Four-Wheeled Veterans Welcomed Home With New Roles in Our Hobby

Back to Driving Force, Summer 2018


States Seek to Grant Military Surplus Vehicles Life After Service

By Colby Martin


  The modern HUMVEE, or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), has reached an age that technically qualifies them for “vintage” designations.

When it comes to the collector-vehicle market, military vehicles are not what first comes to mind. The notion of owning rides originally mass-produced to aid our armed forces becoming collector’s items may seem rather strange. Thinking for a moment about motorized equipment outside of the tracked tank, military vehicle styles include Jeeps, ambulances and emergency rescue vehicles as well as the beloved “Deuce and a Half” (2½-ton truck). Countless examples were manufactured by popular automakers such as the “Big 3,” whose iconic offerings are coveted to this day by brand loyalists.

Automobiles decommissioned by the U.S. government have captivated generations. Upon retirement from service, their ability to evoke national pride and serve as living history is undeniably powerful. These machines have been defined by most jurisdictions as vehicles manufactured by or under the direction of the U.S. Armed Forces for off-road use and later authorized for sale to civilians. Examples desired by collectors include the Pinzgauer, Kaiser Jeep M715, half-track and DUKW (Duck). Today, even the modern HUMVEE, or High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), has reached an age that technically qualifies them for “vintage” designations.

There is growing interest in the genre among the auto-enthusiast community. The groundwork has been laid: organized groups of hobbyists and publications dedicated to this segment have existed for decades. They know that acquiring such treasures is no easy feat. While government surplus auctions are popular and valuable sources for obtainment, completing the purchasing process can be far from a joyride.

Not surprisingly, military surplus vehicles are tougher to license than standard automobile as each state government makes its own rules and regulations regarding titling. In several states, there is no allowance for any military vehicle registration and operation on public roads. Even when these vehicles can be titled, many states limit their use to special occasions and events. Such events may include parades, car shows, club activities, exhibits, tours and occasional pleasure driving in addition to transportation for necessary repairs, testing, maintenance and storage.

Legislatures have responded to the recent upward trend by introducing proposals aiming to redefine the rules applied to vintage military surplus vehicles. The obvious first step was making provisions for the registration and operation of military vehicles in places where no eligibility exists. Other proposals attempt to expand the number of types of military vehicles allowed to be registered, or aim to create ways for enthusiasts to increase often limited personal usage allowances.

Pro-hobby legislation was introduced this year in several state legislatures related to military vehicles. For example, Louisiana is considering a bill that allow the registration of military surplus vehicles for the first time. If enacted into law, the state would make operation of military vehicles legal under certain circumstances. A new proposal in Minnesota would give the option of registering certain decommissioned military vehicles as regular motor vehicles as opposed to “collector military vehicles.” The Hawaii legislature has been moving a bill through its chambers that allows owners of specific former military vehicles the opportunity to register their vehicles as special interest vehicles. Under the Hawaii bill, many popular military types—each at least 25 years old—would be eligible for registration for the first time. Similarly, Oklahoma legislation allows for the titling of HUMVEEs, which are not able to be titled in the state at present.

Earlier this year, a couple of military bills died without consideration prior to the adjournment of the session. West Virginia sought to allow antique military vehicle to preserve military marking by using alternative registration insignia in place of displaying a license plate. Meanwhile, Wisconsin legislation would have allowed “half-tracks” to be registered as special-interest vehicles. Equipped with tires at the front and with rubber tracks or tracks made of equivalent material at the rear, they are not currently allowed to be registered in the state.

Thankfully, other military-vehicle initiatives were approved by state legislatures in 2018. Virginia’s governor signed pro-hobby legislation into a new law that will allow qualifying military vehicles to be registered and operated on public roadways as “antiques.” The law applies specifically to HUMVEEs. Additionally, a favorable amendment allows currently registered military vehicles to retain registration without the “antique” designation. In Idaho, the governor enacted into law a bill that allows a vehicle built for the United States armed forces to be registered and operated on public highways, even if it does not meet federal motor vehicle safety standards.

As vehicle owners who are directly impacted by such proposals, SEMA Action Network (SAN) members and fellow residents are the most important source of knowledge on the subject. Locals voices are the most effective in shaping efforts affecting their home turf. With access to the best resources on any given topic, SAN staff appreciates when those closest to an issue weigh in by providing input. Please share your expertise when these instances arise via an email to san@sema.org. In the meantime, special thanks to those who have voiced support for your role in these legislative wins! The SAN forces can look forward to supporting more efforts to preserve and enjoy historic former military transport in the future.