Mil­i­tary col­lectibles are now a thing, af­ter an auction of work­ing World War 2 ve­hi­cles saw new worl­drecord prices for any­thing, from this Har­leyDavid­son WLA 750cc to bi­cy­cles, Jeeps and tanks.

Col­lec­tors spent over R57,3 mil­lion on 80-year-old mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles at D-Day sale in France

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - MIKE HANLON

PARIS auction house Artcu­rial last week held its D-Day sale, where the en­tire con­tents of the Nor­mandy Tank Mu­seum went un­der the ham­mer.

The mu­seum was sit­u­ated just a short walk from the Nor­mandy beaches where the of­fen­sive team of 156 000 Al­lied sol­diers was pit­ted against a well-pre­pared de­fence of 50 000 Ger­man troops, with both sides hav­ing the great­est ar­ray of fire­power ever as­sem­bled to that time.

The auction was a truly ex­traor­di­nary event, fetch­ing €3 714 675 (over R57,3 mil­lion), which was much more than the top es­ti­mates of all the lots com­bined and which may show that mil­i­tary col­lectibles is a new in­vest­ment port­fo­lio.

Not sur­pris­ingly, tanks filled the top six most ex­pen­sive lots sold, with three mo­tor­cy­cles set­ting world record prices too. The prize lot at the D-Day sale was the Sher­man M4A4 tank, which fetched €364 000 (R5,6 mil­lion). Pow­ered by a 500 hp V8 Ford en­gine, the Sher­man M4A4 was ca­pa­ble of 10 times the first tank’s speed (40 km/h for 193 km) and sported a 75 mm M3 L/40 can­non on the tur­ret (90 rounds on board), and a sec­ondary 50 mm Brown­ing ma­chine gun (300 rounds) for close com­bat.

Nu­mer­ous other world price records were bro­ken and the per­spec­tive of the mil­i­tary col­lectibles mar­ket was slightly shaken at the val­ues achieved.

War on two wheels

Con­trary to all the post-war pro­pa­ganda movies, bi­cy­cles and horse drawn carts moved far more sol­diers dur­ing WW2 than tanks, mo­tor­bikes and Jeeps.

As the in­evitabil­ity of an in­va­sion of Europe be­came clear, the Bri­tish and Amer­i­can gov­ern­ments asked many mo­tor­cy­cle man­u­fac­tur­ers to pro­duce light­weight bi­cy­cles and mo­tor­cy­cles ca­pa­ble of be­ing air­dropped into the bat­tle space.

Among the bi­cy­cles, Amer­ica’s Columbia com­pany quickly made a name for its re­li­a­bil­ity to move Marines, a rep­u­ta­tion it cap­i­talised on af­ter the war.

The U.S. Marines also used the Cush­man M53-A scooter, which was specif­i­cally built to be de­liv­ered by glider or para­chute be­hind en­emy lines. The Artcu­rial sale set a world record price for the Cush­man M53-A of €142 600 (over R2,2 mil­lion) against a pre-sale es­ti­mate of €20 000.

The most com­mon of the air­borne mo­tor­cy­cles be­came the Royal En­field Fly­ing Flea. This ul­tra-light­weight 125 cc two-stroke was ca­pa­ble of 55 km per litre, and had a top speed of 72 km/h. Over 7 000 of the mo­tor­bikes were man­u­fac­tured, then fit­ted into tubu­lar steel cra­dles ca­pa­ble of with­stand­ing a para­chute land­ing.

Re­mark­able for its sim­plic­ity and in­ge­nu­ity was the 500 cc M20 sin­gle fold­ing mo­tor­bike built by Birm­ing­ham Small Arms, or BSA, which com­pany built the mo­tor­cy­cle of choice of the Bri­tish mil­i­tary. BSA’s so­lu­tion for para­troop­ers was a low-cost, light­weight fold­ing bi­cy­cle which the com­mando could carry, jump and land with, and be im­me­di­ately mo­bile. Around 70 000 units were pro­duced dur­ing the war.

Ger­many’s BMW, how­ever, proved to be the best mo­tor­cy­cle on the bat­tle­field and, like Volkswagen, be­came a global brand us­ing the sound de­sign and un­stop­pa­bil­ity of its wartime prod­uct as the foun­da­tion. A BMW R75 and side­car set a new world price record for the model at €169 000 (over R2,6 mil­lion) and is now one of the top 100 most ex­pen­sive mo­tor­cy­cles sold at auction.

De­spite be­ing an in­fe­rior ma­chine in ser­vice com­pared to the Ger­man par­al­lel twin BMWs, the Har­ley David­son brand name went global over the 14 months fol­low­ing D-Day and in a world where a Ja­panese, then Korean, then Chi­nese man­u­fac­turer can copy any­thing, Har­ley-David­son’s brand val­ues still can­not be repli­cated.

The Har­ley-David­son WLA 750 cc be­came the new world record holder for the model at the D-Day sale, sell­ing for €66 960 (R1,03 mil­lion).

Gen­eral pur­pose ve­hi­cles

The Willys Jeep be­came the Al­lies’ me­chan­i­cal horse. For­mally known as the U.S. Army Truck, 1/4 ton, 4x4, the Jeep was the most recog­nis­able of a new breed of ve­hi­cle de­vel­oped to go over­land. It’s an­other mil­i­tary tech­nol­ogy that evolved into a global brand name. Es­sen­tially the pro­to­type for the four­wheel drive util­ity ve­hi­cles we know to­day, 350 000 were man­u­fac­tured dur­ing World War 2.

What we know now as Volkswagen (Peo­ple’s Car) got its start in 1934 when Fer­di­nand Porsche was asked to de­velop an af­ford­able car for the Ger­man peo­ple. Com­mer­cialised in 1937, Porsche had al­ready been asked to de­velop a 950 kg mil­i­tary ve­hi­cle based on “the beetle” that would trans­port four peo­ple and their equip­ment and the Type 82 was cre­ated. Nick­named the Kü­bel­wa­gen (“tub car”), and only 2WD, it was light enough to go places heav­ier 4WD mod­els could not, and earned a fine rep­u­ta­tion in the field, with 55 000 Type 82s in ser­vice.

The lessons learned in wartime about the al­ready ex­cep­tional Porsche de­sign en­abled Volkswagen to build a brand around re­li­a­bil­ity and af­ford­abil­ity which is to­day one of the largest au­to­mo­bile man­u­fac­tur­ers in the world.


This 105 mm cal­i­bre Chrysler M4 Sher­man sold for R4,5 mil­lion at a D-Day sale by auction house Artcu­rial in Paris last week.

The Gen­eral Mo­tors am­phibi­ous, all­wheel-drive, du­alaxle DUKW, known the world over as a “duck”, pi­o­neered the tyre pres­sure mod­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem still used in mod­ern mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles and rally-raid race of­froad ve­hi­cles. The Amer­i­can Cush­man M53-A scooter was de­signed to be parachuted be­hind en­emy lines. This one fetched over R2,2 mil­lion, a new world record.


Volkswagen learned a lot in the field with the Kü­bel­wa­gen. This model sold for €68 200 (over R1 mil­lion) at the D-Day sale.

Ger­many’s Bay­erische Mo­toren Werke, (BMW) made the best mo­tor­bikes dur­ing WW2, and this R75 with its side­car fetched a new world record price at over R2,6 mil­lion.

This Jeep is the most ex­pen­sive ever sold, fetch­ing over R1,5 mil­lion.

Amer­ica’s Columbia bi­cy­cle com­pany was quick to cap­i­talise on its rep­u­ta­tion for mak­ing durable bikes that trans­ported Marines dur­ing WW2.

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