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Coupé utility

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The coupé utility automobile body style, also known colloquially as the ute in Australia and New Zealand, combines a two-door "coupé" cabin with an integral cargo bed behind the cabin—using a light-duty passenger vehicle-derived platform.

A coupé utility has a body style with coupé lines, but like a truck, it has an integral open cargo area at the rear. While most modern day coupé utilities are built using a monocoque constitution, historical models typically used a light-duty body-on-frame construction, like the heavy-duty body-on-frame construction used by pickup trucks. As light-duty body-on-frame coupé utilities are automobile-based, they can thus be differentiated from their heavy-duty (pickup truck) counterparts.

Origin

Ford Australia was the first company to produce a coupe utility.<ref name=fastlane>Who built the first utility - where - when... Retrieved from www.fastlane.com.au on 1 April 2010</ref> This was the result of a 1932 letter from the wife of a farmer in Victoria, Australia asking for “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays”.<ref name=fastlane/> Ford designer Lew Bandt developed a suitable solution and the first coupe utility model was released in 1934.<ref name=fastlane/> Bandt went on to manage Ford’s Advanced Design Department, being responsible for the body engineering of the XP, XT, XW and XA series Ford Falcon utilities. General Motors’ Australian subsidiary Holden also produced a Chevrolet coupe utility in 1935 but the body style did not appear on the American market until the release of the 1957 Ford Ranchero.

Both the coupé utility and the similar open topped roadster utility continued in production but the improving economy of the mid to late 1930s and the desire for improved comfort saw coupe utility sales climb at the expense of the roadster utility until, by 1939, the latter was all but a fading memory.

By the 1980s in North America, the coupé utility began to fall out of favor again with the demise of the Ranchero after 1979, the Volkswagen Caddy, Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp and of the Chevrolet El Camino by 1987.

Subaru offered the Brat in the early 1980s, and the Baja from 2003-2006. General Motors considered bringing a rebadged Holden Ute to the United States in the form of the Pontiac G8 ST in 2009, but the global recession (and GM's ultimate bankruptcy) caused them to cancel it.

The pickup truck, on the other hand, started its life a little earlier and is defined by its separate, removable, well-type 'pickup bed'. This pickup bed does not contact the cabin part of the vehicle, while the ute bed is an integral part of the whole body. Both the coupé utility and closed cab pickup designs migrated to light truck chassis & these are correctly known respectively as Utility trucks & Pickup trucks. Eventually the pickup design found a natural home on the smaller truck chassis while the ute became entrenched as a passenger car derivative, although exceptions do apply.

See also: Cultural significance of the Australian ute

Australia

Australians define a "ute" as any commercial vehicle that has an open cargo carrying space, but requires only a passenger car license to drive. This includes coupé utilities, pickup trucks and traybacks (flatbed pickup trucks). An example of the broadness of this definition is that anything from a Ford F250 XL to a Proton Jumbuck can be called a ute.

North America

In North America, the major automobile and truck manufacturers built them from the 1930s to the 1980s. They were very popular in the early years with florists as a way to transport flowers and potted plants. Examples include the Studebaker Coupe Express, or the 1941 Chevrolet Coupe Pickup. A variation of the coupe pickup became the very specialized flower car that was used by funeral homes as an attendant vehicle to the hearse as part of funeral processions. Flower cars were custom-manufactured by several aftermarket coachbuilders by modifying a standard-production sedan, station wagon, or carryall (aka "suburban") in the same manner that ambulances, hearses, crummies, fire command cars, and fire apparatus were/are manufactured.

The Ford Ranchero was produced between 1957 and 1979 based on full-size, compact and intermediate automobiles by the Ford Motor Company for the North American market. Variations based on the original 1960 US Falcon for home markets in Argentina and South Africa were produced through the late 1980s. Though Ford car/truck combinations had been around since 1934 when Ford Australia's lone designer Lew Bandt penned the world's first coupe utility, thereby spawning the popularity of the so-called "ute" in that country, the Ranchero was the first postwar American vehicle of its type from the factory.

The Chevrolet El Camino was produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors from 1959 through 1960, with production resuming in 1964 and continuing through 1987. El Camino was produced in response to the success of its rival Ford Ranchero. El Camino was based on corresponding Chevrolet car lines, though in North America, the vehicle is classified as a truck and titled as such. It had a variant called the GMC Sprint and later named the GMC Caballero from 1978-1987. In Mexico, it was also sold as the Chevrolet Conquistador.

International Harvester manufactured a vehicle called the Terra from 1976 to 1980. It was an International Harvester Scout II Traveler with a special top that converted it to a coupe, and the cargo bay became a very short pickup bed. International Harvester also built a special model of the Travelall which was called the Wagonmaster. It was produced in 1974 and 1975. It was sleeker than the standard IH pickups, and occupied a niche between the standard fullsize pickup trucks and the Scout II Terra. The Wagonmaster was a heavier-duty truck, and could be used for towing.

Dodge produced the Rampage from 1982 to 1984, based on the front wheel drive L-body Dodge Charger. Plymouth also had a variation called the Scamp.

Variations

Since readers in many parts of the world may be unfamiliar with the formal term "Coupé Utility", here follows some examples of vehicles using this body style.

Notable coupé utilities of the past

Modern coupé utilities

Modern vehicles of the Coupe utility style include, among others:

Prototypes

  • 1970s AMC Cowboy: Hornet-based coupe ute that never made it to production. Prototypes exist in private ownership.

Disputed coupé utilities

The following vehicles share qualities of both small pickups and coupe utilities. Some have bodies like a pickup, but are built on a car chassis and/or based on an existing passenger car. Others look like coupe utilities, but are actually based on truck chassis. They are considered coupe utilities by some, and not by others. They are listed here along with a brief explanation of their respected disputes.

  • Dodge Ram 50/Plymouth Arrow Truck: It is debatable whether this vehicle was a true coupe utility, an early example of a compact pickup, or both. Albeit that it was a rear-wheel drive vehicle like typical pickup trucks, and its body design was more like a compact pickup.
  • Ford Bantam: the body style is more along the lines of a small pickup, but it is built on a car chassis.
  • Ford Falcon utility (AUFG): since 1999, the Falcon utility has been fitted with a cargo bed separate from the cabin, yet still retains the Falcon sedan/wagon front-end including cabin.<ref>Template:Citation/core{{#if:|}}</ref> The cargo bed was separated so that both "utility" and "cab chassis" body styles could be utilised. However, like previous models (which are officially coupé utilities), the 1999 onwards model are still derived from the Falcon sedan and wagon range.

See also

Bibliography

  • According to a Holden press release in 2001.[1], the coupe utility "is based on a sedan equivalent and has a load bed integral with the cabin"
  • Car Exchange magazine article "Ford V8 Mainline Star", June 1981, pp 76–77.
  • ABC interview with automotive historian Adrian Ryan[2]
  • The Good Ole Aussie Ute, Larry O'Toole, ISBN 0-949398-26-8