August 8th, 1999                                     

Who built the first utility - where - when...
by Gary Warner

The story of the utility truck or coupé utility– the ute – began in 1932, when a letter was received by Ford Australia’s plant at Geelong, Victoria. It was written by a farmer’s wife who’d had enough of riding to church in the farm truck and arriving in saturated clothing;

‘Why don’t you build people like us a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday, and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays?’ her letter asked.

Bank managers at the time would lend money to farmers to buy  a farm truck, but not a passenger car, hence the plea from one very fed up woman!

It arrived on the desk of managing director Hubert French who, instead of dictating a polite dismissal, passed the letter on to sales manager Scott Inglis.

1934 ute brochure.jpg (18314 bytes)He in turn showed it to plant superintendent Slim Westman, and the two of them took it to Ford Australia’s design department, which in 1932 consisted of one man…

Lewis Thornet Bandt was 22 years old and had already been singled out for bigger things with Ford.

Interviewed shortly before his death in 1987, Bandt recalled the moment when Westman and Inglis came to him with the letter.

The brochure for the first utility"

The whole thing had already started to germinate," said Bandt.

"Westman quite rightly reckoned that if we cut down a car and put a tray on the back, the whole thing would tear in half once there was weight in the back.

"I told him I would design it with a frame that came from the very back pillar, through to the central pillars, near the doors. I would arrange for another pillar to further strengthen that weak point where the cabin and tray joined. I said to Westman `Boss, them pigs are going to have a luxury ride around the city of Geelong!’ "

Bandt began by sketching the coupé utility on a 10 metre blackboard, depicting a front view as well as side and rear elevations. When they were seen by Westman some weeks later, he told Bandt to build two prototypes.

1934 ute restored.jpg (29293 bytes)On a wheelbase of 112 inches, with a rear tray that was 5ft 5ins long and had a payload of 1200 pounds, they were the first vehicles to also offer a comfortable all-weather cabin.

On first sight of the prototypes, Scott Inglis authorised a startup production run of 500 vehicles. Westman asked for – and got - £10,000 for tooling, and the first coupé utilities rolled off the Geelong assembly line in 1934.

Born out of a woman’s frustration with car designs of the day, the enclosed cab utility was initially regarded as a luxury. But the `ute’ was quickly accepted as a necessity of bush life, and won recognition around the world as the ideal farmer’s or tradesman’s vehicle.

Lewis Thornet Bandt remained with Ford Australia until his retirement in 1976, after 48 years with the company. His  career included designing long-range fuel tanks for Spitfire and Thunderbolt fighter planes in WW2, design innovations for the UK-sourced Ford Zephyr, the 1967 Australian Ford Fairlane, and the never-approved Falcon convertible, of which six were built outside Ford in 1962.

Eleven years into his retirement, Bandt died on March 18, 1987, in an accident near Geelong between a sand truck and the vintage Ford ute that Bandt had rebuilt for himself (rego number UT 001, pictured above). This talented Australian is survived by the legacy of his design, which wins new friends around the world every day.

Ford Australia Public Relations, and
A History of the Ford Motor Company in Australia, by Geoff Easdown.
Published 1987 by Golden Press Pty Ltd.

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