Few Australians really appreciate what was distinctive about the Aussie ute to support its claim as a local invention, let alone know whether it still applies.

Fact is, Australia did not invent the ute. The idea of placing the cabin of a passenger car ahead of a purpose-built load area is as old as the car itself.

What Australia did invent, though, was the notion of combining a more stylish, comfortable and roomier coupe roofline with an integrated well-side light truck body –  the ‘coupe ute’.

Even if Australian wealth in the 1930s was on the land, banks wouldn’t finance two vehicles. The remoteness of Australian farms and industry dictated a light truck for carrying vital supplies well ahead of a car purchase.

Before the 1934 launch of Ford Australia’s first coupe utility based on its top of the range V8 passenger car, Ford was inundated with requests for a vehicle that combined both functions.

According to the late Lewis Bandt, the local Ford engineer credited with inventing the coupe utility, his colleagues from sales asked him to develop a “vehicle with more passenger protection and comfort – a vehicle which would give farmers all the comfort and economy of a family sedan and still have the carrying capacity of a light truck.”

It is now folklore that at least one farmer and his wife requested a vehicle that would take them to church on a Sunday and the pigs to market on a Monday. There was a handwritten letter to that effect still in Ford archives in the early 1990s.

The outcome (below) was groundbreaking, although it was more evolutionary than revolutionary. Even Henry Ford is on record as suggesting that the boys back in the US needed to take a look at Bandt’s “Aussie Kangaroo Catcher”.

1934 Ford Coupe Ute was an Aussie world-first that created a new commercial vehicle genre.

Like everything that has come out of the Australian motor industry, the design of the coupe ute was dictated by Australian isolation and tiny economies of scale that couldn’t pay for another round of fancy expensive tooling.

Ford Australia was already building a classy, wooden-framed, 5-window coupe in the latter part of 1933 that was quite different to the US model.

Bandt’s idea was to start with this local coupe roofline, running boards and similar rear guards, then extend the body frame horizontally instead of curving it downwards for the boot and dicky-seat section.

The extended frame could then support a one-piece pressing that spanned from the doors to the end of the load bed, continuing the fine body line that extended to the grille. The spare wheel/tyre was moved to the passenger’s side front guard.

The result, effective from the similar 1934 upgrade, was an integrated body style instantly identifiable as a version of Ford’s new coupe; a model established in 1933 as a “V-8 Luxury” model with “the thrill and luxury of V8 performance”.

 

The Coupe Ute legacy

The correct shared-coupe roofline remained critical to all Australian coupe utilities before and during World War II. After an all-steel version followed in 1935, Ford applied the same idea to its small British Fords in 1939, with a similar but scaled-down version of the same coupe roofline.

These Australian coupe utes maintained cabins and chrome-laden front styling similar to Ford’s small local coupes. They were very different to the spartan British Ford 10 commercials, with their tight square-backed cabins and painted grilles.

Although local Ford V8 coupe utes after war’s end in 1945 no longer used rooflines identical to current coupes, the styling relationship was still very strong as the rear windows were shared and the side windows were slightly reduced.

Coupe utilities featuring the same 5-window coupe style based on key Ford US Custom/Customline models from 1948-56 remained on sale in Australia until 1959.

Ford's popular 1950s Mainline series remained faithful to Bandt's 5-window coupe styling philosophy.

These origins explain why so many cars that were ‘top shelf’ models in other markets were made into coupe utilities in Australia including the Ford Zephyr, Vauxhall Velox, various Dodges, Plymouths and De Sotos, Chevrolets (both sedan and truck ranges), Chryslers and others.

Stories abound of overseas executives horrified that their Australian arms wanted to convert their company’s best sedans into a light truck, yet in Australia it was the highest of honours. Their well-heeled buyers wanted and needed both in one vehicle.

It’s why until recently local coupe utilities had the highest resale in the business and why older examples are fetching two to three times their passenger car equivalent. It’s not just about rarity but what these vehicles meant to their owners in times gone by.

It didn’t matter that these coupe utilities didn’t have a back seat. It was common across Australia until the late 1960s to cram as many passengers across the front as possible and those who wouldn’t fit, were given a blanket and cushion to ride in the back!

