On the Trail of Jeep History, Part 2

See also Part 1: Toledo, Ohio and Part 3: Camp Holabird.

Bantam Av

Part 2: Butler, Pennsylvania


We had enjoyed our stay in Toledo, and Sunday afternoon of Father's Day weekend 2000 we headed east along the turnpike to Pennsylvania. We were still following the route taken sixty years ago by Karl Probst, who had headed for the American Bantam factory, after his stop in Toledo to pick up drivetrain components from the Spicer company. He was going to help Bantam build the first prototype 1/4-ton 4-wheel-drive Light Reconnaisance Car for the U.S. Army. -- Derek Redmond

Bantam factory site Probst and a handful of other employees at American Bantam put together the Bantam Pilot prototype in just seven weeks. There is a historical plaque in Butler commemorating the feat. The brick building in the background with the smokestack, on Bantam Avenue, is where the jeeps were built.

Bantam building 2021 Update: It was reported on 21 November 2020 in the Butler Eagle that the property including the former American Bantam building had been sold, and demolition was slated to begin in six to eight months.

On 1 December 2021 Cranberry Eagle reported that the Bantam building itself would be saved while a structural study was completed, but by January 2022 the whole property had apparently been demolished. Photo by Seb Foltz/Butler Eagle.

Bantam pilot model Company president Frank Fenn is seen here in the front passenger seat of the finished Reconnaisance Car in September 1940. Probst (leaning on the spare tire) and Harold Crist (driver's seat) drove this pilot model to Maryland and delivered it on time to the Army. Photo courtesy Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

We didn't have time to follow that trail on this trip, but Todd Paisley did it for us later -- see Part 3: Camp Holabird.)

Bantam BRC40 1728Monday morning the Butler County Historical Society opened their Heritage Center museum for us, where this restored Bantam BRC40, SN 1728, is on display. See also the jeep's interior (40K JPEG). It was one of about 2600 jeeps built by Bantam in 1941, the only large production order the company received from the Army.

American Bantam produced other military equipment including jeep trailers for the rest of the war, and the company closed its doors in 1956.

Butler museum

The museum also had lots of old photos. This is the Bantam assembly line. See also a BRC40 fording a stream (60K JPEG).

Butler museum Another restored vehicle is this Bantam 1939 "Hollywood" convertible (40K JPEG) customized in California for Bantam president Roy S. Evans. Designer Alex Tremulis apparently drove the car from California back to Butler at speeds sometimes over 75 mph, and averaged 42.5 miles per gallon.

There's also a restored Bantam civilian trailer on display (40K JPEG).

All that was left for this trip was a beautiful but long drive back up through Pennsylvania and New York, across the river to Canada, and home by midnight. -- Derek Redmond

Continue to On the Trail of Jeep History, Part 3: Camp Holabird, where Todd Paisley completes the trail.

See also more Universal Jeep History on CJ3B.info.

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Last updated 15 September 2022 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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