History Of the Bantam

Here is a brief history of the birth of the Bantam Jeep!

  • In 1940, the U S Army asked 135 tractor and auto manufacturers to design a four-wheel drive, 40 horsepower, 1,300 pound reconnaissance car that could haul soldiers as well as heavy artillery. The challenge? The designer was expected to have a working prototype available for a test run within 49 days.

  • Only two companies responded to the request, The American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pa. and Willys-Overland Motors of Toledo, Ohio. Because Bantam promised to deliver the prototype in 45 days, they won contract.

  • Bantam’s Factory Manager Frank Fenn, former General Motors Executive Arthur Brandt and a skeleton work crew were feverishly working on the project when Fenn called freelance designer Karl Probst in Detroit and offered him the design job. Probst agreed to design the car in five days and forgo payment for his services if Bantam did not win the Army contract.

  • The Bantam prototype was called the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, or BRC. After maintaining a frantic schedule for nearly seven weeks, the Bantam group managed to bring the layouts and spec sheets to life.

  • Ralph Turner of Butler drove the vehicle to Camp Holabird, Maryland on September 23. The Army tested it for 30 days. Unfortunately, the Army gave Ford and Willys the Bantam’s blueprints and they produced the vehicles the Army required. Ford and Willys fulfilled the Army’s contracts for 600,000 Jeeps for World War II.  The Bantam Jeep eventually evolved into the Willys MB and the Ford GPW.  It is the father of all Jeeps.

  • Bantam produced a total of 2,675 Jeeps and never produced another vehicle after that. They then produced ‘jeep’ cargo trailers, torpedo motors and other items until they closed in 1956.

For a more in-depth look at the events that led to the creation of the Jeep, be sure to visit our History Exhibit. or read the 75th Anniversary story (click link to view a PDF or view the image below) that appears in the 2015 Butler County Official Visitors Guide In 2015, the exhibit celebrated the Bantam Jeep's 75th birthday and featured rare Jeeps from the 1940s.