When the Ford Ute was first built in 1934, it filled an important niche. Australian designer Lewis “Lew” Bandt drew up the ute as a stylish and functional way to address the need to buy two vehicles, a car and a truck. The ute (short for coupe-utility) proved to be a huge success in rural communities, and its design was the starting point for one of the world’s most popular vehicle designs of all time — the pickup truck.
Before the ute, “utility” bodies were simply added to an existing car chassis. Bandt resolved to design a purpose-built utility vehicle, replacing the rear section of the Model 40 Ford five-window coupe with a wooden-framed utility section with steel panels welded to the coupe body. The resulting body was both stylish and functional, with clean looks and an increased load capacity behind the front cabin.
Powering the ute was a V-8 engine mated to a three-speed manual transmission. The real achievement, though, was the highly capable suspension. Bandt fitted the ute with shock absorbers and transverse leaf springs up front, and additional shock absorbers with semi-elliptic rear springs at the rear. The ute could carry a 1200-lb payload, and became enough of a success to sell 22,000 units between 1940 and 1954.
The modern iteration of the classic ute is the Ford Falcon ute, which first debuted as the Falcon XK in 1961. Since then over 455,000 Falcon utes have sold in Australia. The Ford Ranger small pickup is another iconic relative to the original ute, and although it is no longer offered in the U.S., it remains one of the best-selling pickups worldwide.
The 80th anniversary of Lew Bandt’s ute is of course bittersweet, in light of Ford’s decision to close its Australian factories by 2016. CEO Alan Mulally is fully behind his company’s global One Ford initiative, previously remarking that “one-off cars for one-off countries” are no longer viable. All of Ford’s Australian manufacturing, which includes the entire Ford Falcon range, will be killed off when factories close in 2016.
Both General Motors and Toyota since followed suit with their own closure announcements, signaling the end of Holden’s Australian manufacturing, as well as Toyota’s, by 2017. All three companies cited insurmountable obstacles as a consequence of a strong Australian dollar and fierce competition from imports.