July 18, 2012

Is an ex-Canadian Forces MLVW a better camping vehicle than an ex-CF Iltis?

 The Canadian Forces Medium Logistic Vehicle Wheeled (MLVW) "Short Wheelbase" version
(Photo: Steffan Watkins)

How does this fit in?
There were both shortfalls and advantages to having a small vehicle (the Iltis) in Parent/Casey this spring.  The Iltis can get into tight spaces, and I didn't care if I scratched the paint, but the soft top is extremely expensive to replace, so I didn't drive it like a bull into places where it could be damaged.  There was one spot through the bush that I would have shoved a vehicle through with a hard top, a zipper of tree branches had formed across a straight gravel road.  The bushes from either side had grown up, over, and then hung down blocking the road.  We pushed our way through on foot, but it was quite unpleasant.  An ATV might have been painful, but something with a windscreen and bush bars would have been perfect.

(Photo: DND Combat Camera)
The Iltis is a 3200lb vehicle, with a towing capacity of 1200lbs (on a good day); that's not enough to tow an ATV on a trailer to get into the spots the Iltis can't fit into; but it can tow a 1/4 ton trailer. The Iltis is nimble because it is small; but because it is small, it can't fit very much cargo.  Camping for an extended period of time with one+ tents, one+ sleeping bags, food, water, etc. enough for one+ people is tight.  Yes, I know I could pack lighter.

Using the Goldilocks method of vehicle shopping, I've tried out the Iltis, and am not dissatisfied with it, but think going in the "other direction" is worth a look.  Something like an MLVW or Deuce and a Half.  That big a truck may be "too big", but let's go over it for the sake of argument.

Based on the American M35 chassis that has been around since the Korean War, the MLVW (short wheelbase version, as shown above) has a 8' X 12' box, and can carry 5,000 lbs of cargo off-road, or 10,000lbs of cargo on the highway.  It has a maximum speed of 90km/h, uses an Allison Automatic MT-643 automatic transmission, and a 50Gal / 189L gas tank.  It is powered by a ~160HP Detroit Diesel 8.2L "Fuel Pincher", which will get you ~400-600Km on a tank.  It has a 10,000lb hydraulic winch on the front bumper, and rides on six Michelin "Super Singles" (Michelin 11.00R20's) rather than the American ten wheel configuration.  The cab is solid, doesn't have a soft top like some of the American versions, and has roof racks to store more stuff above the driver.  It has a 24V (standard NATO style) power setup, with 4 batteries for deep cold starting power.  It weighs ~13,000-17,000lbs (depending on configuration, as they can add an entire communications or other box on the back rather than the open troop bed and canvas top as shown above).  Like the "VW Iltis", the American M35 design was licensed to Bombardier, and after 1500 improvements were made (for Canadian winters and changing other things that didn't make sense) 2,765 units were made for the Canadian Forces in the early 1980s.
(Photo: DND Combat Camera)

For my use, I could fit a couple of ATVs, fuel, lockable secure storage bins, and a bunch of camping gear in the back of an MLVW, take it to somewhere like Parent, QC, dismount the ATVs and go exploring on them.  OR, I could make a ramp and drive an Iltis in the back of the MLVW, keep that Iltis licensed only as an ATV, and use it the same way up north.

The major obstacle to getting an MLVW for my Cold War road trips isn't solely the cost (they run from $5,000.00-20,000.00 CDN), nor the parts (they're plentiful down south, you just need to know the right wrecker!), it's licensing and storage.

I don't have a barn or massive "RV" sized garage to store one of these in, and work on it in the winter.  I can barely fit the lawn mower, snow blower, and car in the garage at once as it is!  I'm not the most skilled shade-tree mechanic, but with the right space I can disassemble something and take my time re-assembling it.

(Photo: DND Combat Camera)
Licensing is somewhat of a mystery in Ontario - there are lots of people who claim to know what needs to be done, but I find litle common ground, and a lot of FUD (Fear Uncertainty Doubt).  Part of the equation is the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.  Rumour has it that Transport Canada doesn't want any Deuce and a Halves or MLVWs on the road due to fears about public safety; The bumpers are too high, they didn't pass Federal standards for highway vehicles, and other, frankly, bullshit.  These vehicles were built to transport our men, women, and equipment into battle, and take the highways to get there. Rumours about the brakes being unsafe are also, bullshit.  Depending what vehicle we're talking about, there is some speculation that the air-assisted brake system is unsafe and if it fails you're dead.  Well if it was that unsafe, how could it have ever been used in a military vehicle?  I have an idea; make sure the brakes work and are properly maintained like any other vehicle, and stop worrying about ways to keep this vehicle off the streets.  Then there's insurance... insurance companies don't know what to make of me when I call and ask for a 2.5Ton 6x6 truck to be insured.  Actually, they don't even return my calls. :-\

I guess my point is, even if I could have one, space and money permitting, the bureaucrats would make it as difficult for me as possible to have a vintage military transport truck as a hobby weekend warrior camping vehicle.  Why?  I don't know.  People build cars from kits with less trouble.  People rebuild cars from the early 20th century and drive them around town to car shows.  I'd rather be in an MLVW on the highway than a vintage car, thankyouverymuch!


