SUV: A brief outlook of its History and Development

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The growing popularity of SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) nowadays is simply because of an unprecedented combination of size, comfort, and versatility it offers to its consumer. One in every four new vehicles sold in America today is an SUV. Besides being the most popular vehicles on the road, SUVs are also very profitable. Some manufacturers in America make up to $17,000 in profits on every SUV that rolls off the assembly line. The Sport Utility Vehicles are the greatest success stories these days and are being credited with saving of auto industry around the world. All the latest SUVs, which we see currently roving about so majestically on roads, were originally descended from the oldest version of military vehicles, the Jeep and Land Rover. In order to trace the origin of SUVs, therefore, we must first look into the history of the Jeep Company itself.

History of SUVs:

There are many stories about the origin of the name ‘Jeep’, and no one really knows for sure where it came from. But the most authentic source, which most people believe is that it evolved from the Ford ‘GP’ designation, i.e. ‘General Purpose’ or “G” for Government and “P” for the class of vehicle (80” wheelbase 4×4 ¼ ton truck). The acronym ‘GP’ so frequently used by the then workers thus gradually came to be pronounced as “ Jeep”.

Although many years have passed, many people still recognize the
old WW2 Jeep belonging to Willys Overland; not knowing little that thereality is quite different. The WW2 Jeep was in fact the product of the American Bantam Car Company, and a creation of a genius engineer Karl K. Probst. The story goes like this:

The American Austin Car Company, which was originally founded by Austin of England in the United States in 1930, almost got bankrupt in 1934, and was then re-launched by its Chairman, Roy Evans as the American Bantam Car Company. It was in 1938 that Bantam discovered the potential of a light vehicle for military use and ever since then continued to press the case for such a vehicle in higher military echelons. Bantam also lent the National Guards three of its Austin based Roadsters to evaluate.

The US Army, which was already perturbed by the mobility and ease with which the German Army had taken France in World War-1 (1914- 1918), and the intelligence reports that the Germans were about to convert Volkswagen for military use, at last showed interest in Bantam’s proposal. They were basically interested in such a lightweight, fast and nimble reconnaissance vehicle, which could replace motorcycle and Ford Model-T, and which could also off-road on all kinds of jeep trails i.e. hilly, bumpy or desert
terrain. The proposed vehicle was meant to perform multi-functions i.e. mount heavy guns or mortars; install signal and radar sets; carry supplies and ‘recee’ personnel. So a series of meeting between Charles Payne of Bantam and the Army Chief on Infantry of the Quartermaster Corps was held in February 1940.

In order to give fair opportunity to other manufactures to tender as well, an invitation to submit bids was sent to 135 U.S. automobile manufacturers to produce 70 vehicles. The instructions were to deliver a prototype within 49 days and the rest within 75 days. All companies including the traditional truck manufacturers like Dodge or GMC backed out and showed no interest most probably because of rather unrealistic weight limit. The only companies, which responded and submitted their respective prototypes for valuation, were Bantam, Willy-Overland and Ford. The tenders were  examined on July 22, 1940. Although Bantam’s prototype, which
was built by freelance engineer and project head Karl Probst’s, was a little over the weight limit, came closest to matching the specifications in most respects. Having tested Bantam’s model to destruction and being satisfied by its performance, the US Army ordered 70 more to be built. Willy’s-Overland and Ford soon followed with their own prototypes as Willys Quad and the Ford
Pigmy. The trials continued till winter 1940 and by then he Military had identified strength and weakness in case of each vehicle. The Bantam’s GPV was considered underpowered and too high off the ground. The Willys Quad, despite having a more powerful engine was found to be too heavy. The Ford Pigmy had insufficient power in its tractor engine although it had the best steering. There was also concern about the production capacity of these companies falling short of the bulk order of 1500 vehicles each. It was in July 1941 when military gave its final decision in favor of Willys. Willys eventually won the contract because of their Quad’s 60 hp ‘Go-Devil’ engine, but Ford was also given a contract in order to help keep up with military’s emergent needs during the war which was imminent and knocking at the door. The most popular jeeps in those days were the Willys MA and the MB, while Ford renamed their GP jeeps as the GPW (the letter ‘W’was added to refer to Willys motor). Meanwhile, about 1000 Bantam 40 BRCs were built for the Russian Army. Many people believe and very rightly so, that it was Willys-Overland and Ford Motor Company’s modified version of Bantam 40BRC, which had brought victory to the Allies in World War 11(1939-1945).

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