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Ford’s Australian ute turns 80

New and old: A rebuilt 1934-era classic Ford Ute sits next to one of its modern-day successors, the Ranger.

The end is nigh, but Ford throws one last hurrah for its Australian pick-up

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Ford logo26 Feb 2014

FORD might have ordered the death of its Australian-made Falcon ute by 2016, but it has today celebrated the 80th anniversary of the car it says started it all – the original 1934 utility.

Sales of load-lugging utes – known elsewhere as pick-ups – are now a huge part of the Blue Oval’s success, with the F-Series range long the single most popular model line in the United States.

Ford’s Melbourne design and engineering centre remains a centre of excellence for the brand, and led the creation of the Ranger that is now sold in more than 180 countries.

But all such vehicles, including the Australian-developed Ranger you see in the images in this story, arguably have their genesis in a creation developed in Melbourne in response to a request from a Depression-era farmer’s wife.

In the middle of 1933, Ford Australia managing director Hubert French received a letter from the better-half of a Gippsland farmer, requesting a car to take the pair to church on a Sunday and shuttle pigs to the market on Monday. They could not afford both a car and a truck, she said.

Ford then tasked 23-year-old designer Lew Bandt with the project, and he came up with the novel idea of basing a load-lugging vehicle on the sleek Ford coupe of the era, creating the now-familiar integrated steel loading tub with the car-like front end.

Until this point, auto manufacturers and body builders were creating primitive wooden or metal-based cab-chassis-style vehicles, starting with Ford’s ubiquitous Model T.

The original ute was sketched in chalk on a 10-metre blackboard. It had a 545kg payload and sat upon a 2845mm wheelbase. Under the bonnet was a V8 engine matched to a three-speed manual gearbox, while transverse leaf springs sat up-front and semi-elliptic units sat under the tray.

Two prototypes were made and the car went into series production on January 23, 1934. A pair of these early models were sent to Canada, where they caught the eye of Henry Ford over the river in Detroit.

Over the ensuing years, the 1934 classic cut a path to the creation of the 1961 Falcon ute, now on death row and in its final iteration – bar one last facelift due this year. Ford credits it with also paving the way for the F Series and Ranger.

Today, 20 per cent of all pick-ups sold globally wear a Ford badge – at least according to the company that makes them.

“Ford is celebrating the 80th anniversary of its Australian invention of the iconic ute, which led to the development of vehicles such as the F-Series and Ranger and propelled the company to years of truck leadership,” the company’s release said.

“Not only was it an Australian invention, but the concept has been exported to the world, reinterpreted by other manufacturers and gained a legion of fans everywhere.

“The story of the first Ford ute is a key part of Ford’s rich heritage that has seen the development of such iconic vehicles as the F-Series.” Ford will shut down its Victorian manufacturing plants in 2016, where it still builds the modern Australian Ute – the Falcon.

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