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In late 1932 or early 1933 a farmer's wife from somewhere in the Geelong region wrote a letter to Hubert French, managing director of Ford Australia whose headquarters were in Geelong. The gist of what she wrote was: "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?"

The request was passed down the line to the director of manufacturing, C.C. {'Slim') Westman, who took it to the Australian subsidiary's sole designer, 22 year old Lewis T. Bandt. Bandt told the story thus:

Slim Westman came to me one day and said he wanted the front end of a V8 sedan combined with a utility tray. He'd remembered the old buckboard-type bodies on Model Ts and felt there should be some way of modifying present models to create a new vehicle for which there would be a ready demand.

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 a load in the back. I told him that 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 the tray joined. I said: 'Boss them pigs are going to have a luxury ride around the city of Geelong.'

And so Lew Bandt made his first sketch in January 1933 (which survives in the Ford Discovery Centre, on the site of the original factory in Geelong). The sketch was done on a

10-metre blackboard. The payload was 1200 pounds (545kg) and the wheelbase was nine foot four inches (2845mm). Westman ordered two prototypes.

It was Bandt who coined the term 'coupe utility'.

There were certainly pickups in the US before the Australian coupe utility was invented. But they were more primitive than Lew Bandt's ute. The 1934 Ford V8 coupe utility incorporated the pickup bed within the cabin and the wheel arches inside the tray. But it still used a timber frame in the main body. The load tray, side panel and the rear side of the cab were a one-piece pressing, giving an integrated structure and appearance, more like a two-door sedan with a big load area, hence the appropriateness of coupe utility. Greater strength was another attribute.

Interestingly, GMH had a similar vehicle soon afterwards and it seems certain both companies were coincidental^ at work on the same concept in 1933. By the end of 1934 GMH had built 29 Bedford utes. In GMH's case, the pickup bed was incorporated into the rear of a coupe body. Chevrolet coupe utes were made from 1936 to 1942.

In his memoirs, GMH's managing director of the time, Laurence J. ('Larry') Hartnett erroneously claimed that his company had developed the first ute. But there is now no disputing Ford Australia's right to claim the title of inventor of the coupe utility.

And the farmer's wife who wrote to Hubert French deserves some belated recognition, too!

Leanne Tander is undoubtedly the most recognized and successful woman in Australian motorsport today. With a diverse competition CV that belies her young age, Leanne has driven everything from Formula 3 open wheelers to V8 utes. Married to V8 Supercar stalwart Garth Tander and a key member of their 'TanderSport' race team, Leanne has expanded her range this year by joining the Autobarn Touring Car Masters series, driving an homage to the Ford XA GT-HO Phase IV. And there's still more on the horizon for this popular racer, as she explained to JUST CARS...

JUST CARS: Let's start with one of the talking points of the Autobarn Touring Car Masters this year, namely your joining the class at the wheel of an XA GT-HO Phase IV replica. Tell us how the deal came into place.

LEANNE TANDER: JB (John Bowe) and John McMellan from Wilson Security (who sponsor the car) asked me if I'd be interested in doing it. Of course, I would be! So, I went to Winton and took it out for a shakedown and it went well. Then I got the call saying 'You're going to Clipsal', so it was all last minute!

JC: Looking at the Phase IV, it's obviously a standout, but being such a new car, has it been a bit of a "work-in-progress" for the first few TCM rounds?

LT: Absolutely. We did that shakedown at Winton (its first ever run) to make sure it was all running, but never really got to test it again before Clipsal. We didn't really get a long enough session to find out there was a brake problem, so when we got to Clipsal, I ran out of brakes in one of the sessions. There was also a problem with a misfire which got worse at Clipsal and ended up stopping me in the practice session. Then, unfortunately, the engine went as well.

JC: So, it was a real baptism of fire for the first round?

LT: Yeah, it was, but I guess when a deal's come together that late, that was always going to be the case. So, each time something came up, we fixed it and the car got better and faster. That was proven at Winton, where we ended up third, which was a fantastic result for everybody. At Darwin, the car ran absolutely faultlessly all weekend, so we've got the car running perfectly. Now we're fine tuning the chassis to try and get the most out of what we've got. We've got a massive amount of horsepower and a great engine, but can't get the power down, just spinning the wheels up.

So we're working on that at the moment, and I think once we've got that under control, the car's going to be even better again.

