The First Ute | Innovations

The First Ute

The First Ute

Posted 29 March 2003, 12:00 AEDT

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BLANCH : Now the fascinating tale of the first ute which is an abbreviation of the word "utility". Australians have a habit of shortening words. So why did Australian farmers want such a vehicle that's also known as a coupe utility or utility truck. Well, motoring historian Adrian Ryan tells the tale.

RYAN : In 1933 a Gippsland farmer's wife wrote a letter to Ford and she said "Can you build me a vehicle that we can go to church in on Sunday without getting wet, and my husband can use it to take the pigs to market on Monday?" So the idea of combining a car and a truck together was something that Lew Bandt, who then was the young designer of Geelong, came up with. He took the 1933 model coupe and built the back on it and strengthened the chassis so that it would carry the load, and it was approved and they went into production in 1934. From the front, it's just a very nice Ford coupe passenger car. At the back, of course, is the workhorse part of it, but inside this is exactly what the farmer's wife from Gippsland wanted. She wanted wind-up windows, she wanted comfortable seats, she wanted a roof that didn't let the rain in, and Lew Bandt provided just the car for her. The influence that Lew Bandt had on the Australian motor industry was tremendous, but he also had an influence right around the world because virtually every other manufacturer, certainly of popular cars, built a coupe utility and all of them were derived from the idea that Lew Bandt had in 1933.

When Lew Bandt retired, he'd always had in his mind that he'd like to have one of the original utes and he tried to find one and he couldn't, but he found the wreck of one in a farmer's garage and he got it out and he just built it up from scratch again. When he had the vehicle, he had it painted sky blue with paintings of kangaroos and kookaburras and rosellas and things like that on it because, he said "This was the true Australian ute." In 1987 he was doing a documentary for the ABC and after he'd finished, he was setting off back to Geelong driving his very beloved ute - this one here - and he had a head-on crash with a big gravel truck, and unfortunately Lew Bandt suffered injuries that he didn't recover from.

Initially, of course, the vehicle appealed to farmers because that's what it was designed for. Even though it was the middle of the Depression, the fact that banks would only lend money for one vehicle meant that with a loan from the bank you could actually buy a truck and a car together and it snowballed from then.

The ute has become, I think, as Australian as the kangaroo. It was just something that most Australians aspired to having. I think the future of the ute is really assured. I can't see the large four-wheel drives and those sort of vehicles. They haven't got the image that a ute has and I believe that it will have a feature place in Australia for many, many years to come.

BLANCH : There's that old saying again about necessity being the mother of invention, but we could add "comfort" to that too and it took a woman to want it.

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