August 01, 2016

Horse 2145 - Ten Things I Like: No.5 - I Like Utes

Charity begins at home. Why can't it begin at my home?
I am ready to accept your charity - ute please ^_^

If I look at the podcasts that I listen to on a regular basis, two are from Canada's CBC, six are from America's NPR, four are from Australia's ABC and seven are from Britain's BBC; of those six are on Radio 4. Even though I follow the England Cricket Team and the England Football Team, I still can't escape the annoying fact that without unlimited money, most of the things in my life tie me to Sydney, Australia and the green passport thereof.
Nevertheless, there are some things which I like about this country including the system of voting, the legacies left over from a time when we were still looking towards the UK for inspiration such as Medicare, the ABC and the fact that our physical isolation meant that we were allowed to grow up into whatever this country would be. One of those products of isolation was the Australian invention of the coupé utility, or as every decent Australian would call them, a Ute.

Famously the result of a letter to Ford Australia in 1934, when a lady wrote in (in 1932) and asked for a vehicle that she could drive to church on Sunday in and take the pigs to market on Monday in. Legend has it that Ford designer Lew Bandt penned it and when Herny caught wind of it, he dismissed it as a "kangaroo chaser".
Style in the front; substance in the back. If General Motors Holden wanted to crow from the rooftops that it was as Australian as "football, meat pies, kangaroos and Holden cars" while pinching the jingle from Chevrolet, then the ute is as Australian as "cyclones, fairy bread, wombats and knifing Prime Ministers".

Even though the ute was invented by what is really an American company and built by three American companies in Australia, it is still possibly the single most Australian thing ever invented. Forget Wi-Fi, the Hills Hoist, the stump jump plough and penicillin, utes are so Australian that six weeks after one particular Prime Minister decided to put the number plate C-1 on a ute, he hurled himself into the sea and was never seen again. Okay, so that story might not be true but the fact that there is a swimming centre named after him, in what surely is either a sign of poor taste or utter bravado, most certainly is.
When I say "Ute" I don't mean "Pickup Truck" either. Pickups are way cool but from the outset, they are only pickups. The Ford Ranger, Holden Colorado, Toyota Hilux and the VW Amarok are all competent and useful machines. They are all solid workhorses and loyal mules that will give many years of service. Utes on the other hand are the Martin Skrtel, the Barry Hall and the Buddy Franklin of the automotive world. They will do their job admirably and excellently but you always know that there is more than a hint of the insane about them. If you want a truck which is unbreakable, then get a Hilux. If you want a car/truck with a soul, then get a Falcon Ute or a Commodore Ute.

There is much merit to the wishes of that lady in the 1930s. Pickup trucks are designed to be a work vehicle from the outset and as such, most of them end up being massive. Regular readers of this blog will already know my sentiment towards big chunky and mostly useless blobs of status projection, SUVs. I feel that a lot of pickup trucks tend towards that same sort of spirit. A Colorado is a big thing that obnoxiously dominates the space around it and that is particularly unfriendly in car parks but because utes are based on regular sedans and wagons, they're far more civilised.
This also translates to on road behaviour. Pickup trucks because they are bigger and chunkier than the average size of traffic, tend to be driven both more aggressively and less well. I bet that between a Mazda 3, Mazda RX8 and Mazda BT-50, that the BT-50 driver is less likely to use their indicator when changing lanes and more likely to cut you off in traffic. Granted that a Holden Maloo driver is more likely to be charged for furious driving but that's probably a function of the fact that there's a big stonking 6.2L V8 under the bonnet.

The strange thing is that very few motor manufacturers have ever attempted to build a true ute. By my reckoning, there's GM, Ford, Chrysler, Subaru and Datsun and that's it. El Camino, Ranchero (and badge swap equivalents), Kingswood, Commodore and Falcon, Valiant, Royal and Rampage, Brumby and 1200/1600. I guess that the Suzuki Mighty Boy could be considered to be a ute but I honestly don't know what it is except to say that it is very very cool indeed.
In fact, without exception, all proper utes belong in either the Cool section or the Sub Zero section of Top Gear Mk2's Cool Wall. I tried to think of an uncool ute and failed. There are plenty of uncool pickup trucks on the road and the measure of this is how much I want one without having any obvious need for one. There are plenty of utes that I see that I'd secretly like to have.
One of the weird consequences of being based on a station wagon and not an SUV, is that the tray bed in the back of a ute tends to be longer and wider than most pickups. This was especially exploited in the 1970s, when the ute's cousin the panel van, was often fitted with a queen size mattress in the back. In both a ute or a panel van, you can throw a bunch of camping gear in the back and magically, millions of kilometers of road open up across this massive continent and your accommodation goes with you everywhere. I am a tall and lanky sort of chap and the only two utes or pickup trucks that I can lay down flat in the tray, are the Commodore and Falcon utes. Everything else is simply too short.

A ute satisfies three desires at once: the need to haul stuff, the need to get places and the wish to do it in style - part truck, part car, part sports car. To the latter of those three, I have to say this:

Dear Holden and Ford,
Along with Toyota who make appliances, you have decided to end motor manufacturing in Australia. Apart from the fact that you are literally killing off an entire industry, one of the side effects is that you are ripping out something which speaks to the very heart and soul of this wide brown land.
You've both spent almost half a century in sending the two tribes into combat against each other and especially on that hallowed mountain of motor sport, Mount Panorama at Bathurst, but now not only are you ripping out our hearts but by killing off the Ute, your also stomping them into the ground.
This is a love story which has turned sour and a jilted bride has been left at the altar. When you kill off the ute, part of this country dies inside. 
I hope that you're happy with what you've done because the good and fair people of Australia are certainly going to vote with their wallets. You will both be consigned to the destiny of being just another car company and this place will remember you not. The children of 2020 will most definitely not look upon you with the same affection as the children of 1990 and before did. You are stealing their tomorrows.

Love, Rollo.

PS: You both had fifty years to send a ute to the Le Man's 24 Hour Race. They wouldn't have won anything except the hearts and minds of the world. The fact that you didn't is a disgrace. 

I like utes but sadly, their days are numbered. The very last Falcon has already left the body shop and by this time next year, that will also be true for the Commodore. The sad thing is that the last ute on the planet will be the Ford Fiesta bakkie in South Africa and I can't lay down flat in the back of one of those.

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