Just as the U.S. is known for its pickup trucks, Australia is known for its "utes"--and Ford is celebrating the 80th anniversary of the concept in the country this year. Like America's pickup boom, utes came about through necessity.
The very first ute was launched in 1934, following a letter from a farmer's wife in Gippsland, Victoria. The farming family could only afford one vehicle, but that vehicle needed to do two very different jobs: take the family to church on a Sunday, but then take pigs to the market on the Monday. In other words, the vehicle needed passenger car comfort but the load-carrying abilities of a commercial vehicle.
Until then, most suitable vehicles featured wooden or metal utility bodies on an existing passenger car chassis of the age--often, Ford's own Model T. But 23-year old Ford designer Lewis Brandt had a different idea, basing his new vehicle on a coupe body, blending the pickup bed's metal sides into the regular bodywork for a cleaner profile and more load volume than vehicles with a separate bed. With a V-8 engine and three speed manual transmission and a regular coupe cabin, the "coupe-utility" matched car-like performance with the leaf-sprung utility of a 1,200-lb payload.
The idea quickly caught on in rural communities and over 22,000 were sold between 1940 and 1954. Several generations have since been sold, with the Falcon XK ute of 1961 spawning by far the most popular model line. Since its debut, more than 455,000 Falcon utes have been sold, with everything from true utility models to high-performance V-8 versions still providing that mix of a car-like drive and pickup truck utility to its owners. Unfortunately for Australian fans, that particular model will soon be no more, with Ford's Australian production shutting down in 2016 and taking the Falcon with it.
Ford trucks globally have become even bigger, the popular F-Series selling over 33 million units throughout its history--twice that of Ford's Model T pickup. In the U.S, the F-Series has spent 32 years as the country's best-selling vehicle. And while a Ranger model is no longer sold in the U.S, the Australian designed and developed Ranger is selling well in other markets. All owe their success to the vision of Lewis Brandt and his original car-like utility pickups.