Cold War US Fake Tanks

Army Surplus Special (Fictional Tank)

United States of America (1968)
Wacky Racer

In 1968, Hanna-Barbera, the classic cartoon producer of The Flintstones, Topcat, and The Jetsons, – released Wacky Races, a Saturday morning cartoon centered around eleven unique cars with quirky drivers competing in road rallies across the United States to be named “World’s Wackiest Racer”. The cartoon ran for one season between September 1968 and January 1969, with a total of 17 episodes, each consisting of two separate stories.

The show is most well known for that terrible two-some, Dick Dastardly and his dog Muttly in the ‘00’ car ‘Mean Machine’. However, one of the more interesting vehicles – at least to the military-minded – is Number 6, ‘The Army Surplus Special’, manned by Private Meekly (Paul Winchell) and Sergeant Blast (Daws Butler). As is the theme of Wacky Races, this vehicle consists of a rather far-fetched design, being some kind of half-track/tank hybrid.

That being said, and as far-fetched as it sounds, there are some surprising real-world parallels that can be drawn to try and dissect this ‘Wacky Racer’.

Disclaimer: quite clearly, this vehicle and its premise are quite ridiculous. Needless to say, this subject should be treated with an element of tongue-in-cheek, especially when it comes to the absolutely bonkers abilities and equipment employed by this vehicle. One must remember this is a vehicle from a Cartoon, so ‘Cartoon Laws of Physics’ and ‘Rule of Cool’ apply.

Representing a true motor pool mash-up, the No. 6 racer, ‘Army Surplus Special‘ commanded by Sergeant Blast (voiced by Daws Butler) in the turret, driven by Private Meekly (voiced by Paul Winchel) in the Cab. Photo: Hanna-Barbera

Wacky Races

Directed and produced by William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Wacky Races has something of a cult following to this day. The show was based on the 1965 film The Great Race, and was initially produced to be part of a live television game show where contestants would bet on the outcome of the race. This concept fell through, and so it became a stand-alone venture.

The Wacky Races logo. Image: Hanna-Barbera

As well as the aforementioned characters, there was a whole slew of other ‘wacky’ characters and vehicles. These included:

Car 1: The Slag Brothers, Rock and Gravel in the Boulder Mobile.
Car 2: The Gruesome Twosome – Tiny “Big Gruesome” and Bela “Little Gruesome” in the Creepy Coupe
Car 3: Professor Pat Pending in his Convert-a-Car
Car 4: The Red Max in the Crimson Haybaler
Car 5: Penelope Pitstop in the Compact Pussycat
Car 7: The Ant Hill Mob – Clyde, Ring-A-Ding, Rug Bug Benny, Mac, Danny, Kirby and Willy, in the Bulletproof Bomb
Car 8: Lazy Luke and Blubber Bear in the Arkansas Chuggabug
Car 9: Peter Perfect in the Turbo Terrific

Despite being a highly successful show, it would only last that one season. Wacky Races was among a purge of cartoon shows that occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s due to parental protests over cartoon violence. Still, many of the characters introduced in Wacky Races would go on to star in their spin-off shows.

Promotional image showing some of the Wacky Racers. The Army Surplus Special is bringing up the rear. Image. Hanna-Barbera

Motor Pool Mash-Up

Trying to address this vehicle in any kind of realistic sense is difficult, to say the least. Nonetheless, maximum effort shall be applied.

Beholder of an unfortunate acronym, the ‘Army Surplus Special’ is a hybrid vehicle that is half tank, half jeep, forming a cut-and-shunt half-track. However, it is not a true half-track, as there are no front road wheels, only a large roller drum. There is a small set of track units at the rear end. The vehicle is driven by Private Meekly in the jeep-esque front end of the vehicle, while it is commanded by Sergeant Blast from the tank-derived turret at the rear, which sits atop a large armored box, atop the track units.

The Crew of ‘No. 6’, The Army Surplus Special, Private Meekly (Driver – right) and Sergeant Blast (Commander – left). Image: Hanna-Barbera

Being operated by military personnel, it is reasonable to suggest that this vehicle was assembled at a motor pool (the maintenance hub of military bases) with spare (surplus) parts. It certainly has the appearance of being roughly thrown together, as it seems to be held together by riveted metal brackets. This is at least true in the connection between the jeep front and tank rear. The turret is vaguely Sherman-esque, while the tracks could well be the type used on the M3-series half-tracks. It is not too much of a stretch to suggest that parts of these would have been plentiful in the late 1960s. The vehicle also features “bazooka-boosters’ attached to the flanks, providing added propulsion.

While this vehicle is absurd in a realistic sense and its components are only vaguely reminiscent of real-world examples, it is worth highlighting some of the individual parts.


