by Robin Reynolds
At the stroke of 11 a.m. on Oct. 27, 2012, Sullivan Auctioneers placed a piece of Illinois history up for bid. Many people from the Astoria, Illinois, vicinity attended to witness the event and swap stories. Many of them had grown up around the historic item—a Bantam Reconnaissance Car 40 (BRC-40). Occupying a spot at the head of a line of farm tractors to be sold, the Bantam reflected the owner’s pride of having been its caretaker for 67 years.
A RARE QUARTER TON
The U.S. government awarded several contracts to Bantam Motor Car Company during WWII. The early ones were for 1/4-ton trucks. When production ceased in December 1941, Bantam had delivered 2,675 Model 60 and BRC-40 Jeeps.
Bantam handed over the blueprints for their design to the government, which then shared them with competitors, Willys and Ford. Willys received the contract for war production, and Ford received the license to build Jeeps according to Willys’ design. Bantam was left holding an empty bag for all their hard work. Politics won out. Bantam put forth an open-minded design, and for that, we have the Jeep.
Although no more Jeep contracts came their way, Bantam continued building trailers for Jeep use. When the War ended, Bantam had supplied more than 73,000 trailers.
Bantam stayed afloat after the war, building trailers for civilian and military use. In 1956, Bantam was bought out and left mired in history.
THE “MILLER JEEP”
The Bantam that was going up for auction in the small Illinois town was in remarkable condition, considering its role as a work vehicle for more than 67 years on Andrew Miller’s farm near Astoria, Ill. Miller purchased the Bantam Recon car from a government salvage auction at Camp Ellis, Ill., on Aug. 25, 1945. Construction of Camp Ellis started Sept. 17, 1942, and opened in April 1943, closing as fast as it appeared, in 1945. During operation, Camp Ellis was a unit training center and prisoner of war camp, housing German soldiers.
Andrew’s son, Gordy Miller, told how the BRC was a wreck when is father purchased it. Speaking with a breaking voice before bidding commenced, Gordy expressed, “I hope it goes to someone who will appreciate it.”
After eight minutes of bidding, Duncan Rolls, Longview, Texas, held the winning bid of $35,000. Rolls purchased the BRC on behalf of a client, stating that the rare Jeep was going to Houston, Texas, where Rolls will restore the vehicle at his company, “Jeeps by Rolls.”
In addition to the BRC-40, a veritable graveyard of Bantam parts were sold separately. An intake manifold sold for $1300; two radiators for $700 and $900 each; transmission and engine block for $2,200; fuel tank for $700; two engine heads for $700 and $800 each; rear differential for $600 and a Bantam-marked instrument gauge (with broken glass) for $700. Totaled, the BRC-40 and the parts realized $49,000.
Folks in the Bantam circle referred to this BRC-40, as “the Miller Jeep,” but to many of local residents, it was simply “Andrew’s Jeep.” They seemed quite close to this vehicle, and it showed in there eyes. Gale Roosa of Ipava, Ill., spoke of learning to drive in the Bantam, chasing cattle with it and taking it up steep inclines.
While many military vehicles have an unknown history, it was a delight to learn that this Bantam impacted so many lives. Without those personal stories, this Jeep’s history would simply be, “Bantam Reconnaissance Car, Serial Number 2609, delivery date November 1941.”