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So You Want To Buy A Centurion?

Col Filtness, Author of Steel Thunder
169040 awaiting sale
169040 when awaiting sale
Col Filtness
Col Filtness

For sometime now I have been tracking down and collecting photos and information on all the Centurions that served with the RAAC. The results are displayed on my web site at Steel Thunder. I have often been asked what needs to be considered before buying a Centurion. This article, requested by the, covers my thoughts

Writing this has proved harder than I expected. I have for years, thought I would love to own a Centurion. Even a Gate Guard would be great .. I thought! On my many trips around the Australian countryside I have day-dreamed of winning Tatts and picking up a Centurion.

OK!! So you are lucky enough to have a large amount of money just sitting by that you have no use for and you do not want to earn anything with it, like interest, or, as would have to be my case, you have won Tatts.

First thing you need is to find a Centurion for sale.

Not easy. When you do there are a heap of questions you will need to consider.

  • Has it a history?
  • Did it serve in Vietnam?
  • Is it one of the well known Vietnam Tanks? Did it serve at Balmoral or Binh Ba? Was it one of the ones that took RPG hits? Did a mine damage it?

These things will make the tank a more favorable buy.

The Real Deal?

Now you have found the tank of your dreams, Serial Number 169xxx, a tank with a good exciting history. But is it really that tank?

  • Serial number 169055 came out of the army sale and still today has the serial number 196055. That is just one case I know of.
  • There are a few more that I will not list here, but do not go on the painted on serial number. I know of one tank brought because the driver was connected with the chap that brought it. When visited by the crew they agreed it was their tank from Vietnam. It was not!
  • Drivers removed the id plates, when the tanks went up for sale as they all wanted a memento. But there are a few places that you can look
    • Sometimes the number is stamped onto a tin plate wired to the tank when it was having a base overhaul. (Acid bath) This could be positioned in many places but mostly under the overhang at the right rear beside the 100 gallon tank.
    • There is another modification plate fitted on the left hand side of the driver's compartment, but these also in a lot of cases have been removed.
    • There is another modification plate fitted on the left hand side of the driver's compartment, but these also in a lot of cases have been removed.
    • By standing on the rear deck looking towards the front of the tank, lift the lhs engine cover and on the wall on the left is another ID plate which does house the serial number. Not all tanks, but a lot have this still in place as not many people know of it.
    • The workshops at Bandiana told me there was a number stamped into the glacis plate but on two sand blasted ones I have seen, it was not evident

OK. You have found your tank and are happy with the serial number. The next question of course is do you just want a gate guard or a runner?

Gate Guard Tank
169080 at Bandiana
169080 ~ Gate Guard ~ Bandiana

A gate guard is a lot easier as you can just see if

  • the tracks look presentable and the road wheels look OK
  • all the external bits are there in either good condition or repairable.. side bins antenna mounts .. lights,tail and side
  • it has roadwheels or track links on the Glacis Plate?
  • there is an IR light frame on the rear of the turret?
  • it has a 100 - gallon tank fitted?

If so then you are well on the way to having what you want, if not, you have to pay for replacements.

As there is only one supplier of parts in Australia, and he does not have everything, then the secondhand price is what you are prepared to pay for it. You can still import from England , but it costs

How much should you pay for a gate guard?

Well it's a case of supply and demand. I know of a heap of rust that will never run again that the owner wants $20,000 for it. There is nothing inside worth salvage as it has been left open for years to vandals with hammers, so you would not be able to recoup anything from the bits you do not want.

His price to me without motor was $8,000; he then jumped to $15,000 and later to $20,000. It's not worth $8,000 in my book. I arranged the purchase of an excellent Centurion in very good condition with a shot motor for $8000, but at least it had the motor

If you purchase a complete tank but not running you have an advantage of stripping everything from the interior including motor, transmission and aux-gen, and recovering some of your outlay. There are people looking for parts, even un-serviceable motors, as they are prepared to recondition them and feel happy with a spare.

Getting it home

Now its time to transport it home! Depending how far you have to transport it, you are looking at $3000 upwards to $20,000.

And of course you have to both load it onto the low loader and then unload it. If it's not a runner,you will need another tank or a dozer. There just may be one where you buy it, but when you arrive home you will find the statement that she will just roll off, incorrect in the extreme.

