Peninsula News

Questions surround collection of tanks

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The world of private military enthusiasts has lost a quiet legend. Over the past three decades, a Portola Valley millionaire collected what may be the world's premiere private collection of tanks and other military vehicles. Now that he's gone, what's going to happen to all that hardware?

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"I don't think there's a person on earth who knew Jacques, who doesn't think about Jacques every time they see a tank," said Bill Boller, military vehicle collector.

ABC7 News first introduced you to Jacques Littlefield in 1991 -- when his love affair with big, clunky, mechanical things was known only to a few. Between then and his death last month he became a legend among collectors of military hardware.

"He's created the full capability to restore and rebuild these in addition to collecting the vehicles themselves from all over the world," said Boller.

Littlefield's collection of tanks, armored vehicles, and weapons grew to 230 items -- housed now in a private museum on his Portola Valley ranch - which has its own 12,000 square foot garage and full time craftsmen for restoration work. Friends say he had a child's enthusiasm for tanks, a historian's interest in the military and a successful investor's checkbook.

His last project was restoring a World War II German Panther 5 tank into pristine condition.

"The top deck is new. Numerous firewalls and partitions inside are new and the floor was buckled and some of that was replaced," said Boller.

His spirit permeates the place - the spirit of a man who studied engineering at Stanford and who inherited a fortune from when his family's construction firm merged with General Electric. It allowed Littlefield to live out a dream he first told us about in 1991.

"I can remember checking out a book from the Burlingame public library called 'American Tanks and Tank Destroyers' - and I'm pleased to say that of the three tanks and the three other vehicles they talk about - I have all but one," said Littlefield.

They travel the globe to track down these military vehicles. And this might be one of the few places on the planet where you can find two Cold War adversaries sitting next to each other - a Soviet era T-72 and American M60 - during hostilities these two would have been shooting at each other.

There were worries that Littlefield's death meant the end of the collection - maybe to be donated to the army's tank school at Fort Knox. But, not so:

"We want to continue to provide the access to historians to the defense industry and the students, the model making industry, the writers and authors as well as the entertainment industry," said Boller.

The museum is not open to the public without reservations. You can put in a request at the website of the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation.

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