The Gama Goat was a six-wheel-drive semi-amphibious off-road vehicle originally developed for use by the US Military for the War in Vietnam. It was famous for an articulated body, which allowed it to travel over exceptionally rough terrain and for a unique four-wheel steering arrangement with the front and rear wheels turning in opposite directions.
The concept for the vehicle came when the French Army reported that the US Army trucks provided to them were woefully inadequate for the terrain in Vietnam. In 1959, ARPA (now known as DARPA) funded a research project called Project Agile to develop a new tactical truck for the Southeast Asia theatre, as well as other projects of interest to the then-looming Vietnam War.
Several companies bid for the contract, including Clark, General Motors and LeTourneau, but the contract was awarded to Ling-Temco-Vought (LTV) aerospace, best known for their A-7 Corsair II aircraft. Final construction of the vehicles was conducted by Consolidated Diesel Electric Company (CONDEC) at their factory in Charlotte, North Carolina. CONDEC also had factories in Schnectedy, New York, where the Gama Goat was originally manufactured, and in Greenwich, Connecticut, where the parts for the Gama Goat were produced. In the early 1960s, the company moved to Waterbury, Connecticut for a few years, then closed their plants in New York and Connecticut to move to Charlotte, North Carolina for cheaper labor and facilities.
Gama Goat ride at Muckleburgh Collection
Overall, some 15,274 Gama Goats were built at a cost of US$8,000 each; this was considered quite high at the time. While the Gama Goat had exceptional off-road ability, its quirky steering made it hard to handle on pavement, and its tendency to flounder in amphibious operations required drivers to have special training in order to operate it. This meant it could not be the "general purpose" vehicle the Army had hoped for, and production was halted after the original contract expired. This is somewhat ironic, as some[who?] claim the problems were largely due to cost-cutting modifications made at the request of the U.S. Army.
The air-cooled engine used in the original prototypes overheated and was replaced in the production vehicles with a Detroit 3-53 diesel engine. The high intensity noise from the 2-stroke diesel engine resulted in a warning to all operators that hearing protection was required while driving the vehicle. The double hull construction and complex articulated drive train made maintenance difficult (the lube order alone took around six hours). In service in Vietnam, Gama Goats would often be sent out ahead of other vehicles, in order to arrive at their destination at the same time. Their loud engine noise made them much less than stealthy. The 'Goat is prized among military vehicle collectors because it is so unusual and in short supply. The vehicle was replaced by the CUCV and HMMWV.