History of the Bantam and Willys Jeeps and the BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Vehicle)
The origins of what would become the Bantam
The story really begins in Great Britain with Herbert Austin, born in 1866. He was a self-made engineer and tool maker who rose to become the manager of the Wolseley Tool and Motor Car Company, but felt he could build better motor vehicles on his own. Using his own initiative and money, he founded the Austin Motor Company in 1905 in Longbridge, which became part of Birmingham in 1911, and built conventional cars with a 5.0 litre 4 cylinder engine.
When World War I became inevitable, Great Britain gave Austin Motor Car profitable military contracts. Herbert Austin was knighted at the end of the war, and Sir Herbert resumed motor car production in 1918. The initial postwar offerings were based upon one model, powered by a 20 horsepower, 3.6 liter engine. With slow sales and rising costs, Sir Herbert moved the single model into a commercial version, and built good tractors with the same chassis, to no avail; in 1921, bankruptcy procedures began.
The company was viable, but the board of directors protested over the new car that Sir Herbert had proposed to turn the company around. Sir Herbert threatened to take his design to Wolseley Motor Cars; and the board came to an agreement which allowed Austin Motor Car to be restructured in the same year it declared bankruptcy. The new car was aimed at penetration of the mass market: smaller, lighter, well built, and economical. Introduced in 1922, the Austin 7 was a hit. The "7" represented the engine's horsepower rating, putting it into the current micro-car class, and avoiding a tax. It was much smaller than a Ford Model T; the wheelbase was 75 inches, and it was just 40 inches wide. The 4 cylinder was cut to 747 cc (¾ litre); the four speed transmission was an integral part of the drive train. Mastery of shifting required double clutching, and was a challenge to those that didn't match engine and transmission gear speeds. The front suspension was a transverse leaf spring, while the rear suspension was two semi elliptical leaves. Four wheel brakes were operated by cables on a hand lever, and the rear brakes were cable operated from a foot pedal. They would not be integrated until 1930.
Given success in the first year, Sir Herbert saw his design take off with more popularity. He made running changes on the car to improve it mechanically.
The design went under license to Germany as the "Dixi" (forming around a new company called BMW) and was then licensed into France in 1928 as the "Rosengart" and finally in the United States of America in 1929 as the "American Austin." Sir William Lyons used the Austin 7 chassis to build his own car, the "Swallow," which gave him the knowledge and profits to form Jaguar in 1935.
DAT Motor Cars began production in 1931 of its version of the Austin 7 in Japan, without any agreement or license; the car was called DATSON (or smaller version of the DAT, or son of DAT). In 1933, DAT Motor Cars was bought out by Nissan, the car having been a miserable failure. Austin probably never heard of DATSON.
Austin licensed a move of a part of its operations to the United States in 1929, setting up a factory to produce the Americanized Austin 7 in Butler, Pennsylvania. Even in the face of the Depression, initially the American Austin sold fairly well, but deepening of the Depression and resistance to tiny cars brought the American Austin into bankruptcy in 1934.
A top American Austin salesman, Roy Evans, bought the bankrupt American Austin, renaming it to American Bantam in 1935. Thanks to the election of Franklin Roosevelt and related confidence returning to banking, Evans was able to secure financial backing. After updating the body, he set about getting a new engine to avoid having to pay royalties back to Austin. The first version was a 46 cubic inch 4 cylinder flathead that may have developed 15 horsepower with about 40 ft lbs of torque. With all the accessories, the engine weighed 148 pounds. Compression was set at 5.0 to 1. Top speed may have been upwards of 50 miles an hour, but that would be punishing for the engine, which at the time had two main bearings on the crankshaft, which were ball bearings. This would allow for a free turning unit, but the nature of ball bearings encouraged crankshaft "whip" internally.
Improvements to the Bantam engine introduced by Evans included changing the main bearings to a babbitt type, increasing the compression to 7.0 to 1, and using a different type of carburetor. Full pressurized lubrication was employed, along with a pump circulated cooling system. Horsepower increased from 13 to 19, with an increase in torque.
