Do thy bidding: Buying ex-Army machinery

You need nerves of steel to buy at auction, and as Matt Wood recently found, it’s even worse if you’re buying online where you can’t see the whites of other bidders eyes!

It’s already been widely reported that the Australian Defence Force has been upgrading it’s transport and machinery fleet over the last couple of years. And the process is set to continue to 2020.

Off-Loading Machinery

In off-road circles ex-ADF Land Rover Perenties have been much sought after for both private and business use. These 4×4 and 6×6 workhorses were designed and built in Australia exclusively for the ADF and feature, on top of the usual Land Rover kit, a 3.9 litre Isuzu engine, a 2.5 inch suspension lift, and a galvinised chassis.

 But it’s not just the Landies that are being replaced, Mercedes Benz Unimogs, Mack 6×6 trucks, Forklifts, cranes, shipping containers, ATVs and even dirt bikes are all going under the hammer as the ADF fleet upgrades. There are also job lots of tyres, parts and trailers. And now the excitement of these machines hitting the market has died down a little, there are bargains to be had if you’re patient and do your homework.

These military machines are being sold by Australian Frontline Machinery, a subsidiary of scrap metal recycling group Sell and Parker. The auctions themselves are handled by internet auction house GraysOnline.

The auction itch that I needed to scratch however, was getting hold of a 4×4 Perentie of my own. Common sense tells you that you should go to the auction yard on a pre-auction viewing day and inspect the goods. The auctions are held online but before the clock starts each site has a couple of viewing days where you can make sure you know what you’re bidding on.

The items themselves can be auctioned from any capital city around the country.

Auction Fever

There’s common sense and then there’s what I did. When I should have been immersed in churning out entertaining and informative content for this esteemed publication instead I must confess that I had an auction window open on the computer. Like a desperate addict I kept glancing at the auctions around the country as the countdown to the end of the auction began. Sorry Boss.

I threw caution to the wind, I placed a bid, then another. My pulse rate edged higher. There’s a “Going Going” period where even after the auction clock has counted down to its finale the item isn’t sold until 10 minutes after the last bid. This is to compensate for slower internet speeds in regional areas, and to snare unsuspecting punters like me caught up in the emotion of buying their very own Land Rover.

And at that last minute when I was so wound up that I thought a bit of wee might come out, I won. I was now the proud owner of a Land Rover Perentie GS Cargo 4×4……..located in Darwin.

  All goods are sold on an as-is, where-is basis, though Grays can help arrange transport for a price. Land Rovers sold through the Sydney site are ready for rego with a NSW blue slip. As such these vehicles command a price premium. And for many people Sydney is a little more of a convenient location to collect the goods from. Or cheaper to arrange transport from.

Road Trippin’

I then had a brainwave, I figured what better way to get acquainted with my new wheels than to drive it back to Brisbane? It’s only 3,600 kilometres across the outback. What could possibly go wrong?

Of course said Land Rover was unregistered but the Motor Vehicles Registry in Darwin issued me a permit to allow me to make my way back to Brisvegas. 

According to the logbook, my truck had spent the bulk of its operational life in either Qld or the NT with 161 Recce Squadron. It may have been kicked out of a Hercules on East Timor, or it may just have been used to go down the shops for sandwiches. It did however get a new engine and odometer at 130,000km, the new odometer was showing 93,000kms when I jetted in to take possession of it.

Territory Greeting

GraysOnline Darwin manager Dave Souter greeted me in typically friendly/dry Territorian fashion and we then completed the formalities around paperwork. I’d say that he then handed me the keys, but army vehicles don’t have any keys for obvious reasons. You clearly don’t want to be trying to find out who’s got the keys when under fire.

As it had been sitting in the tropics for a while my chariot was cosmetically a bit shabby and some bits and pieces were a little corroded. The mighty Isuzu 4BD1 engine however fired straight away.

It was actually quite comforting climbing into the Landy, it smelt of old grease like a farm shed, it smelt like an old tractor.

My first hurdle was to stop the constant 4-wheel drive jumping out of high range intermittently. I didn’t have time to explore too much, I needed to be back in Brisbane in reasonable time. So zip ties got me out of trouble here. So after a check over (oil, coolant, leaks etc.) I fuelled the old banger up and pointed it south to Katherine.

The 6×6 models use a turbocharger on the same Isuzu engine. In naturally aspirated form though it makes just 66kW but puts out a respectable 245Nm of torque. High range gearing is actually quite tall meaning the Perentie will quite happily sit on 100km/h all day.

Tent On Wheels

It is however, very loud. A flapping canvas tent on military run-flat wheels with no sound deadening whatsoever. At 100km/h it would be hard to have a conversation, it reminded me of flying in an old DE Havilland Beaver. But I couldn’t keep the smile off my face.  At least nobody would be able to hear me singing!

As I rolled out of Katherine the next morning it finally occurred to me that I was going to be crossing through some fairly remote country. Dave had wryly suggested that I take the Savannah Way, which had its appeal (read remote dirt road) though common sense finally kicked in. I was in no way equipped for a trip like that. Though it’s amazing what you can achieve with a packet of zip ties, shifting spanners, screwdrivers and gaffa tape when you put your mind to it.

As it was the tail end of the wet season, the air was heavy, hot and humid. I cranked up the air-conditioning. Which entailed rolling up the sides of the canvas roof. The old Perentie however just rattled and it’s way down the road without a care in the world, completely unstressed.

I’d planned to just swag it wherever I pulled up along the way. However, I figured that parking a camo vehicle in a truck rest area in the dead of night was a good way to end up with a road train parked on my head.

So I pushed through to Barkly Homestead. It was rather amusing when I caught up to an army convoy just north of Three Ways NT. Soldiers kept looking over their shoulders with puzzled looks on their faces at the arrival of another addition to their number.

Snakes slithered across the Barkly Highway in unison with the heat haze shimmer as I approached the Queensland border, abundant feed stretched to the vast horizon a legacy of the recent rains. Still the old Landy buzzed along happily.

Place names that read like the sleeve of a country music album slid past in the mauve twilight and into Winton. I was really starting to enjoy the simple bag and swag existence. I was harbouring a secret fantasy of seeing if there was any station work around. In my minds eye I could see myself hauling 6 decks of cattle across the Barcoo.

I reluctantly rolled into the hurley burley of Brisbane 3,609 kilometres later. The Perentie had served me well, the only mishaps were a flat tyre and a burnt out headlight switch. Not bad for a 30 year old jigger that had been sitting around for a couple of years. It just reinforces the reputation for these things being tough. Fuel economy wasn’t bad either, just shy of 11l/100km.

Now the real fun begins…

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