The Guardian published an article this week on British collector of armored vehicles and Nazi memorabilia Kevin Wheatcroft. The article deals primarily with Wheatcroft’s Nazi memorabilia collection rather than with his collection of Tanks and AFVs. That said, tank and AFV aficionados will still find it interesting, if for no other reason than to learn a bit about the rather media shy man behind the largest private AFV collection in the UK.
We stood beside the muscular bulk of a Panzer IV tank, patched with rust and freckled with bullet holes, its tracks trailing barbed wire. Wheatcroft scratched at the palimpsest of paintwork to reveal layers of colour beneath: its current livery, the duck-egg blue of the Christian Phalangists from the Lebanese civil war, flaking away to the green of the Czech army who used the vehicles in the 1960s and 70s, and finally the original German taupe. The tank was abandoned in the Sinai desert until Wheatcroft arrived on one of his regular shopping trips to the region and shipped it home to Leicestershire.
Wheatcroft owns a fleet of 88 tanks – more than the Danish and Belgian armies combined. The majority of the tanks are German, and Wheatcroft recently acted as an adviser to David Ayer, the director of Fury (in which Brad Pitt played the commander of a German-based US Sherman tank in the final days of the war). “They still got a lot of things wrong,” he told me. “I was sitting in the cinema with my daughter saying, ‘That wouldn’t have happened’ and ‘That isn’t right.’ Good film, though.”
Around the tanks sat a number of strange hybrid vehicles with caterpillar tracks at the back, lorry wheels at the front. Wheatcroft explained to me that these were half-tracks, deliberately designed by the Nazis so as not to flout the terms of the Treaty of Versailles, which stipulated that the Germans could not build tanks. Wheatcroft owns more of these than anyone else in the world, as well as having the largest collection of Kettenkrads, which are half-motorbike, half-tank, and were built to be dropped out of gliders. “They just look very cool,” he said with a grin.
Alongside the machines’ stories of wartime escapades and the sometimes dangerous lengths that Wheatcroft had gone to in order to secure them were the dazzling facts of their value. “The Panzer IV cost me $25,000. I’ve been offered two and a half million for it now. It’s the same with the half-tracks. They regularly go for over a million each. Even the Kettenkrads, which I’ve picked up for as little as £1,000, go for £150,000.” I tried to work out the total value of the machines around me, and gave up somewhere north of £50m. Wheatcroft had made himself a fortune, almost without realising it.
To go to the website for the Wheatcroft Collection, go here.