This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007
Louis Thornett (Lewis) Bandt (1910-1987), motor vehicle designer and engineer, was born on 26 February 1910 at Moonta, South Australia, eldest of five children of Louis Seymour Bandt, butcher, and his wife Ethel, née Hobbs, both born in South Australia. After World War I the family moved to Adelaide. Encouraged by his father, in 1924 Louis junior began a fitting and turning apprenticeship with Duncan & Fraser Ltd.
This firm specialised in the modification and sale of T-model Fords, and Bandt spent most of his time designing custom-made bodies. In 1927 he moved to Victoria to work for the Melbourne Motor Body & Assembling Co. Pty Ltd. Two years later he was appointed a junior draughtsman at the Geelong plant of the Ford Motor Co. of Australia Pty Ltd. He became the first designer on the staff of Ford’s Australian subsidiary. A job at the factory was arranged for his father, and the rest of the family moved from Adelaide.
Although he was to enjoy a 46-year career with Ford, Bandt’s chief distinction, the design of the `coupe utility’, came early. In 1932 a Gippsland farmer’s wife wrote to the company pointing out the need for a combined work and passenger vehicle, purpose-built for farmers who were having to make do with `buckboards’: open-sided, soft-canopy T-model cars converted by adding a rear timber tray to carry loads. Bandt’s innovation provided for an enclosed, protective and comfortable cabin at the front and a tray at the back, 5 ft 5 ins (165 cm) long and able to carry 1200 lb. (544 kg).
A sample body was made in 1933 and the first utilities, or `utes’, rolled off the production line next year. Dubbed `the Kangaroo Chaser’ by Henry Ford when Bandt displayed two examples in Detroit, United States of America, in 1935, the ute was quickly recognised as the ideal farmers’ vehicle. Both the Ford and General Motors companies were soon manufacturing models for the American market. In World War II Bandt worked on the production of auxiliary fuel tanks for fighter aircraft. He won bronze medals in the annual British Empire motorcar design competitions in 1947-48. Among the most popular of Bandt’s later designs were a station wagon conversion of the Mark II Zephyr in the 1950s and a right-hand drive version of the 1967 Fairlane. In the mid-1960s he spent some time at Ford’s Canadian plant. Back at Geelong, he was manager of body engineering. He had several terms as chairman of the Geelong and South-West Victoria group of the Society of Automotive Engineers, Australasia.
On 6 September 1941 at Prospect North Methodist Church, Adelaide, Bandt had married Nellie Alice Rowe, a music teacher. A charity worker and, from childhood, a committed member of the Methodist (later Uniting) Church, he was an accomplished artist who painted Ford’s nativity scene at Christmas. He retired in 1975. On 18 March 1987 he took part in an Australian Broadcasting Corporation television documentary about the utility. While driving his restored 1934 model home that day, he collided with a truck on the Midland Highway, near Bannockburn, and was killed. His wife and their three daughters survived him.
Damian Veltri, 'Bandt, Louis Thornett (Lewis) (1910–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bandt-louis-thornett-lewis-12169/text21807, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 24 October 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007