Seventy-five years ago, the prototype for the Jeep (the Bantam Reconnaissance Car or BRC for short), rolled out of the American Bantam Car Company plant in Butler, PA. Ever since, Butler, PA has been known as the proud “birthplace of the Jeep,” holding an annual festival in June to mark the occasion. Organizers of the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival planned well in advance, a special 75th birthday bash for 2015 that would bring thousands to Butler County in celebration. During this event, held from June 12-14, festival organizers and attendees once again set the bar and a new Guinness World record for total number of Jeeps in one parade. Numbers rose to 2,420, quickly eclipsing the 1,846 Jeeps recorded in the annual Jeep Beach parade in Daytona Beach, FL. Leading the promenade that crawled through downtown Butler, PA, was a replica of the original Bantam Reconnaissance car and 75 Jeeps, each representing a year in the 75 years of Jeep history.
In addition to the Saturday Jeep parade, a Friday night Jeep Invasion cruise-in brought an estimated 20,000 to downtown Butler. The main event for the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival took place at the Cooper’s Lake Campground, outside of Slippery Rock, PA. There, Jeep aficionados took part in activities such as off road trail rides, team competitions, scavenger hunts, a Show ’N Shine competitive car show, a Muddy 5K, various outdoor games and sports, speaker presentations and how-to workshops. Of course, hundreds upon hundreds of Jeeps were on display, from the lovingly restored vintage Willys to the latest souped up off-roaders. Nearly 3,000 vehicles were registered to participate, representing 38 US states, and Canada. Overall attendance during the festival weekend at Cooper’s Lake crested at 25,000, twenty-five percent more than the previous year.
Economically, the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival is a boon to Butler County, raking in at least $1.7 million, and presenting the most lucrative day of the year for many Butler businesses. Jeep sales spike around the festival dates, according to a local auto dealer and long-time sponsor of the festival. A labor of love for over 500 volunteers, the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival is anchored by a planning committee of fifty, some of them having been involved since the original festival in 2011. With the support and mentorship of the Butler County Tourism and Convention Bureau, the planning committee is ready to transition over to an independent organization that will host the festival, following the successes of previous years. Jeeps fans from far and wide would be wise to mark the second weekend in June on their calendars, as more is sure to come!
If you would like to share your Willys Jeep Story please send us a line. We ‘d love to meet your Jeep.
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