Sunday Information – English Language Oddities

Posted on Sun 03/27/2011 by

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The History of the Ute.

In the U.S. this might be construed as the history of one of your early Indian peoples.

In Australia, however, it has an entirely different connotation.

Ute is the shortened version of Utility, and in Australia that means a Utility Vehicle.

In the U.S. these vehicles are called Pickups or trucks, while in Australia, they are all known by the generic term Utility, or Ute.

In fact, the Ute was actually invented in Australia.

While Henry Ford may have introduced the original Pickup truck in the U.S. in 1925 when he introduced his Ford Model T Runabout with Pickup Body, it was rudimentary, mainly open, and very basic indeed.

In 1932, a farmer’s wife in Gippsland in the State of Victoria in Australia wrote a letter to Ford Australia, complaining that there was a need for a vehicle that she said:

“Her husband was looking for a vehicle that he could drive her to Church in on Sunday, and then deliver the pigs to market on the Monday.”

Instead of penning off a polite reply, the Head of Ford Australia passed the letter down the chain of command until it found its way to the design department.

A young Lewis Brandt was a 22 year old engineer, and he had been working for Ford Australia for five years, and this letter provided him the genesis of an idea.

Even though he knew of the U.S. version of the Pickup, that vehicle was more along the lines of a small truck.

What Brandt wanted to do was to design a specific vehicle that in the forward compartment was virtually the same as for the normal Ford passenger vehicle with all the trimmings of that Sedan, and then in the rear was an open flat bed that could indeed be used for carrying the pigs to market.

1934 Ford Coupe Utility

While seeming on the surface to be a vehicle with not many applications, it indeed filled a variety of roles, and mainly for farming communities. In the main, most farmers struggled, and could not afford two vehicles, one, a truck to do the farm work and the second, a Sedan for the farmer’s wife to do her shopping, get the children to school, and for that Sunday trip to Church. The truck was more of a necessity on a farm, and that trip to Church in your Sunday best would then be a case of sitting in what would be a dirty farm truck.

Brandt worked on the idea, and in 1934, Ford Australia produced the Ford Coupe Utility, which had the front end of a current Ford Sedan, and an open tray bed at the back with enclosed sides and a hinged rear tail gate. It had all the comforts of the latest Sedan up front, the legendary Ford 302 engine and a half ton carrying capacity in the back.

This vehicle was perfect, especially for farm use, and whereas previously bank managers would only lend money for a truck for the farm, and not for a Sedan, these vehicles found a niche. and from that point forwards, the Ute was always part of any new model release.

1948 Holden 48-215 FX Ute

Ford Australia constructed mainly the British Fords and did right hand drive conversions of some U.S. Fords, and the Customline was one of those U.S. Fords that did do well here in Australia, but, unlike Hodens, Ford had no distinctly Australian vehicle..

In 1960 Ford decided to release an Australian Ford, loosely based around a U.S. Ford, but constructed for Australian standards. The U.S. model chosen to base the Australian Ford around was the mid sized Falcon, basically the same size as for the Holden, which had virtually cornered the Australian vehicle market, due to its immense popularity, and also that the Holden was a vehicle designed specifically for Australian conditions, designed fully in Australia by Australians and for Australians.

Ford Falcon Ute Early 60’s

As part of Ford’s first model release here in Australia, the XK Falcon, they also released a ‘Ute’ version in 1961. Not as popular as the Holden Ute, it did take some of the market, and took years to even approach the same sort of sales figures that the Holden already had.

Chrysler also came into the Australian market with their Valiant, a derivative of the Chrysler/Plymouth Valiant in the US, and they also released a Ute version of their new range.

Only Holden and Ford still exist now, and to this day, both still produce Ute versions of their latest model releases.

Late Model Holden Commodore Ute

The Ute has now become more a vehicle for tradesmen who can load their work equipment into the tray at the back, usually covered in now, and still have all the appointments of a daily driver Sedan vehicle. They consistently sell well these days and are an integral part of every new model release. There are only the two Companies here that still manufacture them, Holdens Australia with their Commodore Ute, and Ford Australia with their Falcon Ute.

Each year, a town in lower central New South Wales, Deniliquin, has what they call a Ute Muster, and literally thousands of Utes from all across Australia gather there for a week of events, celebrating this unique Australian vehicle.

Similar vehicles have been in production in the U.S. namely the Chevrolet El Camino, but they were never regular releases based solely around the same Sedan model release. The U.S. has specifically moved into construction of Pickups/small trucks, as a specialised vehicle, namely the Ford F100 and its derivatives, and by and large, these vehicles are a lot larger than the Australian Ute which remains looking similar to the Sedan it derived from. Virtually every U.S. manufacturer now makes Pickups as a specialised vehicle, but these differ markedly from the Australian Ute, still basically a Sedan with a tray back.

2009 Holden HSV Maloo Ute

While still qualifying in a way as a ‘truck’ a Holden Ute in fact holds the World speed record for a tray bodied vehicle, and the vehicle used for this purpose was a Holden HSV Maloo Ute, specially constructed by the Holden Special Vehicles Division of Holdens Australia, and this vehicle is available to the public, although I would seriously doubt this particular Ute would be used in its primary function. I just cannot imagine anybody loading pigs for the market into the back of this little baby.

So even though we all share a common language, this is a case where the same words conjures up visions of entirely different things.

Mention the word Ute in Australia, and everybody immediately knows what you are talking about.

Lewis Brandt, the ‘inventor’ of the Ute worked at Ford Australia until his retirement in 1976, having worked at the Company for 48 years.

The ubiquitous Aussie Ute, a distinctly Australian vehicle.

Image Credits:

1934 Ford Coupe Utility – Ford Australia

1948 Holden 48-215 FX Ute – Holdens Australia

2007 Holden Commodore Ute – Holdens Australia

2008 Holden HSV Maloo Ute – Holdens Australia

If you click on each image, it will open in a new and larger page.

Posted in: Australia, Education