It probably would come as a surprise to many Americans but buying a tank is actually easier than buying some firearms. In many cases buying a tank can be far easier than buying a machine gun. There are still certain restrictions of course, weapons need to be disabled in most cases unless the owner has a federal Destructive Device permit, and generally tanks aren’t street legal so owners can only drive them off-road or on other private property.
“As long as the weaponry meets the requirements for legality, there are no national restrictions to owning a tank,” said John Adams-Graf, editor of Military Vehicle magazine.
“That said, keep in mind that roads have weight limits and neighborhoods have ordinances, before you think you will drive your new tank up to your townhouse,” Adams-Graf told The National Interest. “Just because it is legal doesn’t mean someone won’t call the police if they see you driving your tank down Main Street.”
Considering the Costs
Typically the biggest hurdle is the cost, but as the UK-based Hotcars website recently reported there are plenty of options where the price of a used tank is less than that of a new Ford F-150 Raptor, which has a base price of $53,455 and can be optioned to well over $60,000.
Owning a tank can take the concept of “off roading” to a completely new level, but the question is what you can expect to find in a “used tank.”
First, the list compiled by Hotcars noted mostly Cold War era armor—so anyone expecting to pick up a World War II era American M4 Sherman or German Tiger should have managed expectations. A recent episode of the American TV series Pawn Stars noted that a Sherman used on Iwo Jima would set a collector back around $1.5 million.
Today there are reportedly only seven Tiger I tanks and most are in museums. Tiger 131, which was captured during the North Africa Campaign, is preserved at The Tank Museum in Bovington, England and is the only operating Tiger I in the world. It was used in the 2014 film Fury, and that marked the first time a real Tiger appeared in a feature film since Theirs Is the Glory in 1946 and They Were Not Divided (1950).
Options for Tank Collectors
For the budget-minded tank collector there are still a few good options, reported Hotcars. These include the British Cold War era FV4201 Chieftain main battle tank (MBT), which were retired from the British Army in 1995 and sold off on the surplus market. Chieftains can be found for as “little” as 18,000 pounds or roughly $23,000 but that is in “restoration ready condition.” For around $64,000 you can have one in “good working order” so a bit more than that new F-150.
Soviet T-34s do come on the market from time to time, but they have become so rare that the Russian Federation actually bought twenty-nine of the World War II era T-34s last year from Laos. Those tanks were purchased for use in films, parades and for museums.
If close enough works, then consider a Soviet T-55—one of the most produced tanks in history with more than 85,000 produced in both the T-54 and T-55 variations. Hotcars reported that T-55s can be found in excellent working condition for around 55,000 euros or roughly $65,000.
For those who want a little space in their armored fighting machine, the Soviet BMP-1 could be just the thing. Technically an Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) rather than a true tank, the BMP-1 was essentially the Soviet’s attempt to combine an Armored Personnel Carrier (APC) with a light tank. Introduced in 1966, the BMP-1 was used in the latter stages of the Cold War including in Afghanistan. Hotcars reported that the OT-90, the Czechoslovakian Army’s version of the BMP-1, could also be had for around $65,000 in good condition.
For those who aren’t exactly tank “purists” Hotcars noted that the best bang for the buck would be in looking at a used Soviet 2K12 Kub, a tracked surface-to-air (SAM) missile carrier. One was found online for sale, complete with a set of inert 1S91 missiles for display to complete the look for just 19,000 Euros or just over $22,000. At that price why not get two!
Is it Worth the Investment?
While many car-related websites routinely run such articles on the price of tanks, many often misunderstood is just how used—and even abused—a surplus tank will be. It is completely possible to buy a World War II “trashed out” tank like a Sherman for $70,000 but it would be little more than a big lawn ornament.
To drive it would cost another $400,000 in parts and that’s not counting labor.
That said, World War II tanks will cost a lot more than an F-150 or likely even a high-performance sports car, but in good condition would actually appreciate in value.
“WWII tanks are a good investment, just as anything that has nostalgic connection and limited supply,” explained Adams-Graf. “An example would be the venerable M4 Sherman that U.S. and allied troops drove through Europe, northern Africa, and throughout the Pacific Theater during WWII. In 1990, a running Sherman—with non-operable armament—was about $95,000. Today, you better be prepared to pay close to half a million for that same vehicle.”
What is available for the cost of an F-150 certainly isn’t the M4 Sherman, and in many ways lack the same appeal to collectors and history enthusiasts.
“Cold War era armored fighting vehicles, however, don’t possess the same nostalgic value as a WWII Sherman or Panther,” added Adams-Graf. “That makes them more accessible, but the value isn’t going to increase. Buying a former Soviet T-55 or British Scorpion will provide you with the bragging rights of ‘owing a tank’ but they aren’t going to dramatically increase in value over any length of time. The cost to keep and maintain these Cold Warriors will outpace their appreciation in few short years.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. Even after writing this article his wife won’t let him buy a tank.