Officially named the “M274 Truck Platform Utility 1⁄2 Ton,” this vehicle was quickly given the vastly simpler nickname “Mule” due to its appearance and its load carrying ability over tough terrain.
Despite its odd looks the M274 Mule was one of the most capable off-road vehicles in the US military fleet from 1956 well into the 1980s. It’s four-wheel drive, had four-wheel steering, excellent ground clearance, and a very low curb weight of just 795 lbs (or 361 kgs).
Fast Facts – The “Mule” M274 Truck 4×4
- The US military is well known for its use of acronyms and nicknames, and so it was that the M274 Truck Platform Utility 1⁄2 Ton was quickly dubbed the “Mule” or the “Mechanical Mule.”
- The Mule was first developed during WWII by Willys-Overland for medical evacuations in areas where a normal Willys Jeep couldn’t access. The vehicle soon proved invaluable for cargo and troop transport in difficult terrain.
- All versions of the Mule were four-wheel drive and all except for the final version had four wheel steering. Ground clearance was generous, and the load carrying ability was 1⁄2 a short ton, or 1,000 lbs.
- Perhaps the cleverest feature of the Mule was its steering. The steering wheel and shaft could be moved to a number of different positions allowing it to be driven like a 4×4, or for the operator to walk (or crawl) along behind it if required.
Creating The Mechanical Mule
During WWII it had become apparent that a 4×4 vehicle smaller than the Jeep would be very useful for soldiers for evacuating their wounded, and also for transporting cargo and troops into and out of extremely inhospitable environments.
Above Video: This is footage of the M274 Truck Platform Utility 1⁄2 Ton “Mule” in action. As you can see it’s not particularly fast, but it is famous for its ability to go anywhere.
In 1944, approximately a year before the end of WWII, Willys-Overland applied for a US patent on the vehicle design that would become the M274 Truck Platform Utility 1⁄2 Ton. This patent was granted in 1948, but due to the end of WWII the vehicle didn’t enter production until 1956.
The key to the success of the “Mechanical Mule” was its simplicity. It utilized a simple steel frame, it had no suspension bar the tire sidewalls, the pedals were fitted out front in a basket-like carrier, the steering wheel and shaft was moveable, and it was powered by a simple rear-mounted engine.
Earlier examples were fitted with the Willys four-cylinder four-stroke engine, this was replaced later in production with a two-cylinder Continental-Hercules two-stroke engine.
Power was sent to all four wheels via a 3-speed manual transmission and a 2-speed transfer case, and it had a single reverse gear. Most Mules have four wheel steering to help with maneuverability in tight spaces, though the final version had standard front wheel steering only.
The Mule In Vietnam
The Mule was used extensively in the Vietnam War for tasks from wounded troop transport to cargo hauling, some were even fitted with weaponry including the TOW anti-tank missile system .50 caliber machine guns and used in combat.
The top speed was 25 mph on most versions though they typically rarely reached this speed, and were more often driven slowly carrying loads or through rough countryside.
The M274 remained in production from 1956 until 1970, though they remained in service until well into the 1980s. Once they were all officially retired the military quickly realized they needed an equivalent vehicle, and so the 6×6 John Deere M-Gator was developed and put into service.
The 1964 Mule M274 Truck Shown Here
The Mule you see here is an original M274 Truck Platform Utility 1⁄2 Ton from 1964. After its military service it was sold off into civilians hands and was soon bought by collector Chet Krause who has acquired every model of the Jeep used by the American armed forces.
Later in its life this vehicle was restored, then in 2017 in was given a mechanical overhaul which included carburetors, brakes, ignition, and more.
The Mule is now due to roll across the auction block with Artcurial on the 3rd of February with a price guide starting at $8,700 USD. If you’d like to read more about it or register to bid you can visit the listing here.
Images courtesy of Artcurial
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