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Mass. museum gets extensive collection of military vehicles

Jerry Rivard, a mechanic with the Collings Foundation, got into a Saladin tank from the United Kingdom at the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola Valley, Calif.,

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press)

Jerry Rivard, a mechanic with the Collings Foundation, got into a Saladin tank from the United Kingdom at the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation in Portola Valley, Calif.,

SAN JOSE, Calif. — The family of a Silicon Valley engineer who amassed one of the nation’s most extensive historic military vehicle collections is giving the tanks, missile launchers, and armored vehicles to a Massachusetts-based museum that will preserve and display some of them.

Until now, the $30 million fleet of tanks has been refurbished and housed in seven storage sheds on a family estate up a winding, forested road above Silicon Valley; they are visited only under privately arranged tours.

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But in a deal announced Monday in honor of Veterans Day, the 240 pieces have been signed over to the Collings Foundation, which preserves historical military aircraft and now plans to add a new military vehicle museum at its Stow, Mass., headquarters.

Foundation director Rob Collings said the organization hopes to raise $10 million to build the museum by auctioning 160 of the military vehicles in August 2014. Eventually he hopes visitors can learn US history through a chronological walk past the remaining 80 historic military vehicles.

‘‘They'll start in the World War I trenches and go forward through time,’’ he said.

The collection was assembled by Jacques Littlefield, a Stanford University graduate who left Hewlett Packard in the 1970s to focus on collecting and restoring military vehicles.

He acquired his first tanks in 1983, and by the mid-’90s the collection included examples from almost all historically significant land battles of the last half-century, according to the nonprofit Military Vehicle Technology Foundation that currently is in charge of the collection.

Before his death in 2009, Littlefield acquired tanks and armored vehicles from the United States, Russia, Germany, England, France, Switzerland, Czechoslovakia, and Israel. There’s a Sherman tank and a Striker tank destroyer.

The oldest armored military vehicle in the collection is a World War I era M1917 light tank. While some are quite worn, many have been meticulously restored.

Although proposals have been made, there is currently no federal historic military vehicle museum in the United States.

Bill Boller, president of the Military Vehicle Technology Foundation, said the Littlefield family opted to give the collection to the Collings Foundation so that more people could visit it.

‘‘Unfortunately this is not the best place in the world location and accessibility, for the general public, authors, historians, the defense industry, all the people that want to take advantage of this wonderful collection,’’ he said.

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