Because the Australian market after 1945 could no longer support the tooling for the latest all steel two-door coupes, all local coupe utes soon featured the shorter front doors of the four-door sedan models, blurring the relationship between coupe and ute.

The definition of a coupe utility then became further blurred, with the first Holden utility, the 50/2106 released in 1951. Although beautifully styled with a rounded two-door cabin that replicated the sedan’s roofline and fancy rear guards pressed into the one-piece sides, it no longer featured the Ford coupe’s extra side glass and was not much roomier than similar work vehicles from the US and UK.

By 1960, Holden was no longer matching the roofline nor the rear styling of its coupe utes to its latest sedans. By 1964, Ford had let the rear styling of its Falcon coupe utility fall behind for the first time but caught up again in 1966. Chrysler was the first to link the rear styling of its local Valiant ute to the wagon in 1965, a precedent that Holden followed in 1968 and Ford in 1972.

Early '70s XA Falcon heralded the return of a 'fast roofline' for the ute with long, elegant coupe doors to match.

From that point, all local utes were based on cut-down wagon platforms, usually with a plate bolted over the rear passenger footwell to create a flat load floor. All traces of their coupe origins had disappeared, except for a single noteworthy exception.

The only recent Australian ute closely related to a coupe was the 1972-79 XA-XB-XC Falcon ute (above) that shared the rakish, frameless extended doors of the Falcon Hardtop with a fast roofline to match. Later Falcon models would return to the extra side window of the original coupe utility, but only to hide a return to shorter four-door sedan front doors.

Throughout this later period, Australian legislators defined tougher safety rules for these passenger car-based local utes that didn’t apply to imported pick-ups. Because buyers didn’t know better and chose on price, the local coupe utility almost died in the late 1980s until parity in safety and emissions laws was restored.

Since then, Ford (with the introduction of its AU Falcon ute) has separated the load bed from the cabin but retained an extended coupe-like cabin, while Holden has styled its roofline into a sleek integrated styleside load bed.

So has the Australian coupe utility lost its vital point of distinction? Is it enough to have a refined passenger car cabin as per the original brief still present in the latest Falcon? Or does it need to have the load bed integrated with the cabin like the Commodore?

Have better coupe utilities been produced overseas? Have the latest pick-ups blurred the line between passenger car comfort and load carrying so much that it doesn’t matter anymore?

 

Lew Bandt’s ‘distorted’ Coupe Ute legacy

Unfortunately, the first coupe ute’s direct link to the 1933-34 Ford coupe is in danger of being lost forever following an unintended distortion initiated by Lewis Bandt himself.

In his retirement, Bandt had tried unsuccessfully to acquire a genuine 1934 ute of his design. So, ever resourceful, he built one himself from a cut-down 1934 sedan (below) which left it with a very different roofline to the 1934 coupe and his original ’34 coupe utility.

Tragically, Bandt was killed in this replica on his way home from filming an ABC TV documentary about his invention. To honour his legacy, local Ford V8 fans rebuilt the smashed-up replica for the Bandt family, which stayed faithful to its historically incorrect cut-down sedan roofline.

However, because it is housed in a Ford collection, more and more parties assume that it is a correct reference to the original. It has even appeared on an Australian stamp with this incorrect roofline. TJ

Bandt's '34 Coupe Ute replica. Compare its upright sedan rear roofline with that of the sloping coupe original (top photo).

 

14 Responses to Editorial: Australia DID NOT invent the Ute!

  • John says:

    Very interesting!

  • Steve says:

    Are there any of the original Lewis Bandt 33-34 coupe utes left in going order in Australia ?

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Good question Steve. We have heard of a few surviving and we know of at least one example that was turned into a hot rod years ago which could be getting rebuilt to original showroom condition. We’ve heard of others being rescued for full restorations too but we don’t have any details, so if there’s a Truck Jungle reader that can provide more information about these rare Aussie trucks please contact us.

