The eleventh day of the eleventh month marks Veterans Day, the time of year we honor and remember the veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces and our allies. We want to take this time not only to reflect on the people who have served, but also to mention some of the vehicles that assisted the military throughout the years. These vehicles have served soldiers in combat and noncombat situations in times of war and peace. Some were born in the military, and some adapted to combat well after their creation.
A lot of the vehicles on this list earned their pedigree during the Second World War. That shouldn’t really come as a surprise, since during that time period the U.S. manufacture of automobiles had completely stopped. Many of the vehicles created for the war were simply transitioned to the civilian market after the fighting ended. Many of those vehicles stuck around and continue their legacy today. There are more vehicles that have fulfilled combat roles than you would think and plenty that transitioned to a military role when they were needed. So here they are, our 10 favorite vehicles that have served in the military.
10. The Cadillac DTS is a great full-size sedan. It’s so good that the Commander-in-Chief of the United States Armed Forces thought it would make a pretty good limousine. Nicknamed “the Beast” and “Cadillac One,” President George W. Bush selected the highly sophisticated and armor-plated DTS Limousine as his vehicle of choice for his second term. Although it is no longer the primary vehicle in President Barack Obama’s fleet, the Cadillac DTS remains a presidential state car. That’s an impressive thing to have on a resume.
9. The Land Rover Defender has remained largely unchanged since it went into production in 1983, and that is exactly what makes it so great. The successor to the Land Rover Series III (which was itself a descendant of the Willys MB), the Defender had quite the reputation to live up to when it hit the market. Thanks to its bare-bones, no-frills interior, the Defender keeps the focus on its sheer off-road prowess. That minimalism extends to the mechanical bits of the car, where its simple design makes Defender repairs quite easy in the field. While the Defender has always been available to civilians, it has also seen significant military use, mostly with the British Army and Australian Defence Force. Most famously, the Brits brought Defenders with them to Desert Storm, where they fought side-by-side with America’s Humvees. While the Humvees performed admirably, the Defenders proved more adept at urban warfare and impressed the Americans so much the Green Berets chose to bring Defenders with them when they went back to the Persian Gulf in 2003. Land Rover also produces a military-only, modified version of the Defender, known as the Wolf, which is currently in use in several NATO countries. If you’re interested in a new Defender, you’d better act fast: Land Rover has announced production will cease in 2015.
8. Originally developed for the National Guard in 1933, the Chevrolet Suburban holds a long military tradition and is also America’s oldest nameplate, in production as a high-occupancy vehicle for over 80 years now. The Suburban could seat 8 in 1933, and it can seat 8 in 2015. Like most cars on this list, the Suburban served in WWII. The third generation of Suburbans (1941–46) was produced as a military transport vehicle (again, they were able to seat 8 soldiers) for non-combat purposes. The Suburban has been reliably offering its size to military and civilian markets for nearly a century, and that’s a great legacy.
7. When the Volkswagen Thing made its way to the United States in 1972, it was a hit (well, it was a hit until 1975, when Volkswagen pulled it after the U.S. implemented new safety standards the Thing could not meet). The funky VW captivated buyers with its boxy looks, peppy rear-mounted engine and good off-road capabilities. While it met success as a civilian model, the Thing was originally designed for the West German military and took its inspiration from the Kübelwagen, the famed Beetle-based World War II off-roader designed by Ferdinand Porsche in 1938. While the Kübelwagen served as the Jeep’s adversary in World War II, the Thing (known as the Type 181 in military circles) served on the same side (although not at the same time), with Bundeswehr and other NATO forces taking delivery of over 50,000 Type 181s between 1968 and 1979. Although the Thing was never available with 4-wheel drive, it never needed it. Thanks to its light weight, rear engine and rear-wheel drive, the Thing flew over obstacles and was never heavy enough to get bogged down anywhere. If you’re looking for an able classic with an impressive military pedigree, take a look at the Thing. Of course, the Thing seems to have caught on with collectors, so finding one at a good price could be difficult.
6. The Toyota Tacoma has a long and storied history. You know how certain cars get made fun of for being unreliable? Almost all jokes about the Tacoma are about just how reliable it is. The U.S. Army Special Forces took note of this reliability when they went into Afghanistan in 2001, first using local Toyota Hilux pickups, but later modifying and importing Tacomas from the United States. The little truck proved popular, with the Green Berets again electing to do battle in the Tacoma when they were deployed to Iraq a few years later.
