The Design Evolution of Car-Based Pickups, Part 2: From Australia to America

Early Australian Evolution

1934 Ford Coupe Utility

Following Australian designer Lewis Bandt’s invention of the Coupe Utility form factor, other manufacturers began releasing their own versions. In 1937 American manufacturer Hudson designed their innovative Terraplane Utility Coupe:

1937 Hudson Terraplane. Image credit: Alden Jewell, CC 2.0

What you may not realize from the illustration above is that this was meant to be a car or a truck, not both at the same time. It was essentially a car in regular use, but by opening the trunk, a steel box was revealed. This box could be extended outwards like a drawer and locked into position, effectively serving as a hideaway pickup bed.

1937 Hudson Terraplane. Image credit: 96Impala

The war years of the 1940s disrupted most worldwide automotive design and production, but by the 1950s manufacturers were back on track. Holden, an Australian subsidiary of General Motors, released the Holden Coupe Utility in 1951:

1951 Holden Coupe Utility. Image credit: Chris Keating, CC 2.0

1951 Holden Coupe Utility. Image credit: Chris Keating, CC 2.0

Ford Australia’s offering for 1951 had more modern styling than Holden’s design, with the front end pointing the way towards the look of the ’50s:


1951 Ford Coupe Utility. Image credit: Sicnag, CC 4.0

1951 Ford Coupe Utility. Image credit: Frank Beale, TradeUniqueCars

Making the Jump to America

Following his original 1934 design, Lewis Bandt had traveled to America and met Henry Ford. Ford reportedly referred to Bandt’s coupe utility as a “kangaroo chaser”–whether he said that in derision or affection, I don’t know–and stated that they would one day build such vehicles for the U.S. market. That promise had taken some time to fulfill, but it really paid dividends in 1956, when Ford released a new design for the American market called the Ranchero:

1956 Ford Ranchero

1956 Ford Ranchero

1956 Ford Ranchero

1956 Ford Ranchero

1956 Ford Ranchero

In 1957 the design was tweaked, with cowling added to the headlights, and the body accent lines migrating rearwards:

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

In 1958 the design was tweaked again, with extra headlights added and the accent lines in the body now starting to flatten out:

1958 Ford Ranchero. Image credit: Detectandpreserve, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

1958 Ford Ranchero. Image credit: Detectandpreserve, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

1958 Ford Ranchero. Image credit: Detectandpreserve, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

The customized version below has had the bumper removed from in front of the grille, and has had its suspension lowered, but you can still see the body’s accent lines and overall gesture of the vehicle quite clearly:

1958 Ford Ranchero

1958 Ford Ranchero

1958 Ford Ranchero

The Ford Ranchero proved to be a hit with both buyers and the automotive press, selling in the low five figures annually. Here’s how the car was marketed:

Ford competitor Chevy noticed the sales figures, and decided it was time for them to get a piece of this market. Before we show you what Chevy’s designers did, first let’s review how Ford’s designers were gradually evolving the Ranchero, in terms of the accent lines, gesture and length, from year to year:

1956 Ford Ranchero

1957 Ford Ranchero

1958 Ford Ranchero

Looking at the photos above, it’s as if some giant grabbed the car from front and rear and began stretching it.

With that in mind, here’s what Chevy released in 1959, the El Camino:

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

Ford’s offering for that year, the 1959 Ranchero, looks positively stodgy and dated in comparison:

1959 Ford Ranchero. Image credit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/that_chrysler_guy/

It seemed like Ford’s designers had lost it, and the sales figures for 1959 reflected it: Chevy sold 22,246 El Caminos, while Ford moved just 14,169 Rancheros.

Here is a magnificently restored 1959 El Camino by Randy and Peaches Clark at Hot Rods & Custom Stuff (HR&CS) in Escondido, California:

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

1959 Chevrolet El Camino

This coupe utility form factor–nowadays more commonly referred to as a car-based pickup–would continue to evolve in Australia, America and elsewhere. But as we shall see next, the results weren’t always good.


Source: core77

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