More Than a Car...More Than a Truck
A Brief History of Car Based Pickups

By: John Gunnell Posted: 04-17-07 13:05 PT
© 2007

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What do you call a car with a pickup truck box? “Coupe-Express?” “Sedan-pickup?” “El Camino?” “Ranchero?” “Ute?” Let’s start with Ute. Even though some American trucks like the Model T Roadster-Pickup, the Star Express and the Bantam pickup were close to a combination car-and-pickup, it's generally agreed that the Australian “Ute” initiated this class of vehicles.

The Ute Started it All
The Ute began as Slim Westman idea. He was an Australian farmer who heard about pickup trucks used by American farmers. Slim contacted the Ford of Australia to ask if they would consider building a dual-purpose vehicle – one that combined the styling and comfort of a passenger car with the utility of a pickup.

Westman wanted a car that could take his family to town and a truck that could haul his produce to market. Being relatively small, the vehicle he  envisioned would be cheap to operate. In addition, it would allow poor Australian farmers to get by purchasing one vehicle, rather than buying a car and a truck.

Lewis T. Bandt, chief designer at Ford in Geelong, Victoria, adopted Westman’s idea to a sedan and created the first Coupe-Utility: the 1934 Ford V8 Model 302 UTE. It was so popular that Bandt also designed a Coupe Panel Van.  Most Utes used a 5-window passenger coupe on approximately the front half of the vehicle. The normal rear deck lid of the coupe was replaced with a integral cargo box. The Ford model gained almost immediate acceptance and inspired Holden (GM’s Australian branch) to develop the GM-H Ute model.

The first GM-H Ute was based on a 1934 Chevrolet, imported from the United States in CKD (completely-knocked-down) form and assembled by local workers. For a long time, it was the best-selling Ute. In 1948, a new Ute based on the Holden 215 became the first Ute designed and manufactured in Australia.

Chrysler entered the Australian Ute market with Dodge and Fargo models. Pontiac made a number of military Utes, with wooden boxes, for World War II that continued to see use after the war ended. Dozens of other car companies, including British makers, also produced Utes Down Under. The market for these vehicles was very strong until the mid-1960s, when small Japanese pickups invaded Australia and eliminated all competitors except Ford and Holden.

In the 1930s, 40s, and 50s companies like Hudson and Crosley tried their hand at selling a car-based pickup in the U.S..

The full size Hudson Coupe-Express was very similar in concept to Australian Utes but it never really caught on with buyers. And Crosley's diminutive cars lost favor several years after World War II ended when large vehicles became the rage.

It wouldn't be until the late 1950s, when Ford and General Motors started large volume production of coupe-express automobiles, that the car-based pickup would gain sales traction and appeal with American buyers.

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