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Hiruy Amanuel on his interest in military vehicles and tanks

Hiruy Amanuel is an African investor who is building and uplifting the new technological era in greater Africa. With many years of experience investing in Silicon Valley, Mr. Amanuel is helping train and develop the IT sector in Africa, and he has co-founded several companies that are fulfilling this mission to date. Here, Mr. Amanuel discusses his interest in military vehicles and tanks.

What sparked your interest in military vehicles and tanks, and when did this occur?

In 2014, I started working very closely with MVTF, which is/was the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, the largest private collection of military vehicles in the world. First, I started as a volunteer and mechanic; I helped work on some of the tanks and did routine maintenance. At that time, I was a director of the private property which the collection rented space from, also the largest private ranch in Northern California.

The Military Vehicle Technology Foundation (MVTF) was a private collection that was owned by the owner of the property, Jacques Littlefield, who passed away ten years ago.

That's initially how the interest started. By working as a security director and then volunteering with the MVTF, I gradually got into working on the vehicles. I am a mechanical engineer by trade; I got into working on the vehicles and appreciated the mechanical aspect of World War II-era tanks very naturally. I like these tanks because they're not too modern, but not too old. They're more like old muscle cars with respect to maintenance.

Where is the ranch located?

The ranch is Located in Northern California.

When did you acquire your first tank? How many do you have?

I bought my first tank, the M5, in 2015 from a broker who acquired it through auction. There was a large private auction of military vehicles because the museum--the actual MVTF organization--was merging with another non-profit as a strategic move to preserve it. The collection had previously been put into a foundation to protect the assets after the passing of the late owner. Over time it made sense to merge with another non profit that could properly continue to maintain the collection and the auction was used to generate revenue for that transition as part of the acquisition.

Two hundred eighty military vehicles are a lot for anyone to maintain unless you have a passion for it; it eventually became quite expensive. Ultimately, the new CEO of the MVTF made a deal with a foundation in Stow, Massachusetts. They also have a similar collection, but they focus more on the preservation of old warplanes: World War I and World War II airplanes to be exact.

The CEO of the MVTF at the time made a deal with the Foundation to acquire most of the collection. They selected what they wanted from the collection and preserved a lot of the centerpieces of the collection. They built a facility to essentially absorb the MVTF and created a division of tanks within their foundation.

In 2015, to pay for refurbishment of the vehicles and transportation from California to Massachusetts, they held an auction. I believed they raised a little over 5 million, and all proceeds went toward repairs and transportation costs. Proceeds also went towards building the new facility in Stow, Massachusetts, to house the vehicles. A third party bought the M5 Stuart from the auction, and then I bought it from him within a year and a half due to the fact he had nowhere to store it.

Do you own any more tanks?

No, just the M5 Stuart.

How do you effectively maintain your tank?

It came with two twin Cadillac engines, one for each track, or each side of the tank. A buddy of mine Noble Ropkey was helping me with the sourcing of parts as his family owns Ropkey Armor Museum in Indiana. When I bought it, one of the engines had already blown out. I thought, "I might as well just blow out the other one and film some fun videos in the process," because it wasn't running on full power anyway.

We'd been working on it for a few months because it wouldn't even start. Eventually, we got it running again. I replaced the radiator, tuned it, replaced some collapsed shocks and some other small adjustments to get it running; then, I just ran it every day until the single engine blew out.

I purchased two new engines, and currently, it's being worked on. It's housed in a private location, and I'm working on refurbishing it back to its original state. They've been working on it for about a year, but I'd like to make some interior design changes as the original interior was not so comfortable. I need to add more internal padding as well for what I have planned. Soon, it'll be good as new.

How do you anticipate military vehicle technology will change given the rise of unmanned vehicles like drones or just driverless technology?

Military technology is always changing. Personally, I didn't purchase the tank for military purposes. I love mechanics and also collect classic cars. New cars, you can't necessarily fix and service on your own, you have to have computers reset internal systems, sensors checked, and software updated. It may make them more efficient, so you don't have to service them as often, but I prefer rotary vehicles and rotary engines, things I can fix with my bare hands. Even if I need to touch on them every few months, I can use a wrench, or I can get new gaskets and fix things myself. I don't have to take my vehicles to the shop or call technicians; I don't need to tow it anywhere. I can change a tire, fill up the radiator on the side of the road, or change a tank track for that matter by myself.

