On a farm in rural England, mechanic Todd Chamberlain is rooting around in the fuel container of an old tank. Eventually, his hand grasps something heavy and cold, but when he pulls it out, it isn’t the rusty weaponry he expects to find. Instead, it’s a treasure thought to be worth millions of dollars.
Collector Nick Mead lives in Helmdon, a village in Northamptonshire in the East Midlands, England. And from his farm, he runs Tanks-alot, a business that hires out military vehicles for movies and TV shows as well as for private events and even driving lessons.
Altogether, Mead has some 150 vehicles from around the world, including some used by the British, U.S. and Russian armies. Impressively, too, he’s the only private collector to own a Challenger 1 – a tank designed in the U.K. and still used in combat to this day.
Tanks-alot allows interested parties to visit the farm and try their hand at driving military vehicles. In fact, it’s even possible to hire a tank limousine in which to explore London in style. Recently, however, Mead came up with another idea to boost his business.
While browsing eBay, Mead discovered a special tank for sale. Apparently, it was a Russian T-54 design built by the Chinese – and it would make the perfect addition to his collection, which already included two other Russian tanks. “I saw it advertised and I had this idea of doing a From Russia With Love experience, where people would come and drive three Russian tanks,” he explained in an April 2017 interview with the Daily Mail.
As a result, Mead contacted the tank’s 23-year-old owner, Joe Hewes, and eventually the pair hashed out a deal. Mead handed over a £30,000 ($39,000) Abbott self-propelled gun and an army truck to Hewes. And in return he became the new owner of the tank, which is thought to have been manufactured in the 1980s.
Apparently, the tank, which had been deployed in Iraq, only had around 1,500 miles on the clock – but it had clearly been an eventful journey. In fact, while they were taking a closer look at the vehicle, Mead and his mechanic Chamberlain made a startling discovery. They found a stash of live ammunition hidden inside, after which they were forced to contact the authorities to hand it in.
But that wasn’t the end of the drama at Tanks-alot; it was just the beginning. Later that week, Chamberlain realized that one of the external fuel tanks was refusing to budge. With the help of a crowbar, then, he finally managed to lift the heavy container – and then he found a strange hole cut into the metal.
Excited, Chamberlain went to see Mead to tell him about the discovery. And because of the ammunition that had already been uncovered, the pair expected to find guns concealed within the fuel tanks. They also decided to film themselves searching the vehicle.
“You know the rounds we found earlier?” Chamberlain explained in a video uploaded to the Tanks-alot YouTube page in April 2017. “I’m thinking this is the guns to go with them. I reckon it’s full of guns. Which could be a problem for us.”
In order to protect themselves from potential suspicion, then, the pair opted to not only film the entire process but also call the police to dispose of the firearms. However, when Chamberlain reached into the fuel tank, it wasn’t a weapon that he found hidden inside.
Instead, Chamberlain pulled out a single, shining bar of solid gold. And as Mead and his colleagues reacted with disbelief, Chamberlain had another revelation to share. “It’s not the only one, either,” he declared. So with renewed enthusiasm, the team continued to search inside the fuel tank for whatever else might be lying there.
Eventually, Chamberlain pulled an incredible five gold bars from inside the tank. Weighing them, the guys noted that two each came in at more than a stone, while the other three weighed between 12 and 13 pounds apiece. Altogether, he estimated that the bars were worth around $2.5 million.
As they subsequently came to terms with their astonishing find, Mead asked his colleagues what they’d do with their share of the loot. Surprisingly, the responses were relatively humble. While one woman admitted that seven new Range Rovers would be nice, others suggested purchasing a new hoover or even another tank.
However, the team realized that a find of such significance could not be kept secret, so they called the police to explain what had happened. In the video, a clearly shellshocked Mead can be seen telephoning the emergency services. “We’ve found umpteen bars of gold bullion in an Iraqi tank,” he told the operator.
Because of the tank’s links to Iraq, it’s possible that the bullion could have come from Kuwait in the Persian Gulf. When Iraq invaded the country back in 1990, Iraqi forces indulged in wholesale looting, and in total it’s estimated that they stole billions of dollars’ worth of property – including gold bars.
The following year, as part of the negotiations to end the Gulf War, the United Nations ordered Iraq to return the stolen property to Kuwait. However, not everything made its way back across the border. Indeed, many suspect that some of Kuwait’s treasures are still in the hands of private Iraqi collectors.
For their part, sadly Mead and Chamberlain did not get to hang on to their hoard for long. Yes, two Northamptonshire police officers arrived soon after and removed the gold bars. Apparently, they were taken away for investigation to see if they matched up with any missing bullion from Kuwait.
However, Mead is still clinging on to the hope that the bars may be returned to him if the original owners aren’t found. Hewes, meanwhile, has remained surprisingly philosophical about the treasure that he let slip through his fingers. “If he does get to keep some of the money, I expect a pint [of beer]!” he joked.
Since the story went viral in April 2017, it has been hotly debated online, though. Indeed, some commenters have lamented Mead’s decision to turn the gold in. But having chosen to contact the authorities, all he can do is wait to see if honesty will turn out to have been the best policy after all.