5. Few cars have a pedigree quite like that of the Mercedes-Benz G-Class. Originally known as the Geländewagen, the G-Class was developed by Mercedes-Benz on the advice of a famous then-shareholder, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. Although originally intended to be a military vehicle, the G-Class was quickly adapted to other uses after going into production, going on sale to civilians in 1979 and becoming the Popemobile in 1980. While the G-Class may currently be best known as a $115,000 luxury SUV, it is still very much a military vehicle. Today, 37 governments employ the Geländewagen (or Geländewagen-based vehicles) in military service, ranging from Argentina to Russia, North Korea to Canada. In fact, the United States Marine Corps’ Interim Fast Attack Vehicle is a modified Geländewagen. Given its reputation as a rugged and durable go-anywhere machine, it’s easy to see how the G-Class has won the support of militaries worldwide.
4. The Hummer H1 probably looks more like a military vehicle than any other consumer vehicle in the U.S. That’s because it is essentially a military-grade unarmored Humvee that AM General decided to release to the general public. The Hummer line came into existence following the growing popularity of the Humvee during Operation Desert Storm. The Humvee, or HMMWV (which stands for High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle), won a 1981 U.S. military contract to become the successor of Jeeps for soldier transport. The Humvee’s service stretched from the U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 to 2012, and the U.S. military is now looking for a replacement. The H1 was first offered in the civilian market in 1992 and continued until 2006, making it harder to find each year. It may be a little impractical nowadays, but the Hummer H1 is one awesome vehicle.
3. The Ram 1500 is the culmination of Dodge’s long history of developing trucks, a history that started in 1946 with the Dodge Power Wagon. The Power Wagon itself was the civilian equivalent of the Dodge WC series, a series of trucks designed and built for the U.S. military at the outset of WWII. While these trucks were meant for the U.S. military, many of them (along with Studebaker pickups) were shipped to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease program. By the end of the war, American trucks made up two-thirds of the Red Army’s truck force, giving the Soviets a mobility the Germans couldn’t match. Dodge developed a vast array of military vehicles for a wide variety of combat and noncombat purposes. The Power Wagon continued Dodge’s truck manufacturing effort in the civilian market in 1946. Dodge discontinued the Power Wagon in 1980, but the Ram trucks brand revitalized the defunct models. The Ram 1500 holds the Power Wagon’s legacy and is among the best trucks on the market.
2. The Rolls-Royce Phantom has a much stronger military pedigree than many realize. While the modern Phantom may be more comfortable on the streets of Beverly Hills than in a war zone, it is the direct successor of the Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost, which famously served the Royal Navy and British Army in World War I. When war broke out in 1914, the Silver Ghost’s chassis was chosen to form the basis of a new armored car. This new car became the backbone of the Royal Naval Air Service’s Rolls-Royce squadrons, which went on to gain fame in the Middle East, serving both at Gallipoli and with Colonel T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia. The cars made quite the impression on Colonel Lawrence, who later stated the he “should like [his] own Rolls-Royce car with enough tyres and petrol to last [him] all [his] life.” While the Silver Ghost he knew and loved is no longer in production, its successor, the Phantom, continues the tradition of superb craftsmanship the Silver Ghost so expertly exhibited.
1. The Jeep Wrangler is easily the most recognized vehicle with a decorated military career. The Wrangler’s legacy was born with the Willys MB, a light utility vehicle developed for the United States Army as World War II began to escalate. The word “Jeep” itself originated from the Willys’ service, as many believe it to be a vocalization of the initials GP (Government Purposes). The Willys MB was instrumental in the Allies’ victory, and in 1944, Willys began to consider building a post-war “Civilian Jeep.” Enter the Willys CJ (later to be named Jeep CJ), and the beginning of Jeep’s consumer legacy. The Wrangler is now among the most popular cars in the United States and one that carries its military pedigree to this day. Even the newer-model Wranglers seem to maintain the versatility that allowed their predecessors to fulfill their military duties. There are plenty of reasons to buy a Wrangler, but its history is the most inspiring.
To all veterans, we thank you for your service!
-jharrington and zwaller
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