Bantam (Jeep = GP)

When it became clear that the United States would be involved in the European theatre of World War II, the US Army contacted 135 companies to create working prototypes of a four-wheel-drive reconnaissance car. 

Only two companies responded: American Bantam Car Company and Willys-Overland. The Army set a seemingly impossible deadline of 49 days to supply a working prototype. Willys asked for more time, but was refused. 

The broke American Bantam Car Company had only a skeleton staff left on the payroll and solicited Karl Probst, a talented freelance designer from Detroit. After turning down Bantam's initial request, Probst responded to an Army request and began work on July 17, 1940, initially without salary.

Probst laid out full plans for the Bantam prototype, known as the BRC or Bantam Reconnaissance Car, in just two days, working up a cost estimate the next day. Bantam's bid was submitted, complete with blueprints, on July 22.  While much of the vehicle could be assembled from off-the-shelf automotive parts, custom four-wheel drivetrain components were to be supplied by Spicer. 

The hand-built prototype was completed in Butler, Pennsylvania, and driven to Camp Holabird, Maryland, delivered for Army testing on September 23. The vehicle met all the Army's criteria except engine torque.

World War II had already begun in Asia, with Japan expanding in China, Manchuria and Southeast Asia. The Imperial Japanese Army used a small four-wheel-drive car for reconnaissance and troop movements, having introduced the Kurogane Type 95 in 1936.
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Final production version Jeeps built by Willys-Overland were the Model MB, while those built by Ford were the Model GPW (G =government vehicle, P designated the 80" wheelbase, and W = the Willys engine design). There were subtle differences between the two. The versions produced by Ford had every component (including bolt heads) marked with an "F". Willys also followed the Ford pattern by stamping its name into some body parts, but stopped this in 1942.  The cost per vehicle trended upwards as the war continued from the price under the first contract from Willys at US$648.74 (Ford's was $782.59 per unit). Willys-Overland and Ford, under the direction of Charles E. Sorensen (Vice-President of Ford during World War II), produced about 640,000 Jeeps towards the war effort, which accounted for approximately 18% of all the wheeled military vehicles built in the US during the war. 

Jeeps were used by every service of the US military. An average of 145 were supplied to every Army infantry regiment. Jeeps were used for many purposes, including cable laying, saw milling, as firefighting pumpers, field ambulances, tractors and, with suitable wheels, would even run on railway tracks. An amphibious jeep, the model GPA, or "seep" (Sea Jeep) was built for Ford in modest numbers but it could not be considered a huge success - it was neither a good off-road vehicle nor a good boat. As part of the war effort, nearly 30% of all Jeep production was supplied to Great Britain and to the Soviet Red Army .

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