Outsider's Perspective: Utes, a Eulogy

Ladies, Gentlemen; thank you for joining me in saying goodbye to a vehicle that has been for many years a forbidden fruit in most every part of the word. Even for those not hampered by random import restrictions, a lack of left-hand-drive options made them unappealing for all but the most dedicated men and women on the market, brave people who laughed in the face of the great Gearhead depreciation paradox. Let us take a moment to say farewell to the Australian ute, who passed away in July 29 of this year at the age of 84.

Well, like with the Panther’s fateful demise in 2011, we once again gather in a Ford plant to see the death of not just a vehicle, but an entire segment of vehicles. The white Falcon XR6 will be spared the indignity of being exported to some random customer and will be kept in a museum so that those who never came to experience one can at least acknowledge its existence and maybe be inspired to have a looksie around the classifieds.
It’s gestation was an unusual one, the product of a single letter from Victoria requesting a solution for a problem that was seemingly ignored or solved adequately by the pickups of the time for anyone else. It’s not like bodystyles were cheap to develop and manufacture even back then were there was precious few in the way of regulation. But even so, after a two year gestation Ford launched the Coupe Utility. It’s sister, the Roadster Utility, came and went too soon for the same reasons Brothers SSR and Dakota convertible left us after a couple of years. In 1951, Holden decided that they too would offer a solution to someone who thought a pickup was unworthy of the parking lot at church.
I must admit that I was not a fan of the ute when I was beginning my induction into all things automotive. I had been conditioned to look at them with distrust by one too many VW Saveiros and Chevrolet Corsa Pickups. Small cars that were neither a pickup nor a sedan? It just seemed wrong. It wasn’t until a blue ambassador by the name HSV Maloo came waltzing in my screen, beating an Audi S4 in a drag race. All of a sudden, they didn’t seem like such a bad idea. A Pontiac G8 that you could use to haul a couple hundred pounds of dirt? Yes, that’s something I can get behind.
But like the man who needs something to rely on, I moved in just as all the clever money ran out. Production was already slowing down and leading to where we are today. The ute’s gone, Americans are taking back to mid-size trucks only because they are the size of the full-sized one two generations ago and the chance of someone else creating a segment based on a letter is unlikely. The Ute is survived by the Chevrolet SS, currently stationed in the US, and the few left on the dealerships in its native Australia and specialist imports elsewhere. Peace be to its soul and resignation to the mourning.

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  1. engineerd Avatar

    I can only sob and pray to Murilee that we see a return of the Ute and/or Minitruck.

  2. JayP Avatar

    I was fortunate enough to see an ST in person…
    not my pic but a good representation.

    1. dukeisduke Avatar

      Was one at the Dallas Auto Show?

    1. sporty88 Avatar

      Aussies have always called them ‘utes’, regardless of whether the tray section is joined to the body (eg. the Pontiac G8 ST) or a separate bolt-on part (eg. any current American pick-up).

  3. Sean McMillan Avatar
    Sean McMillan

    That 34 in the second picture is too cool. Fix the windshield and the right headlight, add juice brakes and hop up the flatty, then add a dropped front axle and it’d be perfect. I wouldn’t even touch the paint or body.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      You might want to touch the body, the black line visible under the side window is where it has cracked right through! The tailgate needs some repair too, it has had a pretty hard life. This is from the National Motor Museum at Birdwood near Adelaide, they also have a rodded 1934 ute (red/chrome/shiny).

      1. outback_ute Avatar

        This is the other one. The 1934’s are incredibly rare, under 500 made from memory. Lewis Bandt who designed the ute wanted to restore one when he retired from Ford (1970s?) and could not find one so he built a replica from a sedan. Unfortunately he died in a crash in it on the way home from a tv interview.

      2. Sean McMillan Avatar
        Sean McMillan

        ok, maybe a minimum of structural repair. And maybe hammer out a few dents.

  4. crank_case Avatar

    I’ve witnessed a HSV Holden Ute at a trackday at my nearest circuit, easily imported thanks to Irelands lack of restrictions in that regard. The marshals red flagged him a few times as the thing was so hilariously sideways most the time. You’ve got this combo of big torquey V8 and very little weight over the back axle unladen making it easy to lose traction with a long wheelbase (longer than the saloon) making it easy to hold a slide once it’s going. It’s a pretty awe inspiring sight to see in the rear view mirrir of Miata let me tell you. It’s like a sports car that’s great for you on the fun weekends, but still useful the weekends you gotta pick up DIY stuff for the house. An under appreciated genre, we need more of these.

    1. outback_ute Avatar

      The current Holden utes are actually the same weight as the sedan believe it or not. Falcon utes since 1999 are actually heavier.
      I’d say that the V8 ute has been the Aussie sports car for the last 40 years.

      1. crank_case Avatar

        I think you’ve missed what I’m getting at on the rear end, it’s not the overall weight, the similarity can be explained by the ute being longer, but there’s less weight over the rear wheels and the suspensions probably designed to still work when carrying loads, so when unladen, it’s probably a bit more “loose” if you get me. You can always strap a few bags of sand in the bed over the rear axle of course. 😉

        1. outback_ute Avatar

          I do know what you mean. With my ute that has a viscous coupling lsd (very progressive) there was an intersection with an uphill approach on my way home years ago that in the wet I would have to make sure that I had clear road for 1_200m each way because I just couldn’t stop the wheels from spinning. The stiffer suspension doesn’t help low speed traction. On the other hand it is actually good on the track.

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