Roy Evans made the Bantam look different from the older Austin, and made the Bantam appear bigger than it actually was. First year production was 1,200 units; 30% of production was for export to Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Great Britain, where it competed directly against its progenitor, the Austin. Still, the Bantam couldn't make a significant American market penetration, even though, by 1938, the Bantam was on a par with Chrysler, Buick, and Mercury as far as quality, reliability, and appointments were concerned.
Origins of the BRC
At around this time, the Army Quartermaster Corps was ready to consider a light reconnaissance vehicle. They had actually been toying with the idea since the end of World War I in 1918, but didn't have anything specific in mind. The United States Army had become largely a sort of country club in the years after World War I; soldiers endured agonizingly slow promotions, and long placements at trying assignments with disagreeable conditions. Requests from the field were often turned down by pampered Headquarters officers, lest it upset their cushy assignments. In addition, the President and the Congress were not disposed to spending money on the military, and it showed. Even if they had been fully funded, many officers were not inclined to welcome motorized vehicles; Major George S. Patton, for one, was making passionate noises NOT to adopt motorized equipment! The horrifying German "Blitzkrieg" against Poland in 1939 quickly changed a lot of American military minds, including Patton’s.
[The American military did work with automakers on creating a 4x4 truck, and helped to make the Jeffery Quad a reality.]
American Bantam Motors, through Roy Evans, hired a lobbyist. At the time, there was none better, because he believed in his job, and he was honest to a fault: retired Navy aviator Commander Harry Payne. Payne worked tirelessly for Bantam to draw out what the QMC might want for forces in the field.
Origin of the BRC in the British Austin military vehicle
Payne was armed with the knowledge that in 1932, the British Army had purchased two Austin Sedans for evaluation as a General Purpose Scout Car, which were now used in place of motorcycles and side-cars. The Austin cars were well liked; they could carry more passengers and serve in more assignments than the motorcycles, especially considering that they could carry mobile machine gun mounts. The Austin cars were tough, but they needed four wheel drive to be fully effective.
After five years of getting beat around, a British infantry captain used the Austin chassis and parts to build a small, light vehicle with four wheel drive. It was about 70 inches long, 37 inches wide, and weighed around 1,000 pounds. Those "specials" were given tough jobs to fulfill, with machine gun and small artillery mountings. They were given exceptional ratings and rave reviews from the British infantry.
There is a lot of different information out there about the true origins of the BRC. A lot of it is not true, or deliberately fed as misinformation. Eventually the Army, Willys, and even Ford claimed credit for the introduction of it. However, evidence points to the fact that Evans and Payne were well aware of the constant titillation of the QMC. Hoping that the Army would see things Bantam's way, in 1938, Roy Evans arranged through Harry Payne to loan two small 4 x 2 Bantam trucks to the QMC for evaluation, knowing what the British had accomplished a year earlier with the Austin. Later on, a couple of roadsters were also sent over. The QMC expressed solid interest in the design, but the lack of 4 wheel drive, and the small thin cross-section tires led the vehicles to getting stuck a lot. These loaners did lead directly to the Army insistence that any light recon vehicle must have four wheel drive.
It was not by pure coincidence that somewhere around June 1940, the QMC settled upon a 75 inch wheelbase vehicle that weighed 1,200 pounds, right around the specifications for the Bantam Truck and Roadster models. Most of the impetus for this, is not given where credit should be.
Then, as a Senator from Missouri, Harry Truman had been lighting fires under the military for their "sweetheart" deals. The Truman Congressional Committee castigated the cost overruns, outrageous specifications, the prices that shot up for commonplace items, lack of buying on-the-shelf items built as well or better, as well as a decided deplorable lack of contractual oversight.
Harry Payne brought the 20-year long dithering about a light recon vehicle to Senator Truman's attention early in 1940. He also mentioned the "loan" (they never got the vehicles back) of the trucks and roadsters to the QMC two years earlier in 1938. Some inquiries were made from investigators from the Committee through letters. Spurred by the thoughts of what might emanate from a possible appearance before the Truman Committee, the QMC officers from the Field quickly arranged a trip to the Bantam plant, to see a small, light vehicle being assembled.
