Cars and their stories / On The Street

The Coupe Utility and the Buckboard

El CaminoThis particular feature is the first of a handful of articles that won’t necessarily have a photo of a car I spot on the  street, rather a series of comparisons between current car classes or styles and their non-motorized counterparts before Karl Benz and Henry Ford got involved in transportation.
UPDATE:  This post was re-edited to include a different photo of an El Camino.

I spotted this El Camino across the street from work at a Budweiser distributor. Those delivery guys have interesting vehicles to probably compensate for the delivery trucks they putt around town in. I don’t know much about this particular car. It appears to be the Chevelle Malibu version (third generation El Camino).

I remember the competitive dual between the Chevrolet El Camino and the Ford Ranchero in their heyday. You may remember the Ranchero I passed on the highway in a previous post. I have my favorite years for styling in both makes. I usually prefer the classic first generations. The El Camino though hit its stride when the muscle car wars arrived, and Chevy was still handing out performance engines while the El Camino was in line.

It’s strange that these two models have Spanish names when the coupe utilities is a favorite of those Down Under. You may have heard the story of the farmer in the mid 1930s writing to Ford Australia headquarters asking for “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays”. So the 2 door passenger car with a cargo bed was born, a coupe utility, or as it’s sometimes called by the Aussies, the “ute.”

Nowadays a “ute” can refer to either a light duty pickup or the classic coupe utility. You can say that they are commonly seen as redneck or country folk automobiles. Outside of the Australian market no one would even think of having a classy passenger car converted to haul pigs while the driver wears a penguin suit. Did you know Dodge and Chrysler even got in the mix?


So why did the US market yield our two examples? Hard to say. Ford spans both markets, and Holden has deals with Chevrolet. I wager that it goes back further in history than the farmers letter.

buckboard Let me introduce to you what I consider the ‘horse powered’ version of the ute, the buckboard wagon.  Just like in today’s economy, frontiers people had to restrict themselves to a single vehicle, or in their case, wagon. You have the utility of hauling things around the homestead and a comfy spring-mounted bench for you and the Mrs. to ride to church on Sunday.

The bench is reminiscent of the two door access of the ute with its bench seat. The wagon itself is obviously the cargo area. The name buckboard has to do with the forward leaning board at the front. This was to protect from the horse randomly bucking and landing a hoof on the driver. You can compare this to today’s firewall that separates the driver from the engine compartment in a modern automobile.

So there you go. Perhaps that farmer did us a favor in reminding auto makers that sometimes the customer really does know what he or she wants. You don’t necessarily need to reinvent the wheel, but if you already had a useful wagon, why not build the car to match?


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