Another small point. If she has been sitting without started for a few years (quite often the case with gate guards) you may find the hand brake fully on. This particular piece of equipment is really not much use in the Cent, except for what it was designed for, to hold the tank when stopped. And it does this very well. You will not move her until the hand brake is released. (Ask the Army when they wanted to move Bewildered to be repainted). You have to know where you can disconnect the handbrake and hopefully you will have someone with Centurion experience available. If not I do feel sorry for you.

Now that it is home

169031 in paint shop
169031 ~ stripped ready for paint job
See this Steel Thunder page

Now it's sitting at your home and you managed to unload her and pulled her into position. You have paid the chap with the dozer/heavy haulage tow truck or the council operator. Pity she is sinking! OK. You knew of this little worry and had the foresight to have a reinforced slab laid.

Now it's only a matter of sandblasting, welding shut every item that will open to keep vandals off, and painting her. Your neighbor's will not mind you sand blasting as they like dust. They also will not mind both paint fumes or enamel overspray.

Maybe a new mantlet cover and the sign writing and you have it all finished. Maybe you were lucky and the cost was only about $25,000 all finished, but more likely around $35,000.

You can come out every day and look at her, pat her, and it's a hell of a good talking point. You will find a stream of ex army bodies calling in, not all will be Armour, as the old Centurion is held in very high regards by the infantry after Vietnam, add the LAD and RAEME and even the Catering Corps.

Everyone likes a Centurion!

Want to Sell

Somewhere down the line you may want to sell it. Then it's much like selling a car; worth $20,000 when you want to buy it, as it's a much wanted and desired model that will no doubt become a collector's item. This car will then become one that is overstocked, and one fraught with faults and no one really wants it, which is why they would take it off your hands against their better judgment for about $3,000 three months after you brought it.

But have hope! It's my belief you can sell anything for any price as long as you are prepared to wait. And wait you may!

169040 blowing smoke while unloading
169040 ~ unloading from wide trailer

Then of course you may want a runner. There are a few different types of runners.

  • One with a shot motor,
  • broken bell post tower pin, That's a beauty
  • Maybe just a shot clutch or a crook transmission.

But she is running and that's the main thing. Well no it's not really but lets progress.

She may be a runner with pretty good gear but has not been serviced correctly. This one is also very bad news. Not so bad if your money pocket has no bottom, but not that good also.

The next choice is one that has been brought by a lover of Centurions, he has heaps of cash a great huge workshop with an overhead gantry, and a dozer and a front-end loader would be great as well. There would also be a large shed with a walk up ramp to a side-raised floor so as you can drive in beside it and walk straight onto the hull. This centurion will have had every thing reconditioned, Transmission, Motor, Aux gen and all the electrics will work correctly and all the gun gear is in first class condition. There will only be one small trouble. These owners never want to sell.

You are now the Owner

Anyway you have found a fair Cent and are happy with the buy. The only trouble is signs stuck on the tank saying the clutch is poor but you have been given another clutch and will replace it when you have time. There are a few roadwheels that need replacing but other than a bit of panel beating and a respray. That's about it! Or is it

You brought the tank for say $22,000 and the cost of bringing it from Qld. is $7,500.


169040 with heavy recovery vehicle
169040 ~ With heavy recovery vehicle

When these things are on the low loader they mostly have to have extensions on the side of the trailer and ramps. There is about 2 inches spare on either side. Which means she has to be sitting square. Even chained down she can move in transit. So say she swivels an inch either way, one inch to the right at the rear and an inch to the left at the front. At this time you find the batteries that started her in Qld had just been charged, but they are faulty and have lost a lot on the trip down and now will not start the cent.

But you are lucky there's a man living next door that has a bulldozer who will help you pull her off, and better still he will not charge you. Things are looking up.

The towrope is unhooked and connected to the Cent. The dozer driver is no fool and does not attempt to pull her straight off (and most likely straight over him). So he is off to one side (the side unfortunately that the front of the tank is turned one inch to).

The dozer starts to pull her off and she does not want to move, a bit more power and suddenly she is moving. But towards the side of the ramps, and by the time she is halfway down its looking like she will drive off the ramps.

The poor bloke in the driver's seat is trying to slam on the brakes but they do not hold her. She does in fact run off the ramps and come to a sudden stop half on and half off the ramps and stuck solid

The dozer does not have the power to pull her off and she is stuck there. It now takes you six hours to have her freed up and towed into your property.

Getting it running

You go into town and find the biggest car batteries you can buy, cost you $260 and come back and start her up (after many months of troubles you finally replace these with special Cat earthmoving batteries that cost close to $800)

This is after you have repaired the Booster Coil, replaced the spark plugs sent out from England and had both Magneto's reconditioned. She now fires up pretty damn good, only blowing a little smoke that you hope will go away after a good run, and it most likely will.

