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Bantam sculpture created with help from Jeep enthusiasts

Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

American Bantam Car Company made one Bantam prototype to present to the U.S. government for military testing in the 1930s, and until now, it was the only one of its kind to exist.

For months, Bill Secunda, a steel artist from Summit Township, has been constructing a steel sculpture based on the original Bantam prototype, which will be placed in downtown Butler as somewhat of a signature attraction. The sculpture will be unveiled during the Bantam Jeep Heritage Festival’s Jeep Invasion on Friday, June 7, in the parking lot near People’s Gas.

The creation of the sculpture brought with it many challenges, Secunda said, one of which was finding reference photos to make the sculpture mimic the original prototype. Some pieces of the sculpture actually are parts that came from Bantams, Secunda added.

“I had to create it to look like something that nobody had drawings of and hardly anyone had pictures of,” Secunda said. “We used some donated axles and tires, and those were originals.”

This is timeline photo for the Jeep sculpture by Bill Secunda to be unveiled at the 2024 Jeep Heritage Festival, slated June 7 to 9. Submitted photo

The Butler AM Rotary Club last fall commissioned Secunda to create the sculpture in preparation for the Jeep Invasion. Jeff Geibel, president of the Butler AM Rotary Club and a board member of Butler Downtown, said the organization wanted to install a signature interactive art piece in Butler, which could be a photo opportunity for visitors similar to Mars’ UFO.

The club raised money to fund the creation of the sculpture, and its members also have restored an original Bantam trailer, which will be hooked up behind the sculpture. There also will be signage containing information about the Bantam installed in the parking lot.

“It will be on display year-round, alongside permanent signage that kind of tells the story,” Geibel said. “(Secunda) is building it so it is extremely sturdy, you can literally tap dance on the hood of this.”

While finding photos of the prototype was difficult, Secunda said he also got help from people with knowledge of the vehicle. He said he was able to find help building an accurate sculpture thanks to the abundance of Jeep and Bantam enthusiasts around the nation.

“There is a gentleman in Texas that had one built off an actual model. Pretty much based off a Bantam, so we know the sizes of things on the Bantam,” Secunda said. “We have a couple people in the Jeep club, they come around and point me in the right direction. It's a delicate dance.”

Secunda also usually makes sculptures based on living things, which is also why creating a steel Bantam proved difficult for him. Over the past year, Secunda made the Cowboy statue that is positioned on the south end of the General Richard Butler Bridge, and he has also refurbished the eagle statue that sits atop the Penn Township Veterans Memorial on Airport Road.

Making a sculpture with hard angles and flat surfaces was a new beast for the sculptor, as was creating pieces that could connect to actual car parts.

“Building curved body parts out of heavy metal, the biggest challenge were pieces like the hood and fenders,” Secunda said. “We are trying to use all the parts that were on the Jeep to make it as realistic as possible.”

Secunda even went through the effort of attaching original Bantam tires to the sculpture, which can rotate with the steering wheel, he said. He described the project as a love letter to the Bantam, and one he hopes locals and visitors also will appreciate.

“We were really, really happy to see that the original tires are going to be on it,” Secunda said. “It still is going to be a sculpture, but it will be realistic and something people can take their picture with.”

This is timeline photo for the Jeep sculpture by Bill Secunda to be unveiled at the 2024 Jeep Heritage Festival, slated June 7 to 9. Submitted photo
Bantam Trailer which will be attached to the sculpture. This is a historic Bantam trailer actually built in Butler that we (the Rotary?) restored. This photo is after sandblasting and primer when we assembled all the pieces. It will be going (along with the Jeep) for final paint next week. Left to right in the photo are Jeff Geibel (Butler AM Rotary President), Dave Geibel (Jeff's father), and Brent Thomas (Rotarian in Charge for the project). Submitted photo
This is timeline photo for the Jeep sculpture by Bill Secunda to be unveiled at the 2024 Jeep Heritage Festival, slated June 7 to 9. Submitted photo
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle
Steelwork artist Bill Secunda talks about the Bantam Jeep sculpture he has been working on at his home in Summit Township on Friday, May 24. Morgan Phillips/Butler Eagle

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