If you didn't already want one of these, you will now. We always have, and now that we've actually driven one, we always will. Even if you didn't know what a M35A2, 2 1/2-ton truck was, chances are good that you've seen a military 6x6 before. They were built by a number of American automakers, including Kaiser, from the '50s through the '70s. Yep, the same Kaiser that brought you the M715 and other military vehicles manufactured this bad-ass giant Jeep from the mid-'60s through the early '70s.
Built as cargo/troop haulers for all branches of the military, the 2 1/2-ton M35A2 "deuce and a half" is basically a medium-duty truck designed to be driven on- and off-road by operators without a commercial driver's license (CDL). If you want to drive one, you could sign up with your local recruiter and join the armed forces, or you could do like we did and order a refurbished surplus truck from Boyce Equipment in Ogden, Utah. Designed to work on any continent in any climate, from -65 to well over 100 degrees, pound for pound no other American truck comes close to the brute strength versus price of a surplus 2 1/2-ton M35A2. Boyce set us up with this $8,500 "deuce" it had in stock that was just screaming for a Jp flogging.
For a practical thinker, a truck like this would make a great addition to any farm, ranch, or construction company that was looking for a cheap way to add some muscle to its motor pool. For the impractical types like ourselves, we think the M35A2 would be a fun and imposing commuter car for L.A. traffic. These trucks were built and designed to run forever. Replacement parts are as easy as a call to military surplus stores like Boyce Equipment. Basically, if you think you might want one and you have the room to park it, you need one of these trucks.
What's it Like To Drive?
Driving a 2 1/2-ton is surprisingly easy. They feel smaller than they actually are. Forward visibility is really good because the fenders are dropped and the hood is rather small. If you're used to driving with any kind of truck body on the back of a dualie 1-ton, you can handle one of these. The hardest thing to get used to is the ride height and lack of power steering. Riding on 9.00-20 tires (about 41 inches tall) you'll be towering above your buddy's 1-ton and struggling in the parking lot at Wal-Mart. The clutch, brakes, and other controls were simple and worked as smooth and as easy as any 1-ton. There are no unexpected gremlins that surface while driving. In fact, the five-speed tranny is unusually easy to shift (despite its odd shift pattern). Rowing smoothly through the gears of an SM465, T-18, SM420, or other truck manual is often more difficult.
Our road test brought us to Moab, Utah, where we drove our Army Green machine over 300 miles on- and off-road. We don't have great fuel economy data, but we'd guess it's around 6 mpg. During our three days of driving we only filled the 78-gallon tank with diesel once. Not because it was low, but because we didn't want to risk running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere.
With some on-road driving and a successful run over part of the Golden Spike trail under our belt, we decided to take on something a little more difficult. So we headed over to Hell's Revenge. After watching Diesel Power Editor David Kennedy take the 13K-plus pound truck for an uncontrolled bobsled run down a short, snow-covered patch and then deciding it was a good idea to ride along on what seemed like a near-death icy-sidehill experience we came to the conclusion that the bias-ply nondirectional tires (NDTs) at full pressure were pretty much worthless in snow and ice. At this point it seemed prudent to turn around because the upcoming sidehills were covered with even more ice and were even steeper. We didn't have a tire gauge, so we winged it and later found out that we had inadvertently aired all 10 tires to around 10-15 psi, quite a bit lower than the "cross country" tire pressure (40 psi front, 25 psi rear) recommended by the dash placard. The tires have inner tubes, so we weren't worried about popping a bead. At our "trail" pressures the truck stuck pretty good to just about everything and got us out of our potential trail Deuce overnight sleepover, but it sure was hard to steer. You really need to hang tight onto the steering wheel both on- and off-road, and putting your thumbs inside the wheel was a sure way to snap 'em off when the wheel jerked from the input of a trail obstacle or curb. It seems like it would be simple enough to upgrade to power steering with later M35A3 components, or even with an add-on ram assist, pump, and inline control valve.
Other than on ice, the 2 1/2-ton was an animal off-road. We drove up and over things that we never expected a 13,530-pound truck to climb. And our truck had open diffs! The rear suspension pivots and articulates to permit excellent traction over rough terrain. The stiff-looking front end even flexes more than you would think. And with 10 tires in contact with the trail, there were very few places that we spun a tire (unless it was icy). With three lockers, power steering, and some good tires, we'd be downright dangerous. Deuces over the Rubicon anyone?
The 2 1/2-ton trucks were built by Kaiser, GMC, AM General, and others in many configurations. The most common is perhaps the AM General troop carrier. With the troop seats folded up or removed, we think you'd have a pretty sweet flatbed tow truck. Also, the military is always very conservative when defining tow ratings. In our experience it sandbags its ratings by half. Even so, the pintle hitch on the back of the Deuce has an impressive 10,000-pound capacity.