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Military Surplus Vehicles

Posted in Project Vehicles on July 1, 2001
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Photographers: G. Kinnunen

Have you ever turned green with envy as you've watched a military convoy of brawny and beautiful camouflaged trucks thunder past? Do you find that searching and scrounging for the perfect truck at a ridiculously low price can be just as gratifying as the first drive home? Are you on a limited budget or, maybe, just plain old cheap? Well rejoice, friends! Our rich Uncle is constantly disposing of a remarkable array of fun-to-own, trail-worthy military iron. And thanks to a little thing called the Internet, it has never been easier for the Average Joe to get the goods.

Before we delve too deeply into getting you behind the wheel of a cool army truck, it is important to debunk a few enduring myths. First, there are no $500 surplus Jeeps in crates. Never has been and never will be, but as will be explained later, occasionally you can come fairly close. Second, you can't legally buy a driveable Hummer or an M151 Mutt from the government. The official Department of Defense policy is that these particular vehicles do not meet DOT safety standards and are to be sold only as scrap. But a few examples do slip through the cracks intact and are legal to own. And finally, participating in sealed-bid and auction-surplus sales is not difficult and does not involve a mountain of paperwork.

The point of origin for every military surplus vehicles to enter the civilian world is the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS). The mission of the DRMS is to offer surplus property to other branches of the military, federal agencies, state and local governments, and charitable organizations for reutilization. What's left over is offered to the public, generally in a sealed-bid sale. The actual storage, inspection, and disposal points for these properties are the hundreds of Defense Reutilization and Marketing Offices (DRMO) located worldwide.

Your portal into the world of original surplus goodies is the official DRMS Web site. This site is so vast, and contains such a wealth of information, that on the first visit it may be a little overwhelming. But it is extremely user friendly, and is easily searched. To search, choose the "Property Search" icon then the "Search by Commodity Category and Geographic Zone" icon. Answering a few simple questions and filling in the required and optional fields on the questionnaire will yield search results with inventoried property meeting the posted criteria. Narrow your request as much as possible and the search results will be more specific.

The search result pages contains an items list with many pieces of important information about each truck, such as a photo link, if available, where it is located, and a condition code (see accompanying story). The most important pieces of info are the catalog number and catalog item number. If the listed property is to be offered to the general public, it will be under this catalog number and on the accompanying sale date. If there is no catalog number accompanying an item, it is not yet offered to the public.

Catalog and item number in hand, back-track and find the Search Catalogsicon. Scroll through the list of and find the appropriate catalog number and then download it. The catalog is the official offering of property to the general public and contains not only detailed property descriptions, but also the terms and conditions of the particular sale, bidders instructions, the required paperwork, and inspections dates. There are also companies not affiliated with the DRMS, such as DRMOpro, that can aid your search for a fee.

A note of caution: Do not buy anything without first inspecting it. One constant in DRMS sales, and in just about any other auction or sealed-bid sale, is that property is sold as is and where is. It is impossible to determine from a description, a photo, and a condition code exactly what you are buying. You must physically inspect the property. Most DRMO personnel are very accommodating and helpful to potential buyers, but you won't be able to fire up the apple of your eye and take her for a spin. You may be able to glean bits of information, such as whether a particular truck was driven off the trailer or dragged, but this will all be unofficial. As is, and where is, remember? You must rely on your own practical knowledge and common sense when determining whether to bid on prospective military surplus vehicles.

If clues of a potential problem with the vehicle exist, expect the worst. Also look for signs of recent engine or major driveline component swaps. It is not uncommon for a good component out of a truck destined for the sales to be replaced with a similar component usable only as an anchor. If anything about the truck makes the hair on the back of your neck stand up, pass. Odds are, there are five more examples of the truck at the DRMO and being offered on the same sale. If not, odds are that there might be more coming along soon. Note any missing parts and determine whether replacement will push the overall price above bidding a little higher on an intact example. This is the risky phase of purchasing, but as you get out there and inspect more vehicles, you will realize that they generally fall into two categories: pretty darn good shape and maybe even road worthy, or cannibalized residue. Use your head.

While at the DRMO, verify that a particular truck will be sold with a SF97 form, which is the United States Government Certificate to Obtain Title to a Vehicle. It is difficult to legally title a surplus vehicle without this important document.

Confident that you inspected and selected a peach, you must now determine how much to bid. This is not difficult. Trends can be tracked by regularly downloading catalogs, studying them, then downloading the bid results of that particular sale. There are also companies not affiliated with the DRMS, such as PROLECKIT, that can supply bidding trends for a fee. Determine a price, but remember, the whole point of this is to get high-quality goodies on the cheap.

