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History:

In 1951 Ford Motor Company gained the contract to design a 1/4 ton 4x4 Military Utility Tactical Truck (hence ‘MUTT’) to replace the Korean War jeeps, the M38 and M38A1.  The M151 ‘MUTT’ was developed with guidance from the US Army's Ordnance Truck Automotive Command.  Design work began in 1951 and testing and prototyping lasted through most of the fifties.  Although the M151 was developed and initially produced by Ford, production contracts for the M151A2 were later also awarded to Kaiser Jeep and AM General Corp.

Design & Improvements:

Although the M151 closely resembled its predecessors externally, retaining roughly the same basic layout and dimensions, for all intents and purposes it was a completely new design.  Unlike previous jeep designs, whose structure consisted of a steel tub bolted onto a separate steel frame - the M51 utilized a monocoque design, which integrated the box frame rails into the sheet-steel body-structure.  Eliminating the separate frame gave the M151 slightly more ground clearance, while at the same time lowering the centre of gravity.  This process slightly enlarged the vehicle, making it roomier than previous jeep designs, while retaining the same light weight.

Another area improved upon in the M51 was suspension design.  Dispensing with the rigid live axles in the front and rear that all previous military jeeps (a layout still used on modern day Jeeps, such as the Jeep CJ and Wrangler), the M151 was instead equipped with independent suspension and coil springs.  This made it capable of high-speed, cross-country travel, while boasting high manoeuvrability and agility.  The new suspension also had the added benefit of providing a more comfortable ride.

Due to copyright and trademark issues, the M151 did not feature the Jeep's distinctive seven vertical slot grille, instead, a horizontal grille was used.

Problems:

Unlike some other military transports, such as the Humvee or Jeep, the M151 was never widely released into the civilian market.  This was partly because it did not meet Federal highway safety standards for civilian vehicles, and also because of a series of early rollover accidents.  While these were often blamed on the independent suspension (which played no small part), they were also due to driver errors and operators unprepared for the increased performance, compared to the Jeeps which it replaced.  At high speed, the rear suspension in an empty MUTT would begin to "float" on the coil springs; a turn made to the left could cause the right rear wheel to bounce, causing handling problems.  The vehicle tended to not do this when there was weight in the rear, so drivers would often place an ammunition box filled with sand under the rear seat, when no other load was being carried.  The box could simply be emptied (or abandoned) when the extra weight was not needed.

The handling issues were eventually resolved by a redesign of the rear suspension, introduced in the M151A2 model.  However, due to liability concerns, the US Department of Defence deemed all M151 series vehicles "unsafe for public highway use", limiting their public use.

Service:

First put into service in Vietnam, the MUTT played an active part in American military operations well into the 1980s, when it was phased out in favour of the Humvee.  Despite it's official replacement, the M151 had some distinct advantages over its much larger and heavier successor, like being small enough to fit inside a C-130 cargo plane or CH-53 heavy transport helicopter.  This flexibility was one of the reasons the US Marine Corps deployed M151 FAV (Fast Attack Vehicle) variants through 1999, in places like Kosovo.

Various models of the M-151 have seen successful military service in 15 different NATO countries and M151s were sold to many countries, including Canada, Denmark, Lebanon, Israel, the Philippines and the United Kingdom.  Currently, the M151 is used by over 100 countries worldwide.

Variants:

  • M151 (1960) - Initial version.  Because of its rear suspension design it had a dangerous tendency to flip over when cornered too aggressively by unaware drivers.  The swing-axle rear suspension lay-out (comparable with that of the VW Beetle) could result in big rear wheel camber changes, causing drastic oversteer and a subsequent roll-over.
    • M718 - Front-line ambulance variant.
  • M151A1 (1964) - Second version.  Minor changes in the rear suspension, mostly aimed at allowing the vehicle to carry heavier loads.  Addition of turn signals to front fenders.  The essentials of the rear suspension remained unchanged and the same applies to the handling problems in corners.
    • M151A1C - The M151A1C equipped with a 106 mm recoilless rifle on a pedestal-mount. Capable of carrying six rounds of ammunition and weapon tools.  Including the driver, it provides space for two men and has a cruising range of 442 km or 275 miles.
    • M151A1D - Tactical nuclear variant.
    • M718A1 - Front-line ambulance variant.
  • M151A2 (1970) - The A2 fielded a significantly revised rear suspension that greatly improved safety in fast cornering.  The MUTT now had Semi-trailing arm suspension comparable to what most late eighties premium German cars had.  Many smaller upgrades including improved turn signals.  The A2 can be identified by the large combination turn signal/blackout lights on the front fenders, which also had been modified to mount the larger lights (earlier models had flat front fenders).
    • M151A2 FAV - Fast Assault Vehicle variant.
    • M151A2 TOW - Tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided [TOW] anti-tank missile variant.
  • M825 - Variant with M40 105mm Recoilless Rifle mounted on rear.
  • M1051 - Firefighting variant which saw exclusive use by the Marine Corps.
  • MRC108 - Forward Air Control variant, with multiband communications equipment.

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