The great Aussie ute has evolved
The impending demise of Australia’s domestic vehicle manufacturing has also heralded the end of an original Australian contribution to the motoring world – the traditional Aussie utility or ute. But the great Aussie ute isn’t dead, it’s simply evolved into something a little different and even more practical.
The genesis of the Aussie ute dates back to a letter written to Ford by a farmer’s wife in 1933. Sadly her name’s been lost to motoring history, but the question she asked 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?'
Ford’s 22 year-old designer, Lew Bandt, responded with the 1934 Ford Coupe utility. It was based on Ford’s new V8 sedan with the cab and tray integrated by a single side panel. Released during the depression, it proved perfect for the times when owning any vehicle was something of a luxury and banks would only lend money for work vehicles. The ute fitted the bill, providing the comfort of a sedan with the load carrying ability of a light truck, thanks to a stronger body and suspension.
From such humble beginnings came the start of an Australian motoring icon. The ute, and especially the V8 ute, is now deeply ingrained in Australian culture. In its 80-year history it’s been transformed from a simple utilitarian vehicle into something of a motoring fashion statement that for some Australian men is a motorised expression of their masculinity. But it’s not just men. These days women are also taking to utes. A 2010 survey by Mahindra Automotive Australia found that half the women surveyed would consider a ute as a family car. Many women are also finding that the all-purpose practicality of a ute suits their lifestyle.
Australians have paid homage to the ute in some spectacular ways. Firstly there’s the “B&S Ball” style ute beloved of country blokes who adorn them with big roo bars, spotlights and stickers galore then try to impress their mates with a bit of circle work at the Bachelor & Spinsters Ball. This venerated country institution is an opportunity for young country blokes and sheilas to get together and put on a bit of style in an atmosphere of booze, dust and general misbehaviour. Sleeping it all off in the back of the ute is the norm.
If the ute has a spiritual home then it’s surely the annual Deniliquin Ute Muster, when the outback NSW town becomes the Ute Capital of the World for up to 25,000 ute lovers.
But Australia’s love affair with utes isn’t confined to the bush. City blokes too have taken to the “sports ute” with gusto. Vehicles like the Holden HSV Maloo and the Ford Falcon XR8 offer colossal power. In the case of the Holden at least, that power’s mixed with some pretty impressive handling as well. But as for carrying cement mixers or anything else vaguely useful, well forget it. Today’s sports ute is more stylish sports coupe than useful vehicle.
The ultimate expression of the sports ute culture is the V8 Ute Racing Series which roared into life 2001. It’s fiercely contested over eight rounds throughout Australia and has attracted some pretty unlikely competitors including country music singer Adam Brand, Australian Sevens Rugby Union player Ben Dunn and TV host Grant “Mad Dog” Denyer.
Aussie utes have come a long, long way from a practical vehicle to take you to church on Sunday and your pigs to market on Monday. That sort of role has been increasingly filled by Japanese manufacturers. In fact Aussies can’t get enough of the Toyota HiLux ute which has been near the top of the vehicle sales charts for quite some time, battling it out with the Hyundai i30 and the Toyota Corolla.
But not far behind is the Ford Ranger, which was designed and engineered by Ford R&D in Australia, it’s built in Thailand, South Africa and Argentina and exported to the world. The Ranger doesn’t quite fit the mould of the traditional Aussie ute, which for decades has maintained the formula of a sedan with an integrated tray at the back. The Ranger has been specifically designed for its purpose, rather than being the ute version of Ford’s Falcon.
But in many ways it’s a return to its original intentions. In its dual cab 4x4 form it’s arguably the last word in all-purpose family practicality. You can load it up with your tools of trade during the week, take the family shopping on Saturday and head to the bush to get away from it all on your holidays.
In fact you could probably even take a few pigs to the market on a Monday in your Ford Ranger if you really had to.
Photo credit: Ford
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