THE HOTCHKISS JEEP STORY

The origin of the name Hotchkiss

Benjamin Berkeley Hotchkiss was born in Watertown, Connecticut in 1826. He became a skilled designer in the family's engineering business with a passion for weapons but having failed to interest the US Government in his designs he moved to France where he set up the Hotchkiss Company in 1867. In his first factory at Route de Gonesse in Saint-Denis close to Paris he began producing weapons and explosives for the French Government. Hotchkiss died in 1885 but the company continued with his personal passion, the development of a truly automatic machine-gun. The first working model was produced by 1892 and  was adopted by the French Army in 1897. Modifications and improvements resulted in the definitive 'Hotchkiss gun' by 1914 and the weapon became one of the standard gas-operated heavy machine guns used by Britain, France and Japan.  At the turn of the century the company diversified into making components for motor cars and then vehicles. Hotchkiss was on its way to becoming one of the largest and most important mechanical and auto engineering companies in France.

The first military vehicles

The badge for the 'Automobiles Hotchkiss' marque consisted of a pair of crossed cannons - in reference to the company's origin (see top of page). In 1909 the Hotchkiss Company produced its first military vehicle, an armoured car equipped with a machine gun located on the rear. The 'Automitrailleuse' is shown opposite and, ironically, having been ordered by the Sultan of Turkey the vehicles were captured by his enemies during the delivery process and ended up being used to depose him. By the 1930's Hotchkiss had become involved in producing a range of multi-wheel drive military vehicles  in conjunction with the Laffly Company.

From cars to light armour

Laffly-Hotchkiss vehicles included cars, ambulances, tankers, carriers, and prime movers and were more often than not designed by Laffly but with  Hotchkiss engines and often manufactured by both companies. Almost all the larger military vehicles featured the additional set of small front wheels to help the vehicle overcome obstacles. The vehicle shown on the left is a 1939 Hotchkiss R15R Command & Reconnaissance 4x4 which was designed and built by Hotchkiss rather than one of the more numerous collaborative Laffly-Hotchkiss products. By this time Hotchkiss were also producing tanks for the French army's Light Armoured Division (Division Légere Mécanique).

A link with Willys is established

Henry Ainsworth, M.D. of Hotchkiss, escaped to London at the beginning of the war where his knowledge of miltary vehicle manufacture was put to good use involving liaison with Willys-Overland. After the war he returned to France to re-establish Hotchkiss as a motor manufacturer. He was also interested in manufacturing jeeps and in June 1952 SOFIA (la Société Financière Industrie et Automobile - a Hotchkiss subsidiary) gained a licence from Willys in the U.S.A. to manufacture both spares and jeeps as Willys Overland France (WOF). The jeeps would have been based on the Willys CJ2A/3A design but final agreement with Willys (owned by the Kaiser Corporation) took until 1954 and the jeep became based on the later CJ-3B.

Birth of the French built MB jeep

In 1955 the French Army took advantage of Hotchkiss' licence from Willys and ordered some new MB jeeps to meet its growing need for jeeps. This was only ever meant to be a stop gap measure whilst waiting for the new improved Delahaye jeep to be produced. Like the first civilian jeeps Hotchkiss produced the first batch of licence MBs had to be assembled from imported parts.

Production capacity in the factory at Boulevard Ornano, Carrefour Pleyel, St-Denis (see picture above) was small but the assembly of MB jeeps was under way before the end of the year alongside the first completely French built JH-101 civilian jeep.

The French built M201 is born

By the end of 1955 the French army decided to stick with the simple and proven MB design rather than continue to consider more advanced jeeps from other manufacturers. These included Delahaye who had now been taken over by Hotchkiss to form Hotchkiss-Delahaye. In 1956 Hotchkiss merged with Brandt to create Hotchkiss-Brandt and it was from the Brandt factory (complete with test track) in Stains on the Northern outskirts of Paris that the majority of the 27,628 Hotchkiss M201 jeeps based on the original MB design were produced for the French Government between 1957 and 1966.

Hotckiss jeep production 1955 - 1966

Model Factory Type Produced Qty
M-201 Licence MB - 6 volt St-Denis Military 1956 882
M-201 Licence MB 6 & 12 volt Stains Military 1957 - 1966 26732
CJ-3B Licence St-Denis (assembled) Civilian 1954 70
JH-101 St-Denis then Stains Civilian 1955 - 1960 3496
JH-102 Stains Civilian 1960 - 1966 1041
JH-102D (Diesel) Stains Civilian 1962 - 1966 93
HWL Stains Civilian 1963 - 1966 730
HWLD (Diesel) Stains Civilian 1963 - 1966 43

What happened to the Hotchkiss marque?

Hotchkiss dropped car production to produce a range of military vehicles during the 50's and 60's. In 1966 Hotchkiss-Brandt merged with Compagnie Française Thomson-Houston and the production of all jeeps, including the civilian jeeps JH-102 and HWL, stopped by the end of the year. This was hardly surprising as the designs were technologically very much out of date! In the same year (1966) a collaborative project began between France, W. Germany, and Italy to develop a new amphibious 'Europa-Jeep'. This was to be Hotchkiss' final involvement with jeeps working in collaboration with Büssing & Lancia to develop a prototype VCL (vehicle de commandment et de liaison). In 1970 Hotchkiss ceased producing vehicles all together, by 1972 the company was simply known as Thomson-Brandt SA, and in 1976 the VCL project was cancelled. Like so many other famous motor vehicle manufacturers, the Hotchkiss marque had finally disappeared. Thomson-Brandt was nationalised in 1982 to form the giant Thomson. Management passed from ex-army officers to civilian directors and the company became much less dependant on military contracts by moving into the domestic electronics market.