In 2010, a standoff with police in Hoonah, Alaska, on the northeast shore of Chichagof Island led to a shootout that resulted in two officers being killed and the suspect barricading himself inside a house. Alaska State Trooper Rodney Dial responded to the call that day and came to a sobering realization — local law enforcement needed an armored vehicle. Alas, not one could be found in the entire state. After the situation came to an end, his search began for a platform that could be used to respond to similar confrontations in the future.
Rodney took it upon himself to research this category of vehicles and quickly discovered how cost prohibitive it'd be to get a modern one with all the bells and whistles better-funded departments had. That led to scouring forums and websites dedicated to surplus military vehicles that could be purchased for considerably less. After poking around the interweb for a while, Rodney found this six-wheeled beast owned by a militia member in the Midwest who had a brush with the law and was forced to sell it. Upon dropping around $22,000 for the vehicle itself, and then about another $5,000 having it shipped to Alaska, he was now the proud owner of a 1956 Alvis Saracen FV603 Mark V.
The owner fabricated a one-piece removable front cowling with extra armor and ballistic glass.
To provide a little background, the Saracen FV600 series was an armored personnel carrier (APC) produced by British manufacturer Alvis from the early '50s up to the mid '70s. Many of them are still in use today throughout the globe. This model of APC was often seen during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and you may have also recognized a few of them in Stallone's Judge Dredd movie. The Mark V is an up-armored variant of the FV603 model and, according to Rodney, can withstand a 20-pound landmine as well as .50-caliber armor-piercing rounds. The factory ballistic glass is around 6 inches thick. The vehicle can hold 10 people including the driver and gunner, but it isn't amphibious.
After taking delivery of the vehicle, it quickly became a maintenance nightmare. The startup procedure required checking dozens of fluid levels, and the amount of oil it leaked rivaled the Exxon Valdez. The recurring mechanical issues, coupled with the fact that parts had to be shipped over from Europe, consistently sidelined it. The original Rolls-Royce powertrain with its fluid flywheel system was only getting a top speed of about 40 mph — when it ran.
Some additional research, and the good fortune of being located near one of the best diesel mechanics in the state, led to swapping out the drivetrain with a Navistar DT 466 six-cylinder diesel engine with an Allison automatic transmission, which was sourced from a dump truck. With the addition of a handmade gas tank, K&N custom intake, and specially made exhaust system, the performance was dramatically improved. Top speed is now about 70 mph, and mileage is up to a surprising average of 15 mpg (not bad for 11 tons).
Rodney also installed a new bumper system, reinforced deck plating on the sides, custom front armor, interior gun mounts, a ladder for the turret, additional lighting, and a police radio, among other touches. Although Rodney has retired from active duty and is currently mayor of Ketchikan, the vehicle is still available to local law enforcement if needed. Operating it is similar to driving a heavy truck, although visibility is understandably limited.
Like any heavy-duty commercial vehicle, it uses air brakes. Currently, the vehicle is only two-wheel drive but can be made 4WD — at the moment Rodney has it disconnected. The independent center wheels serve as backup to keep the vehicle stable and driving in case the others are destroyed and function on a hydraulic system that can be raised to make tighter turns. Rodney tells us it has a better turning radius than his pickup.
You might be asking yourself how it's possible to own one of these unless your golfing buddies work for the State Department. It's actually easier than you might think. Rodney tells us no special permitting was required to purchase it because it was shipped over as "demilitarized," meaning the grenade launchers and guns are disabled. The main armament was originally a Browning .30 cal, but Rodney replaced the barrel with one from a 20mm Vulcan cannon, which is merely for looks. Rodney does have a .50-cal BMG that he could use in the periscope-equipped turret if needed.
"People interested in purchasing a vehicle like this should search the military forums online," Rodney says. "There's a few different companies that sell military surplus vehicles. It's not easy to find one like this for sale in the country, but you can definitely find one in Europe and import it. Sometimes they have similar ones on eBay under the military vehicles section. If you buy one, you have to do one of two things: Understand that it's something you can just drive on a limited basis because they break down periodically, or you're going to have to modernize it with a current drivetrain and other components."
As was the case with Rodney, owning one will require finding a specialized mechanic who knows how (and is willing) to service it, upgrade it, and can possibly fabricate parts. Given the inflated weight, if you get it stuck somewhere you better have the number for a big-rig tow truck company saved on your phone.
To comply with the formalities for street legality, Rodney had to get it inspected, pay for a surety bond, and register it as a special-use vehicle. Believe it or not, it's insured through a well-known insurance provider and only costs him about $400 annually. "People need to make sure they get a vehicle like this titled so they can register it," Rodney says. "Every state is different on what they'll allow and consider 'special use,' but I registered it in a similar manner as companies that take old amphibious WWII vehicles and use them for tourists."
If you're part of the thin blue line and having trouble convincing the tribal elders why they should appropriate funds to acquire a vehicle like this, be sure and remind them about the situation that prompted Rodney to purchase his. If that doesn't work, try mentioning Shawn Nelson, who stole an M60A3 Patton tank from a National Guard armory in 1995 and went on a rampage in San Diego, California. You could also relay the "killdozer" case of Marvin Heemeyer, who rigged up his D355A bulldozer with extra armor before deciding to go out and demolish several buildings in Granby, Colorado, in reaction to his ongoing disputes with city officials.
Rodney's vehicle might've already looked familiar to you, as it's also been featured on an episode of Doomsday Preppers. If you're looking to get one for a SHTF situation, it's perfectly legal (and we think commendable) for private citizens to procure a Saracen and vehicles of the same ilk. See the sidebar for used military vehicle resources. Just like having an AR, though, you're bound to get resistance from the local yokels who want to undermine your ability to own it on the grounds that it's impractical, threatening, and that you "don't need it." We're sure you've heard all these arguments before. Anyone who thinks the worst examples of human nature only exist in third-world countries is clearly well on their way to Mensa membership. Think we're immune to a failed state? Go repeat remedial world history. Go directly to remedial world history. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $200.
At this point Rodney estimates he has about $120,000 of his own money sunk into the Saracen, but has it out on the road regularly and might even be spotted in a local drive-thru. Something about a politician who owns an APC makes us want to reach deep into our pockets to help him with his future campaign endeavors. Hopefully, his next step is running for Congress.
1956 Alvis Saracen FV603 Mark V
Motor: DT 466 six-cylinder diesel
Transmission: Allison automatic
Length: Approx. 15 feet
Width: Approx. 8 feet
Height: Approx. 9 feet, 5 inches
Weight: Approx. 22,000 pounds
Top speed: Approx. 70 mph