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
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.