If you talk to any random gathering of Jeep enthusiasts, you won’t find many who can’t testify for the off-road icons military roots; the Jeep was born out of necessity when the need for a combat-capable personnel carrier became a clear calling to join the fight for freedom and defend our country. It’s no wonder that the Jeep has such a loyal following. It’s when you mention more unfamiliar subjects like the Ford GPW and Bantam BRC that things get a little blurry. What, exactly, is a Bantam BRC??
The American Bantam Car Company was originally founded in the very heart of small town America, Butler, Pennsylvania, in 1929 as the American Austin Car Company and was later reorganized in 1936 as part of a bankruptcy ordeal that was plaguing the small sports car manufacturer. Despite having a small-scale design and manufacturing facility, Bantam was able to create the original pattern on which all other Jeeps would be based. In fact, if it weren’t for their meager facilities and a financial portfolio that was still unstable from the ripples of the Great Depression, Bantam would likely be a household name to this day, in company with the likes of Ford Motor Company and Coca-Cola; but it was not to be for Bantam. Unable to fulfill the high production demands placed by the military, production based on the prototypes of the Willys-Overland MA and the Ford GPW were maximized while the Bantam BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car) that had managed to best incorporate the militaries requirements into its design, was relegated to the status of ‘non-standard’ after only 2605 total units were built. Despite having been one of only three companies to submit a prototype for military use and developing what was arguably the superior design, the Bantam company was reduced to manufacturing trailers for the military until it was overtaken by American Rolling Mills in the mid 50’s. Existing Bantams that were already built and in service were shipped off to our allies in Britain and Russia as part of the Lend-Lease Act to aid in the war efforts; with them, went a giant part of the heart of tiny Butler, PA.
To fully appreciate the Bantam BRC, it helps to identify the little things that make it different. Some of the Bantams most distinguishing features are its recessed headlights that are set down into the top of the front fenders and its ten rounded grille slats; traits that clearly separate it from its Ford & Willys counterparts. While the production version of the BRC did away with the rounded fenders of the original prototype in favor of a more squared off design; capable of serving as a make-shift seat for some lucky soldier. It also opted for a body tub that donned square corners at the rear which likely presented obstacles in terms of the ease of assembly.
On the interior, Bantam managed to use a seat structure that was drastically less crude than its associates utilized. With small side bolsters to support the back and modest overall proportions, a normal-sized man could find himself with a relative degree of stability while negotiating rough terrain in the BRC, unlike the ‘lawn chair on a tilt-a-whirl’ seat that the adorned the Willys MB. The BRC’s dash was decorated with stylish oval gauges that seemed almost elegant for the occasion. Also, a throttle that was hand-controlled with the pull of a knob on the dash and, for good measure, a button on the floorboard to engage the electric starter just to deter any enemy goons who might try and commandeer the vehicle. It is rumored that sixty-two of the BRC-40’s that were produced were outfitted with an innovative four-wheel steering system that gave the BRC unparalleled maneuverability and, when compounded by the vehicles short 79-inch wheelbase, was likely too much to handle at any speed over a crawl.
With such a storied past and rich history, it’s not surprising to find out that the folks of Butler, Pennsylvania are as enthusiastic about the mighty Bantam today as they have ever been…or maybe ‘enthusiastic’ is not a strong enough word. That is the driving force behind the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival, a premier event that is held yearly to celebrate Butler, PA and its proud status as the birthplace of the first Jeep. In its seventh year of existence, this year’s event will be held June 9-11, 2017 and, as the event planners proudly proclaim “If you have a Jeep in your driveway, it needs to be here.” You can get all the details at their website at http://www.bantamjeepfestival.com/ and make plans now to be there. You will likely have the opportunity to see at least one bona fide part of our country’s history in all of its divine olive-drab glory. Makes the beach seem kinda boring… OlllllllO