In 1904 the first Ford motor car was imported to Australia, supplied by Ford Canada to avoid extra import duty on non-Empire produced goods. Ford cars were a relatively low priced option for those able to purchase a motor car and proved extremely popular, particularly the Model T. Initially cars were shipped to Australia virtually complete, but as the number of local body building operations developed, motor cars were increasingly delivered as chassis and parts. To standardise production and manage distribution more effectively, the Ford Motor Company of Australia, with a manufacturing and a sales company, was incorporated on 31 March 1925, based in Geelong, Victoria.
South Australian born Lew Bandt was appointed as the first designer on the staff of Ford Australia. His automotive career started at just 14 years of age when he became a fitting and turning apprentice with Ford distributor Duncan & Fraser. In 1929 he became a junior draughtsmen at the Ford Motor Co. Australia. It is reputed that a letter received by Ford Australia in 1933 from a farmer's wife in Gippsland, Victoria asking:
'Why don't you build people like us a vehicle to go to church in on Sunday, and which can carry our pigs to market on Monday?'
It is believed this letter prompted the design of the coupe utility - the first Australian designed ute. The task was given to the 22 year old Lew Bandt. Buckboards, converted from existing passenger vehicles such as the Model T, roadster utilities and light delivery vehicles were already in use. They were often purchased as a chassis and cowl, with a semi-open cab and flat bed tray fitted by a local body builder. Formally designated as a light delivery model, the coupe utility was based on a passenger car. It provided comfort and all-weather protection for passengers as well as the load bearing capacity of a light truck. It was first released in 1934, during the years of the Great Depression, when owning even one vehicle was a luxury. Banks would only provide farmers with a loan to purchase a work vehicle. The coupe utility was the perfect solution.
In this design the tray was integral to the cab, which was fashioned from the front end of the new V8 sedan. A continuous side panel, pressed as a single piece, was used from the rear of the cab to the rear of the tray. The body and suspension were strengthened to provide a larger open area and greater strength for load bearing. Only 345 vehicles were produced in 1934 and were sold for £295. Demand soon increased and other marques quickly followed with the release of their own models. The use of Ford's newly released side valve V8 engine struck a chord with Australia's farming community and helped popularise the V8 into Australian culture. Demand from tradesmen and farmers was particularly high following the end of the Second World War as little commercial automotive manufacturing had occurred in the previous six years. Utilities played an important role in developing Australia, ferrying supplies through some of the harshest areas in the country. Although it originated as a 'cargo carrier' for tradesmen and farmers, by the 1970s the culture of ownership had changed, becoming a status symbol for owners and a proud part of their identity and lifestyle.
Lew Bandt enjoyed a 46 year career in the Design and Product Development section of Ford Australia. Following his local success with the coupe utility he was sent to the USA and Canada to meet with Ford engineers and Henry Ford himself. There were plans to manufacture a similar utility based on Bandt's design for the American market, but it was not until 1957 that Ford's American arm took up the idea with the release of the Ranchero. Bandt was tragically killed in 1987 in a road accident while returning from an interview with the ABC outside Geelong. He was travelling in a converted 1933 Ford sedan built to replicate his iconic ute design.