British troops called the gasoline-powered American tanks 'Ronsons.' Like the cigarette lighter slogan of the day, they 'lit the first time when struck'

The catalog description for the M3 Stuart light tank was sparse but pithy.
Manufacturer: American Car & Foundry Co., U.S.A. Crew: Four. Engine: Continental W-670-9A; 7-cyl. engine. Length: 450cm. Width: 246cm. Height: 230cm. Approx. Weight: 14.25 tons. Armament: One 37mm gun. Two replica 30-inch machine guns

SCM Analysis


Number Produced:4,410
Tune Up Cost:Contact your local army base
Distributor Caps:N/A, Magneto ignition
Club Info:Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA), P.O. Box 520378, Independence, MO 64052-0378
Investment Grade:C

This M3A1 Stuart Light Tank sold for $34,339 at the Bonhams Melbourne Tank Museum sale in Australia on April 23, 2006.
The M3A1 Stuart was built by the American Car & Foundry Company, and this was one of 4,410 produced between May 1942 and February 1943.
As tanks go, it’s a lightweight, but the pickings were mighty slim for the allies at the start of WWII. America in the late 1930s was still in an economic depression, and funding for military equipment was nonexistent.
The U.S. armored stock consisted of two pairs of similar vehicles; the M2A2 and M2A3 light tanks, armed with two machine guns in two separate turrets, used by the infantry, and the twin machine gun/single turret M1 and M1A1 “combat cars” used by the cavalry. These evolved into the 37mm cannon armed M2A4, and later M3, M3A1, M5, and M5A1 light tanks.
By 1941, the British Army in North Africa was being pushed eastward by the armored fist of the German Afrika Korps. In dire need of anything tank-like, the Brits threw their new American M3 tanks into battle in November of 1941.
The British Army was delighted with the reliable (compared to their own tanks-sound familiar?) though short-ranged, and poorly armed and armored, M3s. The M3s were able to sustain 20-30 mph while British tanks were doing well to average 10-20 mph.
There was just one small problem: fire. In the interests of fuel allocations, the U.S. Navy received the diesel fuel, and the Army got gasoline. Thin armor and flammable fuel, combined with German 75, 88, and 128mm anti-tank guns, made for unpleasantly predictable results. The Brits called the American tanks “Ronsons” because, like the cigarette lighter slogan of the day, they “lit the first time when struck.”
It was also the British who started naming American tanks for, originally, American Civil War generals. The first of these was the M3, for the Confederate general J.E.B. Stuart. M3s were more commonly known to the Brits as “Honeys,” due to their pleasant qualities.
Hard lessons learned by the Poles, British, and French who were steamrollered by invading German armies in 1939/40 took time to percolate through the American military. The Stuart was the only U.S. tank available until the M3 Lee/Grant medium tanks entered British North African service in May 1942.
And these didn’t represent much progress. They were awkward, with the main 75mm cannon fixed in the hull, requiring the entire tank be moved to aim the gun. Lee/Grant tanks served in first-line units until the arrival of the M4 Sherman, with a turret-mounted main cannon. As more powerful tanks entered Allied service, Stuarts were relegated to the scouting/recon role, serving in that capacity until the 75mm cannon-armed M24 Chaffee light tank began to replace them late in 1944.
If you develop a hankering for heavy metal, a Stuart is a good start. Fairly compact as armor goes, at under eight feet wide, it will fit through a standard garage door-as long as the door is at least eight feet high as well. Lengthwise, at just under 15 feet, it’s the same length as a 1997 Corvette.
Weight, on the other hand, is 28,500 lbs. That’s 14.25 tons. If you wish to trailer it, you’d better have both a stout trailer and tow vehicle, or cultivate your local highway department or construction company, plus hold a Commercial Driver’s License.
Fuel and economy are mutually exclusive with any armor, especially when you are feeding a 668-ci, seven-cylinder Wright/Continental aircraft radial engine rated at 250 hp. Onboard fuel tankage of 56 gallons will get you about 70 miles, with a maximum speed around 36 mph.
You won’t be seeing those kinds of speeds on the highway, as several states (most recently Kansas) will not license a fully-tracked armored vehicle for highway usage. At best, you’ll become your local VFW post’s best buddy when it’s time to muster vehicles for the annual Veteran’s Day parade.
Perhaps the messiest issue on this vehicle is that it would have to clear U.S. Customs if shipped here. They will be pussycats compared to dealing with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. Since 9/11, importing military vehicles has been far from easy, even if they are decommissioned and historical. (Editor’s note: It strikes me as somewhat unlikely that someone bent on performing an evil deed in the U.S. would import a Stuart Light Tank as their implement of destruction.) Dealing with an experienced importation company is a must, to see if you can even bring your new toy home in the first place. Of course, the 37mm and the ancillary M1919A5 Browning machine guns must be rendered permanently inoperable.
On the plus side, antifreeze costs will be nil as the engine is air-cooled. Additionally, club support is quite good, as the Military Vehicle Preservation Association (MVPA) and its numerous state and international chapters are all quite appreciative of all types of mil-spec equipment. Relatively speaking, parts support isn’t too bad either. Through the MVPA, you can get in touch with suppliers who won’t call Homeland Security if you ask for a set of rubberized tracks (a must for driving a tracked vehicle on asphalt) and will provide tech support if you can’t find it in any of the reproduced Army Tech Manuals on the Stuart.
But a Stuart is (relatively) as cheap as you can get, as tanks go. While our example sold at the higher end of what’s generally agreed to be the market, with some research, you can find running examples without major needs starting at the $25,000 region. So, if you think that a WWII-era Ford GPW/
Willys MB is too diminutive and you’re hankering for an underappreciated (albeit large) piece of American, British, and Australian history from our finest hour, a Stuart might be your cup of tea.

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