In another bit of salesmanship, Roy Evans arranged to "loan" out two more Roadsters. These were vehicles that the visiting Army Officers had seen assembled in the plant while on their tour. The 1940 Roadsters were then driven to the local Army National Guard unit, that was engaged in field maneuvers that very week. The two Roadsters, less some equipment removed by Bantam technicians, performed flawlessly. Evans had made it clear that no factory oversight or restrictions on any use of the vehicles would be imposed. Impressed, the Army contingent, not connected to the Headquarters group of naysayers, extended its stay at Butler. While no notes or minutes were recorded, clearly discussions were underway about what the light recon vehicle should look like. Absolutely, the Army did not know what it wanted!
Somewhere along the line, a pencil drawing was found on the desk of the Bantam President in June of 1940. An awful lot of speculation surrounds that crude child like drawing. However, it is clearly the BRC vehicle outline. While there is no definitive documentation, enough preponderance of discussions exists so that I would attribute that drawing to Harry Payne. He was a field man, despite his aviation background. He knew what would work for troops in the field given his keen eye on what the maintenance types would want. He was especially aware of what Bantam production facilities were capable of making, given the chance. Certainly, the drawing did not come from the Army.
The specifications for the light recon vehicle were finally released by the QMC on July 11, 1940, three weeks after the visit to the Bantam plant. They fell right in line with what Bantam had been touting all along, making the crude pencil drawing a portent of the future.
The blueprint drawings rendered by the Army for its recon vehicle specifications were largely based upon the submissions by Bantam. It was about 20% Army and 80% Bantam, almost directly taken from the Bantam Roadster blueprints that Bantam had submitted for comparison purposes only. At least, so they thought. Most of the items included in the Army specs were off the shelf stuff such as regular size black out capable headlights. The same for tail lights. There was a sort of allowance for an additional 4.5 inches in the wheelbase because the Army wanted 4 wheel drive. That necessitated a transfer case for a wheelbase of 80 inches. The engine had to deliver 85 foot pounds of torque. It had to carry a 660 pound payload, with total vehicle weight targeted to be 1,300 pounds.
1940 was the time that the troubles for Bantam began. The Headquarters contingent that rejected everything began circulating disinformation about the ability of Bantam to engineer and produce the recon vehicle. It was being widely cast about that Bantam was too small to produce the quantity of vehicles that the Army would require. It was also said they did not have the engineering staff or the production people to get the machines and tools to set up for a high capacity production line, particularly in the case of making transfer cases and axles, the latter being true for the Butler facility. Ford had more production capability to make these than it had a place to put them.
In reality, though, Bantam had two production facilities; the first was in Detroit, and it built bodies that were shipped to Butler for attachment to a chassis. Combined, the two factories were well able to have produced over 200,000 (keep this figure in mind!) complete vehicles a year. This was backed up by an independent auditing contract that analyzed the two plants. Bantam just never had the sales to use the full capability of their facilities.
The issue then became of the price that Bantam was paying to Ford to acquire the transfer cases and the axles for the 4 wheel drive system. Bantam was just about out of money, making acquisition of the tooling necessary to build its own transfer cases and axles out of its reach. They could get the tooling if they were awarded the contract. Yet, without the tooling, they stood not to get the contract, if their financial situation were to become public.
The rumors about engineering staffing should have died quickly. The Vice President of Bantam was none other than Harry Miller, of Indianapolis Racing fame. who built the Miller and Gulf Oil Specials. He won Indianapolis with front wheel drive and four wheel drive racing machines, largely with 4 cylinder engines of 122 cubic inches! By 1937, most of what we consider high technical stuff today, Miller had already built, raced, and perfected on his cars. Things like twin cams, hemispherical heads, tuned exhaust engines or high lift camshafts.
