A knock at my door one evening revealed one of those well meaning persons who said he knew I liked those “Old Army Things” and did I know that there was a “Yankee Staff Car” which he assured me could be bought for “Ten Quid” down at the scrap yard along from the Station in King Edward Street. I thanked him and said I would look into it, trying to get rid of him as my dinner was going cold on the table -you know how it is – I wished I had a pound for every reported sighting of a vehicle!
The next day I paid a visit to the aforementioned yard to check this out and sure enough found what turned out to be a Plymouth Sedan. I approached the owner of the yard – a wily looking individual (aren’t they all!) asking if I could have a closer look at it.
I began by looking into the engine bay; I was very pleased to find it was fitted with a similar engine to my Dodge ½ ton Command Car for which I knew spare parts were readily available. Continuing going all around the car muttering the usual “Humph, it’s got the rust in it badly, and I expect the engine/clutch/gearbox and back axle has had it”and all the banal chatter which goes with buying a car you would really like, but don’t want to pay too much for. It did look a bit sorry for itself, but it seemed fairly complete, though it had obviously been off the road for some time.
In the end I found that the engine would not turn over and pounced on this fact, here at least was something I could use to negotiate a more favourable price. The bloke was asking “Fifty Quid” for it, ( so much for the reported “Ten Quid”!!) however faced with the evidence I had discovered we settled on £35.00 and he would deliver it to my place, along with a gallon of “Eezit.” It was delivered the next day so began the task of resurrection.
The water pump was found to be leaking and the head gasket needing to be replaced, as were the tyres, but the interior found to be useable although needing a clean. Fortunately the headlining was in very good condition, however, the door bottoms were just a little “lace edged”, as was the bottom of the grill. The door moulding strip and one of the rear light lens were missing, but the rest of the body was remarkably sound. As the plan was to make it into a Military Staff Car, there would be no expensive re-chroming to do.
The first task was to try to start the engine. After removing the sparking plugs and pouring in quite a large quantity of the releasing fluid, the starter motor was removed to give access to the flywheel ring gear. Using a tyre lever (carefully!) I managed to persuade the engine to turn a little. After about an hour it was freeing off nicely. After checking that the starter motor still functioned, it was put back in and the starter switch pressed, but being only 6 volts it was having a hard job turning the engine over even without the sparking plugs being fitted.
Enlisting the aid of my good friend Adrian, who bravely “volunteered” to be towed around behind my Dodge, we set off. First of all we towed it to free the engine off more, until after several plug changes, numerous near misses as the brakes were not too good either, the old motor began to show signs of life initially on first 1 cylinder with other 5 following suit reluctantly. We were so excited, both of us under the hood revving the engine like hell to clear it’s throat – so to speak – it was some time before I realised there was a dense fog cloud coming out of the exhaust, so much so that I swear it could have been plaited!
The hood was slammed shut and we took off like a pair of scalded cats, still towing the Plymouth with the engine at a fast tick over.
Looking back I could see the fog faithfully following the Plymouth, so much so that it looked as though the whole street was on fire, but we dare not turn it off ‘cause I didn’t know if it would have started again. Anyway, with big do’s and little do’s it was whisked back into my workshop and the doors closed – after finally risking switching the engine off. We were just in time to hear the “he-haw” horns and see the flashing blue light dimly disappearing up the street.
The various spare parts were obtained from Peter Gray and fitted, the bodywork issues addressed, a piece of wood fashioned to replicate the missing door moulding, a temporary plastic cover fabricated for the rear light and a set of previously owned, but perfectly serviceable Taxi tyres fitted. Several weeks later it emerged wearing a new coat of Olive Drab, decorated with the obligatory Star motifs and stencilled signs and hardly smoking at all.
As the car did not come with any paperwork, although the registration number plates looked original, I did not have a log book or MoT certificate and duly wrote down the chassis and engine numbers.
A visit to the local Motor Taxation office in Exeter to make an application for a duplicate log book was made. This was where things began to get interesting, for in those days all the records were kept in folders, including the original application for registration in the beautiful copper plate handwriting of
“Samuel D Berger, US Embassy, London W1”
In addition to this there was a document issued by the Police stating that a previous owner had been fined for driving the car to the Vintage Car Auction in Exeter some 15 months previously.
