If you really want to learn how to drive a tank, I suggest you read a different article. Go find one written by someone who has dedicated and risked their life perfecting the skills needed to operate one in the heat of battle. I’m sure it will be much more informative and interesting than this. That said, if you want to learn how you can drive a tank, please read on.
The Monticello Motor Club in New York is one of the swankiest private racetracks in the world. It’s the kind of place where billionaires bring their multi-million hypercars and classics to stretch their legs.
But across the street from its fancy digs, the club has a 25-acre off-road park where it offers a Tank Experience that gives members and non-members the opportunity to drive an FV4232 armored personnel carrier through the woods and crush cars with a 35-ton Chieftain battle tank. It’s one of the few places in the U.S., and the only one in the Northeast where you can do either.
The vehicles are authentic British military machines. The Chieftain even saw action in Iraq during the Gulf War after it was converted into a bridge layer. Now, in the place of the apparatus, there are eight racing-style seats that your friends strap into as you drive.
The FV432 was designed to carry more than that. About a dozen troops can fit into its armored passenger compartment. The driver sits up front on the right, while the a 6.57-liter six-cylinder opposed-piston diesel engine rides shotgun.
The motor started up without any fuss, and I quickly discovered that operating the FV432 isn’t difficult at all. It has an automatic transmission and an accelerator pedal just like a car, but instead of a wheel, there are two levers to steer by braking the tracks. Pull on one and the vehicle turns in that direction, push both forward and it goes straight as you stick your head out of the armored cocoon to see.
The F432 will go over 35 mph on a straight, but the fun part is taking up and down Monticello’s hilly circuit. It’s surprisingly nimble and climbs steep rises with as much ease as you could expect from a 15-ton hunk of steel. The ride is pretty smooth, too, and the overall experience comfortable, given the lack of automotive amenities. Things are much different in the Chieftain, as you might expect, but they come with some advantages.
Climbing into the Chieftain’s cockpit through the tiny hatch is more awkward than getting into a Formula One car, and pretty much everything that you have to snake your body around as you do it is hard, sharp or both. Pain will be inflicted and your clothes are at risk. In combat, a driver lays down in the reclined chair and looks straight up through a binocular, but for the car-crushing experience, you just sit with your legs in front of you as if you were on a floor. It’s not pleasant.
The Chieftain also has a six-cylinder opposed-piston engine, but it’s mounted in the rear, 19 liters large and puts out over 600 horsepower. Instead of a shift lever, there’s a motorcycle-style foot-operated gear selector for the manual transmission, which is thankfully equipped with an automatic centrifugal clutch. You press down for reverse and up to change through its six speeds, but you only need two here.
The tank takes is a real bear and takes plenty of muscle to turn, so you just drive it straight over a car and then again in reverse, making slight adjustments to hit the soon to be wreck with one of the tracks. If you don’t, you could find yourself high-centered and stuck on top of an Oldsmobile Eighty-Eight as I did on one pass … as if driving a rolling fortress wasn’t already a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Score one for the ghost of Oldsmobile.
Do it right, and you are rewarded with the oddly satisfying sensation of the tank listing to one side then popping the car like a bubble. It’s arguably even more exciting for your friends sitting way up high in the spectator section, where the motions are exaggerated.
They’ll pay $25 for the experience, while it’s a bit more for you. $799 for the car crush and another $150 to take the APC for a spin. Worth it? Considering your only other options are enlisting in the military or shelling out $150,000 or so for two armored vehicles like these to drive around your backyard, one can make an argument that it is.
One thing’s for certain, it’s a blast. Even without any guns