The Ultimate Off-Road Experience: Driving a Tank

Mj 618_348_drive a tank
Karen K. Hansen

Squeezed into the driver's compartment of a FV432 Armored Personnel Carrier, my only view of the road in front of me was through a 2-inch-high bulletproof- glass slit. I couldn't really see much more than 15 degrees or so to the left or the right. Fortunately for the sake of everyone and everything in the tank's path, I could hear the vehicle commander's radio instructions. "Stay left… go slower down the ravine….SLOWER, okay…good, now bring it around the tree."

To control this British-made, 1960s-vintage tank, you don't use a steering wheel but rather a combination of red handled steering levers and foot throttles that behave pretty much the opposite of every skid steer vehicle I've ever driven. The multi-ton beast is not what you'd consider nimble, but the places you can go are nearly unlimited – hills, dales, streams, rocks, trees, brick walls.

Tony Borglum's Drive a Tank operation in tiny Kasota, Minnesota, about 70 miles southwest of Minneapolis, provides would-be warriors the opportunity to drive a FV432 armored personnel carrier, as well as an FV433 "Abbot" Self Propelled Gun, and most excitingly, a British Chieftain Main Battle Tank one of the most respected tank in the world when it was produced in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s, it is still in use by some armies.

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The first vehicle I drove at Drive a Tank is the FV 433 Abbott. For some inexplicable reason, the British Army gives ecclesiastical nicknames its self-propelled guns. Other British armor includes the Bishop, the Deacon, and the Sexton. The Abbott is great fun to drive on Drive a Tank's 23 acre driving range, full of ravines, mud, potholes, uneven tracks, and obstacles. Except for the modern traffic signs, it's not a bit hard to imagine you're driving through Flanders in 1918.

After driving the Abbott and the FV432 comes a chance, if you're willing to spring for it, to drive the Centurion MBT. It's so big, heavy, and maintenance intensive, that drivers are allowed to move it only from its storage hanger to a grassy clearing a couple hundred feet away. That would be a disappointment were it not for the fact that a large forklift has carefully placed 2002 Ford Taurus in that clearing in perfect alignment with the right tank tread.

When everything is ready and spectators removed to a safe distance, I'm given the go ahead. To engage the engine, I lift the clutch pedal twice with the toe of my shoe. The Chieftain lurches forward, the diesel engine rumbles low and loud lumbering ahead at a walking pace towards the Ford.

The interesting thing about crushing a car in a tank is that although you see the car's metal body scrunch and twist into flattened accordion shapes and you hear the glass break, you can't really feel much. From inside the tank, folding a Ford's drive train into its trunk feels pretty much like brushing up against the curb in your family sedan. But the engine roar, the smell of diesel, the sight of the metal buckling, and glass breaking all around you, tells you otherwise.

[More information:, from $399] 

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