Silly Car Question - What's in a name? American pickup or Aussie ute?

Where it all began. The original Ford coupe-utility, built off the Model 40 coupe, which blended the coupe's enclosed cabin with a steel-panelled load area at the rear.
Supplied
Where it all began. The original Ford coupe-utility, built off the Model 40 coupe, which blended the coupe's enclosed cabin with a steel-panelled load area at the rear.

Twenty-five years ago the famous Australian country singer Lee Kernaghan got it right.

That's the year he wrote and recorded a hit song called She's My Ute, the lyrics of which made it clear in its Aussie outback way that a ute is a ute - and anything else is a pickup.

Kickin' past the dealers on the edge of town
Saw a lot of pretty pickups
Not a ute to be found
Twin cam Jap fours
A bloke'd be nuts
Give me a six or an eight
A four wheel mate
The dents and the dust
And the grasshopper guts

Truth be told, only an Australian would have the right to pen those lyrics, because the word "ute" belongs to Aussie.

READ MORE
* Year of the exotic ute
*  Meet the Ute tough based squad
* Ute class of 2018

It all goes back to the early 1930s when the wife of a farmer from Gippsland, Victoria, wrote to Ford Australia asking for a vehicle better suited to their farming life.

"My husband and I can't afford a car and a truck, but we need a car to go to church on Sunday and a truck to take the pigs to market on Monday. Can you help?", she wrote.

Holden was soon in on the act. Pictured is a 1954 FJ ute, which was massively popular during its career.
Jonathan Cameron
Holden was soon in on the act. Pictured is a 1954 FJ ute, which was massively popular during its career.

Ford Australia management passed the letter on to Lew Bandt, who at the time was the company's sole designer. 

He took a V8-engined Ford Model 40 coupe, and created what he described as a "coupe-utility" which blended the coupe's enclosed cabin with a steel-panelled load area at the rear.

Actually, Bandt's design concept wasn't that much different to what the Americans had already been doing, which involved constructing wooden or metal "utility" bodies on car chassis and calling them pickups. The Ford Model T was a favourite vehicle for this type of transformation.

But where the Australian version was different was that the sides of the coupe-utility were blended into the coupe body to give a cleaner, more passenger car-like profile - ideal for going on church on Sundays and the market on Mondays.

The early Aussie utes were totally different to early US-sourced pickups, such as this 1923 Ford Model T.
Jack Montgomerie
The early Aussie utes were totally different to early US-sourced pickups, such as this 1923 Ford Model T.

The Australians loved the vehicle.

First models rolled off the production line in 1934 and they were an instant success, with thousands of them sold in rural areas. And Aussies being Aussies, it wasn't long before the Ford coupe-utility name was shortened to "ute" - and the rest is history.

A few years later Holden got into the action when it released its own "utility' model which was based on the 48-215 sedan. That vehicle promptly got called a ute too - and from that point it was all on, with Ford, Holden and the motoring public enjoying a wonderful ute marketing battle that lasted for years, even to the extent of having numerous country songs written about it.

Country stars such as Australia's Lee Kernaghan love singing about utes - and pickups.
John Bisset
Country stars such as Australia's Lee Kernaghan love singing about utes - and pickups.

While initially utes were very much rural vehicles, it wasn't long before they also hit the streets of urban Australia and New Zealand. 

Naturally the rivalry extended to higher-performance product, with both Aussie car companies developing a series of V8-engined utes that culminated in such product as the Holden Special Vehicles Maloo and the Ford Performance Vehicles F6.

What could you do with an Aussie ute? Plenty, as illustrated by the action involving this Holden Kingswood.
Mary-Jo Tohill
What could you do with an Aussie ute? Plenty, as illustrated by the action involving this Holden Kingswood.

None of the uniquely Australian Ford and Holden utes are built any more - the last Ford Falcon ute, a white XR6 Turbo, rolled off the assembly line in June 2016, while the final Holden Commodore ute was an orange SS that emerged from the assembly plant in October last year.

So now the Aussie-built vehicle models that years earlier had spawned the word "ute", have gone.

The last Ford ute to roll off the Australian assembly line was this white XR6 Turbo, built in June 2016.
SUPPLIED
The last Ford ute to roll off the Australian assembly line was this white XR6 Turbo, built in June 2016.

But the term remains - only these days it applies to truck-based one-tonne vehicles that in most other parts of the world are known as pickups.

The term "pickup" comes from USA. Historians say it all began around 1913 when an Ohio company called the Galion Allsteel Body Company began installing boxes on slightly modified Ford Model T chassis.

A few years later Ford began producing its own Model T-based vehicle, marketing it as the "Ford Model runabout with pickup body". 

And, just like as happened in Australia, this sparked massive public acceptance of the pickup truck, with millions of consumers buying the vehicles for lifestyle rather than utilitarian reasons.

New Zealand's ute market is now all about Thai-built one-tonne pickups.
New Zealand's ute market is now all about Thai-built one-tonne pickups.

And it has never let up.

Last year for example, the three top-selling vehicles in USA were pickups that sold in eye-watering numbers - third was the Ram with 500,723 sales, second was the Chevrolet Silverado with 585,564 sales, and top model was the Ford F-Series with a massive 896,764 sales.

Little wonder then that, as in Australia, many country songs have been penned with lyrics about the pickup truck. Such as these in Midnight Sun by US country star Garth Brooks:  

Hose me down and dress me up
Fire up that old pickup truck
Out the gate and let them horses run
A jukebox and swinging doors
Soft and pretties on a hardwood floor
A cowboy's work just ain't never done
In the land of the midnight sun

All of this leads to an obvious question: now that the traditional Aussie ute is no more, and the big trend in this part of the world now is towards truck-style one-tonne models sourced primarily from Thailand and China, should we be continuing to call them utes - or opting for the more international pickup?

Some, such as Meg the farm dog, don't care whether the vehicles are called utes or pickups - so long as they have a tray out the back.
Marion van Dijk
Some, such as Meg the farm dog, don't care whether the vehicles are called utes or pickups - so long as they have a tray out the back.

Or has ute become such a part of the Australasian lexicon that it doesn't really matter?

So, is it Ute or Pickup? Tell us in the comments which it is and why!

Stuff