Time for a drive!

You have been told not to use first as it's only a low crawl gear, so away you go in second. Then its time for third and you are amazed at how easy it is to change gears. Now for fourth and you do something wrong and have a great grinding from the transmission.

169045 with track down
169045 ~ Contouring resulting in side slip burying the low side track. Driver error. Note the tensioning of the track.

See also this Knowhow page and this for more costly problems that can result from contouring.
169045 damaged final drive
169045 ~ Damage to final drive
169045 damaged final drive
169045 ~ Damage in final drive

Away again in second and suddenly the clutch is shot. You bring her to a standstill. You have no way of having her towed back to her resting place so the clutch must be replaced where it stands.

Travis the gun, open the transmission covers and lift the radiators up. Have a look at the clutch. It's big! Everything on the tank is big! Can the clutch be removed without taking out the transmission?

This could be a big job!

Now you know why the bloke was good enough to give you a clutch to go with the tank, free of charge, instead of fitting it himself! You are lucky that you have access to a contact with a workshop manual, and when it arrives it's a great book which covers just about everything, but the clutch!

You now go to the Internet and start looking. There are many suggestions some saying you do not need to remove the transmission, Thank God!

But then there are others with some proven experience that say you must! You do in time find someone that gives you written step-by-step instructions.

Now you just need a crane. And so it goes on.

You have the clutch fitted. And by this time there are a small band of contacts that are starting to help you. One guy comes out and instructs you in how to drive a Centurion, explains and shows you how to do a stall change. You are going well and starting to really enjoy driving this monster. You have gone about three miles and are on the way back climbing a small hill.

You decide to go around the side instead of going straight over the top, as you are still not confident of your gear changes and do not want to do an angles run down the other side. It's going well in third and you kick it down to second and feel it start to slide side ways a bit. A bit more power and she appears to slide a bit more, you turn up the hill and she just takes over and slides down sideways.

You cannot understand it, but you are stuck.

On getting out for a look you see you have run into a soft section and the tank has slid down about twenty feet, bogging the left hand side into the mud about four feet and you are on the belly of the hull and you are going no where.

You attempt to drive her out and the fact that you had loose tracks allow them to come off at the same time doing a large amount of damage to the final drive.


The outcome of this is that the tank sits there for five months till the area dries out

Then, with the help of the next door neighbor with his dozer, most of the area is cut away and its now time to try and drive her out. You then have to buy the parts and remove the final drive, repair it and replace it. More or less like the clutch job, big, dirty, and you are amazed at the new words you are learning.

It's at this time when you decide that its going back home and there you will start from scratch doing a full service and all adjustments, before even attempting to drive her again.

Dos and Don'ts

I have seen adverts for centurions saying they are the best in Australia. Its my belief that of the thirty-four civilian owned centurions that are classed as runners, I know of two that I would class as excellent. There are two more I may also put in that class but I have not at this stage seen either run, but they look good. This is based mainly on the fact that they are serviced correctly and repaired properly. This takes many thousands of dollars on an ongoing basis. I will try and list some of the mistakes made by most civilian owners

Tarping : Centurions do not like being covered by a tarp. They sweat which is much worse than rusting, and this plays hell with the wiring. I know you will see photos of the army using tarps and they did. Mostly overnight! But, the Army shed them in hangers when in camp. Civilians tarp them for months at a time! A Centurion should be in a shed.

Drain Plugs : Do not take the drain plugs out to let the water run out whenever it rains. This will allow mice and rats into the hull where they will eat wiring and rubber hose connections. The rodents in turn will entice snakes into the tank. Drain the hull and replace the plugs.

Radiators : The radiators were filled with a glycol solution that protected the rubber hoses. It also lubricated the O-rings in the motor. Civilian owners tend to just fill them up with water. When left for long periods with plain water in the cooling system the O-rings in the motor can crack and leak water. The radiator is gravity feed and so all that (about 12 gallons) drains into the sump, rusts motor and then its goodbye motor.

Daily Checks:There are items that must be checked daily, and in the army it's always done.

