The original Willys Jeep wasn’t just the forebear to a long line of Wranglers: it also inspired other off-road SUVs. Some, like the Toyota Land Cruiser and Nissan Patrol, used that inspiration to start their own fanbases. Others, like Mitsubishi’s licensed CJ3, were basically Jeep clones—too much so, in the Mahindra Roxor’s case. But there’s another off-road SUV based on the Willys Jeep’s rugged design you may not have heard of: the AMC Mighty Mite.
AMC Mighty Mite specs and features
The ‘Mite’ part of the AMC Mighty Mite’s name is fairly on-the-nose. The original American Motor Company’s Mighty Mite A422 had a 65” wheelbase. That’s shorter than the original Mini Cooper’s. It’s even shorter than the classic Fiat 500. Admittedly, though, The Drive reports there was a later version, the M422A1, with a ‘stretched’ 71” wheelbase.
The AMC Mighty Mite’s size isn’t the only unusual thing about it. The original prototype used an air-cooled flat-four from Porsche, Silodrome reports. The ‘production’ version, though, used a 1.8-liter air-cooled V4, making 55 hp and 92 lb-ft, linked to a 4-speed manual. The top speed is only about 65 mph.
However, with a 1700-lb curb weight, the Mighty Mite is light. It was designed to be air-dropped from helicopters and even parachutes during the Vietnam War, Silodrome reports. Hence the low weight and compact dimensions.
But, as the Suzuki Jimny has demonstrated, small size can sometimes be a boon for off-roading.
The AMC Mighty Mite is a genuine off-roader
For one, as Four Wheeler explains, AMC made the Mighty Mite available with a snorkel kit and waterproof electrical system. That means the Mite can ford water up to 60” deep. That’s roughly 25” deeper than the new Land Rover Defender, and twice as deep as the Jeep Wrangler.
Also, in another unusual departure from old-school SUV norms, the AMC Mighty Mite has fully-independent suspension. Normally, solid axles are the preferred rock-crawling arrangement of choice. However, with a body-on-frame design, the little SUV can still flex its way over many obstacles. It also, Four Wheeler reports, had a significantly comfier ride than the Willys Jeep.
The Mite also has shift-on-the-fly four-wheel drive, complete with front and rear limited-slip differentials and single-speed transfer case. And, like the Hummer H1 and Toyota Mega Cruiser, it has inboard brakes. But the Mite’s 4WD also has its quirks. Driving normally, the SUV technically acts as if it had 3 speeds in its transmission. The lowest gear is only selectable when 4WD is engaged.
Historical footage documents these tiny SUVs trudging through mud, over hills, and through the countryside. They can also be used for towing, and have an 850-lb payload capacity. And even today, AMC Mighty Mites can still be seen crawling over rocks. Admittedly, though, it is a somewhat rare sight.
Pricing and availability
Four Wheeler reports AMC only produced 3,922 Mighty Mites from 1959-1962. The first 1,045 were the 65” versions, while later ones were exclusively 71”-wheelbase models. But, although these pint-sized rugged SUVs are rare, they’re not actually terribly expensive.
In 2018, one sold at auction for $8,750. That’s actually about less than a contemporary CJ Jeep goes for, Hagerty reports, and less than such SUVs have gone for on Bring a Trailer. And RM Sotheby’s is planning on auctioning another Mighty Mite in October 2020.
So, if you want the closest thing to an American-made kei truck, you’ll soon get your chance.
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