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Page 8

Wheels Road Test of a Centurion MBT

They say it does four wheel drifts and we believe them, they say it chased the Russian tanks out of the desert in the four day war….. They say a lot of thinks. Here’s the truth





After an incredulous pause, the Colonel recovered, and was most helpful. WHEELS had of course, run a feature of Romsey Quints some years ago, on “The Giant headache Powder Machine”. But that was an armoured personnel carrier – 11 tonnes of bouncing and bucking aluminium tracked vehicle.

We were talking about a Centurion Tank – 52 tonnes of steel. The Centurion is almost a legend in the tanking world. Since it first arrived in Australia , in 1951, the Centurion has become a classic – something like a 1946 Packard. It’s the last of the “Big Tanks”. When the Centurion goes, it will be the end of an era. The new model tanks coming on to the market seem to be following the philosophy of the Japanese car makers in their trend for smaller and lighter vehicles. The Russians have even released a light air transportable tank.

Australia ’s replacement to the Centurion, the new German – built Leopard, reported to be on our road (but not available in your local showrooms) by early 1977, is more than 10 tonnes lighter than the Centurion. What prompted that phone call to the Tankie Colonel was the news that six Centurions had moved out of their Puckapunyal base, on a convoy of 60 tonned road transporters on their way to Singleton, NSW, for an Army exercise. So what you say. Well, Centurion Tanks had only been out of Pucka once in 14 years – to go to Vietnam – and in that time no one had ever seen the things, let alone driven one. The Colonel cast further mystery over the whole affair, with his comment: “So you want to drive a Cent. You do not know what you are in for.”  

The giant iron maidens were rumbling and squeaking through the Singleton Army Range , when we found them. My God, they looked big. The top of the tracks came up to the average man’s chest, as they sat idling in a clump of trees. Their camouflage paintwork with blotches of green and brown, and long, slender 20 –pounder gun, gave the Centurion an air of fearsome evil that would have more than matched their Roman namesakes, clad in their clanking Armour. We noticed we were becoming the centre of attention, as we walked with rapidly receding courage towards the big V12 beast. The feeling was a cross between that of an adrenalin-popping fighter pilot striding across the tarmac to his jet, and a patriot plodding to the guillotine.  

“He’s going to drive it,” the whispers ran around behind us, and we felt the eyes of hardened troopers sitting on top of their tanks, relishing the imminent hilarity. We were about to enter a world that belongs exclusively to a handful of skilled men of the Royal Australian Armoured Corps – better known as Tankies. Swift instructions were coming from the sergeant and the regular driver of the tank. The gear lever is located centrally, between the driver’s legs, as you slip down into the small hatch in the front of the tank. On the floor is the standard pedal layout except the clutch takes 13.9 kg (30 lb) to depress. Booting the accelerator produces a throaty roar from the V12 Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, with its dual exhaust system. “Where is the steering wheel, Sergeant?” we say, sensing there obviously isn’t one, but wondering just what did turn the beast. The steering clutches are located to the left and right of the gear stick, which work wonderfully for Amazons and wrestlers. And then a fascinating thing happened. Without putting the beast into gear, pulling one of these steering levers and putting on a few revs sent the Centurion into a 180 degree turn in its own length. Called a neutral turn, this gives the Centurion a turning circle within its own length – 10 meters (32 ft). That maneuverability would be handy for those tight parking situations, provided of course, that the park was 10 metres long by four metres wide. Instrumentation is limited to tachometer, redlined at 2500 rpm, oil pressure and temperature gauges, and a row of switches master ignition, start, and on / off. These switches protrude into the driver’s compartment at chest level.

