Is the ute actually an Aussie invention? The origins of the humble ute are hotly contested, with some people quick to claim that it first came from Down Under.
In one version of the story, a farmer’s wife from Gippsland wrote to Ford Australia in 1933, saying that they couldn’t afford to buy two vehicles, but wanted a car that could take them ‘to church on Sundays and the pigs to market on Mondays.’
In response, Lewis Brandt - a 22 year old engineer at the Ford Geelong plant - was commissioned to design a solution. Brandt modified the 1933 coupe, a passenger car, by extending the side panel from the rear of the cab to the rear of the tray, strengthening the body and suspension to provide for load bearing.
In 1934, the first Ford Coupe Utility rolled off the production line. The original ute had a 5ft 5in tray that could carry of load of 1200 pounds (550kg). The coupe ute was undoubtedly successful - even Henry Ford himself commented that the boys back in US needed to look at what he dubbed the ‘Aussie Kangaroo Chaser’.
However, the concept of having a purpose-built tray rear to a passenger cabin may be as old as the invention of the car itself. Appearing to be the earliest example of a ‘ute’ is the 1903 Oldsmobile, which was fitted with a tub-like body which seated 2 passengers.
The Dodge Brothers company also had a soft-top pickup in its line up to 1924, while other contenders to the title of ‘first ute’ include various models of Ford in the US, such as the 1925 Model T Runabout with pickup body.
While Australia cannot strictly claim invention, our innovation was somewhat evolutionary. The comfort and style offered with the coupe utility appears to be the first of its kind. The ute has remained successful over time, becoming a classic Australian icon.
Over 80 years later, the ute is increasingly ingrained in Australian culture. The Toyota Hilux was crowned the best-selling model in 2016, the first time ever that the most popular model in Australia was a commercial vehicle rather than a passenger car. The Ford Ranger was forth top-selling model and the Mitsubishi Triton the ninth.
Australians may no longer require the ute to take them the church or the pig market, but the original principle of flexibility and comfort remains as popular as ever.