1934 Introduction of the ute

The Ford Mainline Utility was introduced in 1952

According to legend, in the early 1930s the Australian branch of the Ford Motor Company received a letter from a farmer’s wife asking whether they could make a vehicle that would take her and her husband to church on Sunday and the pigs to market on Monday. The company took her request to heart and the result was that Australian icon, the ute. It’s not exactly a farming implement, but it became as necessary to the farmer as a tractor or a harvester.

Ford responded to the women’s request and their first V8 Utility Car was designed by 22-year-old Lew Bandt and released in 1934. Despite its V8 engine, it was promoted for its fuel efficiency. “In city work and around the farm or station, the V-8 Utility is famous for economical, time-saving service,” the advertising proclaimed.

The original Ford V8 Coupe Utility

The ute was popular immediately. The Daily Standard in Brisbane reported in February 1935:

Keen discrimination by car buyers is an evident fact, and the selection of utilities by purchasers is now no exception to the rule….Proof of the popularity of Ford in this respect is evidenced by the large number of Ford utilities that are being sold. if there is a case where the term “dual purpose passenger utility” can be faithfully applied it is to Ford.

The article described the features of the utility, which incorporated the standard passenger coupe body less certain rear panels. In contrast to previous farm trucks, there were many passenger comforts including armrests, a parcel box, an interior sun visor and a “no draught, clear-vision ventilation system”.  All types were provided with “front bumper bar, large cross-section balloon tyres, and Handaillo double-acting hydraulic shock absorbers”.

According to the Australian National Dictionary Centre, the abbreviation “ute” for utility was first recorded in 1943 and the design evolved over the years. In 1949, The Armidale Express enthused over the new post-war model, calling it “The long-awaited post-war designed Ford utility, which has been cited as the fashion vehicle of the year”.

Ford Coupe Utility 1949

It wasn’t until 1951 that General Motors Holden produced the first Holden ute, although the company had been making utility bodies for other General Motors brands such as Bedford, Chevrolet and Vauxhall. The following year, Ford released their Mainline utility vehicle, offering much more chrome and glamour than the boxy original.

The ute isn’t just for farmers, of course. It’s a workhorse vehicle for tradies as well and has become an Australian icon called by some “the Vegemite of the car industry”. And it has its own celebrations. They’re called musters. Most famous is the Deni Ute Muster, an annual event that can see nearly 10,000 utes assembled on the flat plain in Deliliquin, a small town in New South Wales’s Riverina area. Conceived in 1999 as a way to inject some life into the town, the muster can get rowdy. As well as rock and country music, driving competitions and the Ute of the Year contest, there’s naked whip cracking, bull riding and the consumption of a great deal of beer. The Deni Muster also holds the world record for the highest number of blue singlet wearers assembled in one spot.  Say no more.

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