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So, is it a car or a truck?

Wednesday, 19 October, 2005

15 November ’09

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The generic term for the vehicle in the United States has become “El
Camino”
after the most produced and long-lived variant on this continent. In
Australia it is called, formally, a Utility, but everybody just says
“yoot”. These vehicles are occasionally available in South America
where a
local variant on “compact pick-up” is used. These vehicles are also
available in South Africa. In Europe, both the East and West, similar
but enclosed vehicles are common with the exception of the American-built Volkswagen Caddy
from the 1980′s. The modern Caddy is also based on the
Golf, but is enclosed not unlike like what Americans would call “van”,
or more like the “Sedan Delivery” of old.

After the diversion of car and truck chassis in the 1920s demand arose
for a more formal vehicle than the undignified truck which could be
used both for carrying loads and going to town. According to legend, in
1932 a farmer wrote to Commonwealth Ford-Australia to ask, “Please make
a two-in-one car and truck, something I can go in to church on Sunday,
and carry pigs to market on Monday.”

Lewis Bandt
was given the job to develop such a multi-purpose car. His solution was
to graft a high-sided open or ‘utility’ back onto a 1933 two-door Ford
V8 Coupe
. What made it different from a truck was that the
interior was
as luxurious as a coupe, and the side panels and roof were pressed in
steel like a car, as opposed to the wood common to truck bodies of the
era. As farmers of that era could not acquire financing for non-truck
automobiles, the Ute became a popular form factor. The Utility was in
introduced in 1934 by both Ford and General Motors–Holden. It
was an immediate success and the idea was soon copied by car
makers in Australia, and the U.K., but much later in the United States.

Ford Motor
Company, and Commonwealth Ford

Four 1934 Utes were sent to Ford in Dearborn where Henry Ford
dubbed them “kangaroo chasers”. The depression in the U.S. delayed
development of such a vehicle until after WWII, and even then it was
not an seriously pursued project.

Ford in the U.S. introduced a premium station wagon based on its
Fairlane in 1956 called the Ranch
Wagon
. The Ranch Wagon was originally intended to have a retractable top, which would not
appear until the Canadian-built Studebaker Wagonaire
in 1963. The engineering and production problems created by the
retractable top made the option improbable to produce. In 1957 an
alternate model appeared as a wagon with no top over the cargo bay at
all. It was called Ranchero,
pushed primarily in the Western states, and sold through Ford’s
passenger car system. It was radically different from the Australian
vehicles of the era. The Ranchero or Utility moved to the then-new
Falcon platform worldwide in 1960. In America, the Falcon-based
Ranchero was now
distributed by Ford Truck dealers.

  • 1967 a single-year model based on
    the Fairlane
  • 1968-1976 based on the Torino, for
    which the Falcon name became the bottom of the line for 1969 only.
  • 1977-1979 the Torino became the
    Elite and the LTD II, the Ranchero mirrors the LTD II model.

Ford’s Australian Ute has been almost consistently based on a domestic
vehicle called the Falcon since 1960. Australian
Fords, including the Utility, have been
imported into South Africa, also a right-hand-drive market, since 1962.
The 1952 Ford Mainline was based
on the 1940 U.S. Ford Tudor, but with a unique body style. It persisted
until 1958, a modern ’59 was simply called Ute and in 1960 the Falcon
Ute came to Australia mirror-imaging it’s U.S. counterpart, one year
late, until 1968. From 1981-88 Ford did not produce an Australian Ute,
the last (’79-’81) being based on the up-sized Fairmont, similar to the
U.S. Fairmont of the era. A distinct vehicle called Falcon and a
corresponding Utility was introduced in 1988 and remains in production today.

General
Motors, Chevrolet and GMC, United States

From 1955-58 Chevrolet offered a standard pick-up in mid-level sedan
trim called the Cameo. No corresponding GMC model
was produced. The
Cameo was distinct from other pick-ups of that era not only with its
appointments, but by its lowered riding height. This truck introduced
the “fleetside” style bed, in which the
fenders are within the flat-sided payload
bay, which mirrored the dramatic cosmetic changes of the sedan that
year.

With the attention given by press to the new Ford Ranchero, General
Motors
could not resist creating its own variant. Based on the full-sized
station wagon and delivery and in Impala-level trim, the El Camino (lit. “The
Way”, or “The Path” with religious overtones. Presumed by many
Americans to mean “road”.) appeared as a 1959 model replacing the
Cameo, but survived for only two model years. Quickly and poorly
designed with a bed which was awkward to use due to the body’s
distinctive shape. In the recession of 1960 it was no match for the new
compact-based
Ranchero
. The Cameo, or a similar truck-chassised vehicle,
did not
re-appear. From 1955-1959 the eleven-passenger truck-chassised GMC
Suburban, described as a “Carrier”, mirrored the changes of the Cameo
remaining unchanged for ’59.

