Bantam and Willys Recon Cars: A Photographic Study

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Figure 1. Shown here is, arguably, the original Jeep, the prototype Bantam Reconnaissance Car. Notice the scalloped cutouts for crew access and the curved fenders and separate protruding headlights without brush guards. All these features that eliminated when the first 75 pre-production units were built. The massive 4×4 beside it is a 5-ton prototype artillery tractor built by Oshkosh.
U.S. Army photo

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Figure 2. Taken at Camp Holabird, this view of the Bantam prototype clearly shows the graceful curved fenders. These soon gave way to the characteristic flat fenders. The Reconnaissance Car appears to be heavily burdened by the five men inside it. Patton Museum, Fort Knox, Kentucky

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Figure 3. The 69 vehicles that were built on the pilot contract were known as the Bantam Model 60. This Model 60, outfitted with a machine gun, was photographed at Aberdeen Proving Grounds in March 1941. The scalloped doorway of the prototype has been replaced with a simpler opening, just as the elaborate fenders have been replaced with these simple flat versions. Patton Museum, Fort Knox, Kentucky

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Figure 4. The Model 60 also included brush guards for the headlights. The one-piece windshield was replaced with a familiar split windshield. National Archives and Records Administration photo

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Figure 5. Most likely photographed at Fort Knox, this pair of Bantam Mark II, Model 60 reconnaissance vehicles was posed with a motorcycle and the scouting troops assigned to the bikes. The Bantams and their successors would permanently alter the role of motorcycles in the U.S. Military. Military History Institute

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Figure 6. The Bantam BRC-40 looked much more like what we have come to view as the traditional Jeep than did earlier models. The Reconnaissance Car was powered by a Continental four-cylinder engine with a 112-cubic inch displacement. The Spicer 40 axles were coupled to the engine through a three-speed Warner T-84D transmission and a two-speed Spicer transfer case.

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Figure 7. The flat hood, flat fenders and flat grill were features that were characteristic of WWII Jeeps, and all were all present on the Bantam BRC-40.
Military History Institute

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Figure 8: This side view of a BRC-40, taken early in 1941, clearly shows the skidplate which was introduced in order to protect the Spicer Model 18 transfer case. Military History Institute

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Figure 9: The slab-sided body of the Bantam was festooned with grab handles crucial to meeting the specifications for a vehicle that was capable of being man-handled. Interestingly, many people see the HMMWV as a decedent of the Jeep, even though it’s unlikely that the latter could be manhandled, regardless of the number of handles. Military History Institute

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Figure 10: The success of the early Jeeps–combined with concerns over the success of Hitler’s panzer armies in Europe–led to this 1941 mounting of an antitank weapons on the Jeep platform. This BRC-40 has been fitted with a 37mm antitank gun. The combination was designated T2E1. Ultimately, as long as the U.S. military fielded 1?4-ton vehicles, efforts were made at giving them tank destroyer capabilities. The later recoilless rifles, Davey Crockett and TOW systems were considerably more effective than the effort seen here. Patton Museum, Fort Knox, Kentucky

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Figure 11: Another experiment conducted involved equipped the 1?4-ton vehicles with four-wheel steering. One of Bantam’s efforts in this area are shown here. Shortages of critical steering components, complexity of manufacture, and concerns for troop training and operator safety resulted in the four-wheel drive, four-wheel steer system to not be adopted. The idea was revisited with certain versions of the M274 Mechanical Mule a decade later. Military History Institute

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Figure 12: The Willys Quad was the prototype of that firm’s attempt to capture the 1?4-ton reconnaissance car market–an effort that ultimately proved successful. The vehicle shown here was the Toledo firm’s initial prototype. Its fender and lighting arrangement are markedly different from those later popularized. Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland

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Figure 13: The Quad was ultimately rebuilt into the form seen here. Notice the absence of the distinctive stamped “Jeep” grille–a feature that was developed by Ford Motor Company. Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland

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Figure 14: Willys powered their vehicle with an engine of their own design. With a displacement of 134.2 cubic inches, it was larger than the engines used in either the Bantam or Ford prototypes–and more powerful. Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen Maryland

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Figure 15: Engineers at Willys revamped their quarter-ton offering to fill their contract for 1,500 field trial vehicles.  The result was the “Model MA” (shown here). The Willys “Go-Devil” engine powering this vehicle would ultimately play a large part in tilting the scales in favor of the Toledo firm as the primary supplier of vehicles of this class during WWII. Military History Institute

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Figure 16: The MA is readily distinguished by the “WILLYS” embossed in the front of the hood. This feature, as well as the fender-mounted headlights, would vanish with the introduction of its successor, the MB. Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland

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Figure 17. Production of the MA ended in August 1941, even though this example remained in use until 1944. The dual-bow system of supporting the tarpaulin is apparently unique to this vehicle. Ordnance Museum, Aberdeen, Maryland

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Figure 18: This MA (in the company of half and three-quarter ton Dodge command cars) was photographed at Fort Holabird in 1941. Perhaps the idea behind this photograph was to illustrate the various vehicles used to transport officers in the field. Whatever the reason, it provides an? interesting study in the sizes of the vehicles.
Military History Institute

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Figure 19: The Jeep has been used in many roles, no doubt, far beyond the imaginations of the original engineers. Such adaptations of the Jeep have been prevalent since it was first fielded – such as this MA “commandeered” by Santa for Christmas, 1941. Military History Institute

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