  • Check oil and water before starting.
  • Start the Aux Gen and run up the batteries. This will warm the radiator water, and a Cent will always start better with full warm batteries
  • When hitting the start button, a few seconds only as she should start immediately. If not wait a few seconds and try again. I have seen Civilian owners press the button for about a minute at a time. That old starter motor will not last long as they heat up very quickly.
  • The road wheel hubs and idlers must be greased as per the service time as required. In Vietnam they did their service every night, even on late stops in mud, in the dark! They felt down with their fingers and found the nipples and greased them. I have seen Cents with the road wheel hubs and shockers covered in mud that has been there for 6 months and the nipples had plainly had no grease since then at the very least, if ever!

Track Wear : A Centurion Track will start out new with 108 links. These will stretch and when the belly in the tracks shows that a track adjustment is required, it is adjusted. When there are 19 threads showing on the track adjuster, it's time to remove a link. Then the procedure is repeated and repeated until the track is down to 104 links. At this time a new set of tracks are installed. Imagine a steel track stretching about four and a half feet! But they do!

A Case Study .. 1

The item below is from my website and it is presented as I received it. This is from a chap that has a couple of bob! He owns a large property and has a huge shed with everything. He has worked on dozers and large machinery all his life. He owns one of the two best Centurions in Australia, two Bren gun carriers A Matilda and is currently working on a Churchill. He does all his own work, so he would in my opinion be one of the best prepared owners in Australia. Now have a read of his story of a month in the life of a centurion owner

The Daffy parade is on every year in September, I've been going on and off for about ten years...The cost of running so many vehicles now makes it almost impossible, although this year the council provided transport and fuel...I used 1380 litres!


I don't go unless invited, This doesn't worry me much as I don't need the harassment, this year the request came on the Tuesday before when the council mechanic came to see me about transport, the official request arrived in the Monday after the event, two days later.


I have been having Cent track problems....I bought a set in Victoria.....Not good. When installed they override the sprockets, that is the sprocket turns inside the track. I had a new set of hubs and sprockets, however when installed it was worse...After investigation it was decided that the road wheels were worn and allowing the new stiffer track to run out of alignment to the sprocket....Back to Tim's and got a new set of wheels....These were installed on the Thursday before the event.


Two weeks prior to the daffy parade I had two vehicles at the Burraga sheep show, while going to this event WE smashed a diff centre and this required towing home...This had to be rebuilt after a new centre was found this was carried out between the 11th and 15th Sept.


On the Tuesday night prior to the event after working on the diff; we ploughed into a mob of kangaroos, so after a swift walk back to the shed to get another vehicle to tow us onto our wheels we were off again.


On the Thursday before the event the cent was backed out of the shed for the first time with the new road wheels, for some time now I've been having trouble with second gear....Some time back the pins in the clevis under the fighting compartment floor came loose and locked the selectors....I wasn't to concerned as I thought the problem was an adjustment issue following the selector problem. We have to drive the cent out to the main road (approx 5km) as the low loader wont travel the road....about half way out while I was driving, it locked in gear...Upon investigation it was found the bell crank pivot pin had sheared off in the it was going to require some machining to get running, I had to go and tell the truck that the show was over....


By the time I got back Pete and Tony had the broken part out and I took it to town to get anew one machined...3 hours later we were going again....Still had a track problem....But at least we were mobile....Now the gears select very easy, at least that's something.. on Friday afternoon Pete loaded the cent while I took the Matilda to town...


Saturday.....The parade, the lancers arrived with their ferrets, John Swane from Lithgow and his WW2 jeep club mates and us....Saturday afternoon we trucked the Matilda home and drove the rest home.

At a rough guess the tracks would be worth about $6,000 A set of final drives about $2,000 a pair if you are lucky. 24 roadwheels at $250 each say another$6,000. And this is on what I consider one of the best Cents in Australia and as far as I know, the best maintained!

A Case Study .. 2

I had a call from a chap that had a limit of $20,000 to purchase a Centurion and cover transport to his property.

He was considering what I class as a Gate Guard condition tank. He just may obtain one but he would be lucky.

He stated that he was an engineer and could recondition or make anything he needs. I, myself, think he is going to take on something that will slowly drive him mad and most likely cost him a heap of money

So how much too pay

OK! What should you pay for a Centurion.

  • Excellent Condition$45,000-$50,000
  • A Good Runner$30,000.
  • A Fair Runner (blowing smoke)$16,000 to $20,000.
  • A Gate Guard$8,000.

These are the opinions of a chap that cannot afford a gate guard. Good luck. I do know where most of the Australian Centurions are, 124 out of 143. I also know the condition of most of them and have driven a heap. If I can be of any help to anyone in any way please contact me.

Regards Col

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