The year is 1940, the month July, and across Europe war was raging. Car production has stopped across the world. Anticipating its imminent involvement, America began arming. And on Eisenhower’s long list of weaponry was a vehicle that would change warfare as the allies knew it. “The Jeep, the Dakota, and the Landing Craft were the three tools that won the war,” US General Dwight D. Eisenhower later admitted.
In July 1940 the US War Department approached 135 homegrown car manufacturers with a brief for a light utility reconnaissance vehicle to replace the motorcycles, sidecars, Model T Fords and horses that were relics of the previous war. The proposed vehicle needed to be four-wheel-drive, with a high ground clearance, a sub-600kg weight, and the ability to transport three soldiers and a 300kg payload. If that wasn’t tricky enough in itself, there was a strict 11-day deadline for the proposals, with a prototype expected in 49 days and production-ready test vehicles in 75.
Only three of those approached – Ford, Willys-Overland and Bantam – rose to the challenge, and it was Bantam’s creation that ticked all of the Army’s boxes. Reportedly designed in just 18 hours by freelance designer Karl Probst, the model was – depending on who you ask – known as the Blitz Buggy, Pilot or the BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car).
And while the fact that Bantam won the tender is undisputed, what happened next is dubious. Some claim Bantam had already began building its utility vehicle – producing more than 2,500 units – 60-odd of which were all-wheel-steering as per the cavalry’s request – before the US drafted in other manufacturers’ help, whereas others claim the idea had barely left the drawing board.