Review by Army Motors
WARBABY is several books under one cover. Best of all it is an exciting narrative with compelling characters in a variety of rapid-fire dramatic situations. It chronicles as much of the factual history of the original jeep development as is known, but it also considers the historical significance of the events when the military industrial complex was just getting its foothold. This volume should be required reading for those interested in industrial design, showing as it does how promotion is as important as engineering.
For modern restorers, there are substantial color sections showing contemporary restorations, recreations and ephemera. The book is a ready reference for names, dates, numbers and locations.
The Bantam story here falls unofficially into two parts. The first reads like a feature movie script; based on a scenario where the ‘Little guy’ overcomes huge odds to win the prize. It is a story of creativity, bravura, long odds and unlikely characters that just met deadlines. It ends with the unexpected delivery of a tactics-changing machine of world-shaking significance.
Bantam was not so much a car company as it was a band of men coming together, each with a special skill, to ‘Get it done.’ As a result, it took only three months to go from ground zero to the delivery of the first jeep!
After its introduction, it took the government close to a year to make a real purchase! The story about that is interesting for its drama and intrigue.
The appearance of the Bantam pilot vehicle caused an immediate scramble that involved numerous hugely complicated, varied and shadowy interests – public, private and individual – all contending to grab the prize the Bantam crew had created.
The big rearmament money made available at this time went to a handful of huge companies and their subsidiaries, while small concerns like Bantam were liquidated or absorbed, a fact not often pointed to in histories describing the Arsenal of Democracy. Even the most avid jeep aficionados will find a wealth of interesting new details here.
The bibliography relies chiefly on original, contemporary sources rather than selected material from more recent accounts, and the actual words of the people involved are copiously quoted.
Without spoiling the story, we learn that Karl Probst was not the Father of the Jeep and find that Roy Evans had little to do with it either. Bantam, it is suggested, was too small because it was kept small by the QMC (Quartermaster Corps) and possibly because of a petty personal vendetta.
The author concludes that the jeep was created in spite of, not because of the QMC. The early and crucial intervention of the Chief of Staff and the Secretary of War is explained and shows that the jeep was always going to be a Bantam, beginning if not with the Austin 7, certainly with the ‘33 American Austin open pick-up. The implication is also that the jeep owes as much of its DNA to midget dirt-track racing as to military vehicles.
No official tally sheet is provided, but a careful reader will find it suggested that in contributions to the promotion and creation of the original WWII jeep, it was the Bantam staff that did the heavy lifting.
Spear’s long awaited Bantam history; WARBABY, has been worth the wait! It either clears the air, or opens the debate on all of the vagaries, uncertainties and loose ends we have about where and how it all began.
It is well organized, beautifully printed and professionally laid out; making it easy to sort, pick, and choose the level of detail desired. Technical interludes are covered in numerous epilogues and appendices, so as not to spoil the flow of the narrative, which is thoughtful and lightly sprinkled with dry asides. WARBABY will certainly be around for a long time.
Availability of the limited original volumes is understood to be dependent on printing and international shipping variables and may or may not be shipping at the time of this review. If not, a copy can be reserved in advance.
–Army Motors staff
Review by ewillys.com
Today I received Bill Spear’s new book, WARBABY: The True Story of the Original Jeep. In it Bill explores the history of the first jeep, the Bantam BRC in detail. The book looks beautiful, full of text and photographs. I can’t wait to dive into it; and at 400 pages, there’s plenty to explore!
The first edition printing will be limited to 1,000 copies. The price is $60, but to me, having leafed through it today, this effort appears well worth the cost.
Review by Fredrick Coldwell from g503.com
Now that I have finally finished reading this book, here are my thoughts. I love this book! At nearly 400 beautiful pages, WARBABY: The True Story of the Original Jeep by William Spear is a highly significant new book that thoroughly explores the origin of the very first ¼ ton 4×4 vehicle, the Bantam Reconnaissance Car. It is a thick and delicious banquet of early jeep facts and images that is a treat to consume. The book itself is striking, from its thick embossed hard bound cover to the clear text and sharp images reproduced on its pages. Handling it is a sensual pleasure; reading it feeds the brain.
The creation of the very first jeep is a human story. The author introduces us to a whole cast of characters through brief biographies and photographs. Their contributions or roadblocks, and their opinions and recollections, are set forth in their own words and thoughts as gleaned from biographies, correspondence, memoirs and testimony given in government proceedings. Each character comes alive as their likely emotions and motivations are fleshed out based on the written word and some informed speculation.
The book is very fact based, and the author goes out of his way to distinguish fact from speculation. The facts are laid out chronologically as the story unfolds and the BRC develops. In a calm and detailed chronological analysis, the author makes the case that two men were primarily responsible for the creation and design of the BRC. They are Bantam’s independent sales representative, Harry Payne, whose persistence solidified an amorphous desire for a new light weight vehicle within segments of the U.S. Army; and Bantam’s modest factory manager, Harold Crist, whose track-honed midget car racing knowledge guided the design and construction of the first BRC, as well as subsequent production.
Milestones are often depicted by photographs of material events, or ideas through sketches and engineering drawings. Primary reference source materials are the transcripts of various government proceedings conducted during and after WW II, which capture the facts and recollections of many participants while still fresh in their minds. Numerous direct quotations of theirs taken from these proceeding’s transcripts inform our opinions of them because we hear the participants speak in their own words.
Though long and dense with facts and images, WARBABY is written in many small chapters and verses so can be picked up and read in snippets at one’s leisure. It contains many delightful photos of different Bantam jeeps being tested and evaluated at camps and forts all over the U.S.A., which when viewed transport us back to that time.
The research and scholarship that went into this book is absolutely first rate. The presentation is more than fair to other views. The main thesis is understated, making it all the more convincing. The author’s imputation and speculation is clearly identified and distinguished from uncontested facts. Earlier accounts of the Bantam story are analyzed and gently found inaccurate or misleading, while the author flags a few areas deserving of further research to answer some open questions.
This book is fantastic reading for anyone interested in learning about the true origin of the very first Bantam ¼ ton 4×4 car that became known as the jeep. The story is as compelling as it is fresh and informative. Owning this book is the second best thing to owning an actual Bantam BRC. Bill, thanks so very much from all us dreamers!