In case you feel the need for a really, really big truck, we've found something that should more than fit the bill. To put it mildly, let's just say that if you were in the market to purchase a truck to drive to your local Sierra Club meeting, we can pretty much guarantee that this truck would be off the list - way off the list. Gracing our pages this month is a remanufactured and modernized M44A2 Series AM General 2-1/2-ton tactical truck. The lucky owner, Terry McClanahan of American Outfitters in La Mesa, California, is of the opinion that everyone should have at least one in their driveway. While the rig may visually scream vintage military, this particular M44A2 was given the white-glove treatment and a thorough once-over by the good folks of AM General in South Bend, Indiana.
In 1993, the U.S. Army entered into a first-of-its-kind contract with AM General. Aptly named the Extended Service Program (ESP), AM General's primary objective was to remanufacture more than 2,400 M44A2 Series 2-1/2-ton tactical trucks. The key to the program was that each vehicle would essentially be stripped of its paint, completely disassembled, and then rebuilt with the obsolete parts being discarded and new modernized items being added. The end result was a brand-new vehicle with a 16-year life expectancy and outstanding off-road capabilities. During the entire program, only two nonmilitary M44A2s were ever renovated by AM General, the one featured in this article and a second, which was also owned by Terry McClanahan, but later sold to one of his best friends so that it could be used as a go-anywhere camper.
Based upon sheer aesthetics alone, this truck could move mountains, but that just wouldn't be up to the standards of our military forces or the folks at AM General. With a curb weight of 14,338 pounds, a powerful motor and transmission combination is required. In following the objective of modernization, and fresh off the assembly line, a 3116 Caterpillar 403-cid six-cylinder diesel engine with an air-to-air after-cooler system (ATAAC) was installed and mated to an Allison AT-1545P constant mesh automatic transmission. While only producing 170 hp, the Caterpillar powerplant creates a staggering 420 lb-ft of torque at only 1,550 rpm, which is more than enough to propel this behemoth up a 78-percent grade (as we witnessed during the photo shoot). Of course, the T-136 transfer case with 6.72:1 front and rear gearing helped a bit too. For ease of serviceability, the transfer case, motor, and transmission all use the same 15w40 motor oil.
The remainder of the vehicle features all-new suspension components, sheetmetal, body panels, and a state-of-the-art Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) that has been installed to not only improve off-road mobility and ride quality, but to further reduce driver fatigue and shock to passengers and cargo. By the driver selecting a desired terrain condition - sand, mud, or dirt - the six massive 14.5R20XL Michelin tires mounted on 20x11-inch beadlock wheels automatically deflate and inflate to a previously programmed setting. Of course, a truck just wouldn't be a truck unless it had a 10,000-pound hydraulic-drive, large-capacity reservoir winch attached to its front bumper.