Parade Quality: 1945 GMC DUKW

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Some classics appear on our desks at Barn Finds that are almost too cool for words. Such is the case with this 1945 DUKW. It could serve as an excellent parade vehicle, but it needs work before it returns to life on the high seas. Some oddballs don’t attract much attention, but the fact this vehicle has accumulated thirty-two bids suggests people like what they see. If you feel the same, you will find this classic listed here on eBay in Loves Park, Illinois. The action has pushed the price to $10,100 in a No Reserve auction.

When the military was confronted by the prototype DUKW in the early 1940s, it initially rejected the concept. However, one prototype proved its worth during a dangerous civilian rescue mission, causing the defense forces to rethink their decision. Eventually, more than 20,000 rolled off the line between 1942 and 1945, although many were scrapped following the end of World War II. This one avoided that fate, and it presents as you would expect any former military vehicle. The seller indicates the sides were reskinned, but the deck has minor rust holes. They are the tip of the iceberg because substantial floor rust requires attention. It doesn’t render the vehicle unroadworthy, but driving it down a boat ramp would cause it to perform a passable impression of the Titanic sans Jack and Rose. There is no gear-driven bilge pump, but even that wouldn’t cope with incoming water. Therefore, if the new owner wishes to recapture this DUKW’s nautical abilities, it requires substantial metalwork. However, if remaining on dry land is the object of the exercise, it would be okay with no immediate attention.

There is a misconception that the DUKW is armor-plated, but that is an urban myth. Its steel is surprisingly thin, which is good, considering the vehicle tips the scales at nearly seven tons. Add armor-plating to the mix, and the DUKW would have potentially been useless on the water. It would also have severely limited its payload capacity from 2½ tons to a lower and less practical figure. Powering this beauty is a GMC 270ci six-cylinder engine. It sent 94hp to the road via a dual-range transfer case and a six-wheel-drive system or to the water via a gear-driven propellor. The recipe doesn’t sound like it offers great performance potential, but the DUKW could hit 50mph on land and six knots on water. The seller indicates this beauty runs and drives, and its propellor operates as it should. There are some electrical glitches, but they include a replacement wiring harness to help address the problems. They’re unsure if it is complete, but it is a good starting point. They recently resleeved the wheel cylinders and added a new Hydrovac booster. That means the brakes don’t require further attention, and this classic should be good to go after a thorough inspection.

Since the DUKW is a military vehicle, it is unsurprising that its interior focus is on function over form. If you’ve become accustomed to air conditioning, cloth or leather seats, and power assistance for everything, life inside this beauty could be a shock. The front seats feature minimal padding and vinyl upholstery, while the back seats are converted ammo crates. There are the usual gauges to monitor the mechanical health and the appropriate levers to operate the transfer cases and engage the propellor drive. It is serviceable as-is, but if the buyer elected to perform a restoration, the world would be their oyster. If they select a faithful path, that means acres of army green paint. I’ve seen owners perform a color change on these classics, and the right color can make them an excellent promotional vehicle for a ship supply business or tourist venture.

I once purchased a race car without consulting my wife. She only became aware of my new acquisition when the guy arrived in my driveway to deliver it. To say my decision was not well received would be an understatement. I can’t imagine what she’d do if this 1945 DUKW arrived on our doorstep. You may not be in the same boat (sorry!) as me, and joining the bidding war on this beauty may be viable. If it is and you throw your hat into the ring, we’d love to hear about the ownership experience if you’re the successful bidder.

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  1. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    I recall seeing these running up and down the streets of Pittsburgh, and up and down the rivers there. Then one sank? Is that right? That would explain why you don’t see these anymore, I guess.

    Like 2
    • John

      Yes, the burgh did have Just Ducky Tours from 1997 to 2019. They were a ton of fun. The company closed shop in response to a sinking in 2018 in Missouri. so sad. I don’t know what happened to the fleet.

      Like 3
    • Abbs

      The Branson Missouri tragedy where over a dozen people and children died during a severe storm derecho is what really killed the Duck mobile business and is still under active investigation.

      Like 1
    • Greg

      Well, they are old. As with all old machines they get worn out. The more odd they are the harder it is to get parts for.
      I was around a city on the Tennessee river that had Duck Boat tours. In the early 1990’s.
      The running joke was pay for a 3 hour tour, stay out all day. They had a reputation of breaking down.

      Like 2
  2. HoA Howard AMember

    Hailing from the Badger, this one hits a nerve, big time. Great writeup on the history, but nothing mentioned about the Wisconsin Dells “Ducks”. Totally understandable, as the author IS on the other side of the world. Right after the war, 2 guys bought a surplus DUK, and began transporting visitors along the Wisconsin River. It quickly grew to 35 units in the 50s, to almost 100 today. It remains the biggest attraction draw in the Dells. Anyone going up that way, about an hour north of Madison, is well worth the trip. They travel mainly on forest roads to and from the river, but a small outfit with one in Washington, that did a lot of road travel, had an incident where the steering failed, and several people were killed. I happen to know, the owners of the Wis. Ducks, are very committed to safety. Even thought of a job there once, as a mechanic. I read, most are converted to diesel now, and the owners scoop up everyone they can find and will be on this pretty fast. Most are on the bottom of the ocean. Great find. Here’s a cheesy video, it really is an unbelievable area, the driver always asks, “you want to hit the water slow, or fast”? Naturally, everyone says fast. You shan’t be disappointed.