Submitting your bid has never been easier. Each catalog contains a Bidders form, payment information and an end-use form. The end-use form is essentially an affidavit declaring that your intentions for the surplus property are wholesome and that you won’t sell certain property to hostile entities. The aforementioned paperwork can be completed in minutes and submitted online, by fax, or if you insist, by snail mail.

The DRMS is a good place to purchase newer or recently-declared-obsolete iron. A sampling of offerings current as of this writing shows an abundance of military surplus vehicles and pickups, such as the M1008 Chevy, M1009 Chevy Blazer, and M880 Dodge. There were various incarnations of the M35A2 Deuce and a Half 6x6, as well as civvie iron ranging from Chevy 3+3 dualies and Suburbans to Jeep Cherokees and Ford Rangers. Upon being determined to be a successful bidder, you will be notified and provided a property release and pickup instructions. Pickup is always the responsibility of the buyer.

The astute reader is no doubt wondering about the cream of the crop, the DRMS property that was scooped up by other agencies before the public sale. Sooner or later it will again be declared surplus and offered around one more time. If there are no intra-governmental takers, the property will be offered to the public by the General Service Administration (GSA). The GSA is an excellent source for iron that is of interest to the average four-wheeler. As well as offering much of the same iron as the DRMS, here is a good place to look for vehicles that have long since vanished from DRMS inventories, such as a Dodge M37, Jeep M38, or M715 truck, or older versions of the Deuce and a Half.

The GSA property is offered in all of its geographical areas and can be accessed from their Web site. Property is offered in both sealed bid and conventional auction sales and is listed in catalogs containing the required bidding information, including property location and inspection periods.

Although the GSA database has a search engine, it can be cumbersome, calling up mountains of unneeded information. Simply type in 'sealed bid sale'or 'auction' to locate the current catalogs or auction locations. Download the catalogs and scroll through to search for your favorite truck. Bid submission is similar to the DRMS, but carefully read the Instructions to Bidders.

'Pricing for GSA sales is more of an art than a science. Their inventory is not as meticulously cataloged as is that of the DRMS, and sales are also less frequent, making trend-tracking a little more difficult. While prices on military-issue iron run about the same or even slightly lower than on DRMS sales, GSA sales are much less consistent in successful bid prices. '

A late-breaking development is the GSA live Internet auction. Here, the entire spectrum of GSA disposal property is offered, including vehicles. Simply log onto GSA's live auction Web site, create a user name and password, and you will be ready to navigate this user-friendly sight and start bidding. Remember, personal inspection is critically important. Also the inventory is constantly being added to, so check back often.

It takes a little more work to track down military surplus vehicles that go into state or local government inventories or are offered by charitable organizations. Internet search engines can be useful, as most states have sites offering surplus property. Local governments often post invitations to bid in newspapers, and some of the tiniest and most obscure rural newspapers are posted on the Internet. Good memory and scrounging skills can also come in handy. This point is best illustrated by a pristine M38 formerly owned by a rural Northern Michigan county. For years the little Jeep dutifully tugged aircraft around, and each year thousands of people would wearily trudge past it, luggage in hand, and hardly notice the nice little Jeep. A real aircraft tug was finally procured and the Jeep was offered for sealed-bid sale in a tiny local newspaper. The successful bidder was not a local, but a gentleman from five hundred miles away. His bid amount was $600. This is probably the closest anybody ever came to the mythical $500 Jeep in a crate. Common? Not hardly, but this example isn't as rare as one might think. Many of the vintage military trucks, as well as the current generation M880 Dodge and M1009 Chevy trucks, are favorites of rural municipalities.

Bidding on surplus military vehicles involves a certain amount of risk, and if you simply don't have the stomach for it but long for olive-drab iron, there is a wide array of dealers out there. Companies such as Memphis Equipment and SECO are the super-stores for military surplus trucks. Internet search engines can also turn up an army of small military truck dealers dotted all across the country. To get a good start, simply type in "army trucks." Where to buy your favorite truck from is up to you, but remember that dealer prices will naturally be higher than surplus sale prices.

These are some of the ins and the outs, and places to buy, high-quality and trail-ready military-issue trucks. For the less mechanically inclined or faint of heart, dealers or private parties may be the best option, but the price tag will be a little higher. For the intrepid and mechanically inclined or the skinflint cheap, sealed-bid and auction surplus sales may be the way to go. Either way, the rewards can be great with your major investment being time spent scouring the Internet and a near highway robbery cash outlay.


Carolina Growler Inc
Vass, NC 28394
Gadsen, AL 35902-1631
Memphis Equipment Company
Memphis, TN 38106
Dayton, NV 89403
Southeastern Equipment Company
August, GA 30916

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