Few vehicles designed in the ’30s saw much combat time in WWII, but one that did was the M3A1 Scout Car by the White Motor Company. In 1937, after trolling three years for an elusive contract for armored scout cars, the Army accepted White’s third prototype, the M3. White built 64 M3s for operational tests in 1938, and based on field reports the improved M3A1 model was developed. High-volume production of M3A1s began in June of 1939 and continued into 1944.
The M3A1 was no engineering marvel. It was largely built of commercially available truck parts with four-wheel drive and an armored body added. The engine was a 320ci Hercules JXD truck engine, an L-head six that’s more or less a reliability legend. The Army also experimented with diesel power in the M3A1, building a hundred with either a 103hp, 339ci Hercules DJXD Lanova cell diesel or an 81hp, 317ci Buda-Lanova 6DT317. The Hercules diesel weighed a gut-busting 3,380 pounds.
The transmission was a four-speed Clark 230F and behind that was a divorced Wisconsin T-32-15 full-time transfer case. That’s full-time with no center diff and you can imagine what a bear this thing is to steer on a paved road. Low range was 1.87:1. Axles were Timken-Detroit spilt-case units, very similar to what was used in WWII era 2½-ton 6x6 trucks. Oddly enough, the Scout did have power brakes, using a Bragg-Kliesrath vacuum booster.
The original perceived use of the Scout Car was “reconnaissance in force” and many were fitted with powerful radios. Typically they were assigned to armored units for scouting ahead of tanks. Early on, some were also set up as 4.2-inch mortar carriers. The standard M3A1 Scout mounted one .50 caliber M2 machine gun and at least one .30 cal. M1917 water-cooled, or M1919 air-cooled machine gun. These guns mount on a skate rail and can be fired from any position around the vehicle. Commonly, a second .30 cal. was added in the field for even more serious firepower. Exterior armor was ¼-inch hardened plate from the Diebold Safe Company, with a ½-inch plate windshield. The floor and underseat fuel tanks were also armored.
Scout Cars first saw action in the Pacific in late 1941 and in the invasion of North Africa in late 1942 but were found to have a serious flaw. The Scouts were robust, reliable machines, but too heavy for adequate cross-country performance on the 8.25-20 (later 9.00-20) tires. They tended to sink like rocks in soft ground and stuck Scouts are of little use. By late 1942 they were effectively replaced as forward recon vehicles by armored cars with far better cross-country mobility. Many M3A1s were given to Allied forces from other nations who may have used them to better effect. Some were retained by US forces for convoy protection, road patrols, and military police duty.
In excess of 20,000 M3 and M3A1 Scout cars were built and some were reported to be in service as late as the ’90s in some parts of the world. It’s unclear how many remain but the higher estimates run around 200. They are a popular collectible because they will actually fit into a normal garage. Unfortunately, most of the survivors are overseas, making importation difficult due to federal regulations on importing armored military equipment. Mechanical parts are not difficult to find but body parts can be very difficult. Current restored values run from $30,000 to $60,000, depending on the vehicle and accessories.
Owner/Hometown: Pat Nicholson/Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Vehicle: 1942 White M3A1 Scout Car
Estimated value: $50,000
Type: 320ci Hercules JXD, inline-six
Power (hp): 110 @ 3000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft): 241@ 1100 rpm
Bore & Stroke (in): 4.00 x 4.25
Compression ratio: 5.88:1
Transmission: Four-speed, Clark 230F
Transfer case: Two-speed, Wisconsin T-32-15
Front: Timken F30
Rear: Timken R35
Axle ratio: 5.14:1
Tires: 8.25-20 (later 9.00-20)
L x W x H (in): 221.5 x 80 x 78.5
Wheelbase (in): 131
GVW (lbs): 12,400
Curb weight (lbs): 8,900
Fuel capacity (gal): 30 (15x2)
Range (mi): 250
Top speed (mph): 55
Cruising speed (mph): 45
Min. ground clearance (in): 15.75
Approach angle (deg): 37
Departure angle (deg): 35
Fording depth (in): 28
Armament: 1-.50 cal., 1-.30 cal.