Friday, March 23, 2012

The Holden Ute: from Simple Utility Car to National Icon

 “While our society has changed dramatically in the half century since the Holden Ute first took to the road, it remains an enduring symbol of hard work and a laidback lifestyle; a definition of the essential Australia.” (
The main advantage of the Ute is its versatility

          The Holden Ute shows us the essence of Australia, as it is a car in which you can go just as well into town, as drive through the rough fields of the outback. This is exactly what the Australian public was looking for, when the first 'Utes' were introduced in the 1930s. It’s all in a name, the Holden Ute is one of the types of trucks, generally referred to as ‘utes’, which stands for ‘utility’. The advantage of this vehicle is that it is a combination of a coupé and of a pick-up truck. So, you have at the same time a modern car, only requiring a passenger license, but able to transport a lot of goods as well. Still, it remains obvious that the popularity of the car has also much to do with the fact that Ford Australia was the first company to manufacture them. Nowadays, the Holden and Ford 'Utes' are mainly sold in Australia
The first utes were designed by Ford Australia
          The story of the ‘Ute’ in itself begins in the early 1930s at the Ford Australia’s plant of Geelong, Victoria. The story goes that on a shiny morning, a letter from a local farmer’s wife arrived with the usual mail. In her letter, the woman complained about having to drive to church on Sundays with the farm’s truck (what often resulted in her having to attend the mass in dirty clothes). On top of that, she especially asked Ford to build a vehicle both to “go to church in on a Sunday, and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays". Quite peculiar is that the letter made its way up to the desk of the managing director and eventually got passed on to Ford Australia design department’s only representative, Lewis Thornett Bandt. Aged 22, the young designer soon leaned over the quite versatile project, declaring to the plant superintendent: “Boss, them pigs are going to have a luxury ride around the city of Geelong!” When the superintendent discovered Bandt’s sketches a few weeks later, he immediately tasked the young designer with the job of building up two prototypes. On first sight of the two prototypes, the sales manager authorized a start-up production of about 500 units. Just two years from thence, the first Utes popped bup on the Australians roads and were already able to carry about 1200 pounds on a 5 feet tray. As to Holden, the General Motor’s Australian branch (GMH), it really started to point the tip of its nose after the Second World War in which enterprise it had already played an important part. As soon as the war ended, GMH could turn its attention on producing an ‘all-Australian car’ so as to set all of its rivals aside. The years 1948 and 1951 mark the success of Holden’s effort to become the number one in the Ute market. In the following years, GMH hasn’t ceased to improve its flagship product, but as you can see, always by remaining faithful to it heritage.   
The You Beaut Ute Competition
          Even though different models are manufactured by brands like Volkswagen, Peugeot, Fiat, Skoda, etc. , in the rest of the world the ‘Utes’ have not quite the same reputation as in Australia, where this car lives in the national conscience of the inhabitants. This does not only show in the number of Utes driving around, but also in the fact that many events are organized to celebrate this car. Competitions take place quite frequently, honouring the best designs or fastest engines. But the most striking example showing the popularity of the Ute, is the ute mustards which are organized on an annual basis. Usually this is a festival that lasts several days and which often involves other typical Australian stuff like live music festivals, agricultural or rodeo shows, ... The largest of these events, is the Deniliquin Ute Muster, where all the true ute-lovers come together. Another passion they seem to share is the one for bumper stickers saying for example “Fuck off, we’re full” or “Speak English or piss off”. Other popular stickers indicate their typical Australian favourites like the Australian Bundaberg Rum or the “famed” Conargo pub, situated on the billabong Creek in the Riverina region of New South Wales. The Ute can even be found in the Guinness Book of Records, as the town of Deniliquin organized ‘the largest parade of legally registered utes in the world’. On the first edition, in 1999, 2839 drivers answered the call. This was a huge touristic success and the event kept on growing. In 2010 no less than 10,152 utes took part in the event, attracting about 25,000 people to this small town of about 8000 people.
          In 2001, at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Holden Ute, Marketing Manager, John Elsworth said "After 50 years, the Holden Ute has earned the right to be called an Australian legend. While our history is full of icons, from the Hills Hoist to Akubras, few continue to hold such a special place in people's hearts and minds as the Holden Ute."

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