Want to buy a tank?

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.

1942 M4A3E8 Sherman

1942 M4A3E8 Sherman

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.

Mothballed T-72s

Mothballed T-72s

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?

The antiques

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.


This M-47 Patton is for sale for $275,000.  ArmyJeeps.net has many pieces for sale, across the country.

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.

The history

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.

This post originally ran on Guns.com on April 19, 2013.

  • b4k9zp

    Remember the James Garner movie “Tank” (1984) in which he starred with Jennilee Harrison? Garner played an Army Command Sergeant Major named Zak Carey, who owned a vintage M4 Sherman tank that he kept in the tank park at the Army base where he was stationed. The tank was fully operable, with live ammunition for the 75 mm main gun (don’t know if he had live ammo for the turret mounted or bow machine guns, but the 75 mm had several rounds, and in the film, CSM Carey’s son fired one round from the gun near the end of the film, IIRC.)

    The unconstitutional and highly racist 1934 National Firearms Act would have required him to have a Class III “destructive device” license , and he would have had to pay a $200-$250 “transfer (poll) tax” for the 75 mm main gun, and each operable machine gun (the Sherman was normally equipped with a .50 caliber machine gun near the commanders hatch and a Model 1919A4 machine gun (.30-06 springfield cartridge) mounted on the loaders hatch and a similar M1919A4 .30 caliber machine gun in the bow on the starboard side of the tank.). Plus he would have had to pay the same $200-$250 transfer (poll) tax for EACH 75 mm round that he had stored in the tank. He had to have it transported by semi-truck and trailer (the M4 sherman weighed 66,000 pounds) over major highways, and could not use some bridges because of weight limitations.

    • William The Warlord

      Great movie! Little know secret; tank cannon can be lawfully imported and registered under the NFA as a “Curio and Relic”. If it is not on the list,you can petition to have your tank cannon put on it!! Quite a number of us got Main Battle Tanks into the country that way before Clinton took over! The other option is to open a museum,like my friend John V. in Connecticut did! Look at the curio and relic list and see if yours are on the list! I have a T-34(D) and a British Saracen APC which is street legal! Both are fully armed and NFA compliant! All true Curios and Relics,just like me!!!

      • b4k9zp

        What is the fee for exercising your constitutionally protected civil rights for a ‘curio and relic’?

        • William The Warlord

          Years ago It was $30.00 for the C&R license and 200$ NFA tax for the Cannon and the same for each machine gun. Nowdays you need to pass muster with 12 different Federal agencies to obtain the permits to get it here and then remove it from Customs. One is DHS and they are very wary of “Lone Wolf Terrorists” like me! Best way is to use a corporate front!
          I am on all the lists so I can not help you directly, but if you are serious I would be glad to make enquieres and see what is actually for sale. Because the local police did not know what I intend to do with all my guns and ammo was the reason the former local sheriff made a SAR (Suspicious Activity Report) to the Feds saying just that!

          The other trick to importation without being subject to close inspection of your vehicle is to have it declared a “Police Vehicle” which exempts it from certain demillitarization . The most important thing is to have someone like me who has friends all over the Baltic States and Europe where deals on Russian tanks can still be had! You need someone on the ground to scout out deals before you talk cash.My T-34(D) cost only 10K in Estonia in 1991 and 6K to have it shipped back here! Prices are widely variable. I have friends in Croatia, Bosnia and Lebanon that have access to “Museum Pieces” as they call them for cheap!10-30K. I also know a guy in Switzerland that is restoring a King Tiger Tank from WW2. It will sell for a million dollars when he is through for a 300,000$ dollar investment and so far 5 years of work. i am retired but always like to give advice to other collectors or restorers! Good Luck!

      • Bob Blaylock

          He did have ammunition for at least one fully-operable machine gun.  There’s a scene early in his rampage, where he drives his tank into town, asks a bystander if a nearby utility box servies all the telephone connections in that town, then uses the machine gun to destroy that box.  I believe that’s just before he destroys the Sheriff’s office.

    • Sianmink

      only explosive rounds would have to be registered as destructive devices. Solids would just be ammunition IIRC. Of course as depicted in the movie, those weren’t solids.

      • b4k9zp

        Wrong, unless my understanding of what the law says is faulty. For the law defines any ammunition larger than .58 caliber (14.7 mm) as a destructive device, whether it is solid shot or contains an explosive.

        One can build a muzzle loading black powder cannon of 6 pounder size or above and use soft drink cans filled with sand or water as projectiles (or just fire the wads–but you need water on hand to put out grass fires!)