Ford is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its Australian-born Ute, which paved the way for development of vehicles such as the F-Series and Ranger (dare we say Ranchero) and propelled the company to years of success in the global truck market. Not only was it an Australian invention, but the concept has been exported to the world, reinterpreted by other manufacturers and gained a legion of fans everywhere.
In a tradition that dates back to the Model T, the first integrated passenger-car based Ute was born out of necessity. In 1933 the managing director of the Ford Motor Company of Australia, Hubert French, received a letter from a farmer's wife in Gippsland, Victoria. She wrote: "My husband and I can't afford a car and a truck but we need a car to go to church on Sunday and a truck to take the pigs to market on Monday. Can you help?"
What the customer wanted was a vehicle with passenger car comfort but could also carry a load. French passed the letter on to a young design engineer, Lewis (Lew) Bandt, who had joined the company only a few years previously as Ford's only designer. Bandt was just 23 years old but was already showing to be a promising talent, and he was soon to be well known for his designs until he retired in 1975.
Bandt's take on the passenger car-based utility was considered revolutionary at the time. Until the early 1930s, many auto manufacturers and vehicle body builders had constructed wooden or metal utilitarian bodies on car chassis. Henry Ford's Model T was a particular favorite and Ford T "Buckboards" and "Utility Runabouts" were to be found on farms and delivering goods in towns and cities throughout the world.
Bandt's design was a game changer because he based his design from the two-passenger coupe, complete with sheet metal and glass windows, and integrated the steel-paneled load carrying section at the rear. What Bandt did was to blend the pickup sides into a coupe body, which provided a cleaner profile and increased the load area behind the cabin.
The Ute was sketched out on a giant blackboard, giving it a 1200-pound payload on a wheelbase of 9 feet, 4 inches. Bandt's original full-scale blueprint drawings of the 1934 coupe utility are now archived in Australia and the rebuilt version of the original Bandt Ute is housed in a museum in the rural country Victorian town of Chewton, near Melbourne.
Bandt completed his original design in October, 1933, and quickly produced two prototypes for testing. By January 23, 1934, he had the final drawings and the new Ford Ute went into production with Bandt christening his design a 'coupe-utility'. When the first Utes came off the production line in 1934 two were sent to Canada. The Ford coupe-utility took advantage of the near-new flathead V8 engine and three-speed manual gearbox while its suspension was by transverse leaf springs with shock absorbers at the front and heavy duty semi-elliptic rear springs and shock absorbers at the rear.
The result was quickly hailed as a viable option for the rural communities and 22,000 were sold between 1940 and 1954. Lew Bandt's daughter, Dr. Ros Bandt said it was her father's stunning foresight to marry beautiful design and practicality and make it available to all Ford customers.
"I can't imagine what it must have been like in this pressured war-torn time in the 1930s to have the vision to create an affordable Ute on the land to help with everyday tasks, both work and play and be able to connect over distance," Dr. Bandt said.
"Dad created a brilliant stylish workhorse, which is the legacy he has left to all farmers and owners who enjoy and depend on their Utes worldwide. In his words; he wanted the farmer's wife and the pigs to have a glorious ride."
Lewis Bandt's coupe utility was a first for Ford Australia and his ingenuity had a great impact on the then developing Australia auto industry.
The original Bandt-designed Ford Ute paved the way for what has morphed into what has become some of the world's biggest selling vehicles -- the Pickup or utility. It also spawned the Falcon Ute, which has been a firm favorite with customers since the first Falcon XK Ute was launched in 1961. Since then, Ford Australia has sold more than 455,000 Falcon Utes. The Australian designed and developed Ford Ranger is also widely sold in more than 180 different countries. Today, Ford pickups globally represent one out of every five pickups sold, which totaled more than one million trucks in 2013.