|KIT:||Hasegawa 1/48 Willys 'jeep'|
|PRICE:||1500 yen at www.hlj.com.|
After the end of the war, General Dwight Eisenhower said that “...the equipment most vital to our success... were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2 1/2 ton truck, and the C-47 airplane. Curiously enough, none of these is designed for combat." That these particular designs were so basic to ultimate victory merely proves that Napoleon was right when he stated that “an Army travels on its stomach.” Supplies and ease of transportation are everything when it comes to war.
The lowly “Jeep” might just be the most famous American vehicle from that war. It is certainly one of the few products ever made by anyone that is universally-identifiable around the world by a single name.
Just for the record, despite 60-plus years of incorrect history to the contrary, the name “Jeep” is NOT a contraction of the letters GP, which according to the mythology stand for “General Purpose.” “GP” was a term used by Ford to in their production system to differentiate between vehicles built for the Government or for civilian use, with codes such as “A” for passenger car, “B” for Bus, “C” for commercial vehicle/truck, etc. In this system, “G” stands for “Government” and “P” stands for “80-inch wheelbase” which is the size of the Jeep. Further, “W” stands for “Willys,” so that the standard Ford-built Jeep was a GPW, since it was license-built from the Willys MB jeep. A further bit of interesting history is that the stamped grill of the Jeep was designed by Ford, not Willys, despite Willys winning a trademark dispute over this in 1943.
Even more important, neither Ford nor Willys designed the Jeep.
Ever since the end of the First World War, the Army had seen the need for a lightweight general reconnaissance vehicle, that could “go anywhere.” This need was finalized in a specification developed in 1940 that called for the following: front axle drive with a 2-speed transfer case that included the ability to disengage the front axle drive; a rectangular body with folding windshield and three bucket seats; capability of towing; a 30-caliber machine gun mount; blackout lighting; oil-bath air cleaner; hydraulic brakes; full floating axles; 80" wheelbase; maximum height of 40 inches; maximum weight 1,275 pounds; approach and departure angles of 45 and 40 degrees, respectively; top speed of 50 m.p.h. on a hard surface; special bracing for a pintle hook setup; no aluminum for cylinder head; engine at least 4 cylinders.
The Request for Proposals was sent to 135(!) U.S. automobile manufacturers, for an order to produce 70 vehicles. The only successful respondent was the American Bantam Car Company, a company that had already seen the need for such a vehicle and had lent three of their Austin-based Roadsters to the National Guard for evaluation, and had campaigned with the Army to get the RFP created.
The Bantam team, led by designer Karl K. Probst, delivered their prototype on September 23 1940. Although the GPV (General Purpose Vehicle) was 730 pounds overweight, it was judged acceptable. Originally, Willys-Overland and Ford had not been particularly interested in the project, though they were the only other companies to submit proposals. On November 11, 1940, Willys-Overland submitted crude sketches of their vehicle and underbid Bantam for the contract, though they couldn’t meet the 75 day delivery period. Ford delivered two prototypes of what it called the “Pygmy” on November 23, 1940. After adding penalties for these failures by Willys, the Bantam proposal was lower and the company received an order to produce 70 Model 60s, or BRC Mk. II.
Tests of the three vehicles revealed that the Bantam was too high off the ground and under-powered, while the Willys Quad had a more powerful engine but was too heavy, with the Ford Pygmy having the best steering though it too was underpowered. Because Bantam did not have the production capacity for a large-scale contract, the government provided both Willys-Overland and Ford free access to Bantam’s prototype and blueprints, which explains the similarities of all. The three companies modified their initial designs in light of the tests; they were then known as the Bantam 40 BRC, the Willys MA and the Ford GP.
The War Department decided in July, 1941, to adopt a single model. All three vehicles now met the performance requirements, but Willys was declared the winner because its design represented the best overall value for money at $739 each, compared with $1,166 for a Bantam. Further redesign was demanded to include blackout lights, sealed beam headlights, pioneer tools (axe and shovel), a double bow canvas tilt top, a trailer socket, a center dash handbrake control and radio suppression. This final model was designated MB by Willys. Production contracts went to both Willys and Ford, where it was named GPW - the W was added to refer to the Willys license and motor the Ford Jeep used.
While all this was going on, the American Bantam Company had produced 1,000 BRCs, which were provided to the British and the Russians under Lend-Lease in the spring of 1941. According to Willys-Overland’s company history, the Jeep was “born” on March 25, 1941, which is the day the design of the MB was started. On that date, Bantam began producing its second run of 1,000 BRCs, and the first production GAZ Razvedchik-1, or R-1, (Russian for “scout/recon” car) rolled off the assembly line in the Soviet Union. Russian engineer Vitaly Grachev and his team had produced the vehicle in 50 days, despite not having blueprints and working only from newspaper photographs of the Bantam prototype. The R1 looks very much like the Bantam prototype, and the GAZ-64 was produced in numbers that eventually approached those of US production of the Willys MB, which did not enter production until that fall of 1941, after the GAZ R1 had already entered combat. Interestingly, the Russian Purchasing Commission, who had observed all the trials, wanted the Bantam by choice over the Willys product.
Bantam produced 2,675 40-BRC vehicles, 62 of which had four-wheel steering as requested by the U.S. Cavalry. Sadly, Bantam never produced another vehicle. Having been the first to suggest and build a “jeep,” Bantam was forced to share Probst’s plans with their competitors, and then were frozen out of securing any work on the universal jeep. The company spent the rest of the war building trailers, aircraft parts, and torpedo motors. Using the developed Bantam design, Willys-Overland went on to produce approximately 360,000 Jeeps by 1945. “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” indeed.
The first thing one notices with this kit is that Hasegawa has definitely paid a licensing fee to Daimler/Chrysler, who own the patents for the Willys MB, for the privilege of making the kit. Everywhere one looks on the boxart and the instruction sheet, the words “Willys” and “Jeep” have the “registered trademark” sign. It was rumored that Tamiya had decided not to do a jeep kit because of the cost of licensing fees; obviously Hasegawa thought it worthwhile.
The kit is advertised as a “Follow-Me” Jeep, since Hasegawa is obviously aiming the kit at those who buy their aircraft kits, for use in dioramas and such. While the kit includes a large radio, “Follow Me” signs, and provides decals for a very wildly-painted red-and-white checkerboard Jeep, the kit can also be made as a completely “stock” Willys Jeep MB, for those who would like to use the ubiquitous jeep in other settings.
The kit is quite simple in design, coming on three sprues of olive-drab plastic, and includes a complete engine that can be displayed with the hood up. A figure is also provided for the driver.
A very nice kit of a very important vehicle. The Hasegawa jeep in almost any form a modeler wants to finish it in will be a valuable addition to any sort of diorama one wishes to produce.
Thanks to HobbyLink Japan for the review kit. Get yours at “Japanese prices” at www.hlj.com
Editor's note: Nice to have a well done Jeep in 1/48. Now you can stop paying collector's prices to get the Bandai or Frog boxing in this scale. This kit retails for around $23 in US stores and can often be found for much less.
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