March 3, 2000

last modified 4-28-00

Another peel of the Onion

(The Holabird "Checker Cab Bantam")

Does this look like a Bantam Reconnaissance Car to you?

Me too. Let's hear it from the experts, do we see any deviations from a BRC here? (It's a 4Steer)

Anyway, it is picture of a "Checker Cab" Bantam 1/4T 4x4" with a date of 6/11/41...Clearly this is the third Bantam of the three that made their way to Kalamazoo. However, as we can see, it bears no resemblance to the Gilmore Museum car. So is this the Checker Cab Bantam, or is the Museum car with it's bigger bumpers and windscreen (not to mention the spotlight) the Checker Cab Bantam?

Remember the recently discovered car under discussion has a Bantam data plate with a delivery date of 5-23-41. [actually 5-28-41...see later detail on plates] Given a few days for the Bantams to get from Butler to Kalamazoo, whether whole cars. partially knocked down, or as a pile of parts, and a day or two to get to Holabird (MD) we are talking about Checker having a couple of weeks to do whatever they did. I think they may have taken them partially apart and put them togther (as any GI mechanic could do), and that's about it. [ However, this hypothetical time sequence may not hold water if you accept, as I now do, that the Bantam Data plate was not filled out in Butler, but was filled out in Kalamazoo. Later, we discover a contract between Bantam and Checker dated in Feb of 41, so, Bantam could have shipped cars and or parts much earlier, giving Checker time to assemble them] My current feeling is that I don't thnk Checker did anything at all innovative or uniquely Checker to these carsexcept put a Checker Data plate in them.

Apparently the picture above was taken at Holabird for testing as a 4 Wheel steer prototype. Here is an intesting message about the Checker episode from super jeep historian Todd Paisley who refers to the authoratative Rifkind Report:

"When Bantam lost the 1/4-ton contract to W-O, they tried to team up
with Checker to win an upcoming 4-wheel-steer contract that the infantry was
pushing for. Not sure why they picked Checker, but it probably had to do
with the Army's excuse that Bantam was too small. They probably thought
they had a better chance if they teamed up with another company.
Unfortunately the same politics that stopped them from winning the 1/4-ton
contract still haunted Bantam. The Quartermaster Corps brought up that they
wanted to make sure the 4-wheel-steer model shared the same parts with the
regular 1/4-ton to reduce parts inventories needed to support the vehicles.
Also, the QM did not feel the 4-wheel-steer model was necessary and
eventually won that arguement over the infantry. They did award a
4-wheel-steer contract to Ford for 50 vehicles. (Not a surprise since the QM
was heavily biased toward Ford.) W-O produced a couple of their own
4-wheel-steer prototypes called the MQ but they were never a factor in that
contract. If you pick up a copy of Herbert Rifkind's book, it describes the
4-wheel-steer contract. (Herbert Rifkind worked for the QM Corps and he was
tasked to write a book describing the Jeep developement for posterity.
Mostly because the Jeep development was being moved to the Ordnance
department and the QM Corps wanted to make sure they left their mark that
they did the initial development. It clearly shows the Ford bias and how
Bantam was really screwed.)

[Subsequent evidence and arrangement of dates may detract from some of Todd's position. Bantam had not lost the contract at this point. Indeed, Willys had not yet even developed even the failing Quad prototype, let alone the second barely passing one. There was a huge clamor from the using services for Bantams, (or Fords either one). Willys wasn't in it. There was no demand at all for Willys as a successful prototype had not been developed Although the Cavalry (not the Infantry) was really plugging for the four steer models, the QMC was having none of it, mainly due to the lack of Spicer differentials which were in short supply (although proto-typeless Willys was apparently sitting on 1,500 front axles!). It should be noted here that the four steers were also Probst/Bantam designs, eight of the original 70 Bantam units having been four wheel steers. Several pictures of round-nosed 4 steer Bantams are on record showing rightly terrifed civilian passengers. The QMC undoubtedly saved hundreds of GI lives not approving this variation.

The fact that Bantam and Checker had signed a contract in Feb of '41 (which undoubtedly was negotiated even earlier) indicates that Bantam knew it had a production problem and had acted to solve it. (In October of '40 the QMC declasre to Bantam and Ford that they will need 12,000 of these vehicles in 9 months). Bantam had no reason to fear anything from Willys at this point. If there was to be standardization, why would it not have been a Bantam standard? Indeed, Bantam agreed that Ford could produce anything it (Bantam) couldn't produce. In October of '40 Willys did get shoehorned into the second 4,500/1,500 each unit contract (somehow.... I suspect a "Toledo mafia" thing with Biggers (Toledo) "explaining" the situation to Gen Moore, who mysteriously and unaccountably included the hapless Willys (Toledo) in the contract the day after a talk with Biggers. see Rifkin) even though they had no approved prototype and everyone thought the Quad was a mess and out of the running. I believe the Checker-Bantam contract was aimed at securing the 16,000 jeep order that followed the tri-partate 4,500/1500 order, not the 4 steer contract Todd alludes to.]

To consider that Checker made three Bantam "prototypes from plans" in less than two weeks (as they would have you to believe in Kalamazoo) is errant nonsense (IMHO). (Willys couldn't do it in 5 months with Bantams plans in hand!). Just the castings and dies that would be required to make my car would take far, far longer. Indeed, even with a "kit" sent from Bantam to assemble 3 cars in that time is hard to believe. [Although, my position on this is changed given the probability that the Bantam dat plate is one actually filled out by Checker, and given the Feb 41 date of the contract. I think now they would have had time to assemble a Bantam from parts and that the parts were delived sometime soon after the contract was signed].

One wild guess might be that this whole episode was a subterfuge between Checker and Bantam (perfectly justifiable of course :~) to secure the 4Steer contract. The "Checker Bantams" seem to me to be just regular BRC's flowed through Checker to the Army testing ground. Kind of elaborate you say, and call me a conspiracy theorist, but all things considered, there is a lot of circumstantial for and nothing against. [Well, even conspiracy theorists can be wrong sometimes! In Charles Probst' notes going through the FTC Hearings materials (4959) there is this one at page1563 although I do not know who is testifying:

Reference is made to the solicitation of bids for the 16,000 to American Bantam Car Co, Willys Overland, Ford Motor Company, and Checker Cab. "Would any of those bids have been accepted if they had been priced properly? Answer. "With the exception of Checker Cab, due to the fact that Checker had not submitted a pilot model for approval and there had been n approval of their product, although I believe Checker bid was based on the duplication of the Bantam design." seems to me, looking back to the top of the page that indeed Checker did have a prototype, at least by June 11, 1941, but by this time, after the QMC's jiggling the weight specs upward and holding the door open for several months, Willys had finally gotten its prototype approved]

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