Earliest Jeeps Built 75-Years Ago for WWII
During an October visit to Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center, I was enlightened with the latest research and identification of the earliest Jeeps. A few weeks after that visit, I attended a York County Heritage Trust symposium on General Jacob L. Devers, where Lt. Col. James Scott Wheeler, USA (Ret.) gave a presentation; discussing his latest book, Jacob L. Devers: A General’s Life. During Dr. Wheeler’s presentation, as soon as this photo, of then Major General Devers, was shown on the screen, I recognized the pictured Jeep as one of the first 70 produced. Hence the photo has two connections to York, Pennsylvania; not only native son Jacob Devers but also a Jeep connection through the York-Hoover Body Corporation.
General Jacob L. Devers rose to the rank of 4-Star General during WWII, as he commanded the Sixth Army Group, during its invasion of southern France and drive into German. In reading Dr. Wheeler’s excellent biography; you’ll also learn about Devers’ significant impact on building the army that won the war.
In the photo, Major General Devers holds the plans being discussed with contractors, during the build up of Fort Bragg, prior to the United States entry into WWII. Devers had command of both the 9th Infantry Division and the Post of Fort Bragg from November 1940 through July 1941, after which, during August 1941, he took command of building up the Army’s entire Armored Force at Fort Knox. In May 1943, then a Three-Star General, Devers became the Commanding General, European Theater of Operations for the U.S. Army.
Major General Devers’ Jeep, in the 1941 photo at Fort Bragg, was one of the first 70 Jeeps produced in 1940; 75-years-ago. Pittsburgh’s Heinz History Center has, in their recently opened ‘We Can Do It! WWII’ display, the only known original Jeep, of those first 70. The Jeep is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution and is shown in my following photograph. Click on this LINK for a Full View of the illustrations in this post; since the ydr.com site will occasionally cut off important details in the cropping of illustrations.
The American Bantam Car Company, in Western Pennsylvania, produced the earliest vehicles, which became the Jeep; then known as ‘BRC’ for Bantam Reconnaissance Car. The Heinz History Center displays the seventh Bantam Reconnaissance Car, out of the build of 70 that were delivered to the Army during November and December of 1940. On the wall behind the “oldest surviving original Jeep” is a photo of the 49-day prototype, designated the BRC Pilot Model.
The display provides an excellent visual to distinguish between the three variations of Bantam Reconnaissance Cars. The BRC Pilot Model, pictured on the wall, (delivered September 23rd, 1940) features a rounded-nose, round front fenders and extra-scallop on the sides. The build of 70 BRC Cars (delivered Nov. & Dec., 1940) featured a rounded-nose, flat front fenders and streamlined sides. In 1941, 2,605 BRC Cars were built; featuring the traditional Jeep flat nose, flat front fenders and streamlined sides.
For decades, the 70 BRC Bantams were known as the BRC 60 or BRC MARK II; nomenclatures now known to be incorrectly termed by writers of the past. Bantam actually used the following terminology for the three different BRC’s: the ’40 BRC Pilot Model, the ’40 BRC (70 built), and ’41 BRC (aka previous termed BRC-40). The ’41 BRC was a highly revised, flat nosed, version of the original BRCs of which 2,605 were built during 1941.
The American Bantam Car Company, in Butler, PA, was one of three companies that responded to the Army’s request for proposals on a lightweight reconnaissance vehicle; which would become the Jeep. However Bantam was the only one to meet the nearly impossible request; to design, build, and deliver a prototype in just 49-days.
How did Bantam do it; when bigger, better-financed companies, such as Ford, could not. It probably helped that Bantam was bankrupt and their plant only had a skeleton crew. It was a desperation move. Bantam relied almost entirely upon off-the-shelf parts from their previously produced Bantam Roadster and readily purchased parts. The two long-lead items had to be a custom four-wheel-drive-train and a body designed and built to the layout.
Spicer designed and produced the custom four-wheel-drive-train, i.e. transfer case with full-float front and rear axles. Bantam produced the cowl and hood by adapting tooling from their Bantam Roadster; this produced the easily recognized rounded-nose feature.
Bantam had York-Hoover Body Corporation design and produce the custom body, from the firewall to the backend. The following is my outline sketch of the York-Hoover Body produced for the ’40 BRC Pilot Model.
I was told invoices show two of these York-Hoover Bodies arrived at the Bantam factory on September 16th. This was about the time the Spicer four-wheel-drive-train also arrived. It was a frantic week at Bantam; getting the Pilot Model assembled, tested and painted for delivery by the Army’s September 23rd, 1940, deadline.
There are remembrances of a hand-made body also fabricated at the Bantam factory, in case the York-Hoover Bodies did not show up in time. Some think the hand-made body may have been used in the ’40 BRC Pilot Model; I think those chances are slim. York-Hoover Body Corporation had a good reputation for producing robust, durable truck bodies; I believe that is why Bantam selected them in the first place and why a York-Hoover Body was in the Pilot Model, that would be beat-up by the Army during performance testing.
Bantam utilized York-Hoover Body Corporation to produce the bodies, from the firewall to the backend, for the ’40 BRC, build of 70. However York-Hoover Body Corporation had to turn down making the bodies for the ’41 BRC production, due to other production commitments, some with the Army.
It is noteworthy that the bodies of the first Jeeps ever made were produced at the York-Hoover Body Plant on Wheatfield Street in York, PA. A York-Hoover Body was definitely in York native Major General Devers’ Jeep, in the 1941 photo at Fort Bragg.
Look for my upcoming follow-up post: York-Hoover Body and the Jeep.
Links to related posts include:
- York-Hoover Body and the Jeep
- McGann Manufacturing Company in Spring Garden Township; Harold L. Smith during WWII
- Christmas Portraits at Loring Studios during WWII
- York WWII Veteran Remembers Okinawa
- WWI & WWII Navy Destroyers Named after York Veteran
- York-built Worn Drive Truck debuted at 1916 York Fair