Miller rented a space at the Butler facility to assemble his Indy racers. He was visited by many in the profession, especially a guy named Offenhauser. The people around Harry Miller were the cream of the engineering profession. They had to be to survive in the atmosphere he created with his own abilities. One of them was Harold Christ, who had worked on the first Duesenberg. Then, he moved over to Stutz where he spent 18 years working on their race cars. He had come to Bantam as the General Factory Manager. Using off the shelf Bantam engine parts, he built a V-8 that was used in midget racing. Largely, he welded the two Bantam 4 cylinder blocks together, then fabricated the crankcase. He built the crankshaft by machining down a solid steel block. He was also credited with building a test transfer case by cutting apart two Chevrolet transmissions. He then changed the gears, realigned the shafts, drilled out the fittings, then welded the cases together after cutting the halves in half. It performed flawlessly. No doubt those two men, by themselves, could have figured out any potential engineering problems that might have arisen in manufacture of the light recon vehicle.
It did appear, however, that someone in the hierarchy of the QMC wanted the Ford Motor Company to get the bid. Of course, Ford was considerably larger than Bantam, but was not prepared to build a small wheelbase vehicle. Once Ford became aware of the potential size of the contract, Henry Ford used every bit of influence he could muster to try to rig the bid.
Then, on July 11, 1940, Army QMC specification for bid was released to 135 manufacturers! Bids had to be returned in 22 days. As well, it demanded that a pilot vehicle be available in 49 days. Further complicating things, it demanded that 70 prototype vehicles be available for evaluation in 75 days!
The European war had started in 1939, and threatened the entire world. Despite protestations against the US entering into a "foreign" war, President Roosevelt was a practical man. He well understood that sooner or later, America would have to come in. He had quietly ordered the military to take action in getting items they needed to go to war should it come. With the Truman Commission looking into everything that the military was doing, the rush was on. Looking over their shoulders at the mechanized might of the German "Blitzkrieg" powered by motorized equipment, the American military planners were scrambling around, beside themselves for their deplorable lack of planning.
The first BRC - Bantam Reconnaissance Vehicle
Only three companies submitted bids for the recon vehicle: American Bantam Car Company, Ford Motor Company, and Willys-Overland Motor Company. Of the three, only Bantam had made a commitment to provide a pilot vehicle within the 49 day time frame, along with providing 70 vehicles in 75 days. Willys was the low bidder, however, they could not provide a pilot vehicle. It was later decided that the $739 per unit cost bid by Willys was the better value, when compared to the $1166 bid submitted by Bantam. The Ford bid was over $1200 and that pretty much ended their further consideration, for a time. In fact, neither Ford or Willys had much of a clue on how to even proceed to begin to build the vehicle given the bid specifications. Thanks to some questionable moves from the QMC, that would change.
It should be noted at this point that Willys was not completely unrelated to Bantam. Even to this day, few people know that, in 1935, Evans had organized a syndicate to save Willys-Overland by purchasing 12,000 vehicles from Willys, which literally saved the company but gave controlling interest to Evans. Evans was one of the largest Willys dealers even as he ran Bantam. In 1938, former Chrysler salesman and executive (credited with naming Plymouth in 1928) Joseph Frazer became president of Willys, and ordered improvements to the twelve-year-old 4 cylinder Whippet engine. That would be important to Bantam’s entry.
The Bantam company hand built the first pilot car. It was powered by a 20 horsepower built engine and a three-speed synchronized manual transmission, operated from the column. The vehicle, code named the "Blitz Buggy" by Bantam, was completed one day before the deadline. Nicknamed "Old Number One," it had to be delivered to Camp Holabird in Maryland (450 miles away) to meet the bid, but no one had thought about how it was to get there. Frantic calls to local trucking companies were not successful. Without much hesitation, showing full faith in the BRC (Bantam Reconnaissance Car), two volunteer technicians put together a picnic basket full of food and drinks, then set out for Fort Holabird. Driving straight through using gasoline-company provided maps in the days before reliable roads, with stops only for gasoline, they beat the delivery time by ½ an hour. Along the way, the car generated an extraordinary amount of interest, since nothing like it had ever been seen before.
On hand at Camp Holabird were Ford and Willys representatives. One of the first things that the Army did was to hand over all the technical drawings, representing the patented construction of the Bantam Reconnaissance Car, to Willys and Ford! When questioned about giving out the vehicle plans, the Army claimed that it was theirs to do with what they wanted. Bantam should have initiated law suits in all directions, but Roy Evans felt that, if he had rocked the boat, the QMC would kill the Bantam bid completely.
