What Is the Gama Goat?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Gama Goat is a vehicle developed by the United States military for service in the Vietnam War. Known officially by the designation M561, this vehicle was not produced after the war because it proved to be impractical for many military uses, despite its excellent performance in the rugged terrain of Vietnam. Some extant examples can be seen in military museums. Military vehicle enthusiasts also restore and maintain Gama Goats as items of historic interest and value.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

This vehicle features a six wheel design, with separately articulated wheels to allow for greater control on harsh terrain. It is also articulated to make it possible to travel on rough ground where a regular vehicle might snag on obstacles. The Gama Goat design includes a large bed that can be covered or left open, and a modified version can be loaded with stretchers to bring soldiers back to a base camp for medical treatment.

The articulation was the truly unique feature with the Gama Goat. It was developed by engineer Roger Gamout, and the vehicle's name references his, with the “goat” being a nod to the vehicle's rugged functionality. The design was also partially amphibious to facilitate passing over rivers and streams. In humid jungle conditions, vehicles that could not handle deposits of water would have difficulty navigating.

Like other vehicles designed for off-road use, the Gama Goat is slow and the steering can be clunky, especially for a driver who is not familiar with the vehicle. These vehicles handle poorly on pavement and are not really suitable for use in settings where they will spend a lot of time on tarmacs or roads. The powerful engines are also very noisy. Operators in Vietnam had to wear hearing protection while driving, and the vehicles were not known for stealth.

Collectors with an interest in the Gama Goat can sometimes find listings for sale. Sale vehicles can vary in condition from meticulously maintained trucks to Gama Goats with substantial damage that may require extensive repairs. They can also be difficult to transport without a flatbed truck, unless the sale vehicle happens to be close to the collector's home or garage. As with other vehicle purchases, it is advisable to carefully inspect the vehicle and any maintenance records to assess the condition and determine how much work it will need to be safe and serviceable. Parts can be difficult to obtain unless collectors have access to a yard, and this is another consideration to think about before buying a Gama Goat.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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