The Good Oil: Did Ford Australia really invent the ute?
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The story of how Ford Australia invented the ute has been told many times. Mostly by Ford Australia.
The short version is that a customer wrote to the company in 1932 wanting a vehicle to take to church on Sundays but also cart the pigs from the farm during the week. A young Ford engineer called Lew Bandt modified the company’s 1933 Coupe model to have a tray in the back with tougher suspension to carry 550kg and the “Coupe Utility”, aka ute was born.
It’s a nice story, but there are other contenders for the title. Oldsmobile created something similar as early as 1903, Dodge had a soft-top load-carrier in 1924 and Ford offered a Model T pickup in 1925. Even Volvo made a small number of open and closed-roof two-seat light commercials in 1927.
But The Good Oil reckons we should give it to Australia anyway. The Ford Coupe Utility was the first of its kind available exclusively with a hard-top, it was intended to be a mainstream model and well, it immediately made utes a huge part of Australian culture.
It’s easy to draw a direct line from the Coupe Utility to modern light commercials like the Ranger, but there is a key difference: between a ute and pickup truck.
Now, The Good Oil has banged on about this before, so we won’t do it again. Okay, maybe just a little.
The genius of Bandt’s creation is that it was based on a passenger car, with the ute body fully integrated into the shape. That’s what a proper ute is and that’s what the Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore utes were too. Sadly, those Aussie utes are now gone, like the companies that designed and built them.
Modern one-tonners like the Ford Ranger and Toyota Hilux are different, because they’re light trucks based on a cab-chassis with a separate tray added on the back.
Australasia is really the only market where “ute” and “pickup truck” are synonyms. But we’re okay with that; things change, right?