FORD’S ANNOUNCEMENT in July that the last Falcon ute had been built caught my attention. I’ve always liked utes, and I’m not alone; they seem to strike a chord with a lot of Aussies.
There’s more to it than tradies using them as tool carriers during the week and dirt-bike transporters at weekends. I credit much of the appeal of these two-door light-commercials to their sometime-role as substitutes for sporty two-door coupes and hardtops. The popularity of V8-ute racing over the years works for me. And how about ‘Gricey’ happily calling his XR8 racing-ute a ‘two-door sports coupe’ back in the day? I rest my case.
Utes as substitutecoupes has been a supply and demand thing. While Aussie car-enthusiasts have understandably been attracted to the sporty image of coupes and hardtops (compared with the ‘familycar’ flavour of four-door models), more often than not they’ve been pretty scarce in this part of the world. But we’ve always had our twodoor utes.
It was different in the 1930s – coupe versions of many popular cars were widely available here. But post-WWII the story was different. Most of the time we could only lust from afar at the sexy two-door coupes and hardtops produced by Detroit’s big hitters.
Thankfully Ford Australia finally broke the drought with its XM Falcon hardtop in 1964. So full marks to Fomoco for giving us the home-grown XM and XP hardtops. Then suddenly they were off Ford’s menu again until the XA hardtops arrived in ’72. Sure, GMH and Chrysler-Oz had stepped up from ’68 with Monaros, Valiant hardtops and Chargers – but 10 years on it was ‘game over’, once more, for local two-doors. Okay, there was GMH’s last gasp with its VX-based Monaros from 2001. Nevertheless the availability of proper sixcylinder and V8-powered, rear-wheel drive, two-door, bloke’s cars here since WWII has been quite patchy overall. But we’ve always had our two-door utes.
Until now, that is, with the last XR6 Falcon ute already done and dusted, and the last Commodore ute in sight… Ford’s calling ‘time’ on local ute production marked a couple of significant milestones. It ended 55 years of Falcon ute production by Ford Australia. Can it really be 55 years? Amazingly, yes.
Perhaps more significantly it was also 82 years since Ford Australia launched the world’s first coupe utility at Geelong in 1934. This was the famous Lew Bandt-designed – ‘family to church Sunday/ pigs to market Monday‘ – V8 ute.
My ute/coupe synergy idea is a lovely fit with the Bandt example. Starting with a Model 40 five-window V8 coupe, Lew chopped the coupe bodywork off just behind the rear window of the cab and created a nowfamiliar ute rear section to produce an all-new light commercial, a handsome, practical vehicle that was a lively performer for its day.
There’s more to my focus on the Bandt ute than the fact that my first car as a 14-year-old was a Model 40 Ford coupe. In my first job at Ford in the 70s, as a wetbehind- the-ears new-model parts-analyst, I was amazed to find myself working with Lew Bandt on new model programs.
Until I met Lew I was flabbergasted that none of the managers I worked for had a clue about Model T trembler coils, or which Geelong V8 had the first all-steel body, or when they got hydraulic brakes, or column- shift gearboxes, or when the 24-stud motors were introduced, etc. It was stuff I’d known since I was a 12 or 13-year-old Ford-loving anorak. And they didn’t know or care. But Lew did.
And he was a lovely bloke to boot.
I was sad when I learned of Lew Bandt’s sudden, tragic passing in the 80s. I’m kind of sad at the Falcon ute’s demise now.