Car Collector Corner: GMC powered 'Missile Transporter' truck memories
Q: Greg, I recently found an article you wrote about the GMC V-12 engine. It brought back great memories of my time in the Air Force when I worked as a missile tech on the Minuteman Missile transporter (WS133 also known as the TE or TEL).
To get to the missile sites we used a transport erector with a long trailer that had three axles. The tractor came with the with the GMC V-12 engine you wrote about in your previous columns. This V-12 was situated right under the (front) of the trailer. The cab was less than 48-inches high and had a two front axle setup that both could steer and also power and then a tag axle, too.
The GMC V-12 hooked to a five speed main transmission with an additional two speed auxiliary. This GMC V-12 was the only engine the Air Force could find at the time to pull this unit when loaded with the missile.
And yes, the GMC V-12 could pull very well. I had to wear ear plugs because you had to sit right next to the GMC V-12. Thanks for your articles. Regards, Sgt. John Jankas, just outside of Navasota, Texas.
A: Sgt. John, what a great letter and I thank you in advance for your service and great memories of the GMC V-12 engine that powered the Air Force Minuteman Missile Transporter. Thanks up front to you and also to www.thunderv12.com, the latter a company I have written about before that builds and sells the 702 cubic-inch Thunder V-12 to this day and has excellent information on their site about this engine and the missile transporters you drove.
Much of the following narrative is not mine, as also noted on the Thunder V12 site, as the author/source of the article wishes to remain anonymous. However he hopes the following information will help open a dialog here of an important piece of GMC V-12 truck and USA military history. If any of my readers have more info, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and cc me at email@example.com.
Specifically, back in 1960, some 80 Missile Transporters were scheduled to be built in a cooperative between Boeing, which sub-contracted to GMC for the tractor and engine, and Cessna for the transporters airbag suspension and a hydraulically powered fifth wheel.
As you mentioned and explained further by Thunder V12, the 48-inch high tractor could be lowered or raised up to engage the emplacer. This allowed either fitting the missile into its tube for transportation or raising it high in the air to install the missile into its launch silo. The first drive axle was always live, while the second axle could be engaged to drive while the third was the tag. As you noted also, both front axles steer.
As for the transporter’s wheels, the Alcoa aluminum rims are some of the earliest known to exist. Top speed in fifth and high gear is 45 mph. The engine supplies both cold and hot water to the huge missile containment fuselage to keep the missile climate controlled. Thunder V12 also notes that the tractor did have a Pontiac compressor air conditioning unit, but none of it was for keeping the driver cool, it was all for the missile container.
The GMC V12 powered special purpose tractor truck transported the complete Minuteman III missile, without warhead, from the base out to the missile silo. Then the Cessna built monocoque trailer fuselage coupled with pins to huge structural members by the silo. Giant five section hydraulic actuators would then raise the body up vertical, and a winch would lower the missile into the silo. The roll transfer weight including missile and carriages was near 80,000 pounds and the whole vehicle when loaded weighed about 139,000 pounds
The truck tractor cab was hand built by GMC and powered by the GMC 702-inch V-12. The cab was magnesium to save weight, and the anonymous author did say that “this thing was really something else.”
The units pictured were built in 1961 and 1962 and hauled Minuteman missiles until retirement in 1990. Today, Hill Aerospace Museum in Roy, Utah, has a GMC V12 powered TEL in place for the world to see. There is also one at Warren AFB, Wyoming, at the front gate and a third GMC V-12 powered Minuteman sits fully restored at Malmstrom AFB in Montana.
If my readers would like to see a YouTube video of the GMC V-12 and the Air Force Missile production, it’s called “Minuteman — From Design to Delivery” (1963) about the missiles and vehicle in action. If you advance 14 minutes into the video, you’ll see the truck in action.
I want to thank Thunder V12, LLC and the U.S. Air Force for supplying interesting information. And thanks again, Sgt. John, for your info from behind the wheel! Have a great New Year.
(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist. He welcomes reader inquiries and comments at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA18840 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.)