Jeep shot: a military transport of delight

Cruising around in an open-topped sports car appeals to the exhibitionist in most of us. But if you really want to get noticed, try driving an open-topped Second World War Jeep.

Cruising around in an open-topped sports car appeals to the exhibitionist in most of us. But if you really want to get noticed, try driving an open-topped Second World War Jeep.

"I bought this military Jeep because I always saw it in war movies like M*A*S*H," says cameraman Ken Clay, 39, who drives a 1950s French copy of a Second World War "Willy's Jeep", known as the Hodgkiss Jeep. "It's a real head-turner on a sunny day - if you're out on the streets in it, people stop at traffic lights and talk to you. Everyone has questions about it."

Mr Clay bought the vehicle four years ago for £5,000. Currently, the same model in similar condition is going for around £7,500. Seven years ago you could have picked one up for £3,500. "Prices for Jeeps have soared in the last three to four years," says Liz Rivers of Dallas Auto Parts, which reconditions classic military vehicles and sells parts for them. "They were static for years before that.

"Jeeps were mostly used by farmers until recently. I don't know exactly what has pushed prices up now," adds Ms Rivers, though she thinks nostalgia might provide part of the answer. "A lot of our customers are retired. And there are programmes about the Second World War all the time on the History Channel."

"It's an icon," says Mr Clay. "Some collectors specialise in memorabilia and vehicles from specific wars, but with these Jeeps, even people who have no interest in any particular conflict will recognise it because of the movies. Mind you, it's completely impractical: it guzzles the petrol."

It is slightly awkward to drive, too, compared with modern vehicles, and does not comfortably go over 60mph. However, the technology is relatively straightforward, and spare parts are cheap and easily available, so it is not hard to maintain.

Mr Clay also has an original Second World War US Jeep which he bought three years ago in terrible condition for £1,500. He is now doing it up at a cost of around £5,000 but says a fully restored example would fetch between £11,000 and £12,000.

The insurance on old military vehicles is surprisingly low. Mr Clay pays just £100 a year to cover his working Jeep.

Another advantage to these vehicles is that they are easy to house. "A Jeep is only 11ft 1in long," says Ms Rivers. "They fit into the smallest of domestic garages. You can even stack them one on top of the other, as the windscreen folds down."

Ease of storage is one of the reasons why classic military motorbikes are also increasing in popularity. A Second World War Harley-Davidson, for example, in good condition, complete with rifle-holder and leather bags, will cost £6,000 to £7,000. The rarer Nazi BMW bikes of the same era cost even more. An average garage could house four or five of these.

The larger vehicles have not risen in value nearly as much. You can buy a WWII truck for about £1,500 but they use an obscene amount of fuel and are too big for most people to house.

Enthusiasts wanting to buy a vehicle usually start by looking in magazines such as Military Machines International, Land Rover Enthusiast or Land Rover Monthly. Many buy through specialist traders or occasionally at public military auctions. The range of vehicles and machines available includes trucks, JCBs, petrol tankers and even field guns (usually disabled if sold to members of the public). Many are bought by dealers who then sell them on to Third World armies, but pretty much anything is open to public bidding.

This is a particularly good year to be the owner of a WWII vehicle as it is the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landings. "A lot of people are kitting up to go across the Channel for the event, and demand for vehicles is putting prices up," says Mr Clay. On the website of the Military Vehicle Trust (MVT) there is a list of D-Day-related events taking place in Europe where people with authentic military vehicles are needed. Some owners also get work as extras on film sets.

Many owners belong to local branches of the MVT or the Invicta Military Vehicle Preservation Society, both of which run regular events for enthusiasts. War re-enactments, 1940s weekends, shows and meetings happen throughout the year but the highlight is the annual War and Peace weekend in Kent in July.

Classic military vehicles, and particularly Jeeps, are likely to hold or increase their value in the future. "The French government was releasing Hodgkiss Jeeps up until last year," says Ms Rivers. "But that has stopped now, so they will become even rarer as time goes on." With supply dwindling, it is quite possible the price of Jeeps will more than double in the next four years, but only time will tell.

COLLECTORS SOLDIER ON

Prices

From £700 for a 1960s Jeep trailer to £12,000 for a fully restored, top-condition WWII US Jeep.

More information

The Military Vehicle Trust, www.mvt.org.uk; the Invicta Military Vehicle Preservation Society, www.imps.org.uk; Dallas Auto Parts, 01635 201124.

2004 events

* 15-16 May: Prelude to D-Day Living History Weekend, Tilford, Farnham, Surrey.

* 26-27 June: Military Vehicle Trust National Show, Kemble Airfield, near Cirencester, Glos.

* 21-25 July: War and Peace Show, The Hop Farm, Beltring, Kent (biggest military vehicle show in the world).

* 27-29 August: Three-day convoy in France, following General Patton's liberation route and the D951 Liberty Highway between Sezanne and Reims.

* December: 60th anniversary celebrations in Belgium and Luxembourg. More than 90 events in both countries.

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