Half-tracks originated in the USA in the late-19th century, evolving from log-haulers of the timber industry. The concept was soon adopted by the world’s militaries, including the US. Major powers, such as Germany and France, also developed the vehicle type. The thinking behind the half-track was that it would have the cross-country capabilities of a tank and the handling/steering and cost of a wheeled vehicle. With the weight spread over the track system, they could carry relatively heavy loads for their size.

The American M3 Half-Track. Photo: The National WWII Museum

In the US, the most iconic half-track was the Half-Track Car M3, which served in multiple capacities during World War Two, from troop transports to tank destroyers, to self-propelled anti-air guns and engineering vehicles. During the war, they would serve numerous countries, such as Great Britain, Canada, and the Soviet Union (USSR). Post-war, it was exported to even more countries, either sold off or as part of military aid. As a result, they ended up in Israel, Argentina, and India, among many others. In the service of smaller nations, such as Zaire, they were still in service in the 1980s. Amazingly, some are still in use in Mexico and the Dominican Republic.

The suspension of the Surplus Special consists of two road wheels and two larger wheels. Which one of these is the drive wheel cannot be identified. If it is supposedly an M3 track system, the upper front wheel would be the drive wheel. The suspension has the rather ridiculous ability of being able to ‘tip-toe’ on its tracks. They effectively rotate down vertically so only a wheel-end is in contact with the ground. This can either be done with no extension or an absurdly long extension allowing to cross deep canyons. This is seen in Episode 2, Part 2: ‘Beat the Clock to Yellow Rock’, and Episode 8, Part 2: ‘The Wrong Lumber Race’.

Left, the Surplus Special in Ep. 2, Pt. 2. Right, in Ep. 8, Pt. 2. Both show the extents of the ‘tip-toe’ ability. Images: Hanna-Barbera

Also, when in need of a boost, the vehicle can employ ‘GI Power’, where Pvt. Meekly slots himself into the tracks and runs them like a hamster in a wheel. Not that it would need to be said, but there is no real-world comparison to this and it is quite ridiculous to suggest a single man could increase the tractive effort of a combustion engine (needless to say, survive the experience). Nonetheless, this appears in Episode 6, Part 2: ‘The Speedy Arkansas Traveler’.

Roller Drum

The large, red roller on the front of the Army Surplus Special fills the role of the front steering wheels. This presumably means that the tank relies on traditional tank ‘skid-steering’. While its size is excessive, the roller drum might also suggest M3 half-track lineage. Some models of M3 featured an ‘unditching roller’ attached to the front bumper, designed to allow the vehicle to push itself up the opposite bank of a ditch, rather than dig its bumper in and get stuck.

Another type of roller equipped on tanks was a ‘mine roller’. This concept dates back to pre-Second World War. It consists of a large heavy drum suspended from the front of an armored vehicle, usually a tank or dedicated engineering vehicle. Used in areas suspected of being mined, the heavy roller would apply pressure to the ground, setting off any pressure-triggered mines. This equipment is still used today.

Left, an M32B1 with the T1E1 “Earthworm” device. Right, M3 half-track with ‘unditching roller’. Photos: & Military Trader, respectively

Other than acting as a front wheel, the roller does not play a large role in the crew’s attempts at winning a race. In typical cartoon fashion, of course, it does have the ability to squash competitors into paper-thin sheets without killing them. This trope is seen several times throughout the season.


The turret of the Army Surplus Special is vaguely M4 Sherman-esque, but lacks enough detail to say what it is for sure. If anything, its shape is more reminiscent of a tea or coffee pot (in Ep. 6, Pt. 1, ‘Rollercoaster to Upsan Downs‘, the crew even resorts to ‘Perculator Power’ to gain speed), with a short gun at the front and a single central hatch in the roof. The turret is capable of a full 360° traverse, and the gun seems to have a decent vertical traverse arc. If the turret is meant to be Sherman-derived, the gun could be a 75 mm or 76 mm gun, or a 105 mm Howitzer. Given its length, it is more likely based on the 75 mm or 105 mm.

The Surplus Special uses ‘Perculator Power’ to gain speed in Ep. 6, Pt, 1 “Rollercoaster to Upsan Downs”. It is an exercise in futility to even try and explain how this is supposed to work. Photo: Hanna-Barbera

The gun is used numerous times during races, in both anger (firing at other racers) and for other means. Most notably, it is often used for a quick boost using Newton’s law – eg. the recoil provides some propulsion. It would also appear that Private Meekly has access to gunnery controls, as evidenced by Episode 1, Part 2: ‘Creepy Trip to Lemon Twist’, when he mistakes an order from Sgt. Blast to “shoot”.

For ammunition, the Surplus Special seems to be equipped with standard High-Explosive (HE) shells, but also has a ‘bubblegum shot’ that can be used to get opponents quite literally stuck in their tracks. This was seen in Episode 8, Part 1: ‘Hot Race at Chillicothe’, where Sgt. Blast fired it at a pursuing Professor Pat Pending. The Professor deflects it back at the Surplus Special, covering them in a giant, popped bubblegum bubble.