As a further insult, whenever the BRC was in the garage, Ford and Willys people were allowed to examine it and take photographs of it. As a result, by the end of November 1940, both Willys (The "QUAD") and Ford (The "PYGMY") had prototype vehicles at Camp Holabird for evaluation. Two of these were good vehicles. One was not.
The Willys-Overland Quad’s vehicle outline almost perfectly matched the Bantam pencil drawing.
Despite the rave reviews that you might hear now, that is history rewritten. The Willys Quad was literally junk. Evaluation sheets from the trial period of November 1940 to the end of December 1940 were very critical. The "Go-Devil" Willys engine was the highest rated at 60 horsepower, turning 105 ft lbs of torque, nearly doubled the Bantam and the tractor engined Ford. Unfortunately, the Willys went through three engines in less than 8,000 miles! Allegedly, someone over in Willys quality had not been paying attention. Almost all the other components went out like the transmission, the transfer case, the windshield braces, the radiator along with its mounts, wheel bearings, lug bolts, battery, generator, and others.
The Ford and the Willys were way overweight, as well. Only the Bantam was in the proper weight range.
The Army Calvary was enthusiastic and eager to get all that they could get. Colonel George S. Patton was bringing a lot of pressure to bear about getting as many of the light vehicles as he could get his hands on. He had excellent connections in Washington D. C. through his society wife. They put a lot of pressure on the QMC, and most of the country club set of officers were reassigned. However, the pace was still agonizingly slow with requisitions for funding crawling through Congress. Even with the Democrats in the majority, Congress was torpedoing President Roosevelt's ministrations. He had tried to push through major legislation in 1939 concerning "packing" the Supreme Court, adding 5 more justices without consultations with the party leaders, causing some hostility.
With evaluations all but completed by the end of December 1940, the lobbying efforts began in earnest in early January 1941 in Washington D. C. It well appeared that despite its low $739 bid, Willys Quad was to be written off due to quality concerns. In the meantime, the QMC bid requirement for weight had been increased at least twice, and maybe three times, to allow Ford to finally be able to build the LRV (Light Reconnaissance Vehicle). Henry Ford had powerful political connections, despite the fact that his Belgium Ford plant was building trucks for the German Nazi Regime, and he had made several utterances that provoked anti-Semitic accusations. [Editor’s note: Adolph Hitler credited his philosophy to Henry Ford in Mein Kampf, and Ford was the only American to receive the highest Nazi honors.]
The original weight restriction had gone from 1,275 pounds to 1500 pounds, then increased to just over 2,000 pounds! The Calvary looked upon this as being "tubby" and voiced disapproval. Only Bantam, which had built another model, the BRC60, in December 1940, had maintained the weight requirement. The BRC60 had many improvements, all which had been recommended by the Army. It clung to the 1,500 pound specification that the QMC had allowed for the additional suggested equipment.
Still, Roy Evans must have felt fairly secure. He controlled two of the bidders, Bantam and Willys. Willys was in far better shape, not only financially, it also lead with tooling and production capability. Its Toledo plant was huge. Ford remained the unknown.
Willys expended a great effort, and rebuilt its Quad into the MA model. Although rumors were rampant, it was likely hushed up, to put a good face to the public, that the original Willys Quad had been a target of sabotage. It did seem very odd that the Go-Devil engine, which in the same form, had been around since 1926, would have suffered so greatly in an improved form!
One thing that had to be accomplished was to get the Willys MA down to the specification weight. The Quad had weighed in at around 2400 pounds! When the MA was presented, it had lost 240 pounds when compared to the Quad. The QMC could not disqualify it on weight, because they had accepted the Ford Pygmy and it weighed 2125 pounds. The finalized weight was set at 2,160 pounds. All three contractors qualified.