The necessary replacement documents were issued, and I left, but not before noting down Samuel D Berger’s details.
Acting on a hunch I paid a visit to the City Library and searching through a copy of the American Who’s Who to find Samuel D Berger, Military Attaché, 1942 – 47 finally becoming 1st Secretary to the Senate on Foreign Affairs and his current address.
About this time my good friend Charlie Mann who has started the Lamanva Collection of Military Vehicles, telephoned me and asked if I would be available to work for him on a major film he had been contacted about. He explained it was a WW2 film and although it was early days, he was putting together a list of available vehicles and personnel. This was at the time very exciting stuff! I told him what vehicles I had and about the Plymouth. Staff Cars apparently were quite few and far between and it went onto his list.
I used to buy my paint and bodyshop supplies from a company who traded next door to the scrapyard the Plymouth came from. Whilst in there the proprietor, who knew I was restoring it, told me of another “Old German Car” which was parked just along the road from his place, and had been parked under the lean-to shelter for some time.
I investigated this and sure enough there was. These were the premises of a jobbing garage and motor repairers. I approached the man who looked likely to be in charge and tentatively enquired about the “Old Car under the lean-to” It transpired that it had come in for repair, but the problem needed a serious amount of money to mend it, and it was parked there for the time being whilst the owner thought about it and also there was an outstanding bill of £70. As this occurred some 2 years previously, and there had been no contact by the owner, if I would pay the £70, I could have it! And so I became the new owner of a Mercedes 170V Saloon. However, as this tale is about a Plymouth Sedan – the Mercedes is another story!
Eventually, a little time later, Charlie confirmed he would like both me and the Plymouth for the film, in addition he would also take the Mercedes and my Jeep Trailer for hire as well.
So began my involvement in the Film Industry starting with “A Bridge Too Far” to be filmed on location in Deventer a few miles north of Arnhem, where there is a bridge of similar in construction. This was where the principal action which took place on the Arnhem Bridge would take place.
The Plymouth was driven for the first time on the road down to Falmouth – the old radiator was partially blocked and I had to stop every 20 miles to replenish the water – but I made it! All the vehicles, in total amounting to over 100 including caravans, support vehicles and trailers were gathered at the Collection, which was as busy as a bee hive making tanks to fit on Land Rovers, and a great deal work going on in preparation to be loaded onto a British Rail Ferry in Falmouth Docks for shipment to Belgium, then by train to Deventer, in the Netherlands.
I often wonder what the crew of a Russian ship thought about a fully marked up German Tank travelling along up the English Channel on the open stern of the Ferry – they were certainly busy taking photographs!
The Plymouth was used as General Maxwell Taylor’s Staff Car who was Commanding Officer of the American 101st Airborne Division, (The Screaming Eagles )– interestingly the part was played by the Canadian Actor Paul Maxwell. I did the driving on Deelen Airfield which in itself had been a Wartime Luftwaffe Base. It was he, who during the afternoon tea break, introduced me to peanut butter and jello (strawberry jam) sandwiches between takes! Yum Yum!
The Mercedes was also used near the beginning of the movie in a static take of the outside of the German HQ, purporting to be The Hartenstein Hotel, with Yours Truly playing the part of a driver lurking alongside. Interestingly, the Art Department decreed all German Vehicles were to be painted grey, with British and American ones in quite a dark shade of green, which was actually Dutch Army NATO olive! However, I had painted the Mercedes in three tones of camouflage – the only semi authentic vehicle in the whole film!
After seven months on Locations it was time to pack up and return to Blighty after the hottest Summer for years – but many of the Lamanva Crew being MV enthusiasts, took advantage of visiting many of the numerous Army Surplus Vehicle yards and availing ourselves of some of the vehicles which were to be had there. The ship returning the vehicle to Falmouth had about 150. This did not include my personal purchases of 3 Dodge Weapons Carriers, a Mini, a Norton Dominator and a 1967 Ford Mustang convertible, which were driven home independently during long weekend breaks!
