Greg Wapling

PANIC | FAQ | Help
Chev 34 | 51 Pickup | Business Directory | Photo Gallery | Readers Rides | Under Construction | Virtual Body Shop
General | Documentaries | Events | How-to
Artists By Name | Artists by Genre | Music Links
American Chopper | American Hot Rod | Horsepower TV | Hot Rod TV | Monster Garage | Overhaulin | Rides | Wheels TV | Wrecks to Riches
Queensland | New South Wales | Victoria | Tasmania | South Australia | Northern Territory | Western Australia | New Zealand
Let's Go Cruisin | Dry Lakes Racers Australia | Hot Rod Internet | OzRodders | HAMB | Rodders Roundtable | Land Racing
subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link | subglobal8 link



Ute History


Who built the first utility - where - when...

34 ford uteThe 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.
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.
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.

34 for uteOn 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.

More History

Bandt went on to manage Ford’s Advanced Design Department, being responsible for the body engineering of the XP, XT, XW and XA series Ford Falcon utilities. General Motors’ Australian subsidiary Holden also produced a Chevrolet coupe utility in 1934 but the body style did not appear on the American market until the release of the 1957 Ford Ranchero.

Both the coupé utility and the similar open-topped roadster utility continued in production but the improving economy of the mid to late 1930s and the desire for improved comfort saw coupe utility sales climb at the expense of the roadster utility until, by 1939, the latter was all but a fading memory.

By the 1980s in North America, the coupé utility began to fall out of favor again with the demise of the Ranchero after 1979, the Volkswagen Caddy, Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp and of the Chevrolet El Camino by 1987.

Subaru offered the Brat in the early 1980s, and the Baja from 2003 to 2006. General Motors considered bringing a rebadged Holden Ute to the United States in the form of the Pontiac G8 ST in 2009, but the global recession, GM's ultimate bankruptcy, and the discontinuation of the Pontiac marque caused them to cancel it.

The pickup truck, on the other hand, started its life a little earlier and is defined by its separate, removable, well-type 'pickup bed'. This pickup bed does not contact the cabin part of the vehicle, while the ute bed is an integral part of the whole body. Eventually the pickup design found a natural home on the smaller truck chassis while the ute became entrenched as a passenger car derivative, although exceptions do apply.


Australians define a "ute" as any commercial vehicle that has an open cargo carrying space, but requires only a passenger car license to drive. This includes coupé utilities, pickup trucks and traybacks (flatbed pickup trucks). An example of the broadness of this definition is that anything from a Ford F250 to a Proton Jumbuck can be called a ute.

North America

In North America, the major automobile and truck manufacturers built them from the 1930s to the 1980s. They were very popular in the early years with florists as a way to transport flowers and potted plants. Examples include the Studebaker Coupe Express, or the 1941 Chevrolet Coupe Pickup. A variation of the coupe pickup became the very specialized flower car that was used by funeral homes as an attendant vehicle to the hearse as part of funeral processions. Flower cars were custom-manufactured by several aftermarket coachbuilders by modifying a standard-production sedan, station wagon, or carryall (aka "suburban") in the same manner that ambulances, hearses, crummies, fire command cars, and Fire apparatus were/are manufactured.

The Ford Ranchero was produced between 1957 and 1979 based on full-size, compact and intermediate automobiles by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market. Variations based on the original 1960 US Falcon for home markets in Argentina and South Africa were produced through the late 1980s. Though Ford car/truck combinations had been around since 1934 when Ford Australia's lone designer Lew Bandt penned the world's first coupe utility, thereby spawning the popularity of the so-called "ute" in that country, the Ranchero was the first postwar American vehicle of its type from the factory.

The Chevrolet El Camino was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors from 1959 through 1960, with production resuming in 1964 and continuing through 1987. El Camino was produced in response to the success of rival Ford's Ranchero. It had a variant called the GMC Sprint and later named the GMC Caballero from 1978 to 1987. In Mexico, it was also sold as the Chevrolet Conquistador.

Dodge produced the Rampage from 1982 to 1984, based on the front-wheel-drive L-body Dodge Charger. Plymouth also had a variation called the Scamp.

Japanese Manufacturers

A few coupé utilities have been built by Japanese manufacturers over the years, for both the domestic and other markets.

Built and sold only in Thailand between 1991 and 1995, Daihatsu offered utes based on their L70 series Mira called the Mira P1 and Miracab. They were essentially the same model, the Mira P1 being a two door, and the Miracab a 2+2.

Isuzuoffered a coupé utility version of the Bellett between 1963 and 1972 called the Wasp. Like the 1999 to present Ford Falcon utes, it was available with a bed (like a traditional coupé utility) or in flatbed configuration.

