Jeepers keepers! This Norfolk family loves their Jeeps

The Groom family's collection of Jeeps includes a home-made child's sized version.

The Groom family's collection of Jeeps includes a home-made child's sized version. - Credit: David Clayton

Some car passions stay with you for life - for Jack Groom, that's the love of Jeeps. DAVID CLAYTON meets Jack, his family and their iconic motors.

I’ve lost count of the number of war films I’ve watched where a Jeep drives into shot, a chiselled-jawed actor delivers some poignant lines to the beleaguered troops, and drives away, “Good luck men!”  

The American Jeep was the ubiquitous and utilitarian vehicle which kept the Second World War moving, not only for the Americans but for our forces too. Under the 'Lend Lease' scheme, many were shipped over for our soldiers to use in the European theatre. 

When the war ended there were a good few left behind by the returning forces. And in our part of the country, where the Americans based themselves, you could pick up an old Jeep in the immediate post-war years for next to nothing, and that’s where this story begins.  

Young Jack Groom would go and help his father on a farm near Wells, in north Norfolk.

“There were hardly any tractors after the war, so old Jeeps were used to work the fields. I used to help my dad load straw bales on an old bomb trailer hitched to the back on a Jeep. From then on, I vowed to have one of my own.” That was back in the early 1950s. 

It took a chance encounter in 1986 for Jack to finally get his own wartime Jeep.

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“An E-Type Jag broke down just outside our cottage here in Binham,” he tells me. “The clutch had gone and while help was on its way, I invited the owner in to have a cup of tea. We got talking about old vehicles and I told him I’d always wanted a Jeep. He knew of one for sale in Runcton Holme."  

To cut a long story short, Jack went and bought it. The back wings were a bit rotten, and it had a gloss paint finish, but he set about restoring it, stripping it, and putting the right type of matt paint on the body.

“It’s still got the same tyres on from when I picked it up,” Jack proudly explains.

It cost him £3,000. “I’d given up smoking and been working hard,” he tells me, just in case he needed to justify the expense. “I was chuffed to bits to finally have my own Jeep.” 

Jack Groom with granddaughter Sylvie and daughter Helen.

It's a family thing ... Jack Groom with granddaughter Sylvie and daughter Helen. - Credit: David Clayton

Six years later another Jeep was a little harder to justify buying, but Jack did. “This one cost £1600, a friend up the road told me about it.”

Having been made in 1944, it was two years younger than Jack’s first Jeep and had been auctioned off for £200 in 1958. Now knowing a good bit about the mechanics of the vehicle, he took it apart and gradually reassembled it.  

A year or so ago Jack and his wife Jane decided to give a Jeep each, to son Kevin and daughter Helen. They were willing recipients. While I was chatting to Jack, Helen turned up having picked up her 10-year-old daughter Sylvie from school in her Jeep, the 1942 model, which must have turned a few heads.

“It’s fun. It’s cool,” was how Sylvie summed it up with a big smile on her face.  

Helen is very attached to the Jeep: “I’ve always loved it. I know how much it means to Dad.”

She has her own happy childhood memories of trips out in the Jeep, heading off for picnics in stubble fields around north Norfolk. The off-road ability of the vehicle meant they could go virtually anywhere. I wondered whether Helen had sat behind the wheel as a youngster, given it didn’t always need to be driven on proper roads.

The 'Jeep' that Jack built ... Helen and Kevin Groom in the early 1980s in the mini 'Jeep' built by their father, Jack.

The 'Jeep' that Jack built ... Helen and Kevin Groom in the early 1980s in the mini 'Jeep' built by their father, Jack. - Credit: Jack Groom

She laughs: “Dad told me I couldn’t drive it until I was 25, something to do with the insurance.”

“I made that up,” says Jack, chuckling.  

Helen has done some research into the Jeep she now owns.

“You can’t really find out where it was during the war, or what it did,” she explains. However, she has discovered that it later served with the British Army in West Africa and was used by them up until 1959. Intriguingly there’s evidence of what might be bullet holes in the rear wing. There’s no other plausible explanation for the irregular row of round bumps where the holes have been filled in.  

Helen’s Jeep still lives at Jack and Jane’s house which isn’t a problem as she lives nearby in Binham. Kevin is further away in Nottingham. So, it’s the best of both worlds. The Jeeps have been passed on, but Jack still has them.  

It was at this point of me chatting to the Groom family that Sylvie disappeared into one of Jack’s sheds. An engine started up and out she came with her dad in a mini-Jeep.

“I built that in 1976,” Jack tells me. “It’s mine now,” says a delighted Sylvie. History is repeating itself as Helen told me the fun she and her brother had as kids driving it around their large garden and fields beyond.  

It’s a family of Jeeps with a family of Jeep lovers. No better demonstrated than with Helen throwing an 80th birthday party for her Jeep a few months back.

“We decorated it and had cake,” she says, as if it’s the most normal and logical thing to do for an old vehicle. “I’ve often wondered about the life it had,” she says wistfully, “Its priceless. Its love. It’s alive.” 

Jack Groom with his daughter Helen and her Jeep decked with bunting on its 80th birthday.

Jack Groom with his daughter Helen and her Jeep decked with bunting on its 80th birthday. - Credit: Jack Groom

A war horse that keeps on going 

The adage 'Necessity is the mother of invention' has never been better applied than to the Second World War Jeep. As war was becoming inevitable, in 1940 the American Government asked their motor industry to come up with a lightweight, four-wheel drive, vehicle prototype so the military could give it some rigorous testing. The snag was there were only 49 days to have something ready ... 

The First World War had largely relied on the horse to transport people and armaments about the battlefield quickly, but time had marched on. In the end Willys-Overland and Ford were awarded the contract as they had the capacity to turn out the 600,000 or so that were eventually needed. 

No one is quite sure where the name Jeep originated. One theory is that the initials for General Purpose vehicle, 'GP' became slurred into the word Jeep. That was certainly claimed by the Willys-Overland president who says it was he who did it first. The other theory is based on a character in the Popeye cartoon strip just prior to the Second World War, called Eugene the Jeep, a fictional creature with supernatural and magical abilities. The theory is the servicemen christened the vehicle a Jeep because like the character, it could seemingly solve problems and go anywhere. 

Dwight D Eisenhower said the Jeep was one of three decisive weapons the U.S. had during the Second World War, and General George Marshall, the US Army’s chief of staff, claimed it was America’s greatest contribution to modern warfare.  

The versatility of the Jeep was demonstrated many times. The flat bonnet was utilised as a map table, and at times even an operating table for surgeons in the field. Stretchers were fitted to the vehicle to evacuate the wounded and there was even an amphibious Jeep.  

They were supplied to all the Allies in the Second World War, including Russia, and the vehicle went on to serve in the Korean War with more upgrades and adaptations.  

They say the sun never sets on a Jeep, somewhere in the world.