Hidden Treasures: Finding a historic military project vehicle on a budget

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.   

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 $1,500 to $2,000; even a nicely restored M37 will only go for about $8,000.

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.    

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”).   

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.

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