The M422 Mighty Mite sounds like something from a comic strip but that couldn’t be further from the truth, it’s a 4×4 tactical vehicle designed for the United States Marine Corps and produced between 1959- 1962.
The tiny 4×4 vehicle, hence the name “Mite” Weighing in at just 771g, 61 inches in width, 107 inches long and 59 inches tall it’s the brainchild of American Motors using four of the original engineers from Bantam, the Jeep innovators.
It started in 1946 with a prototype named MARCO MM-100 designed by Mid-American Research Corporation to keep up with military advancements.
After the Second World War the United States needed a lightweight vehicle suitable for airlifting into the field of action, unfortunately the MARCO had a Porsche air-cooled engine which the US Army felt un-viable having just been at war with Italy and an exhaust system that used the truck frame as an exhaust pipe, this caused premature internal rotting from the build up of gases.
In 1953 Willys offered their solution the Bobcat or ‘Aero Jeep’ adapting the M38 that had just finished manufacturing in 1952 after 3 years and 60k units of production for the military. The Bobcat was rejected as too ‘old hat’ and nothing new, Willys cost cutting actions of using the M38 parts went against them.
The M422 ‘Mighty Mite’ was an innovator of its day using aluminium for the body, a V4 engine and new drive train, it is still the lightest military vehicle to date.
It was the first jeep type vehicle to be fitted with independent leaf spring suspension, front and rear limited-slip differentials, centre-point steering and inboard differential mounted drum brakes.
The American Motors Co excelled with their ‘AMC AV-108-4” air cooled engine design producing 52 bhp, 90lb of torque and a top speed of 65 mph. The transfer case only engages/ disengages the front wheel drive and part of the transmission; the full synchronisation meant it could be shifted from 2-wheel to 4-wheel drive on the fly.
Kitted out as a two-seater it could carry 6 by the ingenious addition of two fold up seats in the tailgate and two foldup backrest in the rear wheel arches, it was rated to carry 390 kg off road.
Although the Mighty Mite came with deep-water wading equipment the United States Marine Corps preferred to use a flotation kit consisting of four large tubes inflated from the exhaust and fitted to the bottom of the truck enabling it to swim across water and keep the Marines dry.
By 1958 the prototypes passed their initial tests and 250 were built for trials in the field, their success meant by 1960 ‘mass’ production could begin with just over 1k M422 Mighty Mites provided to the Marines for use in Vietnam.
As ever things evolve and a longer 71inch wheelbase was fashioned with this addition of 6 inches in length came 36kg of weight making it the M422A1.
This meant they could experiment with the addition of a tool box behind the seats named the M422E1, it proved unsuccessful hence only a few were made. Once the M422A1 went into production adjustments were made so the spare tyre could be fitted to the rear but it made the tailgate useless, the windscreen was made sturdier and top bow rails (roof sticks) were added to allow the use of a canvas roof.
American Motors (AMC) produced just under 4,000 Mighty Mites in total but at a cost of $5000 per unit and the advancement in Helicopter technology enabling heavier lifting, manufacturing was short lived. It was never produced for the civilian market but the Military did sell them as surplus stock so keep your eyes peeled you might just see one.