    Like 10
    • George

      My uncle bought a ski boat from one of the Dells ski teams back in the early 1980’s. Since our two families were extremely close the 8 of us all got together and went on a trip to pick it up.

      Great boat. I think it was a 1980 MasterCraft with a big block crammed into it. They always took a standard ski boat then upgraded the power substantially in order to haul all of the skiers up at the same time so they could do the pyramid.

      Anyway all 8 of us got in the boat after he paid for it and decided to go up the river. Great day until we crossed paths with a DUK.

      They throw up a pretty big wake when they’re going at full speed. One too big for an overloaded and low to the water ski boat with a brand new pilot who panicked and cut the throttle when he saw it coming at him…

      The front went about 3′ below the water with the back sticking up in the air. We got hit with a solid wall of water.

      Luckily it had an enclosed bow to hold air because we popped out like a cork!

      Fine time to test the bildge pump!

      Great boat. It once got 18 tubes up on plane at the same time. It didn’t actually cut through the water so much as it just moved the lake behind it… Fastest hole shot I’ve ever seen but it was set up for that and only that so it topped out around 30-35 mph. But boy did it get there fast!

      Anyway I bet the DUK would make one heck of a wakeboarding rig with a big enough power plant… Lol

      Like 8
    • Grant

      Howard, when our kids were young, my wife and I took them on these at the Dells many times. Always a blast. The first time I kept thinking of the misery some of the boys had in these back during the war, but I got over it and then had a great time after that. Growing up a Boomer in England in the sixties, the war was never too far away. People here were fixated on Vietnam (and rightfully so), but we kept reliving the Blitz. Technically we won the war, but you would never feel that way by talking to most of our parents. That war left so many empty spots in peoples hearts.

      Like 3
      • HoA Howard AMember

        Hi Grant, well said, my friend. I’ve long said, if it wasn’t for our brothers in England, we all might be speaking German today. “Buzz bombs”,,the V1, basically an unmanned Kamikaze,,I read, if you heard them, you were okay, it’s when the noise stopped, it was trouble. I saw’r a documentary on PBS produced by a British gal called, “My Grandfathers War”. and chronicled his involvement in the S. Pacific, specifically, the Kamikazes. It was a very powerful film. We tend to think the Brits weren’t involved, but tens of thousands were. Aside from the WW2 “war stories” my old man told, accuracy diminishing over time, Vietnam was on our TV screens, and we all knew somebody that went, or didn’t come home.
        Many folks today have no connection to any of that, just a fun ride in an amazing place, but I never lost fact for a second, what their real role was.

        Like 3
  3. Jay E.Member

    I wondered why it is so cheap, and its all good until the last picture. Yikes! Even the stringers are rusted out. There will be no easy or cheap way to get this in the water again. Love that it has a cockpit mounted compass.

    Like 1
  4. Jay Galbreath

    One of these took my Dad to the Iwo Jima beach along with 105 artillery rounds. Loved seeing them around Pittsburgh.

    Like 7
  5. TheOldRanger

    We see a lot of these (or this type of vehicle) in Hot Springs Arkansas. People board them close to the spa houses in the tourist area and they drive through town, down to Lake Hamilton, and then hit the water. About 10 years ago, one sank on the lake and several people got trapped under the canopy and didn’t get out. I still see these when I’m in HS, but I would never get in one if it was headed for water.

    Like 1
  6. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    I agree with OldRanger. A few years back, we booked a boat ride beneath the Cliffs of Moher on Ireland’s west coast. The sea was rough that day, and when we arrived, I took one look at that boat and decided nothing-doing.

    We had a nice visit from the top instead.

    Like 5
  7. Jay McCarthy

    Boston has them called the Duck Tour and they cruise around Boston and Beacon Hill finally ending up in the Charles River

    Like 4
    • DON

      Yep, we went on one of them in Boston ; they asked if it was anyone’s birthday , and as my wifes was the day before they told her to go up front and let her drive/sail it around the river for a bit

      Like 1
  8. Lothar... of the Hill People

    Rusty boat? No problem:
    You might need two cans for this job.

    I am a Wisconsinite and have been to The Wis. Dells many times. Somewhere I have a very old picture of me steering one of the Ducks out on the water, where I could do little harm. I was probably about 9 then. Good times.

    Good write-up, Adam.

    Like 9
    • Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

      The writeup failed to include the 1/4-mile ET.

      Like 9
      • Rick

        They weren’t sure if it should be in statute or nautical terms.

