Tony Comber is a Kiwi who likes to keep Jeeps going forever (Video)
As a child, Tony Comber was fascinated by the US army jeeps he saw in movies and magazines, so when he had the chance to buy one as an adult, he jumped at the chance.
"I remember picking up a National Geographic magazine when I was in about Standard 6 and it was when America was first going into Vietnam and they had a whole lot of pictures in there of jeeps being unloaded off the aircraft and off the ships.
"Ever since then I have had an interest in American jeeps."
Comber has never been in the army and feels lucky to have missed out on compulsory military service.
For him, the interest lies not with the army itself, but with their vehicles.
"I just like the look of the military vehicle, it is rugged and it is very basic. It's just the shape of it which appeals to me."
Comber, who lives in Paraparaumu north of Wellington, bought his first American jeep, a 1942 Willys MB, as a derelict wreck from a Wairarapa farmer in 1993. He's unsure of its history, but thinks it may have been left behind when American soldiers, stationed in New Zealand between 1942 and 1944, left the country.
"Ex-military vehicles got snapped up for tow trucks or used as farm vehicles because they were all four wheel drive vehicles and they were quite handy for off-road use."
Comber restored the Jeep over several years as time and money allowed, joining the New Zealand Military Vehicle Club for advice on where to find parts, and later buying a matching trailer which he also restored.
Replacement parts proved easy enough to come by, with reproduction parts and even original parts from the war era still wrapped in greaseproof paper readily available.
"There were a lot of parts that were distributed all round the world at various places by the US Army, where they were fighting the battles and they were stockpiled there. When the war finished the Americans just left most of it behind, so in France and Holland there are a lot of new old stock parts still available."
Around 600,000 American jeeps were made during World War II, more than half produced by the Willys Overland factory and the remainder, known as GPWs, manufactured by Ford.
"It was basically designed from an Austin Bantam car because it was so small. They needed something that had a low profile and was very short and could fit into an aircraft."
Comber has twice shipped his jeep to Europe, driving across the continent with wife Marilyn in convoy with a group of fellow New Zealand and Australian military vehicle enthusiasts to attend the 65th and 70th D-Day commemorations in Normandy in 2009 and 2014.
On the first trip they covered nearly 9700 kilometres, picking the jeep up from the port of Istanbul and driving it through Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland and France, before finally shipping it home from Belgium.
For vehicles that were getting on for 70 years old there were remarkably few problems, Comber says.
"We had a couple of minor fuel problems, a little bit of fuel vaporisation, which is like fuel starvation, on hot days going up steep hills, but nothing major. They are really reliable vehicles."
Their simplicity means any mechanical problems are usually easy enough to fix, he says.
"That's the beauty of them really. You can basically fix them on the side of the road. They are all fairly basic mechanically, just a motor, diff and a gearbox."
With the interior of the jeeps just as basic, the long journeys across Europe were somewhat of an endurance test, Comber admits.
"They are not very comfortable at all. The seats are a metal frame with a canvas cushion on it which is not very thick, so you get a sore backside after you have been driving for a while."
Even so, the Combers were better off than some of the others.
"We were quite warm in ours because we had doors and side curtains on it. A couple of the other guys only had a canvas top but they didn't have the side curtains or the doors so they were really quite cold at times."
Their 2009 European odyssey was filmed for a documentary called Driving to D-Day, which can often be seen on the History Channel around the time of the anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6.
Comber sold his original jeep six months ago, but has replaced it with another one which is identical, save for the colour which is olive green, rather than olive drab.
He drives the jeep at weekends and takes it out on club runs, which are often held on farms where they can drive over open country and have picnics.
"We do get them muddy. They are not like a polished vintage car.
"We don't mind getting them dirty, but we don't like to punish them too much."
* The New Zealand Military Vehicle Club is open to the owners of any military vehicle, old or new. For more information visit the website at: nzmvc.org.nz.
The Dominion Post