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Ward La France M1A1 Heavy Wrecker

Ward la France M1. Iconically stylish

Surely one of the ultimate collectors vehicles, the Ward La France M1A1 Heavy Wrecker
is a busy and seriously well equipped vehicle, with outrigger jacks, front (20,000lb) and rear (30,000 lb) winches and a powerful slewable crane.
Designed to recover tanks and heavy vehicles, the fully kitted M1A1 arrived at the scene ready for work with a vast toolkit, all the heavy wrecking gear you could ask for and welding gear.
Able to tow a tank on an “A” frame, bizarrely the M1A1 is actually only rated as a 6 ton wrecker. This is actually decided by the lift capacity rating of the crane – but in reality this was often exceeded by quite a lot.
The distinctive bumper was designed to break down trees and other obstacles.
The M1A1 is a great improvement on its predecessor, the closed cab M1 which was an effective and very stylish wrecker in the early part of the war with its elegant curved mudguards, but wasn’t quite sophisticated enough for combat duties and became destined for rear echelon duties.
4,925 M1A1’s were built by Ward La France and 840 identical models were built by Kenworth.
It is one of the few US vehicles originally fitted with a siren light and this one is the biggest and certainly the loudest you will ever find. The writer once saw one mounted on a jeep wing which had a complicated reinforcing frame to cope with the 60lbs weight!

It says something about the quality of the M1A1 Heavy Wrecker, that over 60 years on, many survive in use by garages and recovery firms across Europe. The open cab is often replaced with a commercial cab or fabricated hard top added.

The powerful but gas guzzling Continental 22R engine at less than 2.5mpg, has often in civilian service been replaced by a more economic diesel engine – this often involved subtly lengthening the front chassis by about 6”.

The rear body has wooden boards, which are very prone to rotting and the inherent damp causing corrosion to the steel body members. Cab rot is also common and many restorations require a down to chassis project. The air brake system is of course 1940’s standard and many in civvy use have been up rated .

Although you can drive it on a normal licence, the sheer length and of the M1A1 suggests it’s far more suited to an HGV driver and its certainly not for the faint hearted as its not got power steering.

Restoration projects turn up for around £2,500-3,000 and the market value for a ready to rally one, though often not fully equipped M1A1 is currently around £10,000.
But very few Wards still have the original 16” searchlights – these are very rare and expect to pay around £700 a pair and at least the same for the correct sirenlight.
No self respecting convoy should leave home without an M1A1 as there is no WW2 military vehicle it can’t recover.


Ward La France M1A1 Heavy Wrecker
Photos by John Blackman



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