Russia’s classic supercar has a catch—it only comes used. Well-used.
A million bucks when new, $50,000 buys you, a civilian, a T-72. It ain’t Grandpappy’s antique war wagon. The T-72 is Russia’s main battle tank, the heavyweight, 45 tons of bad news with a five-inch gun.
“Is” as in current, front-line equipment. “Is” as in 5,000 serving Russia right now. “Is” as in NATO and company train crews how to scrap with and blow T-72s up, as they’re the favored ride of the baddie country with money enough for the good stuff.
The Czech, Slovakian, Hungarian, and Polish militaries, left awash in surplus Red Star machinery after the Iron Curtain was torn down, are clearing out their stocks of Soviet-era tanks to make way for NATO replacements. If you’ve got the cash, and another $20k or so to ship it to the US, you qualify to buy.
“The things were purchased ridiculously cheap from the army, especially if one knew the right people,” says Vojtech Svoboda of Mortar Investments, a Prague-based dealer of military vehicles and gear. “Also, some of the material officially ‘scrapped’ was in fact resold.”
Dealers today, most of them in the Czech Republish, have an entire fleet to offer: attack helicopters, fighter jets, self-propelled howitzers, amphibious infantry fighting vehicles, armored personnel carriers, and mobile missile-launching trucks, all to civilians and as legal as a Sacajawea dollar.
Tank dealers will sell you the whole line—earlier Russian T-55s and T-64s, more sophisticated T-80s, even British Chieftains, the T-72’s NATO contemporary.
Anything crucial that needs replacing gets fixed as part of the base purchase price. Forty years of military service and sitting in an outdoor lot waiting for a buyer does a job on components. Rubber hoses dry out and fluids grow stale, paint fades under years of sun. Dealers run through the hydraulic, electrical, braking, and steering systems, tune up the engine, change out the rubber and fluids, and wipe it in fresh military olive paint before it heads to you.
Everything comes scratch-and-dent, so while $50k buys you a runner, refurbishment adds up to $30k if you want your T-72 looking brand-spanking-new.
Obsessives can pay for a full restoration, wherein the dealer completely dismantles the vehicle into crumbs and skeletons. Stockpiles of newly manufactured parts mix with those made decades ago,
but stored neatly on warehouse shelves since, never having been installed. Using refurbished parts can cut the bill down and is necessary for oddball pieces or complicated systems that aren’t made anymore, such as tracks, transmissions, and diesel engines.
You’re free to swap in better seats from another tank to please your backside, change to a more powerful engine, or create a lookalike of a rarer tank. There’s at least one T-34 medium tank disguised as a Tiger heavy rolling around Europe, terrifying the elderly into thinking the Germans are back.
Ordering starts with a 30 percent deposit and a two-month wait as the Czech authorities work through their end of the paperwork. Repair work picks up after export clears and usually finishes up less than two months later. Take the opportunity to ask for an English translation of the tank’s factory service manual—the original will be in Czech or Russian.
Then four things need to happen before your baby comes home. No surprise, this involves forms. You’ll need an Application and Permit for Importation of Firearms, Ammunition and Implements of War from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Plus an International Import Certificate from the US Department of Commerce.
Second amendment or no, you can’t have your tank sent over before someone strips out the machine guns and cuts a hole in the cannon. And somebody needs to wipe the thing free of dirt to please the US Department of Agriculture.
Full-service dealers will sell, refurbish, demilitarize, clean, and walk you through the paperwork once you’ve taken your test drive and picked your tank off the lot, but hidden costs claw their way to the surface.
You have to ship the thing. Mortar Investments estimates it costs $15k to the East Coast, $20k to Houston, and $25k to the West Coast. Your tank will arrive at the seaport closest to you, at which point you make yourself known to trucking companies through a series of peculiar phone calls.
Then there’s liquid motivation. The 2,368-cubic-inch V12 engine sucks down two gallons diesel for every mile. It won’t be street-legal in the US, so you’d better have property.
Ruin your lawn. Terrorize your neighbors. Take out the garbage and then crush it. We don’t care what you do with it—you’re already our hero.