Almanac

Cover Story - July 16, 2014

Sold out

... or nearly so. All but three of the vintage military fighting vehicles are sold at Littlefield auction

by Dave Boyce

The bright and airy warehouses at the estate of the late Jacques Littlefield at 499 Old Spanish Trail in Los Trancos Woods will slowly empty of Mr. Littlefield's huge collection of military vehicles now that the auction is over.

Total receipts were $10.2 million, including for the sale of all the spare parts and 119 of the 122 vehicles on the auction block, said Amy Christie of Auctions America, the Indiana-based collectible-vehicle auction house that ran the show.

About 300 registered bidders and guests gathered on July 11 and 12. The action included bidding by phone and bidders from other countries.

A Soviet SCUD-A mobile missile launcher sold for $345,000, Ms. Christie said.

Among the five items that had minimum bids, a restored Sherman tank decorated with war paint sold for $345,000 and a German World War II-era troop carrier sold for $1.2 million, she said. A Sherman assault tank and a German Panzer tank were not sold and will likely travel with the 80 or so vehicles not up for auction and headed to the Collings Foundation in Stow, Massachusetts. All auction proceeds go to the foundation, Ms. Christie said.

The nonprofit is assembling a 60,000-square-foot building for indoor display of the vehicles and has plans for an outdoor amphitheater at its 69-acre home, Executive Director Rob Collings told the Almanac in 2013. Re-enacted battles could include scenes from the Battle of the Bulge in Germany, Desert Storm in Iraq and the Korean War, he said. There will be gunfire, but not with live rounds.

All but 12 of the auctioned vehicles with weapons had had them permanently disabled. Sales of vehicles with working weapons are final only after a background check and months of dealing with federal agencies, said Mark Barnes, an attorney and international arms dealer on site for the auction. Sales to foreigners require export licenses, he said.

For the next six weeks, passersby on Los Trancos and Alpine roads may encounter trucks loaded with the purchased military vehicles. They'll be headed to a regional staging area for shipment to the successful bidders worldwide.

Bidders

John Fink, 62, traveled from Auburn, Indiana, to buy a spare engine for his British Chieftain tank, for which he paid $30,000 10 years ago, he said. (The auction included a Chieftain with an estimated price of $50,000 to $75,000).

Mr. Fink's tank is operable, but he no longer drives it, he said. While it's physically demanding work, "it's fun to keep it drivable," he said. He also owns antique cars, he said, but gets a bigger kick working on the tank.

Mario Saviano, 62, is a dental technician from Salinas and had come to the auction with a friend. "We're interested in purchasing a vehicle," he said. A wheeled vehicle, but armored, he added. Tracked vehicles are too hard to work on and opportunities to drive on a road are very limited, even with rubber tracks, he said. With a wheeled vehicle, there are more options.

As a child, he built models of armored vehicles. He was standing in front of a British Ferret, a light-duty reconnaissance vehicle used, he said, to scout front lines or look for potential defensive positions. It's got wheels, but he wasn't interested. "It's too small and I'm too big," he said. He said he may bid on a Saracen, a British command vehicle.

Nick Duguid of San Jose was there to begin his goodbyes. He's been a volunteer at the Littlefield Collection for about six years and has ridden in the vehicles at shows and civic events. He hasn't driven them because he never learned to use a manual transmission, he said.

Mr. Duguid also built models of planes and tanks as a child, and heard about the collection in high school. At the moment of this interview, he was standing in a Littlefield warehouse in front of an American half-track — a truck, sometimes fitted with machine guns, with tank-like tracks in the rear and rubber tires in front.

"Half-tracks are kind of neat," Mr. Duguid said. "They're an anachronism, tried in World War II and abandoned." In theory, the tracks in the back would allow the vehicles to traverse rough terrain while the wheels in the front would provide better and easier steering, but the theory didn't work out as planned, he said.

He's been a passenger. "When you're riding in the streets of San Jose and not getting shot at, it's kind of fun," he said.

What did he see when he looked around the room? "I see Jacques," he said. "I see passion. I'm going to miss this, coming up here to see them. It's kind of coming to see all this history in one spot."

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