The Wheatcroft Collection

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For many years, modellers and military vehicle enthusiasts alike have been trying to gain access to the second biggest, privately owned collection of World War II vehicles in the world, the Wheatcroft Collection. It’s been a well-known fact for some time that owner, Kevin Wheatcroft, 47, has a German Panther tank undergoing restoration, but access facts have been thin on the ground, and access to the rest of the collection extremely limited.

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Recently, as a result of access being granted to ‘The Research Squad’, I was invited down to Leicestershire to meet Kevin Wheatcroft firsthand, and tour what I can only describe as the stunning collection of vehicles.

The collection is housed at a purpose-built facility in rural Leicestershire, and comprises several warehouses and workshops, fronted by offices.

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On arrival I was greeted by one of the Wheatcroft’s four employees, Lars, and taken through to meet another employee, Alan, who was busy working on the restored Panther in one of the workshops. As you can see from the photographs, there are no lengths the team won’t go to, to ensure complete accuracy in the re-build of this vehicle. We interrupted Alan whilst he was restoring a ‘Bosch’ manufacturer’s nameplate on an obscure switch, that when complete and installed, will probably never be seen again. Of course, not everything on the vehicle was salvageable, and so replacement parts have had to be obtained from various locations all over the world. The gearbox for example, is supposed to have been obtained as part of a trade from the National Museum of Military History in Luxembourg. You can also see in the photographs, one of the Maybach HL 230 V-12 engine blocks, both before and after! There are several engines in the collection, but at present only two are undergoing restoration, although replacement parts for all have been manufactured where necessary. I’m only sorry I can’t show more pictures of this amazing vehicle, but the full restoration project is the subject of a future publication from the Research Squad.

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Kevin Wheatcroft and his father Tom, are the team behind the Donington Grand Prix Collection, and of course Donington Grand Prix circuit, where in 1993 the European Formula One Grand Prix was held. Kevin began his fascination with military vehicles at a young age, in much the same way as most of us did, but then went one step further, buying a jeep in need of restoration when he was 15. In the mid-eighties he went one step further and purchased a Sherman ‘Grizzly’, which has now been fully restored.

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Within the Wheatcroft facility, but not housed inside, there are many vehicles that have been collected that would appear at first glance, to be beyond restoration. However, I was surprised at just how much can be salvaged, and around another corner I came across a massive collection of tracks from various vehicles, both Allied and Axis, along with road wheels, gun barrels, mantlets and all sorts of other salvaged bits and pieces, most of which had been picked up during Kevin’s extensive travels across eastern Europe, where pieces can still be found very cheaply, and some obtained as trades for other parts. Kevin considers his efforts towards building the collection as preserving history, and hopes eventually to be able to display the collection in a more formal setting such as a museum. He also supports various shows such as the War & Peace Show at Beltring and Tankfest, Bovington, Dorset, where the most familiar of the vehicles can be seen, the 18 ton fully restored FAMO, which was extensively photographed and measured by a team from Tamiya when researching their kit of the vehicle. This huge beast has to bee seen up close to be appreciated. It’s absolutely immaculately restored, but its sheer size is impressive too, in fact I had to think about how to climb into it, the cab being so far from the ground!

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The breadth of the collection is remarkable. Parked behind the FAMO is a completely restored DUKW, and as you can see from the photographs, little room is available to move around, one of the reasons the collection cannot be opened to the public.

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Most of the fully restored vehicles, or at least the smaller ones, are kept separately in a temperature controlled environment, including the Zundapp and BMW with sidecar, the White Scout Car, Sd.Kfz.250, and many others, the most interesting of which I found to be was the immaculate Kubelwagen, which I was told, is the earliest production example known to have survived, number 016.

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To give some idea of the size of the Wheatcroft collection, try to imagine owning 3 panthers, 85% of a King Tiger, several Panthers, a couple of FAMO’s, a Panzer III & IV and a StuG B. Then for good measure, throw in a Panzer IV/70, and a couple of 38(t)’s. How about three Hetzers, five 251’s a 250 and a Horch Ambulance? Not forgetting the two Kubelwagen’s Trippels, a Schwimmwagen, four Flak 37’s, loads of other guns and trailers, searchlights, ammunition trailers, field kitchens, several Kettenkraftrads, a Dukw, many Shermans and other Allied vehicles, plus a good selection of BMW, Zundapp and other motorcycle combinations and you’ll begin to get the idea!

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It wasn’t just the size of the collection that I found stunning, but also the breadth of it. In one room, known as the Spares room for obvious reasons, there was a treasure trove of bits and pieces, ranging from WWII fire extinguishers, to radios. There was one shelf full of German optical gear from various vehicles, another just full of on-vehicle wire cutters. Standing in one corner was an assortment of German Star Antennae. The room was jam packed with equipment and gear that most of us would sell a distant relative for! Although kept for current and future restoration projects, there is a healthy world-wide trade on artifacts, so that others may continue their own restorations.

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You can expect more reports on specific vehicles in the near future, but for now I'd like to thank Kevin Wheatcroft for his hospitality, and Brian Balkwill for facilitating the visit.

Please take the time to check out the Research Squad’s website for further details on the soon to be released Panther Project book, and of course the new Wheatcroft collection