," says Estes. "We try to use crossover parts from other vehicles when we can, but sometimes we have no other choice than to have the parts we need custom-machined."

Student Driver
When it came time to learn how to put his armored acquisitions through their paces, Estes admits he had an edge.

"I've used a lot of heavy equipment over the years, and the operating principles are pretty much the same," he says. "A written driver-familiarization course from the Fort Knox Museum of Armor and the manuals we get with most of the units also help a lot."