Left, the Surplus Special firing its gun at the ‘Arkansas Chuggabug’ after being overtaken. Right, Sgt. Blast fires a ‘bubblegum shot’ at Prof. Pat Pending. Photo: Hanna-Barbera

Bazooka Boosters

On each side of the tank-ish rear end are what appears to be a set of M1 Bazooka anti-tank weapons. In the cartoon, these are used as rocket boosters that use short burns to give the vehicle a speed boost. This simply would not work as the Bazooka, by design, is a recoilless weapon designed to propel a rocket projectile at a target.

While the use of Bazookas as boosters is pure fiction, the concept of ‘rocket-propelled’ tanks is not a complete fallacy.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union (USSR) experimented with rocket-propelled tanks as a means of quickly getting a tank moving should it become stuck on difficult terrain, allowing an advance of forces to carry on. There is surviving footage of a test of these rockets mounted on a T-54/55, but presumably, this would have a universal fitting for any tank or armored vehicle. The program never progressed to adoption, likely due to cost and difficulty controlling the rockets. There are reports that there was a similar test utilizing the BMP-1 Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), where the personnel bay was filled with a couple of jet engines. Details of this experiment are scarce, unfortunately.

A clip from the footage of the Soviet T-54/55 being tested with rocket engines. Photo: Popular Mechanics

Race Standings

Unfortunately for the Number 6 team, they did not have the greatest racing career. Of 34 races, Pvt. Meekly and Sgt. Bash in their Surplus Special only won three races. These victories were seen in Episode 4, Part 2: ‘Real Gone Ape’, Episode 8, Part 1: ‘Hot Race at Chillicothe’, and Episode 16, Part 1: ‘The Ski Resort Road Race’.

To look at it in a realistic sense, it is quite remarkable that a half-tracked vehicle constructed from ex-military vehicle parts could come in any position other than last. The vehicle’s engine is never identified, it certainly would not be the 148 hp White 160AX of the M3 Half-Track or any of the litany of engines found on the M4 Sherman, be it the original 350 hp Continental Radial engine, 450 hp Ford GAA V8, or notorious 370 hp Chrysler ‘Multi-bank’.

The Surplus Special crosses the finish line in 1st place, Ep. 8, Pt. 1: ‘Hot Race at Chillicothe’. Image: Hanna-Barbera


Despite only running for one season, Wacky Races, like most classic Hanna-Barbera productions, is still loved by many and is considered a classic cartoon. In terms of the ‘Army Surplus Special’, it simply was not practical in a real-world sense. It would be a nightmare to steer, would be top-heavy, and an all-around danger to anyone involved in racing against it, not least because it still has a live cannon!

There is no real-world comparison to this vehicle, however there is a real-life replica of it. The show was extremely popular in Great Britain. So much so that at the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed, life-size replicas of the entire Wacky Races roster are displayed. A new one was revealed annually for a time, with the last car being Number 7, ‘Ant Hill Mob’s Bulletproof Bomb’, unveiled in 2008.

The real-life replica of ‘The Army Surplus Special’ shown at the Goodwood Festival of Speed in the UK. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

In recent years, Wacky Races has had something of a resurgence. Between 1991 and 2008 there were a series of video games. Also, in 2016, DC Comics released a ‘Mad Max’ style reimagining of the cartoon. Running for just 6 issues, it brought back characters such as Sgt. Meekly and Pvt. Blast, but put them in far more realistic, brutalist vehicles.

Our own representation of the Wacky Races No. 6 car, The Army Surplus Special. Illustrated by Pavel Alexe, funded by our Patreon campaign


Dimensions (L-W-H) Big enough for two crew members
Total weight Heavy enough to flatten someone
Crew 2: Pvt. Meekly (driver), Sgt. Blast (commander)
Propulsion Unspecified engine
‘Bazooka Boosters’
‘Perculator Power’
‘G.I. Power’
Speed Fast enough to race
Armament Unspecified Cannon
HE Shells
‘Bubblegum Shot’
Armor Plot


Wacky Races’, William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, Hanna-Barbera Productions (1968 – 1969)
Michael Mallory, Hanna-Barbera Cartoons, 1999, Hugh Lauter Levin Associates
R. P. Hunnicutt, Half-Track: A History of American Semi-Tracked Vehicles, 2001, Presidio Press
R.P. Hunnicutt, Sherman: A History of the American Medium Tank, 1978, Presidio Press

By Mark Nash

Member since 2016. Specializes in weird. 113 articles & counting...

3 replies on “Army Surplus Special (Fictional Tank)”

I believe (see colored blueprint included in the article) that the constructors somehow misread the blueprint which was in reality a modernized form of propulsion for a Gruson Fahrpanzer. Clearly the turret is derived fro that contraption

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *