Ford Ranger Tank of Westen Champlin and 1980s America’s Monster Tank Racing

Many car stories that stick with us revolve around civilians building stuff on army surplus, be it for large-scale commercial success—you may have heard of a little brand called Jeep—or shenanigans that send our jaws to the floor. So when YouTuber Westen Champlin recently revived a Ford Ranger he calls Battle Tank (its original name is Car Killer), he also gave us a chance to take a look back at the insane monster tank era that kept arenas across America busy back in the 1980s.

These days, the Ford Ranger is riding the mid-size pickup truck segment’s revival in the U.S., but the original Ranger, which is the body we have here, was a compact truck sold in North America between 1983 and 1992. That was also an age when eccentric enthusiasts came up with the idea of building monster trucks by mixing light tank platforms with various civilian vehicle bodies, with the Car Killer being one of the survivors of that era.

So while Kansas-based mechanic and social media sensation Westen Champlin sometimes handles builds from scratch (have you seen his 1,500 hp Cummins diesel-swapped Mustang?), he recently bought Car Killer and revived the thing.

Car Killer is what happens when a Ford Ranger wants to become a tank

You see, the Ranger-bodied contraption was the creation of a Florida man named Butch Lowe. Nevertheless, the front end was smashed during an RV crushing that took place back in 2016 at the Monster Trucks Gaithersburg event. More importantly, the Ford Big Block engine sitting behind the cab had been hydro-locked due to its vertical exhaust setup allowing rainwater to flow in.

So, after getting a hold of Car Killer, Westen replaced the engine with a Big Block redone in his Kansas shop, performing most of the operation in a field, which is also where he spray-painted the fixed front end.

Underneath Car Killer’s Ranger body sits an Allis Chalmers M4 High-Speed Tractor base, as eagle-eyed YouTube user Blobb2013 figured out. This is an artillery tractor the US Army built between 1943 and 1945—over 5,800 units were made, sharing many components with light tanks, and those that survived WW2 were either shipped to friendly states after the conflict was over, or ended up in civilian hands as is the case here.

Essentially, this (re)build mixes two of Westen Champlin’s greatest passions: working on big rigs and enriching what is arguably the most extreme Ford Ranger collection in the world.

Car Killer can be controlled using two levers, each of which is used to operate its corresponding rubber-padded track, along with a gearbox selector (it still has the M4 transmission). And since car crushing is right there in the name of the machine, you’ll get your fair share of such action in the first clip below.

1980s America’s monster tank racing era

For a few wacky years back in the 80s, monster trucks, which had been born in 1975 via Bob Chandler’s Bigfoot, were challenged by the monster tank contraptions mentioned above. And, thanks to those who witnessed the car-stomping insanity and diligently brought the footage from VHS tapes to YouTube, we can enjoy a taste of that action.

One of the pioneers of the monster tank genre (perhaps even its inventor) is William Townes. As DiggerFanJSM on YouTube recalls, William got inspired by a piece of art in a 4-Wheel Drive magazine and mixed an M4 tracked base with a Chevy Blazer body. The resulting Virginia Beach Beast drew tons of attention in the monster truck and tractor-pulling world, so other builders came up with their ideal monster tanks.

Among others, the said aficionado lists Bigfoot Fastracks, Allen Gaines’ Orange Blossom Special Express, Ernie Brookins’ Trak Attack, George Cole’s Gator, Michelle Ely’s Daddy’s Girl, Mike Vaters’ Battle Kat, and, of course, the very beast that brought us here, Car Killer.

Despite their big block motivation, monster tanks were obviously much more hostile to the scales compared to “traditional” monster trucks. So while the latter kept evolving (here’s the first monster truck with all-round independent suspension), the light tank-based creations had mostly retired by the end of the decade.

Others believe the end of monster tanks was also brought by arena owners, who were apparently not willing to put up with the terrain damage the vehicles caused.

Either way, the monster tank compilation at the bottom of the story might just make you wish Westen Champlin revived more than just one of these non-gentle giants. Oh, and if you happen to enjoy this kind or rig, we’ll remind you of the Chevy Square Body pickup sitting on a Sherman M4A2 tank base built by DeBoss Garage.

Westen Champlin brought back Car Killer!
Car Killer damaging its front end while smashing an RV in 2016
The golden age of Monster Tanks



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