Sales for Ford’s Ranchero remained very strong through 1961 and the
vehicle which would become the Chevrolet Chevelle was in development.
Chevrolet elected to design a car-based truck on the Chevelle
platform.
Oddly, it retained the name of the failed model and hit the road in
1964 as the corresponding Chevelle was introduced.

From 1964-1987 the best selling vehicle in
its distinctive segment
mirrored changes in the Chevelle and its replacement models, Malibu and
Monte Carlo, as Chevrolet’s
mid-size offering. The El Camino outsold
its Ford counterpart three to one through the end of the range. Despite
the sales and production figures, El Caminos from the sixties tend to
be more collectible today than the corresponding Fords.

In 1971 GMC offered a badge-engineered version of El Camino called
Sprint. The brochure for the 1972
Sprint described it as a
“sport-utility vehicle”, which is believed to be the first use of the
phrase. In 1984 the Sprint was
renamed Caballero, formerly a premium option package. Left over 1987 parts were assembled as ’88
Caballeros.

Sales of the El Camino were effected by the S-10, and similar GMC S-15,
introduced in 1982 as a true pick-up in compact size, leading to the
demise of this offering.

General
Motors, Holden, Australia

The 1948 FX Holden was the first
post-war Australian car. It was billed
as the first all-Australian vehicle even if it was largely made of U.S.
and British imported parts. In even greater demand than the sedan in
this era was the FX Holden Utility. However, the 1951 FJ Holden
and
“Ute” were the first fully designed and built in Australia vehicles and
are regarded as the first salvo of the Ute phenomenon.

Over the years it has been called Utility, Commercial and Kingswood but
remains based on the full-sized sedan. In 1980, the Ute went out of
production corresponding to the range-simplification program of the
Australian federal government. GM hoped buyers would opt for their
Isuzu P’up-based model instead,
but the Valiant by Chrysler/Mitsubishi Valiant, evolved
from the 60′s U.S. Chrysler of the same name, had its strongest years
ever
being the only such vehicle available through most of the eighties. The
Holden Commercial appeared in 1991, and continues today as
simply Ute.

American Motors

Historical vignettes about the Hudson “Terraplane Big Boy” are
difficult to find, but she was the first auto chassis-based truck
available in North America beginning in 1937. Some sources state that
Hudson dealers were asking for such a vehicle as they
felt it hurt their image by sending their service personnel around town
in competing manufacturer’s trucks. Customers started inquiring about
the service vehicles upon their appearance, and it was offered quickly
in mass
production to the general public. Hudson never produced a specific
truck platform, but did produce a truck body on it’s especially large
sedan platform which lasted until the end of the line. Of course, no
production was available from 1942-’45 model years due to war
production. The Hudson Big Boy
is unique in within this category. Like the rest of the Hudson line, it
was a high-priced luxury car competing with Lincoln, Cadillac and a few
imports. Nash and Hudson merged in 1954, to form American Motors, Inc.,
with what was considered the better product in every category replacing
it’s corresponding model from the other line in 1955. In 1957, the name
Nash was replaced with the name of it’s most popular model, Rambler.
The final production year for Hudson, and the perpetually low-selling
Big Boy, was 1958. It was not until 1969 the company dropped the
whimsical name Rambler and badged all it’s cars AMC (standing for
American Motors
Corporation). That year the company merged with Kaiser-Jeep and again
offered a truck, the Jeep Gladiator.

Renault, 49.5% owners of American Motors as of 1979, proposed an
open-cargo-bay version of the Renault 5,
called Le Car (not Renault LE) in U.S.
trim. The Le Car was the object
of a cult-like following in it’s time, and spawned an
aftermarket
providing performance parts and replacement body panels. The most
elaborate of these was “Le Truck” which provided the functionality
Renault/AMC never built. The Le Car was available through the entire
Renault/AMC period from 1979-86. Afterward Chrysler took ownership of
American Motors financial and physical assets and fulfilled only their
assumed contractual obligations under the brand Eagle, with a
Canadian-built Renault 25 as the Eagle Premiere
(1988-1992) and later Dodge Monaco
(1989-1992). Interestingly these vehicles were marked, on the VIN
label, “Built by American Motors Corporation for Chrysler”. No other
Renault-designed vehicles were built or distributed by Chrysler.

Powell

ca.
1951-1956.
Pickup-truck fiberglass bodies on first Chevrolet, later Plymouth sedan
chassis in very low production. Some sources state that the bed, being
made of fiberglass with a sedan suspension underneath, was all but
unusable.
Numbers are no longer available but would have been in the hundreds.
Powell had two dealers both in Los Angeles, one adjacent to the factory.

Chrysler
Australia

Chrysler entered Australia in 1955 with a unique
U.S.-built
model which was a hodge-podge of Plymouth and Desoto parts sold as
Chrysler. Domestic production began in 1957 with CKD models badged as
Plymouth, Desoto and Dodge all based on the U.S. 1953 Plymouth.
Sales were modest. In 1960 a sedan model based on the U.S. Valiant, which shared the
name, came to the continent and sales exploded. The engines available
were all variants of the legendary “Slant 6″ which was designed
for the U.S. market. After reports of handling problems, and a
significant number of vehicles being involved in serious accidents, it
was determined that the distinctive design, the “Slant”, of the engine
was effecting the steering of the right-hand-drive cars which were
otherwise identical to their American counterparts.