  • Robert M.Ryan says:

    I am compiling a Register of 1934 Ford Coupe Utilities. They have Body Number 40 LD – - – -
    Very interesting Australian concept. My modified restored production vehicle is 40 LD 1060. Photos can be supplied upon request. Up until now have uncovered 24 units – eight original, the rest either ‘rodded’ or cowl with body number only. Ford Archivist Adrian Ryan stated by letter in 1997 that 301 V8 Coupe Utes were produced in 1934 + 130 four cylinder models. He passed away in 2009 aged 77. With him all knowledge of the Ford Motor company was lost as a fire destroyed the archive records.
    Thank you.

    • Mark Oastler says:

      That’s great work Robert. Please keep us posted on your progress in compiling this very important register.

  • Ted says:

    Ford Australia did not invent the coupe utility. Ford USA in 1930 (only) built several hundred vehicles which they called Model A Ford de luxe pickups. the cargo area was attached to the main passenger coupe area and not separate as the usual American pickup, which made it a coupe ute with wind up windows. One can not understand why Ford USA did not continue with this design, and why Henry was so enthusiastic with Lew’s design when he had already built some.

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Interesting debate, isn’t it? The critical definition of a coupe utility was never whether the cabin was joined to the tub. It was the combination of an actual ‘coupe’ roofline with a load bed instead of a boot. The fact that Lew Bandt also found a way of integrating this coupe roofline with the load bed so it was a single structural unit was incidental and a bonus, but not critical to his idea.

      For Australian volumes, this was a huge advance as it allowed two totally different and appealing models to use the same coupe roofline and doors – usually the most expensive parts of any car to tool – which would explain Henry Ford’s enthusiasm.

      Australians who have no idea of this distinction make the mistake of calling the first Holden ute and others like it a unique Aussie coupe utility. Even if this seems to be the accepted term for any passenger vehicle-based ute, it is misleading and not strictly correct. You, however, are quite correct in observing that there is no real difference between certain early US designs and later Australian utilities such as the Holden, early Falcons and Valiant.

      Those who are aware of the coupe ute’s origins would only call a pick-up with coupe doors and a five window roofline a ‘coupe utility’ which is exactly what Ford Australia invented. Nothing more, nothing less. Implicit in such a description is the extra legroom, style and internal storage space behind the seats not available in a normal pick-up, which is the reason why it was invented in the first place.

      The big shortfall with Bandt’s integration of the roofline with the load bed is that you can’t remove the tub and replace it with specific cargo structures. This is why the US switched over to stand-alone cabins. It took Ford Australia to address this with the first AU Falcon ute by designing a stand-alone five window coupe utility-style cabin that wasn’t attached to the load area.

      The irony is that the ignorant have used this as an excuse to strip it of its ‘coupe utility’ tag after it actually increased the application and flexibility of the coupe utility design.

    • John H says:

      Ted is it correct that the pickup bed still bolted to the cab on the 66-A?

  • Ted says:

    Hey Mark, I think you should have a look at a picture of the Model A deluxe pickup, you can’t deny its a coupe.

    • Mark Oastler says:

      Yes, you are correct, but it’s not a sloping five-window coupe roof-line with the extra style and storage space behind the seats that Bandt created, which is the key difference.

  • Eva Haynes says:

    I’ve heard the Aussies made the 34 ute in a soft top or convertible style because of the hot conditions. Has anybody seen or heard of one?

  • Mark Brown says:

    Eva you are right the first ute came out in two models the model B 302 or 304. The 304 was a soft top. The below link will show you. http://www.fordgarage.com/pages/ute302304.htm

  • muz says:

    Check Australian patent register, surprise surprise, the ute was patented in 1930 , years before fords claim of the ‘pigs to market’ conversation that started the whole concept of the ute… but Ford did make them reality!

  • W Tomlins says:

    The US Model A Deluxe pickup had a truck cab & the pickup bed was bolted to the cab ; hardly a Coupe Utility. The first Aussie Ford Coupe Ute was built in late 1933. Lew Bandt’s replica was first done as a 1933, so at least that was correct, but after it was rebuilt following the fatal crash, it became a 1934 model. The other give away of this replica is that the pickup bed is shorter than the originals & does not look right.Open cab Utilities with an integrated side panel forming the carrying bed were built in Australia by most auto companies from the 1920′s & because they used passenger car fronts & trim, looked far superior to anything made in the US.

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