Tank collection heading east

Group wants to sell 160 vehicles to build museum to house remaining 80

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SAN JOSE, Calif. — The family of a Silicon Valley engineer who amassed one of the nation's most extensive historic military vehicle collections is giving the tanks, missile launchers and armored vehicles to a Massachusetts-based group that will preserve and display some of them.

Until now, the $30 million fleet of tanks has been refurbished and housed in seven sheds on an estate up a winding, forested road above Silicon Valley; they are visited only under private tours.

But in a deal inked July 4 and announced today for Veterans Day, the 240 pieces have been signed over to The Collings Foundation, which preserves historical military aircraft and now plans to add a new military vehicle museum at its Stow, Mass., headquarters.

Foundation director Rob Collings said the organization aims to raise $10 million to build the museum by auctioning 160 of the military vehicles in August. Eventually, he said, he hopes visitors can learn U.S. history through a chronological walk past the remaining 80 historic military vehicles.

"They'll start in the World War I trenches," he said.

The collection was assembled by Jacques Littlefield, a Stanford University graduate who left Hewlett Packard in the 1970s to focus on collecting and restoring military vehicles.

He acquired his first tanks in 1983, and by the mid-1990s the collection included examples from almost all historically significant land battles of the past half-century, according to the nonprofit Military Vehicle Technology Foundation that has been in charge of the collection.

Before his death in 2009, Littlefield acquired tanks and armored vehicles from the U.S., Russia, Germany, England, France, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia and Israel.

There's a Sherman tank and a Stryker tank destroyer.

The oldest armored military vehicle in the collection is a World War I era M1917 light tank. While some are quite worn, many have been meticulously restored.

There is no federal historic military vehicle museum in the U.S., and only a few significant private collections.

Bill Boller, president of the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, said the Littlefield family opted to give the collection to the Collings Foundation, so more people could visit it.

"Unfortunately, this is not the best place in the world (in terms of) location and accessibility for the general public, authors, historians, the defense industry: all the people that want to take advantage of this wonderful collection," he said.

A peek inside the tanks offers visitors a chance to appreciate what soldiers go through, he said.

"They are a pragmatic reality," he said. "If you ultimately value the freedoms we have in the U.S., you understand and appreciate the necessity (of going to war), and you have tremendous admiration and respect for those who put themselves in a position to go ahead and do it."