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Now, about Bantam

March 5 2012 at 8:53 PM
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Jacques  (no login)
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Yes, we all feel very sorry for Bantam - 'tis a story I know well, of much bullying, underhandedness and plain lousy dirty tricks! Karl Probst and the boys from Butler really gave it their all and did produce a great little car which should have gotten them the main contract had the goalposts not been shifted so many times.

They were way ahead of the opposition by having worked closely with the Quartermaster Corps and having provided vehicles for testing as far back as 1938. It is a little known fact that the specification issued by the QMC in June 1940 for the vehicle that eventually evolved into the jeep, was largely based on submissions made by Bantam. With much behind the scenes lobbying, Bantam had set themselves up so well that they must have been very confident that the contract would be awarded to them, I think to a point that complacency set in (as is evident in their per unit bid price that was way too high).

Of course Bantam was a little low on cash at the time but so was virtually everyone else in the game. What Bantam did have an excess of was engineering talent and believe it or not, they did have the production capacity - the combined output of Bantam's idling Detroit and Butler facilities was potentially around 200 000 vehicles per year. Bantam could've coped nicely once a sizeable order was obtained but unfortunately they could not cope with the disinformation circulated by someone within the QMC's hierarchy, causing persistent rumours to be spread about Bantam's supposed inability to deliver the numbers that the Army was looking for. Someone clearly wanting Ford Motor Company to get the job. Of course, Ford was much larger than Bantam, but showed little interest until Henry J. became aware of the potential size of the contract and he then tried everything in his power to try and rig the bid.

An even lesser known fact is that Roy Evans, owner of Bantam also had the controlling interest in Willys Overland, since he bailed that company out in '35 and although he would have preferred for the contract to be awarded to Bantam (at the higher bid price) for him it didn't really matter too much, as long as Ford didn't get it!

The Butler boys were rewarded for their efforts with an initial order for 70 BRC-60s and for their much improved BRC-40, another 1500, most of which were shipped off to the USSR. The story did not end there for Bantam. They received more orders and by December 1941 had delivered a total of 2 643 BRC-40s . Known as the "Bantik" by the Russians, the BRC-40 was well liked and actually preferred to its contemporaries, the Willys MA and the Ford GP. (Many GPs were also sent to the NEI)

When the QMC decided to standardise on a single model for their "truck, ΒΌ ton, 4x4", Bantam again had their chance but ultimately Willys simply outbid both Ford and Bantam and delivered their Model MB to the Army at a cost of $739.00 per unit. Could Bantam have coped with the demand for jeeps? Well, not even Willys could and eventually both Ford and Bantam were asked to help out. Bantam's bid price was again too high and Ford got the job, producing around 270 000 GPWs versus Willys' 350 000 MBs and I believe that if the war lasted a year longer, Ford's production of jeeps would have outstripped that of Willys. (Dread the thought, a Ford badge on my Wrangler!)

Bantam's demise was not due to them losing out on the jeep contract. Although bitterly disappointed about being outmaneuvered by Ford and Willys, Bantam got into the business of producing other war material which kept them going throughout WW2 - jeep trailers, aircraft landing gear, landing craft engines etc. Post-war, Bantam continued building trailers for civilian and military purposes and stayed in business until 1956 - two years after Willys got taken over by Kaiser. Ford, when I last heard, is still in business.

Please everyone, if I once more have to hear or see an explanation on the origin of the name "Jeep", I will be violently ill!



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