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Contrary to popular myth Bantam had brilliant mechanics and engineers on it's staff fully capable of designing and scratch building the jeep, which is in fact exactly what they did.
Popular histories love to recount that 'poor little Bantam' was down and out in 1940 and too small to do anything useful. Weren't they lucky the 'reasoning' runs that the Army came in and saved them. Never mind that it was Bantam who saved the Army's bacon. Moreover what we also never hear in the popular recountings is that Willys was in even worse shape than Bantam and had only about 25 or 30 employees itself during the relevant time frame. In fact it is a little reported fact that Bantam chairman Roy Evans had put a syndicate together in 1935 which controlled Willys outright, a fact which must have caused him some serious thought in later years. But for Evans brilliant ability to sell anything W-O wouldn't even be part of the jeep story. By buying and selling 12,000 cars from Willys he saved the company.(And few know that after the war he was one of the largest dealers of Willys products!)
The first jeep was mostly designed and entirely built by Harold Crist, Chet Hemphling and Ralph Turner with administrative support from Fenn and his staff. Some credit must certainly go to Probst and his crew of engineers too even if we don't know exactly how much. How capable were these men? Well, Probst's reputation is secure. He built his first motor vehicle in the 19th century! He studied under Kettering at Ohio State, and his Milburn Electric of 1917 was at least 1000 pounds lighter than it's nearest competitor Some of his innovations and patents are still in automotive use.
The first Vice President of Bantam was none other than Harry Miller, yes, the Harry Miller, who was, and still is, the greatest automotive engineer in American history. Everything we think of as mechanically high tech in our modern cars such as twin cams, hemispherical combustion, multiple valves and so on were standard on his racers as early as 1925. By 1937 when he was in Butler working in the factory where he had rented space he had already fielded cars and/or won Indianapolis with front wheel and four wheel drive cars. Miller drove to the Bantam factory in a front wheel drive Cord too. (There is even one story having at least two separate sources that Miller had a little 4 wheel drive military vehicle rolling around the factory floor in 1937). The two Gulf Specials were built there. In additon to Miller many of his crew were resident or vistors such as Leo Gossen and Offenhauser.
Although Miller had clearly been recruited by Evans as window dressing (along with designer and LeBarron founder Thomas Hibbard,) his contributions were actual. Chet Hemphling worked with him on the new engine, particularly the manifolding, which would power the yet to be produced Bantam. (Millers own scratch design of a supercharged 1300cc OHC engine had been scrapped by Evans as too expensive to tool for.)
By all accounts Hemphling was a brilliant mechanic, a term he insisted on all his life in preference to engineer. In his mind mechanics built cars and engineers drew pictures of the result. His accomplishments at Bantam clearly show his proficiency, and any one who can stay in the same room with Harry Miller, his staff and associates, let alone collaborate with him is good enough for me.
Likewise Harold Crist was another extremely capable engineer who had worked his way up building and racing cars all of his life, including working on the first Deusenberg and 18 years at Stutz, including building their racing cars. Stutz was one of the best made cars of the time in it incorporated the advanced for it's time overhead cam and valves. Ralph Turner, no mean hand with a wrench either had this to say about him: "Boy, I'll tell you, he really knew his stuff! I've seen him do things just using his head that others couldn't do with a pencil and slide rule." Crist came to Bantam as factory manager. He is in one picture piloting a midget racer powered by an "Austin V-8"..an engine made by wedding two fours onto a common crankshaft and using mostly Austin off the shelf parts. A neat trick. Crist was instrumental in developing the considerably more powerful but too late Bantam "3 Main" which involved considerable complexity including a crankshaft hewn from a single block of steel. Ralph Turner, who began in watchmaking was also a highly skilled and resourceful mechanic and was in charge of the sheetmetal and other assignments including making a ger box and transfer case by cutting two Chevy transmissions apart,cutting out the sides,, reworking the insides, drilling new holes, lining up shafts and regearing it before weldig it up. I wonder how many mechanical engineering graduates could do that today?
And, even though his contributions may not be all of what we have assumed, Karl Probst was a brilliant engineer as well, a person who had built his first motor vehicle in the 19th century (a steam bicycle) and who had studied under Kettering at Ohio State. His Milburn Electric was fully 1,000 pounds lighter than the next competitor and he filed patents which are still in use.
Like checking ones sums, the abilities of these men seem clearly prooved by the fact that Crist and Hemphling went on after the war to design the very high tech, lightweight Porsche powered "Mighty Mite" jeep at Mid-America which, after the Germans stole THAT design eventually saw service in this country with the Marines as the M422. They didn't seem to require any Army help for that design either. Probst too was not finished with jeep design and was retained by Kaiser to draw up an all aluminum "Jeep Junior".
Against this team we really don't know what we have. Holabird was not in the business of actually building and producing vehicles at this point in history. I suspect that Bob Brown made some substantial contributions in this crucial week perhaps even modifying the Probst drawings, as he apparently traveled to Butler from time to time. I would like to know more about Brown if anyone has some information.
We can see for instance in the very first drawing that entry and exit angles were important to the Army, but such special requirements may not have been obvious to the Bantam crew. After all, there is Brown sitting in the passenger seat of #1 on the 21st. However, Brown's contributions may have been more bureaucratic than of an engineering nature. He seems to be around the project in some shadowy way at least, perhaps helping, perhaps just observing. Ralph Turner fingers him as the one responsibile for letting Barney Roos (the Willys design engineer in charge of their prototype) get under the Bantam in a grease pit to measure and photograph it, and shortly thereafter giving Willys the Bantam blueprints after assuring an outraged Crist "Don't worry boys, I'll take care of you". He sure did. Another version of the story has it being Lawes giving the blueprints, but kicking the Willys people out in embarrassed disgust. It is possible that Brown, being a civilian is actually an industry "plant" in the QMC engaged in industrial espionage? Given parallel stories at the time, it is certainly not out of the question. Why did the Army have civilian engineers anyway? If he was a plant, for whom we do not know. Any info out there?
There is a good chance that the distinctive jeep "sardine can" body shape of the rear half of the car developed on paper at Holabird during that week although that cannot be known for sure either. If you take the measurements called for in the specs and draw it up without reference to the drawing, you will come pretty close to this shape. On the other hand it is not a great deal differnet than a Bantam pick-up or Riviera without doors. The rounded corners seem another frill lifted from the civilian side.
At any rate it is clear that we need more actual evidence here. The fact is that something very dramatic happened in a very short time and one team had almost legendary experience and proven ability in building cars, particularly small cars, and the other team had let's call it "unknown" car building experience. Whatever the actual division of credit we give for the June 19-July1 period I certainly am not prepared to conclude as everyone else seems to do that Bantam had pathetic or non existent human resources while that the Army had a whole fort full of high tone experts that showed these roobs how to build a special, something the Bantams had been doing since the previous century!
Do you have facts or information which are at odds with what you see here, or support it? Let's hear it from you so we can get the full story.
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