I'm a mechanical engineer by trade, and the purchase was more for engineering purposes. Before I was an investor, I was an engineer, and I genuinely enjoy working on tanks. I'm a tanker, honestly a new generation of tanker if you will. I had an opportunity to buy one--which was rare, especially at 30 years old--I had to seize it.

It was a good investment and a good purchase, but I bought it mainly because of my love of mechanics and engineering. I wanted to be able to tinker on it all the time and rework the tracks and the shocks. I love it.

It sounds like it's not necessarily an interest in the military but more an interest in the actual mechanics of it, as you mentioned?

Yes. It's a light tank. It's probably as big as a Ford truck, like an F150, but it's twice as high and of course a lot heavier. It's a three-seater. There's one driver, and there are two seats up in the turret. It's a small, light tank.

The other larger tanks are difficult to store and care after unless you have acres and acres of property, and there is a lot more maintenance to do. However, with an M5, you can pull parts off cars and fix it with that. So, it's just really the shell. It's a truly amazing vehicle and one of the first acquisitions of the old collection by the previous owner.

Do you see yourself purchasing any more in the future?

No. I'm actually talking to a few people about selling it. I don't have any plans to purchase any more military vehicles. It was more of an investment, and it was more for the mechanics of it. It was just an opportunity that came along, and I was lucky enough to repurchase it from someone who couldn't take care of it.

What are your eventual plans for the tank?

Back in the mid 1900s, they used to have arenas where they crashed tanks into cars, demolition derby style. It's a goal of mine to refurbish the tank, then launch it off a ramp or hill into a pile of cars. I think that'd be great!

Once I get it repaired and have both engines back in it, I plan to assemble a place to do it. I want to buy cars from a scrap heap, stack them, create a ramp, and launch--full speed, around 60 miles an hour or 80 miles an hour. Hence why I need to redo the interior of the tank to add more padding. Also massive shock absorbers into the seating and possibly airbags.

Would there be a driver in the tank?

I would drive it of course.

So, there shouldn't be damage to the outside - it should be fine?

We'll find out. People used to do it 50 years ago; I have a lot of archive footage I have been studying. Sometimes it took place in giant arenas where people would watch, similar to monster truck rallies of today. I've been thinking about that since I bought the tank, and even before I bought it. I want to get the engines running so I can revisit that goal. I've driven the tank quite a lot and am very comfortable with the maneuverability. I'd like to be able to do more with it and take it to the next level.

Are there any other aspects of tanks that capture your interest, and do you have any other plans for the future?

My second favorite tank is probably the Israeli Sherman. Sadly, it's a little bit too much for me to handle. I had an opportunity to acquire one, but it was just too expensive. Additionally, I didn't want the burden of maintenance.

My third favorite tank would be the 551, the Deathstalker. I like lighter tanks, particularly ones I can get running past 45 miles an hour; that way, I can fishtail and spin out a little bit. As Tanks are supposed to be very controllable, I find a lot of fun in them when I am able to make them lose control.

Tanks are generally easy to maneuver because they're meant to go slowly. However, I prefer the ones that are lighter when you are losing control of half the track. When you could slide off on half the track and still control the tank, it's more fun for me. Tanks don't flip over very often since they're so heavy but it does depend on the decline or incline you are operating at. You also have to consider weather conditions and how much of the track is grounded when executing such maneuvers.

World War II is your favorite era of tanks?

Yes. I like World War II tanks because of their mechanics, maintenance, and simplicity. Everything is so transparent; you can take them apart and fix them in the field. Newer tanks are a little bit more challenging to repair.

For instance, on the M5 Stuart, the shocks blow out all the time. They're compressed shocks, so if they blow out, you can always knock them back out with a sledgehammer. Now, cars and vehicles have air shocks, and when those are damaged, you have to replace the whole shock.

How often do you get to work on your tank?

I used to work on it every day for about two and a half years. But recently, I've been exploring some entrepreneurial ventures in Africa and China. I haven't worked on it for the past three years, so it's just been sitting, but there's a team that's maintaining it while I'm gone. They're making good progress.

Then, when it's up to speed, you'll see what you can do with it and see if you can get a ramp and some cars? 

Pretty much.

Hiruy Amanuel on his interest in military vehicles and tanks Reviewed by JaamZIN on 8:43:00 PM Rating: 5
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