The whole cockpit is designed for 45 kg (98 lb) midgets. Moving the gear lever across the gate, hits both knees, and an enthusiastic wrench on the steering clutch more often than not leaves a top layer of skin on the steel sides of the cockpit you are wedged into. But then we are ready to roll. We select second as first is only for load starts. We, because the driver is sitting just behind my shoulder on the mudguard, shouting instructions. We succeed in holding the clutch in long enough to take second without crunching cogs. The throw is long between the five forward and two reverse gears. “A few revs,” he is yelling. A few revs and we are moving. With the risk of being accused as the last strong hold of male chauvinism, the Centurion is definitely not a ladies car. The pressure required to turn the beast is enough to send muscle – building courses out of business. The five speed gearbox is a crash type, which even double clutching will not persuade to give up its old cog without grumbling.  

A special technique is required to change gears. After reaching the red line, you throw the clutch, ram it out of second, jerk one of the steering clutches briefly to the rear, then slam it through the gate into third, quickly planting the right foot again before the giant traffic unjammer slows to a halt. The quick jerk on the steering clutch wags the tail end slightly, allowing the gears to mesh smoothly. The box itself is a Merritt-Brown type, designed during World War 11. The Centurion box bears no resemblance to the Italian tank of WW2 which reputedly had three forward and nine reverse gears. The Centurion has a five forward and two reverse transmission which, complete, weighs just over one tonne. The V12 Polls-Royce Merlin is a non supercharged version of the famous Spitfire engine. Running on Super petrol, the engine puts out 480kW (630 bhp) at 2500 rpm, developing 2107 N-m (1555 lb / ft) of torque at a modest 1500 rpm. The engine revs out smoothly to its governed maximum of 2500 rpm. In low gear, with a ratio of 11.64:1, the Centurion will pull itself out of just about anywhere. With a final drive ratio of 7.47:1, this gives the Centurion a top speed of 37.4 km/h 9(21.6 mph) in fifth gear.

Handling is assisted by the twelve-wheel fully independent suspension, with horizontal coil springs and double action vertical mounted shock absorbers. Handling over roads is excellent and bumps up to four metre drop can be ironed out by the “wide tracked” machine. Its 9754 mm (384 in.) wheelbase and 3429 mm (135 in.) track gave the Centurion rock like stability – perhaps slightly assisted by the all up weight of 5200 kg (144,000 lb). Under hard cornering, the Centurion suffers from characteristic understeer. Body roll is negligible, but the tankies claim under full power the Centurion will four wheel drift through a tight corner. We took the Sergeant’s word for it. The trooper’s sitting atop their green monsters got their money’s worth. Out through the timbered harbor where the tanks were positioned, we swung the beast around to avoid incurring the wrath of the conservationists. Across the other side of the road lay a patch of mud and a rough washaway. “Ah, ah,” eager eyes zoomed in on a chance to see what the beast would do. It hadn’t got out of second at this stage, so we throttled back and sunk the 5200 kg of tank into the soupy quagmire. Without even changing revs it trundled out of the bog. Suitably impressed, and confidence increased, we headed for some open ground to try some high speed runs. Red line, clutch in, select neutral, jerk the steering clutch while simultaneously selecting third, clutch out….. it stalled. Stalling a 480 kW Rolls- Royce engine is no mean accomplishment. But we had at least given the “troopies” who up until now were showing sign of frustration at our success, something to laugh about. The beast forgave us the one cruel mishandling, and we continued to test drive uneventfully, until the predetermined time, when we both were mutually happy to part company. Fuel consumption of the Centurion is an incredible four gallons per mile under cross country driving, and up to two gallons per mile on the open road.  

  This looks like 169002 or maybe 169012

In addition to the V12 Rolls-Royce main power plant, the Centurion has an auxiliary engine to power the tanks gunnery gear, and recharge the batteries. It is a four cylinder, side valve Morris Minor industrial motor. With the advent of steel belted radial tyres, the Centurion goes one further, with its 24 inch wide solid steel tracks. Options that can be fitted to the Centurion include infra red lighting for night driving (not recommended for highway cruising), snorkel for underwater crossing, and searchlight. Sadly, the Centurion is on the way out and will, in a few years become a museum piece. The new Leopard tanks are coming, with their 42 tonne weight powered by a 627kW (840 bhp) Daimler Benz V8 diesel, coupled to an automatic transmission. The Leopard designed by Porsche, and manufactured by Krauss Maffie of Munich , features a torsion bar suspension, and is capable of speeds up to 64 km/h. It has rubber pads in the tracks, giving it ability to travel on sealed roads, and has upgraded gunnery. The centurion, in tankie worlds, will be treated with respect reserved for TC’s and V8 Morgan’s, and one thing is for sure – no other motoring scribe will ever drive anything like it again.  