Mazda built a ute variant of the Familia between 1963 and 1978, and 1985 and 1989. The first run cars (1963–1978) were based on the first and second generations of the Familia, and sold in Japan and several other markets. The second run was based on the fifth generation (BF) Familia, was built in South Africa, and only sold there. Versions of both the second generation Familia and the second generation Familia Pickup were built under license by Korean manufacturer Kia between 1974 and 1981 as the Kia Brisa and the Kia Brisa B-1000, respectively. Kia began production of the ute first. Mazda Familia 800 Pickup

Perhaps the best known coupé utility to come from a Japanese manufacturer is Subaru's BRAT, a small AWD model derived from the second generation Leone. It was sold in many markets under several names (BRAT, Brumby, Shifter, MV, and Targa) between 1978 and 1993. It is relatively well known due to its long production life and use in popular culture. It was built in Japan, but never sold there. The BRAT would see a spiritual successor many years later in the form of the Subaru Baja, a four door AWD ute derived from the third generation Legacy wagon/Outback. The Baja was built at Subaru's plant in Lafayette, Indiana, and sold between 2002 and 2006 in the United States, Canada, and Chile. Subaru Brumby (the Australian version of the BRAT) Subaru Baja

From 1983 and 1988, Suzuki built a ute version of their Alto kei car called the Mighty Boy. It was sold in Japan, Australia, and Cyprus.

Between 1960 and 1970, Toyota sold versions of the second and third generation Corona with an integral bed in several markets. It was sold alongside it's eventually replacement, the Toyota Hilux, for a couple of years before it was discontinued. In Australia, Toyota sold a locally produced CKD ute based on the second and third generation (aka S40 and S50) Crown. It was assembled by Australian Motor Industries, a company that Toyota would eventually buy outright in 1987. More recently, Toyota built a ute version of the first generation Toyota bB (aka, the original Scion xB) called the bB Open Deck, sold only in Japan between 2000 and 2001.

Disputed coupé utilities

The following vehicles share qualities of both small pickups and coupe utilities, or have another reason for dispute. They are considered coupe utilities by some, and not by others. They are listed here along with a brief explanation of their respected disputes.

Chevrolet SSR: the body was like a coupé utility, (albeit with a folding hardtop), and it had the performance option of the Corvette's LS2 engine (not unlike the El Camino SS and other muscle utes), but it was based on the GMT360 truck chassis, which means it is more of a sport pickup, like the Ford Lightning, Dodge Ram SRT-10, or the Chevy Xtreme.

Ford Falcon utility (AU–FG): since 1999, the Falcon utility has been fitted with a cargo bed separate from the cabin, yet still retains the Falcon sedan/wagon front-end including cabin. The cargo bed was separated so that both "utility" and "cab chassis" body styles could be utilized. However, like previous models (which are officially coupé utilities), the 1999 onwards models are still derived from the Falcon sedan and wagon range.

Honda Ridgeline: By the strictest definition, the Ridgeline is a coupé utility in the sense that it's essentially based on a car chassis (a unibody design that shares many parts with various Honda passenger cars, like the Accord and Acura TL), is monocoque (like many modern coupé utilities), and has an integral bed. However, it's far too large and truck-like for most people to consider it a true coupé utility. It could, perhaps, be best described as a sport utility truck or "crossover truck" instead.

Subaru Baja: one could argue that the Baja is not a coupé utility simply because it's not a coupé: it has four doors rather than two. However, it otherwise fits the traditional definition of the body style.


The First Ute

George Negus Tonight - Broadcast 6.30pm on 06/02/2003

GEORGE NEGUS: Now, a new year and a new segment for our Futures program. Each week we're going to have a 'Where are they now?' segment that will focus on innovations and great ideas from the past and what's happened to them since they first appeared on the scene. For instance, speaking of cars, as we have been tonight, whatever happened to the good old Aussie ute?

ADRIAN RYAN, FORD HISTORIAN: 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. 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 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.

GEORGE NEGUS: Now there's a story to send the car freaks into ecstasy, I would have thought. Motoring historian Adrian Ryan with the fascinating tale of the old ute. Not sure about it being as Australian as the kangaroo though. If you know of any great innovations, or stuff from the past generally, that you'd like an update on, contact us via your local ABC or through our website.

The idea of combining a car and a truck together was something that Lew Bandt came up with
From the front, the ute was a very nice Ford coupe passenger car... at the back was the workhorse part of it
Adrian Ryan, Ford Historian
About Us | Site Map | Privacy Policy | Disclaimer | Contact Us | © 1995 - 2012 Greg Wapling All Rights Reserved