Bantam: The Father of the Jeep
With apologies to Frank Zappa, we might call the gang pictured here “The Mothers of Invention”. Regardless of what you hear, these are the men who did the heavy lifting in the creation of the original jeep, the Bantam Reconnaissance Car.
The only non-Bantam person having an important hand in the matter who might deserve a place on this page was a civilian engineer working for the Quartermaster Corps named Bob Brown who, with Harold Crist and Frank Fenn spent a little over a week drawing up Army “specs” for something that might have turned out to be the WWII jeep if it had not insisted on a ludicrous weight limit which Crist had objected to strenuously.
It would be up to Bantam to save the Army from themselves, or maybe dodge QMC attempts to get rid of the little company so they could negotiate with Ford. The jeep was not an invention, it was a design and what made it unique was its small size, taken directly from the Bantam civilian cars. Unlike the civilian cars however, it had a serious power to weight ratio which could not have been provided by the Bantam 800 cc unit.
Like the public, the Army had a prejudice against small cars, but the Bantam made them believers.
There is no Father of the jeep because it was the joint effort of these pictured men and Brown and if anyone of them (except Brown) had not held up his part the project it would have failed. If there were a father it would be one of these people. Clearly Harry Payne and Harold Crist are the key figures with Payne doing all the promotion, selling and lobbying in Washington, and Crist doing the lion’s share of specifying, conceiving, designing and building the car.
Neither of them would have had the faintest idea how to do the other’s magic. We may be surprised not to see Roy Evans’ face on the wall of honor, but, so far not a single piece of paper or oral report bearing or mentioning his name has surfaced.
Without Karl Probst’s famous 18- hour drawing session, Bantam would have had an incomplete bid and he surely added engineering insights on subassemblies, but his drawings were merely a formalization of a pre-existing layout and specifications set out by Crist.
Ralph Turner, a watch maker by trade turned out to be a gifted experimental engineer, and under Crist’s superintendence and direction, and with Chet Hempfling’s help, he was the primary fabricator of the little car that changed the world.
Bantam was considered by those competing for the jeep contract to be a bug to be squashed (not before providing the vehicle's design!). Crist, Probst, Payne, Fenn, Hempfling, Turner, and lesser-known names of the BRC era were responsible for the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, which today is the “holy grail” of any jeep collection.
If history is prone to forget the defeated, then we need to make an extraordinary effort to make sure the people featured on this page are remembered. They were not passive victims in the unforgiving battles of the autombile industry. They were warriors. They may not have won, but they gained victories that we can proudly celebrate today and always. Read the build story here!