The first of any product provides special insight into the original ideas of the people who developed it. That’s certainly true of the ¼-ton 4x4 vehicle we now know as “jeep.” Unfortunately, we don’t have that first Bantam quarter-ton 4x4 to reflect upon but Bantam Reconnaissance Car (BRC) pilot model was followed by 70 very similar prototypes that were issued to the different branches of the Army for field testing. The first were delivered on November 29, 1940 and the last on December 17, 1940. When that testing was done, the Army had a much better idea of the quarter-ton’s capability, versatility, what features were important, and what upgrades were needed. That led to a second round of updated test vehicles from three manufacturers.
Those 70 prototypes had a very short service life and were almost instantly obsolete. By the end of 1941, a standardized ¼-ton had been contracted to Willys-Overland. A design was then homogenized from the original Bantam, Willys, and Ford iterations and production started forthwith.
The fate of those original 70 ’40 Bantam BRCs is largely undocumented. It’s known that many were scrapped. Some were sold surplus as early as 1943 and eventually found their way into civilian hands. A very few went overseas. All but one has disappeared, serial number 1007, the seventh built, delivered to the Army with the first batch of 21 on November 29, 1940.
BRC 1007 was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time to become an historical artifact. Through the efforts of some long-forgotten individual with an eye towards history, 1007 was donated to the Smithsonian Museum in 1944. It spent many of the intervening years stored in a warehouse. In the ’80s and ’90s, it could be seen at the U.S. Army Transportation Museum in Fort Eustis, Virginia. From there it went back to a Smithsonian warehouse, but was loaned out again to the Senator John Heinz Regional History Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, about 35 miles from Butler, where it was born.
Very little is known about BRC 1007’s operational history. It was tested at Fort Knox, Kentucky, the armored forces center at the time, along with nine of its brethren into 1941. Some reports have it later working at the Jeffersonville, Indiana Quartermaster Depot before going back to Camp Holabird, Maryland, and eventual donation to the Smithsonian. It was a living, breathing jeep when the Smithsonian got it, but it hasn’t run since.
While BRC 1007 may be the oldest jeep with a direct DNA connection to the very first, it cannot be said to be the oldest surviving jeep. The Ford GP (Pygmy) pilot model and the Ford Budd-bodied pilot have earlier delivery dates of November 23, 1940, and both survive in private hands. It’s possible one or the other was built at an earlier date, but that could be difficult to prove, so the delivery dates have become the measure of age.
Late breaking BRC information includes a change in traditional terminology. For decades, that batch of 70 BRC Bantams have been known as the BRC 60 or BRC MARK II. It turns out these terms were coined by writers long after the cars were built, not by Bantam. Bantam most often referred to them simply as “BRC.” There were three different BRCs, the ’40 BRC Pilot Model, the ’40 BRC (70 built), and the ’41 BRC (aka the BRC-40), which was a highly revised version of which 2,605 were built. These are now considered to be the most historically correct terms.
Following up on Bantam news, the Heinz Center has long been planning a Jeep wing and it will be up and running in 2015, with BRC 1007 as the centerpiece. A group of notable BRC historians have begun planning a celebration of the 75th Anniversary of the BRC in 2015. No firm plans on what that will be yet, but check in regularly to their website, which is sourced below. Finally, the ongoing Bantam Heritage Festival in Butler, Pennsylvania, celebrates the Bantam and all things Jeep in the BRC’s hometown.
|Bantam ’40 BRC|
|Serial Number Range:||1001-1070|
|Engine:||four-cylinder, L-head, Continental BY4112|
|Power:||45hp @ 3,500 rpm|
|Torque:||86 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|Transmission:||Three-speed, Warner Gear T-84 H|
|Transfer Case:||Two-speed, Spicer Model 40|
|Front Axle:||Full-float Spicer Model 40|
|Rear Axle:||Full-float Spicer Model 40|
|Curb Wt.:||1,940 lbs|
|Fuel Capacity:||10 gallons|