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Mighty Mite: Big 4WD capabilities in a small package

For anyone who is familiar with small WWII-era Jeeps, it may come as a surprise that shortly after the end of the war, the U.S. military saw the need for yet a smaller, lighter jeep. Their envisioned vehicle needed to be dependable, maneuverable and easily transported by helicopters of that time, which had a limited payload.

The Vietnam War era M422 vehicle, better known as the AMC Mighty Mite.
The Vietnam War era M422 vehicle, better known as the AMC Mighty Mite.
Wikimedia Commons

To respond to the military’s need, an engineer/entrepreneur by the name of Benjamin Gregory formed the Mid-American Research Corporation (MARC). Using a team of former Bantam engineers who designed the original Jeep, they developed a lightweight, short 65 inch wheel based 4WD prototype. Using aluminum extensively in the body and drive train, they were able to keep the weight of their prototype 4WD to a mire 1700 lbs. There was just one critical flaw in MARC's design: it used a Porsche air-cooled engine. For security reasons, the military could not rely on a foreign sourced engine, especially from a country that the U.S. had recently been at war with. To correct this problem and continue the prototype’s development, in 1954 MARC partnered with the newly formed American Motors Corporation. Turns out one of the products AMC inherited with its Nash/Hudson merger was an aluminum air-cooled V-4 engine that Hudson had been developing in conjunction with Wisconsin Engines. After the military did extensive testing on MARC's prototype with the American made V-4, they gave it a thumbs up for production by AMC, naming the vehicle the M422 or “Mighty Mite.”

The Mighty Mite had many advanced, innovative features for its time. In addition to the aluminum body and components and air cooled engine, it also featured inboard drum brakes with front and rear independent suspension. It used a four speed transmission with “granny “ low, an "on-the-fly" transfer case to engage the front axle, and front and rear limited slip differentials. With this set up the little Mighty Might was a very capable on and off-road vehicle, able to reach remote areas that full-sized Jeeps and other 4WD could never go. Air intake and engine exhaust were placed high to allow deep-water fording through streams. For deeper water, a custom made raft could be affixed to the frame of the Mighty Mite, inflated with engine exhaust, to float the Mighty Mite across a river!

The Mighty Mite was used exclusively by the U.S. Marine Corp in Vietnam. Unfortunately the Mighty Mite was only in production from 1960 until 1963. When the new Vietnam era Huey helicopter was introduced, it could easily carry a traditional military jeep, thus making the tiny Mighty Mite unneeded. Both the military and AMC felt there was no civilian market for the Mighty Mite, so molds and dies were destroyed. A big obstacle for producing a civilian Mighty Mite was its price of over $5000. Most parts and components were unique to the Mighty Mite, with few interchangeable parts with more common mass produced vehicles.

Without a current military mission, it was decided to sell off all Mighty Mites as military surplus. Surviving Mighty Mites today are in the hands of military vehicle and 4WD collectors, with one occasionally showing up on eBay, Craig's List or military vehicle classified sites.

View the attached slide show of historical and current pictures of Mighty Mites. Enjoy the historical video demonstrating the Mighty Mite's capability.

This week’s Trivia Question: What similar 4WD military vehicle is sometimes confused with the Mighty Mite M422?

Answer to last article’s Trivia Question: Jay Leno owns a 1938 Tatra Model 87.

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