Bantam and Willys Recon Cars: The Early JeepsThese early 4x4s were the basis of the WWII JeepAuthor:David DoyleUpdated:Jun 26, 2020Original:Jul 14, 2008Shown 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 4x4 beside it is a 5-ton prototype artillery tractor built by Oshkosh. U.S. Army photoTaken 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, KentuckyThe 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, KentuckyThe 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 photoMost 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 InstituteThe 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.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 InstituteMilitary History InstituteThis side view of a BRC-40, taken early in 1941, clearly shows the skid plate which was introduced in order to protect the Spicer Model 18 transfer case. Military History InstituteMilitary History InstituteThe 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 InstituteThe 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. Patton Museum, Fort Knox, KentuckyAnother 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. Military History InstituteThe 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, MarylandThe 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, MarylandWillys 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 MarylandOrdnance Museum, Aberdeen MarylandEngineers 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 InstituteThe 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, MarylandProduction 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, MarylandThis 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 InstituteThe 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 InstituteMilitary History Institute*As an Amazon Associate, Military Trader / Military Vehicles earns from qualifying purchases.Download a FREE copy today!