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The Articulating M561 Gama Goat

In the late 1950s, the U.S. Army became fascinated with the Metrac, an articulated vehicle developed by Meili, a Swiss firm. The Metrac, from afar, looked like a four-wheel Willys jeep pulling a two-wheeled trailer; however, it was a much more complicated, all-terrain six-wheeler with a revolutionary hydraulic suspension system. This system allowed any axle to raise off the ground so it could approach a large obstruction (low walls, concrete debris, boulders, etc.) and move up on the blockage. It would then raise the middle axle to move forward, shift the weight, and raise the rear axle to climb over whatever was in its path. This European jeep creation had an astonishingly fresh design and a seemingly promising future as a devastating war raged on in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.

The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era proxy war fought for nearly 20 years, from 1955 to 1975. At the halfway mark in the war, the Meili Metrac found its way to Aberdeen for evaluation. Shortly afterward, in response to both the high potential of the Metrac’s hydraulic system and the French Army’s declaration that U.S. Army trucks did not have appropriate capabilities for the Vietnamese terrain, a new American vehicle was in the works: The M561 (Gama Goat).

From Swiss to Goat

In 1963, an R&D contract was awarded to Chance Vought, a combat aircraft developer in Dallas, TX, for the M561. After the concept was ironed out, a Ling-Temco-Vought developed the first U.S. articulated Gama Goat, so named for the inventor of the articulated joint, Roger Gamaunt and the vehicle’s off-road capabilities reminiscent of a mountain goat.

The M561 Gama Goat Breakdown:

●     7,275 lbs (almost three times heavier than the OR specifications)

●     3-cylinder Detroit Diesel 53 engine

●     227” X 84” X 91”

●     Cost: $8,000 per vehicle (adjusted for inflation, $63,000 in 2018)

Final construction of the vehicles was headed by Consolidated Diesel Electric Company (CONDEC) in North Carolina, and by 1968 CONDEC was awarded a three-year contract for 15,274 vehicles for the U.S. Army and Marines.

Although the Gama Goat was implemented extensively throughout the Vietnam War, it had its range of issues that made the vehicle impractical for continued production and usage. The amphibious characteristics, for instance, were nearly nonexistent. It could reach speeds up to 56 mph, but the handling on paved road was unwieldy at best, and the noise from the diesel engine situated directly behind the driver was loud that drivers needed hearing protection.

The technology and ingenuity that went into this jeep’s design and production were beyond inspired, but the M561 Gama Goat fell short to the prowess and capabilities of the CUCVs and HMMWVs (Humvees). At AJP, we are still impressed with the Goat, although its fame has faded considerably. We have Willys MB parts for sale and continue to provide the best Army Jeep services in the region. If you are interested in learning more about the M561s or purchasing MB GPW parts, contact us at Army Jeep Parts in Levittown, PA today!