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Copyright 2005 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

</IMG>The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Sheriff to get the 'nicest' tank in NorcrossJOHN GHIRARDINI

Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway is getting a new vehicle that makes the biggest, baddest Humvee look wimpish.

It's a camouflage-colored cream puff, with a 283 cubic inch V-8, a top speed of 40 mph and a 110-gallon gas tank. It gets about 3 miles to a gallon.

Original equipment included one .50-caliber machine gun, a 7.62 mm machine gun and infrared night vision capability. It seats four and weighs 15,093 pounds --- and it floats. (The .50-caliber gun has been replaced with a nonfiring replica.)

It's a fully restored 1965 M114 armored command and reconnaissance vehicle built by Cadillac.

Its owner, Ben Cowart II of Norcross, is donating it to the Sheriff's Department for use in tactical situations such as officer rescues and go-anywhere capability during natural disasters.

"It's the nicest one in Norcross," Cowart said. "I've had a lot of fun with it. I think everybody should have a tank at least once."

Cowart, 40, is a developer by trade, but branched into the military vehicle business two years ago when he had the chance to purchase surplus Humvees.

All of a sudden Cowart was running Military Vehicle Specialties (www.Xhumvee .com), which restores and customizes Humvees, and loving every minute of it.

"This is a business that's turned into a hobby," he said.

About a year ago, a customer swapped the M114 for one of the Humvees. The big vehicle is fully restored, right down to the 1st Cavalry Division markings.

Cowart declined to reveal the value of the donation, saying appraisal results were not final.

Southeastern Equipment Co. in Augusta sells military vehicles retail. The company's Byron Morris estimated the M114's worth at $18,500, though Cowart said the vehicle's condition makes it worth more. "It's combat-ready," he said.

"It's a good piece of equipment," Conway said. "It can be used by us, the Police Department or the fire department."

The M114 was given a clean bill of health by the county's Fleet Maintenance Department.

Cowart said the hand-over probably will take place Thursday, but he's not finished with his baby quite yet.

"I'm going to help train drivers," he said. "I want to make sure it's maintained properly."

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Can a Bristol County version be far behind?

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