In July 1940, the U.S. military informed automakers that it was looking for a “light reconnaissance vehicle” to replace the Army’s motorcycle and modified Ford Model-T vehicles. The Army invited 135 manufacturers to bid on production and developed a lengthy specification list for the vehicle.
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The specs included:
- 600-lb. load capacity
- Wheelbase less than 75 inches
- Height less than 36 inches
- Smooth-running engine from 3 to 50 miles per hour
- Rectangular-shaped body
- Four-wheel drive with two-speed transfer case
- Fold-down windshield
- Three bucket seats
- Blackout and driving lights
- Gross vehicle weight below 1,300 lbs.
At first, Willys-Overland and American Bantam Car Manufacturing Company were the only two companies answering the call. Soon, however, Ford Motor Company entered the picture, and competition began among the three over which company would receive the lucrative government contract.
Each company produced prototypes for testing in record time. Bantam’s chief engineer, along with a team of Bantam executives, worked out a design, and the company built its field car within 49 days.
Willys-Overland Vice President of Engineering Delmar G. Roos designed the Willys Quad. Ford developed its Model GP (General Purpose), known as the Pygmy, which was powered by an adapted Ford/Ferguson tractor. Each company delivered its prototype to the Army in the summer of 1940 and received approval to build 70 sample vehicles.
The Army took possession of these vehicles in November 1940 at Camp Holabird, Md. Each of the three designs exceeded the Army’s specification of 1,300 lbs., but the Army soon realized that limit was far too low and raised it for the next round of vehicles.
The Army issued the next round of contracts in March 1941. Bantam was to produce 1,500 Model 40 BRC vehicles, Ford would build 1,500 modified and improved GP Pygmies and Willys would build 1,500 Quads. Further testing and evaluation led to the Army’s selection of Willys vehicle as the primary manufacturer.
Subsequently, most of the Bantams and Ford GPs produced were sent to Great Britain and Russia as part of the lend-lease program. In Great Britain, the Ford vehicle was popularly known as the “Blitz Buggy.”