By John Adams-Graf
Editor, Military Vehicles Magazine and Military Trader
For years, one iconic military vehicle has been notably absent in the surplus stream: The AM General High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV, pronounced “HUM-vee”). Known to generations as the “Hummer,” very few of the military 1-1/4-ton trucks have slipped into private ownership. That is all about to change.
Since AM General began supplying the US military with HMMWVs in 1984, more than 300,000 have been delivered to governments of more than 60 nations. During Gulf Wars I and II, the vehicle became as iconic to U.S. military forces as the Jeep had been to WWII and Korean War veterans. And yet, the private sale of retired vehicles to U.S. citizens was not possible.
While plenty of theories abound as to why HMMWVs were not sold through government surplus disposition like so many vehicles before it, AM General stuck by a statement posted on their web site:
The Humvee was designed for a military mission and was not designed to meet civilian safety standards. AM General does not endorse nor support the sale of these military vehicles to the general public or private entities. AM General further opposes any use of these military vehicles by individuals or entities outside of the military context for which the vehicles are designed. AM General does not sell the military vehicle or service parts for the military vehicle to the general public.
It should be noted that AM General began marketing a civilian version of the truck in 1992. Branded the “Hummer,” the civilian version was very similar to the military model, except for having better noise insulation, more comfortable seats, 12-volt wiring, and creature comfort options like air conditioning, stereo, theft alarms, and chrome wheels. The new Hummers hit the market with a sticker price of around $80,000 and a projected worldwide distribution of 1,000 units per year. At about $80 million projected revenue, AM General certainly had an interest to block the sale of surplus vehicles. Whatever the reason, the Department of Defense( DoDO prohibited the sale of HMMWVs.
Despite repeated requests from the public to release the vehicles into the surplus stream, only a few had been made legally available for private purchase in the last 30 years of production. A few had been furnished to civilian contractors for DoD-related activities like cleaning up hazardous waste sites. When the contract was completed, the contractors often sold these vehicles to private individuals. More recently, HMMWVs have been distributed to local governments and schools as part of a wide disposal of military surplus, weapons, and vehciles. These, as of yet, have not entered private hands.
The only significant release was in 1999. The previous year, the U.S. Marine Corps placed 748 HMMWVs (mostly 1986 and 1987 M998s) into storage, in an attempt to run its procurement process as efficiently as possible. The vehicles, in the Corps’ view, were beyond the 12-year service life and were in need of new electronics. Rather than refurbish the vehicles, the Corps decided to get rid of them. They earmarked 200 for conversion to right-hand drive for the New Zealand Army, 50 were “set aside” for collectors (an arrangement made with the auction company, not with the Marines!), and the other 498 were to be auctioned.
The auction of those vehicles was open only to dealers. More than 300 of the former USMC HMMWV's were sold in a special event at the Atlanta, Georgia, Burns Brothers Manheim Auction on August 11, 1999. The vehicles were sold with Form MV-907A Salvage Titles. The receipts from this sale were clearly marked, “Off-Road Only.” A second batch of about 150 were sold through Mannheim’s California location before AM General caught wind of the sale. Too late, though, the “genie was out of the bottle” and HMMWVs were in the collector stream.
They couldn’t get the USMC HMMWVs back, but they could stop the sale of any more vehicles. AM General increased its efforts to suppress sales of surplus HMMWVs. A now widely-circulated letter written by AM General’ General Counsel, John D. LaDue in March 2000, to the Director of Connecticut’s DMV, states:
AM General Corporation, manufacturer of the M998 Series High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehcile (HMMWV or HUMVEE), does not endorse or support the sale of these vehicles to the general public or private entities. AM General further opposes any use of these military vehicles by individuals or entities outside of the military context for which they were designed…This vehicle does not comply will all FMVSS requirements for commercial automobiles and was not intended for commercial use on public roads or highways.
As a result of this posturing, a few HMMWVs entered private hands between 2000 and 2014, though a few snuck into the stream through GSA sales that were later “deaccessioned.” No HMMWVs were sold directly to private individuals through surplus channels during this period.
A CHANGE OF HEART
In 2014, rumors began to circulate that Disposition Logistics Agency (DLA – the group currently supervising the release of surplus military material) was considering the release of HMMWVs. Soon after IronPlanet took over the sales of surplus rolling stock, the rumors intensified. Finally, in early November, a meeting between DLA officials and IronPlanet executives (during which, copies of Military Vehicles Magazine were passed around!), an agreement was reached. In a statement issued on December 4, IronPlanet announced through its military rolling stock-specific website, GovPlanet.com:
GovPlanet, the marketplace for buying and selling used government assets, has a few exciting additions to its Dec. 17 auction. Buyers can now view and bid on used Humvees ahead of the live online auction. Each item on GovPlanet is listed with a guaranteed inspection report which details the condition and features and provides photos.
Randy Berr, senior vice president of operations and services for parent company IronPlanet, added, “We will be offering military Humvees of various model years and configurations all backed by the industry’s only guaranteed inspection reports.”
The Humvees featured on GovPlanet.com only include cargo and troop carriers with model numbers M998, M998A1, M1038, and M1038A1. All are “soft-sided” (unarmored). Just like the vehicles sold back in 1999, these carry the notice of “off-road use only.”
So, December 17, will be an historic day—the day when private individuals can legally buy surplus HMMWVs. Bear in mind, however, it won’t be without a few pitfalls. Remember, these are being sold with “OFF-ROAD USE ONLY” on the bill of sale. This may cause some problems when the new owners attempt to license the vehicles. This will vary from state to state. Know your state’s requirements before you bid.
Regardless of any licensing issues, the hobby will truly benefit from this infusion of HMMWVs into collectors hands. There are a couple of generations of veterans who proudly served while driving these vehicles. Finally, they will have the opportunity to commemorate their service behind the wheel of vehicles that they drove as young soldiers, just as WWII and Korean War vets were able to do with GPWs, MBs, M38s, and M38A1s, and Vietnam and Cold War vets with M151s.