After the filming had finished, the Plymouth was brought back to Exeter and work to the interior trim, a rebuilt radiator installed in time to take part in the Peter Gray Ardennes Tour of 1977, where it performed faultlessly – and still holds my personal quickest time taken from Dover to Devon in a MV of just over 5 hours.
After “A Bridge Too Far” and “Yanks” I decided working on films and TV series was going to be my future career path, the Plymouth was again pressed into use on “Force 10 From Navarone,” “Ike -The War Years.” It was on this production it was used in Grosvenor Square outside of the US Embassy, where I thought it was quite fitting as it would have been driven here all those years ago.
I used it on a number of other productions before succumbing to an offer I couldn’t refuse where it passed into the custody of George Alexander. Years later after George passed away it was sold and has seemingly disappeared, despite my many efforts to locate it.
Oh! and Samuel D. Berger did reply to my letter 15 months later, relating stories of his 1948 European Tour in it, and that whilst in the Italian Alps, it gave a little trouble and an Italian Mechanic called Giuseppe, a former US Army Engineer “fixed it!”
The strange part is that without the previous owner being pulled by the Police and a summons issued, the Exeter Motor Vehicle Tax office would have destroyed the file due to their five years life file policy having expired, I would not have been able to trace the most interesting previous history of my Plymouth.
This article was first written just after returning from the event and was updated in January 2017
The Keep Them Rolling Club of the Netherlands organised its annual event for Historic Military Vehicles to the Ardennes town of Bastogne in Belgium for the weekend of 11th - 12th December 1976.
Having been working on the film “A Bridge Too Far” on Location in Holland, I came into contact with a group of fellow enthusiasts and was invited to attend their event having missed all the English ones during the year.
After the filming was finished, I returned home to England, and set to work restoring my 1942 Dodge Command Car into a 101st Airbourne Div. Command Vehicle, completing this in the nick of time.
I had publicised the event in the UK, but most people had put their trucks away for the winter and as this was held over a weekend, it was going to be an expensive trip just before Christmas, however enquiries for 5 entries were taken, but eventually only 2 eventually made it, both in Command Cars ( with side curtains and heaters!.)
We caught the midnight ferry to Oostende, disembarking at 5am on a very dark and frosty morning, for the long drive to our rendezvous point in Houffalize by the Panther Tank displayed in the village. We were very pleased to find during the night a thin layer of snow had fallen, as if to order! This became thicker as we approached the Ardennes proper.
The main convoy coming down from the North was joined for a triumphant entry into Bastogne and the traditional drive around the town throwing nuts to the assembled citizens. This was followed by a reception given by the Mayor and “Friends of the 101st” where speeches and wine flowed freely, after which we attended dinner in the “Wagon Restaurant” an a dance was laid on in the Town Hall.
Accommodation in hotels had been booked in advance and proved to be comfortable, although Sunday mornings early start would have been better for an English Breakfast! It had snowed again during the night giving an air of authenticity to the still sleeping town as we departed for the Bastogne Historical Center.
This is the Museum situated next to the impressive American Memorial some 3 kilometres from Bastogne, constructed in the shape of a star and containingrealistic dioramas, a cinema, a fine collection of uniforms displayed on dummies as well as well stacked shop selling postcards, plastic models and flags etc.
The convoy re-formed in near blizzard conditions under the control of Jeannot Emering from Luxembourg, who planned to take us off-roading in the Ardennes Forest. With the fresh fall of snow this proved to be very exciting; it was interesting to see the normally agile Jeeps having a hard time of it, often needing to be towed out whilst the heavier trucks and Dodges just forced their way through. The actual routes were not in themselves damaging or dangerous – just forest trails in Christmas Card scenery.
A most unusual excursion to an aircraft crash site and memorial, with a prize for identifying from the remains, of the type of plane it was. From both wings, engines and tailplane, I was able to deduce that it had been a Lockheed Hudson Mk1 and was presented with an airfix plastic model of the same.
