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1906-1939 Jeep

Beginning of the World War II Jeep

In May 1940, Bantam officials invited members of the Quartermaster Corps Ordnance Technical Committee to inspect the reconnaissance cars they had developed from the stock Bantam roadster. The Bantam had its share of shortcomings, but evidently the committee was impressed, for specifications were shortly drawn, laying down parameters that would ultimately lead to the development of the World War II jeep.

From this the Army sent out a request for bids on 70 pilot models. The specifications for this vehicle were as follows:

  • Four-wheel drive, not used on the stock Bantam, was specified.
  • Wheelbase, width, and height were delineated.
  • A crew of three was anticipated, and a .30-caliber machine gun was to be mounted on a pedestal attached to the car.
  • Standards were set for engine power, cross-country performance, and grade climbing ability.
  • Cooling capacity was to be such as to allow a sustained low speed of three miles an hour without overheating the engine.
  • Minimum ground clearance was set at 6-1/4 inches.
  • Payload was to be at least 600 pounds.
  • Overall weight limitation was set at 1,300 pounds, a ridiculous number.

Word went out to 135 manufacturers, inviting them to submit proposals for a quarter ton reconnaissance vehicle based on the rough specifications set forth by the Army. This totally new machine was to be delivered in just 49 days!

Bantam's hopes of adapting its diminutive passenger car to meet the military specifications were dashed by the horsepower and four-wheel-drive requirements. To design a brand new vehicle in the allowed time appeared impossible -- particularly since the beleaguered company no longer had an engineering department.

The only hope for the project rested on the possibility of securing the services of a highly competent outside consultant, someone capable of bringing off a near miracle within the allowed time.

Frank Fenn knew just the man: Karl Probst, a Detroit-based engineer who had worked for several automotive firms. Yet with no cash on hand, any work would have to be undertaken on a contingency basis. Fenn called Art Brandt, a former Bantam executive then working for the National Defense Advisory Commission; and Brandt called Probst, urging him to undertake the assignment.

Probst demurred until he received a message from his old friend William S. Knudsen, former president of General Motors and now head of the National Defense Advisory Committee. Probst later recalled, "On Tuesday, July 16, I was reading of Winston Churchill's bulldog determination: '. . .we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills. . . .' " Appealing to Probst to forget about salary (there wasn't any), Knudsen's message added, "We think you can do this job faster than the big companies."

In the next section, find out how Karl Probst got the job done and made jeep history.

For more information on Jeeps, see:

  • History of Jeep
  • Consumer Guide New Jeep Prices and Reviews
  • Consumer Guide Used Jeep Prices and Reviews