They built the Ute

April 28th, 2021

Australia, located as it is a long way from everywhere, has needed to be inventive and self-reliant.

This was never more evident than in the early 1930s when the country was beset by a savage and enduring economic Depression. The tale, so history has it, concerns a farmer who could only afford one vehicle which needed to cart produce to market during the week and the family to church on Sunday. Ford, in response, devised the ‘ute’.

Officially designated the Light Delivery, Ford’s initial design was based on a 1933 Model 40A coupe, with enclosed cabin and conventional bench seat plus an integrated ‘tub’ behind the passenger area.

Inside was sufficient room to seat three adults side-by-side, with the week’s groceries or a couple of smaller children in the space behind the seat.

Ford of course was not the first to offer a commercial vehicle with separate spaces for people and freight. Some of the earliest automotive bodies had a high-mounted seat with a wheel or tiller for steering and a tray to carry produce or luggage.

During the 1920s, manufacturers including Chevrolet and Dodge, produced roadster-style vehicles with their conventional rear bodywork replaced by ‘flareside’ timber trays. However, they didn’t match the integrated lines of the vehicle that Ford would claim as the world’s first Coupe Utility.

Once released, the Coupe Ute design could not remain exclusive and every major brand competing for sales in Australia needed a similar design in its model range. Holden during the 1930s bodied numerous brands and all but the most prestigious had a utility in the range.

Following World War 2, British makes became dominant in Australia and the American influence dwindled but demand for utilities remained unrelenting.

Austin, as the nation’s leading supplier of passenger cars until overtaken by Holden, produced utility versions of its popular A40 and A70 sedans. Hillman, Vanguard, Morris and even snobbish Armstrong-Siddeley did the same. Ford offered a range of models that began with the compact Anglia and culminated in the V8 Mainline that appeared in 1955.

By then of course, Holden had become the nation’s dominant manufacturer and leading supplier of commercial vehicles. For 1956, the FE brought new and modern styling which, from the cabin back, would be retained even after the FB and EK Holden went all 1950s American with fins and abundant chrome.

Ford’s Falcon, upon arrival in 1960, needed a utility in its range and also a panel van. However, the Ford van failed to ‘deliver’ because the load area was no taller than a station wagon and almost useless for commercial purposes.

Chrysler during the 1960s also produced a utility but its sales didn’t excite the statisticians. Nor did BMC’s Austin 1800 ute which had a huge tray but struggled when heavily laden because the front wheels – which provided the drive – scrabbled to get any grip when trying to climb a hill.

By 1972, just as its main rivals had begun to produce viable alternatives to the top-selling Holden half-tonner, General Motors changed the game with its One Tonne cab-chassis.

This amazing workhorse could be ordered with six-cylinder or V8 power and a range of bodies ranging from the standard drop-side alloy tray to a ‘Luton Peak’ pantechnicon with extended load space above the passenger area.

‘Tonners’ became the workhorse of the nation, yet fans of the model remain astonished that Holden never adapted its durable chassis to accept a 4WD drive train. Ford did try, but its blend of a Jeep chassis and XY Falcon bodywork wasn’t commercially successful.

From the early 1970s, when Holden produced its Sandman utility and panel van and Ford fired back with GS V8 versions of its van and ute, performance and style were destined to play significant roles in local marketing strategies.

Moving into the 1990s, with Holden Special Vehicles’ Maloo utility and the Falcon XR6 an XR8, rivalry between the brands became more intense. Not long after the Century turned, Ford devised a Turbo 6 engine and produced the 270kW Tornado while Holden persevered with V8 power.

By the time both brands shut their factory doors for the last time, Ford’s most powerful V8 ute delivered 315kW and the six 310kW. Those numbers would be comprehensively trashed however when HSV announced a limited production W1 Maloo with 474kW. One of the four official W1s built was sold during 2021 for more than $1 Million.

Enthusiast Insurance provides cover for lots of local utes. Some still work for a living but most travel minimal distances and save their owners money under the Enthusiast Drive Less…Spend Less principle.

No matter how exclusive or scarce your car you may be, Enthusiast Insurance will almost certainly be able to offer cost-effective insurance.

To obtain a Quick Quote, visit www.enthusiast.com.au at any time that is convenient to you. If you need to arrange immediate cover, Enthusiast can deal with that too and offers convenient monthly payments at no extra charge.

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