One Winter in Moscow

©Wm Spear 2001

All Bantam enthusiasts are familiar with the story of how the entrepreneurial drive of Roy Evans and the lobbying efforts of Harry Payne finally got the Army off it's duff and put in a n actual requisition for a small reconnaissance car. They likewise recall with pride the design brilliance of Harold Crist and Karl Probst and the skeleton crew at Butler who designed and developed the original jeep in record time. "One Summer in Butler" in Vol 14 #4 of Automobile Quarterly gives a good account of a substantial part of that adventure.

What may not be so well known is that only a few months later than the events of the Bantam story, halfway around the world an almost parallel drama was unfolding in Russia where the Red Army was developing it's own jeep. The result of that effort was the GAZ-64 a vehicle based on the Bantam which went from drawing board to prototype in just 50 days!. Unlike Ford and Willys however, the Russian engineers did not have access to the actual Bantam or Probst's drawings from which to make their version.

According to a Russian Book on the subject (Evgenij Prochkou Vesdekhody RKKA (Red Army 4WD trucks) Armada #7, M-Hobby. Moscow, 1998 (page 4) here's how it happened. Stalin had predicted that this second war would be a "war of motors" and by early 1941 it was very clear that the Red Army (like all armies) needed a light, all terrain vehicle. The Chief of General Auto-Armored Board General Major I. Tyagunov was to take the lead in development of what was to be a small, 4 place, 4WD soft top. Tyagunov had read of the Bantam 60's and seen pictures of them in American newspapers which had been forwarded with glowing reviews by Russian military personnel in the US. He determined that the Red Army needed a Bantam.

In February of '41 a brilliant 38 year old engineer named Vitaly Grachev was assigned the task of developing a Russian version of this revolutionary new American weapon. Grachev was shown a picture of the American jeep cut from a newspaper and told him that's what was wanted, and make it quick!

Work by Grachev and his crew began on February 3, 1941 on a design which was. What emerged 50 days later from this effort and is seen herein was the "Russian Bantam". The prototype was called the R-1 (from Razvedchik which means 'recon' or 'scout'), although even in Russia Bantam was slighted because the Ford influence there was so strong that the prototype was often referred to as the "Pygmy" the name of Ford's early Bantam copy!


The similarities of the Grachev effort to Bantam's BRC are quite remarkable. The "round nose" and the frog eyed headlights; the round fenders and door line and beading and the general size and proportion of the jeep pop right out at us. What really struck me was in the cowl and windscreen area. BRC-60's had used a widened civilian Bantam cowl and windscreen stanchions, and those of us familiar with Bantams will recognize the fancy little molding between the hood and the rest of the belt line. But look closely at this GAZ prototype an you will see a very similar (and very unnecessary) sheet metal treatment too. It would be interesting to know the story of how that got there! GAZ was producing civilian Fords under license, so, maybe someone recognizes the piece?

Russian machinery of the period was noted certainly for its 'robustness' and the Russian vehicle, like the other imitators at Ford and Willys was heavier than the Bantam (but still lighter than the Willys offering!). The prototypes came in at 2,400lbs and the final versions of the GAZ-64's went up to 2,900. Bantam was still the undisputed champion of strong, light construction. The R-1 used axles from a GAZ-61 (which had been shortened, just as Bantam and Spicer had shortened the Studebaker/Spicer units for the BRC) and a Ford licensed gearbox and other Spicer parts (differentials? transfer case?) which had been brought from the USA for the purpose. It was powered by a big 50 hp GAZ-MM engine. Also the silhouette seems quite a good deal higher than the low-lying BRC. Still, if you squint, and look at them together in pictures it's a pretty good match, especially given the quality of newspaper photos!

Grachev's effort really was faster even than Bantam's "speed record" as the R-1 rolled off the floor on March 25, 1941, only 50 days from a clean sheet of paper (and a picture of a Bantam and a few Spicer parts :~). A remarkable achievement. By this time Bantam was delivering it's second order of BRC's and Ford it's first GP's most of which would eventually be shipped to Lend Lease countries

Meanwhile, back in Toledo, Willys was still trying to build a jeep that might conceivably meet Army specs and hold up to it's testing. But far from a mere newspaper photo, courtesy of the highhanded Quartermasters Willys had in house Bantam drawings as well as their own detailed measurements and notes of the BRC prototype from Camp Holabird.. Finally in early May they managed to squeak a prototype by.

In Toledo they have a sign that commemorates it as being the "birthplace of the jeep". But from the story above it appears that the MA was not even the third jeep to make into service, it now lies fourth behind the GAZR-1!