So, a dear friend of mine recently purchased a 1991 M923A2 5-ton powered by an 8.3L Cummins turbodiesel. Drive it, he said. It will be fun, he said.
"Yes", I said.
It was incredibly awesome, and so I have gathered and focused my disjointed thoughts into a semi-organized review to try and share the experience with you all. I'll use the standard Jalop categories, but without number scores, because I have very little (read: nothing) to compare it to.
(Full Disclosure: My friend wanted me to drive his 5-ton so bad that he was all like, "Dude, you wanna drive this thing?", and I was all like, "Yeah dude." I then drove it around all day.)
Think of some big cars or trucks. What comes to mind? Ford Excursion, Chevy Suburban, Ram 3500, right? This truck looks at those trucks and says "Do you even lift, tiny little baby trucks?" This thing is beyond huge. The M923A2 absolutely dwarfs everything else on the road. It is by far the biggest thing I have ever driven. Everything on this truck is plus-sized, thicker and beefier than anything on a regular vehicle.
The tires are 46 inches tall (or maybe 49, I can't remember), it is a full-on 6x6, the axles are like redwood trees, and every suspension component is thicker than my arms. The tires weigh hundreds of pounds. The tailgate probably weighs a hundred pounds by itself. The truck is 26 feet long and weighs 22,000 lbs. It can carry a 5 ton payload (I hear it's more like 10 tons), and it can tow some 20,000+ pounds.
The bed comes complete with troop seats capable of carrying well over a dozen people, as well as a nice tarp to cover it, should you want to. The cab is also tarp-covered, allowing you to turn this into basically the biggest convertible around.
It's not a Rolls-Royce. The interior is quite spartan, and rightly so. This is a truck made to serve a purpose, not wrap its occupants in luxury. Inside are lots and lots of beefy metal switches, lots of gauges, a drivers seat, and a bench on the passenger side.
The windshield folds out, which is very nice, since there is no A/C, and things can get mighty hot in the cab. With the windshield up and the top off, there is a nice enough breeze (when moving) to keep you from heat stroke.
What's that? Still too hot? Then open your leg vent:
Well, I will say what you already know: it isn't fast. At all. In any way. However, 8.3 liters of Cummins turbodiesel move the truck along with authority. The gas pedal has about 1 inch of travel between 0% throttle and 100% throttle. It has an industrial, unrefined sound which was music to my ears (and everyone else's ears within a 1-mile radius). The 5-speed Allison transmission does the job, shifting relatively smoothly once it's up to temperature. The gears are laughably short:
You probably think I'm going to use some hyperbole to describe how bad the brakes are, but no! Actually, the brakes work great! It was a pleasant surprise to find that the brakes actually grab very hard, , although pedal feel is a bit...non linear. They are air brakes, after all. The pedal looks bad ass:
Like I said before, this is no Rolls-Royce. It rides like it has tree-trunk axles and weighs 22,000 lbs, which is to say, rather roughly. That being said, the seats are relatively soft and springy, which do a lot to mitigate the roughness of the ride. The honest truth is, you don't want this to be smooth. You want it to be rough and tough, and it is.
(Pictured: An errant tree branch knocked a rear tarp cross-member out of its slot)
It handles like a 22,000 lb 6x6. I didn't know what that statement meant until recently, but I now do. When driving this truck, you have the general notion that somewhere under you is a road. I'm not really sure how to explain it more than that. During regular driving, you keep it in 4-wheel drive, meaning the back four wheels receive power. When going through the nasty stuff, you lock it into 6x6. The massive steering wheel is vague and extremely power assisted.
Allison 5-speed automatic, super beefy. Shift smoothly (smoother than I expected, at least) and seems to just work. Not too much to say here, other than to point out for a second time that the gears are incredibly short.
I'm not sure the M923A2 has any toys in the traditional sense, but I kind of consider it the world's biggest toy in and of itself, so there's that. CTIS (Central Tire Inflation System) is fun to play with, and quite functional. The horn also makes a nice truck-horn sound, so I was hitting that thing nonstop. This truck is just cool. For goodness sake, the wipers are pneumatic:
The distinct lack of any audio system whatsoever means I must rely on the noises of the vehicle for this category. The good news is, there's a lot of those noises. The engine is wonderful (I'm a big Cummins fan, in case you guys didn't know) and it shakes pleasantly at idle, smoothing out as RPM's increase. The myriad of air-powered systems make all kinds of noises all the time, and that also sounds sweet. Anyone that loves anything mechanical will love the noises of this truck. It's like using a battery powered electric screwdriver your whole life, and then using a pneumatic impact wrench for the first time. Your just like, "woah".
When it's time to go off-road, first you think, "time to hit some switches":
Then you think, "incredible". I'm not sure I can think of any terrain, other than a vertical cliff face or mud deeper than 5 feet that would stop this truck. The CTIS is awesome, just look at the control panel for it:
That's highway, cross-country, sand, emergency, and run-flat. I don't know exactly what emergency and run-flat do. All I know is that when you decrease the tire pressure and throw this truck into 6x6, it will not be stopped by any regular terrain. It went through a 1 foot+ deep mud bog like a Range Rover goes through a parking lot. The suspension, for all its beefy-ness, actually articulates well. Look at these leaf springs. Seriously:
LOOK AT THAT. All your leaf spring are belong to us.
Great. If you can manage to get this thing insured and registered for the road, it won't cost you much, and the truck itself cost a fraction of what a modern pickup truck these days costs. Insurance and registration actually cost very little money, you just have to find someone willing to insure it under agreeable terms. Same goes for getting tags. All in all, if you are smart about it, getting this thing on the road doesn't break the bank. Not even close. This truck's dollars-to-freedom ratio is basically unmatched.
-If I left out anything you want to know, just ask! Also, if you have any suggestions, within reason, of what we should do (or try to do) in this thing, let me know!