There followed an excellent - and very welcome lunch served at the Hotel International in Clervaux, followed by a mayoral reception held in the picturesque Castle, beautifully restored from the ruination suffered in the fierce fighting of 1944.
A tiny, but very interesting museum is also to be found here, containing many personal effects donated by veterans of the campaign.
The evenings accommodation had been booked in Malmedy and after a very welcome and enjoyable meal in the hotel, we joined Jeannot and Hans van Meurs in a discussion about future event prospects, showing photographs and talking about the movement in general.
A visit to a surplus yard/dump was planned, but as this was an hours drive further south, and we had to drive North for our ferry to England, we gave this a miss, bade farewell to our friends and set out on our long journey home.
Upon reflection this had been one of the most well organised Military Vehicle Rally I had attended. It is a credit to Keep Them Rolling the tight time schedule was adhered to, and yet there was never the feeling of being “pushed”. Staying in excellent reasonably priced hotels, eating in nice restaurants is certainly more civilised than camping, especially in mid-winter, though naturally more expensive.
I personally had never travelled so far to an event, nor paid so much for the privilege, but the effort was well worthwhile. The snow was an added bonus, adding an authentic wartime atmosphere and if the proof of the pudding is in the eating, then I could only say in the words of Arnie :- “I’ll be back!”
I did indeed return on several more occasions, some with KTR and other times with like minded owners who wanted to experience the challenge and satisfaction of using our vehicles under very different circumstances to the ones we normally find in the UK.
I first met Jeannot Emering outside the American Cemetery on Omaha Beach in 1974 whilst on the first of the Peter Gray Liberty Highway Tours. I was driving a 1941 Half-Ton Dodge Command Car, which some time later he bought from me. We stayed in touch for many years until his passing away under very sad circumstances. His very good friend Jean Ziger acquired his beautifully restored Amphibious Jeep with its distinctive Luxembourg registration number 1944, and is still active with it today. After Jeannot went, my old Half-Ton went to the Diekirch Museum where it is on display in the condition I restored and used it on many occasions in the 1970’s.
In 2016, Preston Isaac instigated what has become known as “PBT” (Preston’s Brittany Tour) which activated in me an interest in the French Resistance.
In particular the activities known as “Black Ops” as the clandestine activities of Wartime Flights by RAF aircraft, usually Westland Lysanders. One such flight left from Winkleigh Aerodrome in July 1944 and was shot down – tragically by a Canadian Mosquito Night Fighter - over France with fatal results.
We took the opportunity to honour the pilot and place a wreath on his grave.
With my interest in the Resistance kindled, Preston kindly lent me the book
“We Landed By Moonlight” by Hugh Verity. See:https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Verity
Where there are several references to clandestine landings in Occupied France by Lockheed Hudson’s as well as Avro Ansons. These slow Mini Airliners were used to ferry agents and supplies invariably by night during periods of the moon by which they could navigate to their destinations and were frequently stalked and on occasions shot down by German Night fighters. The crash site we visited as described, was the result of such an occasion and the brave crews paid for it with their lives.
It was also interesting to learn that the pilot of many of such flights was Group Captain “Pick” Pickard, who played the part of the pilot in the WW2 film “Target For Tonight” see: http://www.chrishobbs.com/pickardcharles.htm
Planning is already in hand for the “PBT 2017” and we are looking forward to another very satisfying event.
Rodney Rushton January 2017
Have attached some pictures of Richard & Diane Charlton's Bedford MW engine after the break up of number one piston while running to a show on Sunday the 17th August. On Friday 22nd, 5 members of the Devon area MVT (known as the B.E.F, Bedford engine fixers) mobilise to Taunton to effect repairs, Richard had managed to get a standard (tested) block from John Mortar but it meant salvaging all the good bits off the old engine including the flywheel, and fixing onto the new block, one of the problems we had was the broken con-rod had jammed up between the side of the block and the cam shaft, also the dynamo had damaged the rad when it was knocked of its mounting, but we started at 1700hrs and by 0030 it was running, the MW made it to the Great Dorset Steam Fair, and won a trophy for best effort, well done to all,