        Like 3
  9. Karl

    The DUKW has gotten a very and undeserved bad reputation over the years. This vehicle was designed to do a job and it did that job pretty darned well for a very long time. Many of the tour companies did so many modifications to them so they could effectively and completely overload them along with their stability compromised is what leads to serious problems!
    Rust has always been the biggest problem with these and it’s an extreme amount of work to fix it correctly, that’s why the price seems reasonable. Complete and 100 percent functional these are selling in the 100k area, wonderful piece of history here!

    Like 4
  10. Howie

    Great if you have a use for it, 33 bids now.

    Like 0
  11. UpNorth

    Uh, they were a war transport machine. One use only, expendable and the fact that so many remain is testament to never giving up.
    Wild modifications to increase load, speed or anything else will negate the original stability.
    If there ever really was……
    Stay on the street and make sure you’ve got good brakes and tires.

    Like 2
  12. FredG

    Many places use these for tours and of them think they were the first/only one! I’ve been on duck tours in Boston (USA) and Liverpool, England. Liverpool was distinctive for using an unmodified DUKW with manual transmission, steering and brakes. Combine that with having the steering wheel on the wrong side and it was no small task to maneuver the narrow, crowded streets of Liverpool! Oh, and the driver sounded like a Beatle.

    Like 5
  13. Solosolo UK SolosoloMember

    I haven’t been into London for 3 or 4 years now but on my last visit there were plenty of these doing sightseeing tours around the city. I don’t know if they ever got into the River Thames but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.

    Like 1
  14. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    In the early 60’s the small town in which I grew up flooded. It was a slow-developing flood, which came up slowly and receded slowly, i.e. not a flash flood. I seem to remember these, or a similar vehicle, doing rescues around down. Our house, being slightly updip in town, missed being flooded by inches.

    Like 4
  15. Robert White

    I’m a Mechanical Engineering guy via Tool & Die Making and precision manufacturing. No way in Heck you’d ever catch moi riding in one of these Second World War U.S. Army issue old relic ‘Carboat’ thingys.

    Not going to do it.

    Not going to do it.


    Like 1
    • HoA Howard AMember

      Yeah, yeah, get in the boat soldier,,

      Like 5
  16. Joe Nato

    I drive for Boston Duck Tours. All of our DUKW’s are replicas. The original DUKW’s that the company had are all retired now. The vehicles we use are gas powered vehicles built by Chance Roller Coaster. They are larger and more comfortable than the originals but are still one of the biggest attractions in Boston during our operational season. I love driving them as a retirement job and look forward to our season next year to driving them again. One of the best companies I’ve worked for.

    Like 6
  17. Edmond Broaddrick

    My grandfather was a DUKW driver in the Marines During WW2 in the Pacific. He told some horrible stories about losing so many soldiers before they even got to the beachheads. He said these machines were very good mechanically and easy to work on. The only person that had any kind of armor protection was the driver so soldiers would fight to sit behind the drivers seat.

    Like 2
  18. Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember

    In the 1980s my shop was tasked with getting one of these running and driving [on streets, not water] for one of the Ducks franchises in Baltimore. They wanted this one to drive around the Baltimore area roads to attract investors prior to the company beginning tours.

    As I always try to do before tackling a big project, I do my research. He is some of what I found:

    1. When new, these were expected to last [at most] 30 days, and the military expected fully half of them to last between 1 and 3 days.
    2. In order to maximize cargo capabilities, this was the only fully floating US military vehicle designed without any watertight bulkheads or compartments. the lack of those compartments means if one is swamped, it sinks as quickly as 60 seconds.
    3. This one appears to be unmodified for entertainment purposes [Duck Tours, etc.] It’s still got the double hatch doors over the engine, the twin opening vents below the windshield, and the hard to find front upper folding wave board that the Duck tour people usually take off and toss in the scrap pile.
    4. Because these were never intended for long-term survivability, only the outer surfaces saw paint, that’s one of the reasons why this one has lots of rust inside

    Like 4
  19. Lothar... of the Hill People

    All kidding aside for once:
    I realize these are not exactly watertight watercrafts. Has anyone here seen one that had the bulkhead areas filled w/ foam or air bags so the vessels cannot fill w/ as much water, even w/ rust issues present? Or… doesn’t it work that way? Should I be patenting this ASAP??

    Like 1
    • Bill McCoskey Bill McCoskeyMember


      The problem is with the design. They were made to be simple cargo/people transporters with a big flat area that has a floor below the water line when loaded, without room on the sides for floatation devices. If the lower areas are filled with foam & the craft springs a leak, even if it’s empty it’s just gonna flip upside down. In addition, it weighs over 3.5 tons, and there is not enough cubic area to support that kind of weight if foamed in every possible location.

      Like 2
  20. George Birth

    Bottoms up. PASS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Like 1
  21. leiniedude leiniedudeMember

    Dec 08, 2022 12:55:58 PST
    Winning bid:
    US $28,803.00
    [ 62 bids ]

    Like 1

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