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Another Jeep history, compiled & researched by Robb Hindle

Last edited: 23 May 2008 08:44:56

 

      To begin with, there are about a thousand history of Jeep articles out on the Internet. So why did I decide to do another, you might ask? Well, it has more to do with local Jeep history than anything else. In the research for this article, I would say about 80% of the historians agree that the Jeep's birthplace was in Butler, PA not very far from where I now sit. However, many dispute this. I had also hoped to focus on some side-stories such as; the SAS's use of the Jeep in World War II and Jeeps related to my own personal interests like Civil Air Patrol, Amateur radio, and so on. One thing about this article, I have noted and linked to all of the sources I used and their locations as they existed at the time I compiled this paper.  BTW, My comments are in Blue. So, without further adieu......


Another Jeep history, compiled and researched by

Robb Hindle


    16 March, 2008                                                                                         Page 1

        In the hills of Western Pennsylvania, circa 1938, a legend was gestating. It's mother was the US Army, who wanted a small recon vehicle that could carry a load bigger than most might expect of it, had four-wheel drive, and could be built in the kind of numbers a war would dictate. It's midwife was a small company in Butler who was at the time, building a version of someone else's car and unfortunately not selling many of them, and so was looking for a way to become profitable. It's father was its initially reluctant designer Karl K. Probst; who at the time, didn't know he was about to help create a legend that would last well into the next century and spawn dozens of competitors. Elsewhere in the world, three countries were about to throw the world into a war the brutality of which had not been seen before, and would cement the name and image of the legend into the hearts and minds of people all over the world. That legend, would come to be known as the Jeep.

American Bantam

The American Bantam Car Company had its roots in England, but its branches spread from Butler throughout the world. In England, in 1921, vehicles were taxed according to horsepower and the price of gasoline was extremely high. These two factors led Sir Herbert Austin to design a tiny automobile, unlike anything produced before. Known as the Austin Seven, it enjoyed immediate popularity. By 1927, the cars were in demand nearly everywhere in the world. Sir Herbert had already expanded into several other countries and was now looking toward America. He negotiated with representatives from several localities, finally deciding upon Butler, Pennsylvania.

The American Austin debuted in 1930, at the National Automobile Show. In little more than a week more than 52,000 orders had been received. By mid-June, a production rate of 100 vehicles a day was achieved at the Butler plant. Unfortunately, the Great Depression continued and American families had less and less money and sales fell drastically. The factory closed in the spring of 1932. In the fall of the same year, the factory was acquired by entrepreneur, Roy S. Evans, who, at age thirty, was the largest automobile dealer in the South. Austins again rolled off the production line in Butler. By summer of 1935, more than 20,000 cars and trucks had been built. But the stockholders decided to sell all the assets of the American Austin Car Company. Evans was able to acquire these assets and reorganize the company as the American Bantam Car Company by 1936, but had no money left to build cars.

It wasn't until 1938 that the first Bantam "60" passenger cars and trucks began rolling off the production line. A recession later that same year resulted in far fewer sales than expected. In 1939, five new models were added to the line and prospects seemed bright. Over a two and one-half year period, the company produced approximately 6700 cars and trucks, but at an average loss of $75 per vehicle. By 1941, those bright prospects had dimmed considerably. War had already consumed Europe and Evans saw the handwriting on the wall. He had tried to interest the government in a military version of the Bantam for some time. Meanwhile, a military committee had been formed to develop a midget combat car. Before deciding upon specifications, the committee members came to Butler and each drove a Bantam roadster. The report of the committee indicated the potential of the vehicles and the capabilities of the plant.

Formal bid requests were sent in 1940 to 135 manufacturing companies. By the time Bantam received the request, the Engineering Department in Butler had been disbanded. With less than two weeks to develop a design and no engineer on the payroll, the company contacted Karl K. Probst, in Detroit. He reluctantly agreed to come to Butler and make an attempt. Within days, Probst, factory manager, Harold Crist and Cmdr. C. H. Payne, Bantam's military sales representative, presented an actual layout of the design to the committee. (2)

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