John Wroe: The untold story of the vintage car collector

By Stephen Macharia

Step into the world of John Wroe, a Nairobi resident whose passion has transformed his life into a remarkable collector of vintage vehicles. AutoNews Magazine explores the intriguing tale of a man who turned a childhood curiosity into a legacy of rolling history, capturing the essence of each vehicle’s journey through eras and events. Discover how Wroe’s collection not only preserves automotive heritage but also showcases his charm of old cars. 

In the heart of Karen, Nairobi, where modernity rings, John Wroe’s vintage cars haven stands as a testament to a lifelong love affair with automobiles. With a collection of over 22 vehicles, some dating back to the 1920s, Wroe has transformed his passion into a legacy that echoes through time.

Wroe’s tryst with vintage vehicles began in kindergarten days when he would catch glimpses of cars in a nearby compound over the hedge while swinging. Little did he know that these glimpses would ignite a lifelong love for automobiles that transcended the ordinary.

But it was not until later that his interest manifested. In 1971, he saw a newspaper advertisement that changed the course of his life. A Ford 10 was up for sale, and despite his limited knowledge about cars at the time, Wroe’s curiosity led him to Marshalls, just a stone’s throw from his workplace where the car was placed for viewing. As he gazed upon the car, memories of a relative’s struggles with a similar vehicle surfaced, accompanied by a smile.

The asking price of 500 British pounds seemed steep, but the attraction was undeniable. At the same venue, there was a six-cylinder Chevrolet also on sale for 325 pounds, but Wroe was undeterred by budget constraints. With a call to the owner, negotiations, and a payment plan of six months later, the Chevrolet became his. And thus, a spark ignited that continues to burn today.

With a vintage car parked at home, Wroe had to explore more. This journey took him through the East African Vintage Car Club, which later went moribund and became the Vintage Car Club of Kenya. With each visit to organised car events, and seeing the amount of interest his vintage car developed among enthusiasts, Wroe’s hunger for more cars grew and rose to serve as chairman in both clubs. He admits with a chuckle that his addiction led him to gather these pieces of rolling history.

“My collection isn’t just an exhibit; it’s a fleet that lives and breathes. These vintage gems have been featured in films, including iconic titles like “Out of Africa” and “White Mischief.” They’ve carried Father Christmas to events, raised funds for noble causes like the Rhino Charge, and made appearances at weddings and corporate events. These cars aren’t just vehicles; they’re storytellers that bridge eras,” he said in an interview with AutoNews Magazine.

Maintaining such a collection is no small feat, and Wroe’s secret weapon is a full-time mechanic whom he personally trained. This master mechanic has grown from an apprentice to an expert, ensuring these classics keep rolling.

Wroe’s tips for aspiring vintage car enthusiasts are simple: passion and determination. He did not start with a background in cars, nor did he hail from a family of vintage car aficionados. He learned through hands-on experience. He takes inspiration from a person who constructed a wooden crankshaft for a motorcycle. Wroe believes that when you put your mind to something, you can master it.

His proudest possession is a 1929 Chevrolet, the first car he purchased. This cherished vehicle, nicknamed “Cast Iron Wonder,” symbolizes the very essence of his journey – one that led him to be invited to the world-famous Pebble Beach Concours. He was, unfortunately, unable to attend.

With a humble spirit, Wroe admits he does not know the exact value of his collection, but some cars have been appraised at over 6 million shillings. Among these treasures is a 1922 Hupmobil, a rare gem that adds to the uniqueness of his collection.

Entering his cars into the Concours d’Elegance, Wroe has earned recognition as a connoisseur of vintage/classic cars. Last year’s competition saw his vehicles triumph with four cars in the top ten, including a first-place victory for his Ford Tudor Model A, the only time a pickup has been on the podium. His daughter’s 1934 Boatail Rolls Royce Boattail was third. 

John Wroe’s story is not just about cars; it is about dreams driven by passion and determination. As his collection stands as a testament to the artistry of a bygone era, Wroe continues to paint the canvas of history with the hues of classic and vintage automotive.

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