  1. I have purchased this past summer (2013) a 1993 AM General M35A3. It was imported from the U.S. by somebody who does this as a business. It was already registered in Ontario, and all I needed was an emission certificate (passed no problem) and a safety (again, provided by vendor) I licenced it for 10,000 kg as I haul my own stuff with it. Insurance was also no problem.

    1. Nice job! What sort of emissions test did they perform? Does it qualify as a "light" Diesel? I'm really enjoying my 6.5L Turbo Diesel (in the Suburban), if you're keeping a blog about your M35, please let me know; I'd love to hear more about your experience with it. Thanks!

    2. I am not that familiar with the Diesel emissions testing in Ontario. The certificate seems to have information from the engine name plate rather than the truck. From what I understand the throttle was snapped a few times during the test and that was it. I would presume a sample of he exhaust was taken. The test was done by the vendor as a condition of sale.

      I have read a lot about licencing these vehicles in Ontario, most of which does not make sense. One big issue is the air assist hydraulic brakes. Hino trucks are sold with the same system, there is no issue with them. As for bumper height compare it to any large redi mix truck, they are about the same. I do not know if the Bombardier trucks for Canadian Forces can actually be licenced, why or why not I could not tell. I contacted two sources for my truck, one guy was kind of sketchy and was reluctant to show me the Ontario registration, mainly because he still had a Pennsylvania reg. to save taxes. The second guy had it registered in Ontario. there was absolutely no problem licencing or transferring.

      Insurance is another issue. Not too many companies have heard of these nor did they want to touch it. I was told $3500 from my commercial broker, Allstate said no problem, does it for about 800 per year. There is a classic car insurer that also handles these, but the vehicle must be 1985 or older and registered with a historic vehicle plate. If you go this route, forget about an M35A3, you need to get an A2. Also, the historic vehicle plate in Ontario means you can not do anything with the vehicle except drive once in a while, not as a daily driver, certainly not hauling any load (other than what was installed at factory, firewood does not count). Basically for testing, demonstration, parades or to and from shows. I have a regular commercial licence plate for the truck, registered to 10,000kg in Ontario, not cheap.

      Because of this it is considered a commercial vehicle in Ontario. I also had to get a CVOR and the licence was costly for the weight. You can licence only the empty weight of the truck, but do not get caught hauling anything.
      (I think this is how it works).

      I went the route of the CVOR and commercial licence just to be safe as I used the truck for hauling firewood for myself, but may help somebody else one day, etc. etc.

      My A3 came with DOT safety stamps on the glass, seatbelts, wipers, heater/defroster clearance lights. etc. as well as the military 'black out lamps" still functioning. I was also told that the older models that do not have the clearance lights, seat belts and may not have defroster/heater also get certified and licenced???? go figure.

      Engine is 6.6 litre Caterpillar 3116, 1993 model and nameplate says it meets U.S. EPA 1993 standards. It has a turbo, I imagine it is really similar to your 6.5 ( Cat is 6 cylinder) as far as emissions requirements. Not sure if it is considered light or heavy. I will check emission paper and see and let you know.

      BTW electrics are all 24 volts, it is not the same set up as a regular highway truck with a 24 volt starter, as all other electrical and alternators on the highway trucks is 12 volt. All bulbs, etc. are 24 volt. You will have to get from suppliers. they are plentiful in the U.S. and ship to Canada. They have huge inventories of surplus new and used parts. If you wish to hook up 12 volt radio, lights etc. then it is best to purchase a 24 to 12 converter. you can connect across 1 battery, but this can cause a charge imbalance between the two.

      It is loud, rides hard, top safe speed would be 40 mph, although you can push it faster. Same acceleration and braking with 5000 lb load as it is empty. A3 has an automatic transmission, 4 speed, it is in high gear by 20 mph. Has air assist power steering, central tire inflation system.

    3. Just thought I would mention that the GVW of the A3 is within the limit for an Ontario G licence ( normal passenger car licence, if you are not Ontario), and the brake system does NOT require an Ontario Z endorsement (air brake). You can load this truck to its limit and still get away with a G licence, but if you hitch a trailer to it I think you will be over the limit and need a G licence. I think even the one ton military style trailer may put it over the limit and you need to have a D (Ontario) licence. You will need to verify that yourself.

      Aside from the oils, filters and other lubricants, you will have to deal with the parts suppliers in the U.S. I have not found identical tire in Canada, however some manufacturers do sell truck tires close enough, but you would have to have all 6 identical. I am planning on getting some up from the states in the spring instead of changing all 6.

      I have not attempted to run it in the cold yet, but I am told you do need a block heater for it. Also, for some reason the transmission (automatic) is filled with 15w40 motor oil. Yes, your read that correct. don't know why. I would imagine that would be tough on the trans in cold weather, may not even engage/disengage clutches properly. I do not know what is involved in changing over to regular auto trans fluid.

      I have only had mine since September of this year, drove it, made my own stake sides and gave it an oil change and coolant change. Lots of fun, my grand children keep pestering me for a ride in it. Doing tires this year and tackling some surface rust.

    4. If you are serious about purchasing an MLVW, I suggest that you approach the folks at:

      Tell them that you are from the Ottawa area, that you had a Bombardier Iltis and that you are interested in a MLVW. They are knowledgable in how to get them licensed and on the road in Ontario.