Here in the US, we have a love/hate relationship with car/truck hybrids.
We’ve produced two — the Chevrolet El Camino (and its twin, the GMC Sprint) and the Ford Ranchero — and they have both rabid fans.
In Australia, though, car/truck hybrids know as “utes” are popular alternatives to the compact pickups from Toyota, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Mazda that took over America in the 1970s and 1980s. There, and in New Zealand, South Africa and many other countries, utes caught on and have maintained an audience from the 1930s to today.
The word “ute” comes from the specific bodystyle that Ford introduced in 1934: The Coupe Utility.
According to the Powerhouse Museum at the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, the Ford Australia designer Lewis Bandt developed the Coupe Utility in response to a letter Ford received from the wife of an Australian farmer.
“Please make a two-in-one car and truck,” she requested. “Something I can go in to church on Sunday, and carry pigs to market on Monday.”
The vehicle Bandt designed was a comfortable, three-seat, car-like cabin, with a cargo area out back that could carry up to 1,200 pounds. When Henry Ford saw the finished car, he nicknamed it the “Kangaroo Chaser.”
It took Holden — GM’s Australian brand — and Dodge until the 1950s to develop their own version of the Coupe Utility. Holden was the first out of the gate, with the 50-2106, a coupe utility version of the popular 48-215 sedan. The Holden ute went on sale in 1951.
Dodge hit the market at around the same time, launching the the Dodge Kingsway Coupe Utility, based on the popular Kingsway coupe and sedan, in 1956.
Virtually every other manufacturer selling cars in Australia had coupe utility versions of their cars for sale for that market. While it’s not as potent a car market as the United States, Australians currently purchase about 1.1 million cars per year, making it roughly half the size of Great Britain’s car market, with roughly a third of that country’s population.
Brands like Armstrong Siddeley, Austin Cambridge, Hillman and even Peugeot had their own ute versions for the Australian market.
Because of its proximity and market size, Australia has always been a strong market for Asian manufacturers, and quickly those brands built utes to appeal to Australian consumers.
Without question, the most popular Japanese ute through the 1980s was the Subaru Brumby.
The United States got its own version of the Subaru Brumby, known as the Subaru BRAT. Subaru marketed the BRAT here between 1978 and 1987, but in Australia, the Brumby sold in two generations up until 1994.
Because of the Toyota Hilux’s size, it eventually went on to become Toyota’s defacto coupe utility, but prior to that truck’s introduction, Toyota sold a coupe utility based on the second- and third-generation Toyota Corona.
The larger Toyota Crown also provided the basis for utes, but those were sold as complete knock-down kits, which were assembled on-site by Australian Motor Industries, the importer of cars from AMC, British Leyland, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota.
Currently, Ford and Holden still hang on providing 2016 versions of coupe utilities. Ford offers its popular Falcon in both a coupe utility and a cab-and-chassis version.
The Holden Ute has moved much further toward the performance market than the utility market, with three, 407hp V-8-powered trim levels of the Holden Ute.
For a short time before Pontiac went under, it had considered a Pontiac G8-based El Camino successor, which it showed briefly in the United States in 2008.
A ute footnote: Lewis Bandt was Ford Australia’s very first in-house designer and while he worked on many projects for Ford over the years, his name would become synonymous with the ute, both in life, and sadly, in death.
On his way home from filming a documentary for the Australian Broadcasting Company in 1987, Band was driving a 1934 example of the ute he designed when he collided with a truck. He died in the crash.