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.
Upon taking possession of his newly renovated rig, McClanahan began his own renovation, which included the complete replacement of all signals and lights on the vehicle from the conventional light-bulb-equipped units to state-of-the-art LED units. Other items included fabricating a hood lock, water/fuel tank mounts, and various other sheetmetal items. Knowing that his new ride would serve as his mobile camping unit and command post for his extended desert trips, a plethora of electronics was installed in and around the rig so that McClanahan and his family could remain in contact with the outside world. Prior to the electronics having been installed however, McClanahan had to fabricate a custom roof rack from 4-inch DOM steel tubing with 1/4-inch steel plates integrated into it so that it could serve as a base to his two long-range GPS antennas, CB/UHF/VHF antennas, satellite antennas, and directional cellular phone antenna.
The electronic devices locate inside the cab read like a shopping list for the Navy SEALs and include a Mitsubishi satellite phone, a Furuno radar and GPS system, a Trimble Navigation NT100 GPS system, a Maxon nine-channel VHF radio, a Motorola UHF radio, a pair of Sat-Com headsets, and a Furuno GP50 Mark III backup GPS system. The sound system consists of a Clarion ARX6470 head unit and a pair of Bose speakers.
Putting together the 24-volt electrical system with 60-amp high-output alternator and dual 6TL batteries posed numerous challenges to McClanahan, especially when trying to locate the Hella 24-volt HID lamps that sit atop the roof rack. The lamps were ultimately acquired via an eastern European connection. Additional interior accompaniments include a custom-fabricated overhead roof console, new seats with harnesses, and interior soundproofing.
Custom-painted fangs reside on each side of the front grille to serve as not-so-gentle reminders that if you are in any way, shape, or form what McClanahan deems as his way, you will be, for all intents and purposes, decimated. Knowing this, our suggestion to you is that if this green giant ever appears anywhere around you that you should just pull to the right and let him pass. We guarantee that if you do this, you'll live to see another day and another issue of OFF-ROAD.