Ford Australia is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the ute - the half-car, half-truck body style that was conceived, designed and built for the first time ever in Australia.
The story goes that in mid-1933 Ford Australia received a letter from a farmer’s wife which read: “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 may seem obvious now was not as obvious back then, yet the then-managing director of Ford Australia saw the opportunity instantly and passed the design job to Lewis Bandt - a 23-year-old Australian.
Bandt designed what he saw as a Ford utility, comprising a coupe front end and a steel-panelled section at the rear.
The original sketch was done on a 10 metre blackboard, and envisioned the ute having a 2845mm wheelbase and a 545kg payload capacity.
The design was complete by October 1933 and two prototypes were quickly made for testing. It took only four months to take the ute from prototype form to production. The first two models were sent straight to North America where even Henry Ford was impressed.
The vehicle basically took the front end of a four-door Model 40 five-window coupe and replaced the rear luggage compartment with a wooden-framed utility section with steel for the outer panels which were welded to the coupe body for a smoother design.
The Ford ute became a success story, with the company selling around 22,000 between 1940 and 1954 when production ended.
Ford Australia says Brant’s coupe utility was instrumental in securing the future of the then still fledging Australian automotive manufacturing industry.
The ute has evolved considerably over the years, with Ford Falcon Ute being an eventual successor to its ancient ancestor.
Ford Australia has sold 455,000 Falcon Utes in Australia to date, though dipping sales and confirmation of the end of local production in 2016 means the nameplate will fall short of the 500,000 milestone. Ford Australia provided no photos of the original Ford ute with any locally produced Falcon ute derivative for this story.
Nonetheless, Australia’s strong heritage in the ute segment helped Ford Australia secure the right to design and engineer the world-renowned Ford Ranger that is sold in over 180 different countries.
One in every five cars Ford sells globally is a ute. More than 33 million F-Series trucks have been sold to date, making it the best-selling utility in the world by a massive margin.