In March 1941, it was decided that all three competitors would be awarded contracts to build 1,500 vehicles each. This was about three weeks after Willys had held a press conference on the steps of the US Capital Building on February 20, 1941. One of the Willys vehicles was used to nimbly drive up the steps to the veranda in front of the building. It also drove down the steps. After riding some Senators, Congressmen, and reporters up and down, the conference ended. One of the reporters then asked the Willys representative what the vehicle was called, and he responded: "We call it a JEEP." The story appeared the next day in the Washington newspapers.
At this point, I am not going to try to join in the controversy of where or how the Jeep name was attached to the Light Reconnaissance Vehicle. I am including this link because "Jeep" was a name that had been around for quite awhile.
After all three companies got their production lines up and running, things around the world had definitely taken turns for the worse with war raging all over Europe. The Army wanted to insure that it had a reliable source for Jeeps. It also wanted to standardize the parts, and assembly methods.
In July, the Army issued an RFP for 16,000 vehicles. Maintaining three different sets of parts along with three different assembly points was not practical. Willys won the bid, coming in at its already set price of $739 per unit. That amounted to nearly $12 million in new assembly alone, and did not account for the maintenance or replacement parts.
Over at Bantam, since they had lost the contract, the production line slowed down. The passage of the Lend-Lease Act in May 1941 gave some impetus to the Bantams, with most of what they produced sent to Great Britain and Russia.
Bantam hopes were raised again when the Army indicated in October 1941 that it needed a second source of assembly because Willys couldn't keep up with the huge demand. They need not have bothered. Ford easily won that bid in early November 1941 for 15,000 more Jeeps. Ford agreed to build them strictly to Willys factory specifications. They had lobbied heavily over the summer to be allowed to get a slice of the Jeep pie. They stated that they could build Jeeps to standards, making exact copies of the Willys. In a bit of one upmanship, Ford had to agree to use the Go-Devil engines that were built and supplied by Willys. Since Ford was supplying the transfer cases and axles to Bantam, it set the bid in the mind of the Army. Ford got $890 for their unit, a $14 million deal.
Ford also gets credit for the 7 slotted stamped steel grill that became the standard for the Jeep. Willys had been building a welded, flat iron, slat radiator grill. Credit Ford for being able to develop methods to build things cheaper. The stamped metal sheet steel grill was more effective, far less costly, solved the headlight mounting design, and gave the front a distinctive look. Willys quickly adopted it early in 1942.
Bantam production of the BRC60 (MA) Jeep wound slowly down. Roy Evans was disappointed. Over $30 million had been given since the first BRC had been submitted for bid, and Bantam got a very small part. Evans set Harry Payne on a military contract hunt, as he was convinced that President Roosevelt wasn't being forthcoming to the American public. War clouds in Europe would sooner or later mean war for the United States.
War did come. On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the Untied States in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On December 8, President Roosevelt asked for a Congressional Declaration of War against Japan. The money for war issues began immediately to flow to various industries.
Bantam Motor Car Company got enough contracts to keep working during the duration of World War II. However, they built their last Jeep at the end of December 1941 after making 2,675 of them. They would never build another.
No one had really taken notice, but, the Bantam car production line had ground to a halt in the summer of 1941. There was no more money left nor sales to sustain car production. The Detroit production facility shut down with arrangements to sell or move the equipment out if it very quietly. Bantam made a nice profit from the facility when it was acquired by the War Requisitions Board in February 1942. By then, all civilian car manufacturers had been ordered to cease making cars, and turn their factories over to war material production. I don't think anyone even bothered to ask Bantam if they were making cars there or not. No one noticed.
Bantam was given the task of designing and building a trailer suitable for towing assignments for the Jeep. It was to be able to handle 500 pounds, and be as rugged and reliable as the Jeep. Bantam built 73,689 of them by the end of the war. They were also given contracts for carburetors for Australia, and a big engine that powered landing craft.
Roy Evans departed Bantam at war's end, and involved himself in Willys. Later in the 1950s he had become the largest Willys dealer, mainly, selling the civilian version of the Jeep, the CJ.
Bantam remained in business after wars end, building and selling trailers for the military and civilian markets. They were acquired by Armco Steel Company in 1956, and the name was changed, relegating Bantam to the annals of history.
