I want a tank. I have no idea what I’d do with a tank, and I know full well I wouldn’t fit inside a tank (I’m terribly claustrophobic). But that doesn’t really matter. I’d just like to have one to look at.
And for folks like me, buying a tank is no more difficult than buying a bulldozer, so long as the gun on the tank has been permanently rendered inoperable. That’s the trick. A tank’s cannon is classified as a destructive device by the ATF, and is, therefore, subject to all of the restrictions and regulations of the National Firearms Act and the Gun Control Act.
The odds of picking up the necessary license and stamps for a working 125mm gun are — slim. But you can still have a tank if you’ve got the spare cash. And there’s a lot more to a tank than the gun, which can be spiked, or filled with concrete easily enough.
Let’s talk tanks
There are two general classifications of hardware. Some tanks are military antiques. As weapons, they’re obsolete. The interest in these machines is almost entirely based upon their value as examples. Most, though not all, of these sorts of tanks are associated with museums.
The Sherman at the left is a prime example. It is at the American Armoured Foundation’s Tank and Ordnance Museum in Danville, Virginia. Its story is worth a look. After being decommissioned, this tank served as a bulldozer for a hospital in New York, before it was eventually intentionally buried and almost forgotten.
The second type is valued because it is a tank. Even without their guns, tanks are durable vehicles. They make good log haulers. They’re capable of crushing cars.
Most of the controversy surrounding these working specimens stems from their ability to wreak havoc. Most of the tanks that fit into this category are decommissioned cold war relics of Soviet origin. Just like kit built AKs are a hot commidity in the U.S., so too are Soviet T-72s.
What type of tank are you looking for? One that will look good on the lawn, or in a museum, or cruising in a parade, or one that will crush cars, and cruise at highway speeds and, potentially, protect you from nuclear, biological or chemical contamination?
An article on MilitaryTrader.com breaks down the basic classification system used in determining the commercial value of antique tanks.
1 Excellent: Restored to maximum professional standards, or a near-perfect original.
2 Fine: Well-restored, or a combination of superior restoration and excellent original parts.
3 Very Good: Complete and operable original or older restoration, or a very good amateur restoration with all presentable and serviceable parts inside and out.
4 Good: Functional or needing only minor work to be functional. Also, a deteriorated restoration or poor amateur restoration.
5 Restorable: Needs complete restoration of body, chassis, and interior. May or may not be running, but is not wrecked, weathered or stripped to the point of being useful only for parts.
6 Parts Vehicle: Deteriorated beyond the point of restoration.
Condition is important, but prices also vary based on the scarcity of the tank and the condition. How many were originally made? How many are still in existence?
The foreign imports
Buying a more contemporary tank overseas often involves an element of restoration, as many of the available specimens were abandoned, or mothballed. But most prices are typically driven by condition, rather than scarcity (as the photo of the Kharkov armor repair facility in Ukraine clearly shows).
Once you’ve decided on a tank, you may be able to negotiate restoration of the vehicle into the price. If you are willing to pay for a working tank, several others can be cannibalized to make your tank run.
ExcaliburArmy.com is a dealer out of Prague. For an excellent perspective on the what it takes to buy a tank in Prague (but not the hassle of getting it over here) read Joe Sherman’s Automobile Magazine article “How to Buy a Tank.”
KhakiCorpsImports.com is a U.K. dealer willing to ship to the U.S. Either way, working with a company that regularly imports tanks is the easiest way to go, as they’ll have experience with the paperwork, and know which countries define tanks as weapons, etc.
Remember that imports may be subject to the oversight of the ATF, as well as all the Department of Homeland Security. While it is possible, especially if you have the green needed to grease the wheels of bureaucracy, you might prefer to go through a broker that specializes in such acquisitions. The Culmen Group seems more than capable.
Or work with someone who specializes in tanks. Tank Town USA, in Blueridge, Georgia will let you drive tanks on their property, or broker import deals.
Buying stateside is easy
There are dealers here who specialize in decommissioned military hardware. If it is already in the United States, it is only a matter of money.
Buying a tank too much?
Maybe you want to joyride in a tank, and not bother with the hassle of paying import fees, or maintaining one. There are options there, too. Drive a Tank, an aptly named business in Kasota, Minnesota, has all sorts of packages available. While you can’t fire the guns, the main defining feature of tanks, you can get rowdy and crush a car.
After digging around in this story, I came across some brilliantly beautiful and melancholy images. The vast junk yards of Soviet detritus incite something creative inside me. All I see is rusting possibility. But when I see the images of abandoned American tanks, I feel oddly hollow.
This Sherman is off the coast of the Marianas, abandoned there during a botched shore landing in 1944. The sadness of the image is a reminder that these old tools have stories to tell, still.