 And we all know what this poor bugger is stuck with --a clutch change in the field ---  note the mud and slush


While this makes great reading there are heaps of mistakes, so do not contact me with complaints, as it was written as it appeared in the Wheels magazine in 1976. My thank to Jared Archibald, from Darwin , for purchasing the old copy of Wheels and then sending down a scanned section. Unfortunately the scanned items were far too large for the web site, and resizing them was not an option. ORC was just a lot of hard work so I retyped it all. This made the use of the pictures a worry as they were just about black, a problem I solved by not using them. But I changed my mind and a lot of work with photo programs managed to obtain viewable pics and still shrink them down in size. Not the greatest but defiantly better than nothing.

Modern Motor had also done a roadtest

on the Centurion





Looking through some old article's I came across this test by Modern Motor

As can be seen I was able to scan this one. This test was done in 1967 and I think the Wheels one was about 1976


For Sale



The two CD’s of Steel Thunder that were my first attempt at recording the story of my search and photo’s.

CD 1 is the story of my search around Australia .

CD 2 is a collection of my photos and others donated by Vietnam Veterans and private owners.




Steel Thunder upgrade consisted of the continued search after the first set of CD discs were released. There are many more tanks found and driven. The second disc contains photo albums and also some videos.


I have never sat back and counted the photos but there would be at least 2000 on both photo discs.


It was after I finished the second set of CD’s that I started my web page.


The money from the sale is being used to purchase items and cover costs for the Vietnam Veterans Museum .


Costs are $30 for the first pair with free postage 

Costs of the second set is also $30 with free postage


To purchase contact me at

and I will give details for bank transfer.


Now this is something I have never seen before, but I took a guess and was lucky


A 20 pounder smoke round

These photos came down from a mate in Queensland -- Rusty Dyson

There is only room for one of us here!


Here are a couple of prints that are quite famous  in the Armoured memories, both were painting done of action in Vietnam, one, "The Battle of Binh Ba" and the other named "The Breakout". Unfortunately it depends on what troop you were attached to  as there are a couple of claims to where the scene was. But the one suggested to me by quite a few Veterans said it represented the Battle at Balmoral. As I do not want to become involved in discussions on that point we will leave it there.



I donated this print to the Vietnam Veterans Museum




Rusty Dyson donated this print to the Vietnam Veterans Museum


Peter Best MID donated the money to have both these prints framed and glassed


At the time of the photos they were still in their protective wrapping hence the lines on the frame which is actually plastic covering

Both prints look great and will be displayed on the walls of the new Museum




Why not consider becoming an Officer in today’s Australian Army.


Are you angry at the world for all the humiliation and beatings you received throughout your childhood and schooling, tired of being bitten by little dogs and laughed at by children? Then this is your closet to hide in!


This job offers fantastic opportunities to get payed for bitching, whining and moaning like a twenty-cent whore about whatever you please.


So, if this puts a grin on your crooked lying little mouth, why not push your stamp collection to one side, ask your Mum and Dad and call the Army today.


Only 18months of your miserable life at Duntroon.


Sick of having a chip on your shoulder? Then why not try pips.

Spend 18 months at Australia’s leading FONC training facility, Duntroon. Where you don’t need to learn how to look after yourself, rather learn how to order someone else to look after you.


What are you waiting for? Put your braces on to hold up your corduroy shorts, water your ant farm and ring now.


The Army the pledge.



 Army 131902





And last but not least a Cent going over the Knife Edges at Pucka

The view about this time for the driver was blue sky and you went up about another six feet!! It was a lot of bloody fun!