Willys, looking to the end of the war hostilities, started advertising in popular magazines, mostly showing the accomplishments made by the enduring Jeep vehicle. As a result of the positive response Willys received from those ads, the company tried to make Jeep its own trademark. The FTC intervened because Willys had not invented the name; but by the war's end, could have hardly enforced such an order.
Jeep was a worldwide phenomenon, including even the Soviet Union. It had so ingrained itself into association with the Willys name that no one could have really won any such lawsuit after the end of the war. Willys began using Jeep as its own name and no one opposed it — and contrary to popular belief, they were not opposed by Bantam.
Willys had built 363,480 Jeeps by war’s end; Ford had built 280,150 more. All were powered by the same 2.2 litre, 134 cubic inch in line 4 cylinder flat head engine that Willys-Overland had developed for the Whippet in 1926.
The engine was over square with a 3.125 inch bore, and a 4.375 inch stroke. It had a compression ratio of 6:48 to 1. The engine block and cylinder head were cast iron. It used full pressure lubrication, and a pump circulated cooling system. Through its single barrel carb it developed 60 horsepower at 4,000 rpm, and 105 ft. lbs. of torque at 2,000 rpm. The engine stayed in production until 1950, when it was replaced by the Hurricane Four, which could produce 70 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque.
Willys tried to get back into the car business in 1951. They were decently built cars, just not popular. In 1953, Kaiser Motors bought Willys Overland for 63.5 million, renaming it Willys Motors. Kaiser then moved its car production line to the Willys Toledo Ohio facility, vacating the former huge B-24 Bomber plant built for Ford Motor Company at Willow Run which been leased by Kaiser in 1946. The General Motors Hydra-Matic plant was destroyed by an accidental fire; the plant made all Hydra-Matic transmissions not only for GM, but also for Hudson and Nash, making it absolutely vital. Kaiser sold the huge Willow Run plant to General Motors, which gladly bought it, making Kaiser's move to Toledo very profitable, and making it possible for GM to resume production a stunning nine weeks after their transmission factory was destroyed.
By the end of 1954, it was obvious that the Willys automobiles and the Kaiser automobiles were not making anywhere near the profit that they needed to have. Kaiser decided that all auto production would end at the close of the 1955 model year. Kaiser continued on in 1956 with Jeep and Jeep utility vehicles (including trucks and vans), also establishing a lucrative export business, with worldwide licensing and sales. The company became profitable overall, despite relatively small production numbers. In 1963, the company voted to change its name to the Kaiser-Jeep Corporation, relegating the Willys name to history. (Details: 1959-61 | 1965)
Kaiser sold its auto business to American Motors Corporation in 1970; AMC made the Jeep brand an autonomous unit. The costs associated with compliance with the exhaust emissions regulations, bumper regulations, and other mandated design interventions sent AMC profits spiraling downwards. Like Chrysler, it had little money left to develop new models, or refresh the older ones.
By 1979, AMC was desperate. Renault was invited in, and bought a chunk AMC for $135 million with additional interests purchased in 1983. By 1985, however, Renault was experiencing issues of its own. The United States government did not appreciate their decision to open a full Jeep factory in Russia and to extend interests into China; the AM General Division of AMC, which was building military vehicles, started experiencing a lot of kickbacks on "quality" issues from the military. Profits nosedived.
In 1985, Chrysler Corporation, newly flush with cash, made overtures. Lee Iacocca had stated in an interview that he wanted Jeep, not really caring about the rest of AMC. That information became public, causing a uproar, but Iacocca deflected the issue, turning it into a "feel-good" thing about the role of the Jeep in World War II. Finally, in 1987, Chrysler Corporation bought AMC for $1.1 billion. Not long afterwards, Chrysler’s car profits dried up due partly to lack of investment, and Chrysler survived almost entirely on Jeep and minivan profits (the Grand Cherokee was an immediate hit). AMC methods and engineers were integrated into Chrysler engineering, helping to automaker’s 1992 comeback, and making 1993-1997 some of Chrysler’s strongest years.