From 1963 the Valiant was entirely domestically produced, beginning
with the AP Valiant, using
a mirror-imaged Slant engine. With the beginning of local design
and sizable domestic sales, naturally a Valiant Ute followed. Only 2000 AP
utes
were sold before 1965 and almost none survive. Starting in 1966
Chrysler of Australia marketed vehicles on a moderately upgraded
chassis and a domestically designed body. From this point the legacy of
the U.S. and Australian models diverge. By 1974 the line was marketed
as Valiant, instead of Chrysler, and was overly dependent on a
muscle-car image. The fuel shortages of 1978 devastated Valiant and
they became primarily importers of badge-engineered
Mitsubishis, like
the Valiant Colt. In 1980 Mitsubishi took over, producing the
Mitsubishi Valiant for one model year, 1981, and Chrysler’s
participation ceased. From ’63 on, every year there was a Valiant,
there was a Valiant Ute. Currently Mitsubishi
offers a compact pick-up for Australia, but not a proper Ute.

Some talk was made of bringing Chrysler’s K-cars to Australia in the
1980s, but
concern over converting the body style into a Ute killed the project.
Chrysler started a new import operation in 1994 importing the Neon and
later expanding the range. They do not offer a Ute.

Chrysler -
North America

From 1982-84 Chrysler offered the Dodge Rampage and the Plymouth
Scamp

(1983 only) in an attempt to compete with import trucks and smaller
trucks offered by the other domestic automakers avoiding the
development cost of an all new vehicle. They were sold alongside the
Dodge D50, built by Mitsubishi.

Both vehicles were based on the L-Body platform, that is the
Europe-designed Dodge Omni and Plymouth Horizon, in the two-door body
style. Other models in this style were marketed as economical sports
cars. In 1984
Rampage was offered in Shelby GLH trim. Selling in
notoriously low numbers, these cars are now very
desirable collectibles.

These are among the few front-wheel-drive pick-ups ever available
outside the Eastern Bloc.

Nissan

A licensed version of the Austin Cambridge A50
was their first post-war vehicle. The refined Nissan Sunny was sent to
export markets the starting in 1959 as B20, or Datsun 1000. Among the
variants was a pickup bed version. This, and it’s
proper pick up successor starting 1969, was the top selling import
pick-up in the United States before the introduction of the
badge-engineered Chevy LUV and Ford
Courier
in 1972.

Volkswagen

All 1979-1984 North American Rabbits were made
in a renovated Chrysler factory in New Stanton, Westmoreland County,
Pennsylvania. The fashionable square headlights of that era, and a
softer suspension were unique to North American examples. Among the
vehicles unique to this facility were the Rabbit Pickup, which was the first
foreign-manufactured, American-made vehicle exported to the corporate
parent’s home continent as the Caddy.

The Caddy ceased production when Westmoreland closed in 1984. The
U.S.-only Rabbit name was dropped with the model change in 1985.
Production was moved to Puebla, Mexico.

Hyundai

Hyundai started automobile production in 1967
building Mk. I Ford Cortina clones. These cars were sold as
Hyundai-Ford. While Ford Europe did not build a Utility version of the
Cortina, Hyundai did as Cortina Truck. In 1974 Hyundai started building
it’s own design, Hyundai Pony, on the Cortina
chassis with licensed Mitsubishi engines. The Cortina and Pony were
exported throughout Asia, Africa, northern Europe and Canada until 1985.

Subaru

Featuring the infamous and presumed useless seats in the rear bed, and
a legendary H-4 engine with an on-the-fly four-wheel-drive system
licensed from American Motors, the well remembered Subaru Brat, allegedly “Bi-drive,
recreational
all-terrain transporter”, forged it’s own trail from 1978-1987 (U.S.)
or 1990 in the rest of the world. North American examples had Astroturf
carpet and welded-in jump seats in the cargo area as a tax dodge, as
passenger cars imported into the US were charged a 2.5% tariff, while
that on trucks was 25%. The tariff and the seats were lost in 1985.

Baja came to be in order to
compete with a new class of truck ca. 2000 which are simply highly
appointed SUVs with a modest bed. It is simply an Outback without a
roof over the cargo compartment. Aside from the H-4 engine, it is a
pure General Motors design.

The Brat was “Inexpensive and built to stay that way”. This cannot be
said of the current vehicles called Subaru. October 5, 2005,
Toyota stated that it will purchase the shares of Fuji Heavy Industries
held by General Motors, and GM announced that it will sever all ties
with FHI, the parent company of Subaru. Let us hope the Toyota-Subaru
alliance is fruitful.

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