What is this, a Jeep for ants? No, it is not a three-quarter-scale Willys MB Jeep for parade or Shiner duty. This is an American Motors M422 Mighty Mite, a lightweight, air-transportable utility vehicle developed for the U.S. Marines. Like the firework that shares its name, the rig is little but packs a punch—and reading about this oddball military truck might make up for a lack of public July 4th firework shows this year. At least a little bit.
It’s obvious that the brief for the M422A1 Mighty Mite you’re looking at here was “smaller is better”—just look at it! It rocks a 71-inch wheelbase—over two inches stubbier than the Smart Fortwo’s!—and it’s the “long-wheelbase” version actually. The earliest Mighty Mites had a minuscule 65-inch wheelbase, and the U.S. Marines (who operated them) realized that the littler Mite just wasn’t going to be able to carry enough cargo. Hence the updated model with the stretched wheelbase, which opened up a bit more cargo space.
Wheelbase aside, you might wonder what the Marines wanted with such a pint-sized tactical vehicle. With the advent of air mobility, they wanted the ability to airdrop or helicopter in some transportation at exactly the spot it was needed, quickly and without fuss. But a regular Jeep, at that point an M38A1, was too big and heavy for these purposes. A closer look at the Mighty Mite makes it clear that weight, and size, were of paramount concern.
For one, the body is aluminum. So is the engine, a fascinating little air-cooled, all-aluminum V-4 conceived by American Motors as an economy car motor. Displacing 1.8 liters, it makes 54 horsepower and sends power through a four-wheel drive system. Interestingly, there’s no low range gear, but there is an extremely low first gear—a granny gear, if you will. All told the Mighty Mite M422A1 weighs 1,780 lbs.
By the time it served in Vietnam, helicopter lifting capabilities had made such a lightweight vehicle unnecessary, but it served admirably before it became completely obsolete. Despite not serving long, it was apparently well-liked.