When he was five years old, Kevin Wheatcroft received an unusual birthday present from his parents: a bullet-pocked SS stormtrooper’s helmet, lightning bolts on the ear-flaps. He had requested it especially. The next year, at a car auction in Monte Carlo, he asked his multimillionaire father for a Mercedes: the G4 that Hitler rode into the Sudetenland in 1938. Tom Wheatcroft refused to buy it and his son cried all the way home.
When Wheatcroft was 15, he spent birthday money from his grandmother on three second world war Jeeps recovered from the Shetlands, which he restored himself and sold for a tidy profit. He invested the proceeds in four more vehicles, then a tank. After Wheatcroft left school at 16, he went to work for a Leicestershire engineering firm, and then for his father’s construction company. He spent his spare time touring wind-blasted battle sites in Europe and North Africa, searching for tank parts and recovering military vehicles that he would ship home to restore.
Wheatcroft is now 55, and according to the Sunday Times Rich List, worth £120m. He lives in Leicestershire, where he looks after the property portfolio of his late father and oversees the management of Donington Park Racetrack and motor museum (which he also owns). The ruling passion of his life, though, is what he calls the Wheatcroft Collection – widely regarded as the world’s largest accumulation of German military vehicles and Nazi memorabilia. The collection has largely been kept in private, under heavy guard, either in the warren of industrial buildings Wheatcroft owns near Market Harborough, or at his homes in Leicestershire, the Charente in south-west France and the Mosel Valley in south-west Germany. There is no official record of the value of Wheatcroft’s collection, but some estimates place it at over £100m.