The Willys MB Jeep (and its direct civilian descendants) gets all the glory, but there are plenty of military vehicles that play important roles well away from the front line. Think about the trucks that deliver fuel to frontline tactical vehicles, fight fires, or transport tanks and APCs…they get less of the glory but are a critical part of any battlefield success. The M274 Mule looks ridiculous, frankly, but with more cargo capacity than a contemporary Jeep and its tiny dimensions, it served a very useful role in the Vietnam War era and beyond.
Developed by Willys, the Mule was as bare-bones as you could get. Think of it a bit like a tiny flatbed that happens to have an engine and a minimalist driver’s station attached. The rest of it is platform, able to haul a variety of cargo, men, or weapons mounts. Equipped with a real four-wheel-drive system with high and low ranges, it was designed to go places a traditional Jeep couldn’t go because of size, terrain, or weight considerations.
The original concept was to develop a vehicle to serve as a small stretcher-bearer to quickly evacuate wounded soldiers, but the resultant Mule was able to accommodate a number of roles, as its half-ton cargo capacity included the ability to completely use the entire footprint as a load area. The steering column could be tilted away from the bed so the Mule could be driven backwards by a person walking behind. With no bodywork, the vehicle was light and compact enough for easy transport by air.
Of course, it could also carry a variety of weapons like recoilless rifles and certain missile systems, but with absolutely zero protection for the crew (other than diving behind its small profile), it wasn’t a tactical vehicle in any sense of the word. This example is being auctioned by RM Sotheby’s with no reserve, and is a later example with a Continental two-cylinder engine; earlier models had Willys engines. It was delivered in 1968 and served with the U.S. Marine Corps.