JC: How does driving that XA compare to all the different race cars you've driven previously.

LT: Well, it is very different. The kind of cars I've got the most experience in are open wheelers - and especially Formula 3. You really can't get much more different from a Formula 3 than the XA (laughs). It's probably three times the weight of an F3 car and it's got massive bodyroll. In an F3, the bodyroll can be measured in tiny, tiny millimetres. In the XA, it feels like it's rolling over about half a metre every turn! So, it is necessary to adjust my driving to try and get the most out of this car. I've got to be aware that in such a heavy, older car, the tyres get hot easier and the brakes are going to get hot quicker. You could go out and do qualifying laps straight off the start line every lap, but you only get halfway through the race before your car really goes off. So you've just got to adjust (your driving) to what you've got. To be honest, it's not as hard as I thought. Watching the cars, I thought they must be a real handful to drive, but my car is actually a quite good 'predictable' car, and the more we develop the chassis, the easier it's getting to drive it fast. So, I'm enjoying that side of it, too - developing the car, getting it to where I know it can be.

JC: You've recently been nominated as a CAMS representative to the new FIA 'Women In Motorsport' commission. Tell us a little about that.

LT: I was pretty excited to be nominated and have my nomination accepted. It's a real passion of mine to try and increase the number of women involved in motorsport, and to get women to a point where we're considered on the basis of what we've achieved, the same as any guys out there. There are still a couple of barriers in racing for women - getting involved, and then once they're involved, actually moving up the ladder. So when this came along, I saw it as a real opportunity to try and change some things here in Australia. CAMS are really behind it and really supportive. I think they recognise a need to do this as well - to actually increase the number of women involved. So, I get to go to Geneva in September (for a meeting of the commission), which I'm very excited about. I'll get to meet a lot of great women involved in the sport and the commission will be looking at ways to increase the participation of women in all forms and areas of motorsport. So, not just circuit racing, but all different disciplines, as well as on the other side, like officials and flag marshals, on the board of governing bodies and things like that.

JC: So, from what you've seen, is there anyone out there in circuit racing who'll be the next Leanne Tander?

LT: (laughs) Well, I hope they'll be better than me! I think Samantha Reid is a fantastic driver. She's never really had the opportunity, budget-wise. She's done everything herself. When she's raced Formula Ford, she's prepared the car, she's taken it to the track and engineered it. She's always struggled with budget, but she's a great driver. We've got Gemma Deacon in South Australia who's really serious about her racing. Again, she's struggling with a budget. And there are some karting girls like Isabella Thomas, who just won a round of her championship, so she's a really, really good driver. She's still only a junior, so hopefully she can make that step up to seniors, then cars and progress on. All those girls are very talented, but the same with anyone in motorsport, it's a little bit about being in the right place at the right time and having the right support to actually move up to the top level.

JC: If a younger driver approached you to take on a mentoring role, would that be something you'd be interested in?

LT: I already do it a bit, informally. A lot of girls and younger women contact me through my website - I try to respond and answer their questions.

JC: With the Touring Car Masters running at most V8 Supercar rounds this year, you're obviously seeing a bit more of Garth on and off the track. Do you give each other feedback on your driving?

LT: Garth gives me plenty of feedback. I tend to not give him so much (laughs). Because of the way we've run in Improved Production and Formula 3 in the past, Garth's taken on the engineering role, and as a result it's been his position to 'critique' my driving and give me some pointers. Also, when I was racing V8 Supercars last year, it was very helpful having him there to tell me a few things, because he obviously can drive those cars very well. But I tend not to comment too much on his driving. He's pretty switched on with his stuff and he's got a lot of people (in the team) to go through his data and discuss that with him.

JC: You turned 30 this year. Ideally, would you like to see yourself racing in five or ten year's time?

LT: Yes, I would. I guess it would probably be at a different level. I'm up to that point where I'm not sure if I'll ever become a professional V8 Supercar driver. The opportunities just aren't presenting themselves and the older you get, the less opportunities there are. So if I am going to be racing in another five or ten years, it's going to be at a level similar to maybe Touring Car Masters or Improved Production. Maybe I'll wait ten years and crack out my Formula 3 and go historic racing! (Laughs)

Leanne Tander is sponsored by: Wilson Security, Ugly Fish eyewear, Racer Industries, Web, My and the McGrath Foundation.

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