Thousands of truck and commercial vehicle enthusiasts flocked to Melbourne’s Sandown Park Racecourse recently for the 30th Annual Display Day hosted by the Historic Commercial Vehicle Club of Australia (HCVCA), proving the growing appeal of Australia’s commercial vehicle heritage.
All owners of historic commercial vehicles were invited to display at the event, resulting in a rich and colourful exhibit comprising several hundred quality examples including original and restored utes, pickups and delivery vans, full-size trucks from all eras including prime movers, trays and tippers, buses, fire engines, military vehicles, recovery vehicles, tractors and plenty of collectables and memorabilia.
Truck Jungle spent an interesting day wandering through the lines of classic commercials on display, many with their owners stationed nearby and happy to share the detailed histories of their much loved vehicles with anyone that was interested.
Nostalgia is a powerful emotion and it seems that, just like classic cars, everyone has a fond memory of a classic truck from years gone by. Perhaps it was the Holden-bodied Bedford tray driven by the local suburban green grocer to the city markets and back each day. Or the rusty, unregistered Holden, Falcon or Valiant ute you learned to drive in on your uncle’s farm. Or the F Series tow truck with the bright red paint, polished chrome, flashing lights, dual rear wheels and hot sounding V8 owned by the local panel beaters.
Every truck has an interesting story to tell, particularly when you realise how many of these classic commercials are unique to Australia. For example, to meet local content requirements, big name US brands like International and Dodge shared bodies, chassis and other components for many years across a wide range of Australian-built trucks both large and small. And there were numerous examples of these on show from different eras.
GM-H and Ford Australia have both been heavily involved in production of commercial vehicles unique to Australia over many decades and these were also well represented on the day, including Holden-bodied Bedfords and Chevrolets, several early model Falcon utes, F Series trucks and Ford’s classic ‘single spinner’ and Mainline utes. Not one HQ-WB Holden One Tonner in sight, though, which was a real surprise.
There was plenty more to delight fans of British commercials, with light duty deliveries like Ford Anglia/Prefect utes, Morris and Austin vans from the 1940s and 50s, as well as the Austin 1800 ‘land crab’ ute of the late 1960s based on BMC’s front wheel drive Austin 1800 sedan.
The classic military hardware display was a delight for fans of WWII iron, including numerous Jeeps, a three-quarter ton Dodge WC52 weapons carrier and superb Chevrolet Blitz all looking like they had come straight from the battlefield.
Many of these vehicles have a proud post-war civilian heritage in Australia, too. After being decommissioned and sold, they were put to work in a variety of important roles from hard working farm vehicles to frontline duties with volunteer bushfire brigades.
Classic prime movers were also thick on the ground at Sandown, with some original and beautifully restored examples of heavy duty F Series Fords, B Series Macks, Kenworths and even a recently imported LHD Peterbilt cab-chassis.
Truck Jungle has noticed an interesting trend emerging here, where classic prime movers restored to factory standards are in some cases taking the place of classic cars as preferred highway cruisers and ‘Sunday drivers’ for enthusiasts.
Given their honest, hard-working heritage, individuality and imposing size and power, these trucks attract plenty of interest and admiration wherever they go. And, given their Herculean strength, reliability and relative affordability, respond well to restoration and club use.
Events like the annual HCVCA Display Day prove that Australia’s commercial vehicle heritage movement is every bit as passionate and healthy as its car-based counterpart.
The sheer number of vehicles that have contributed to this unique industry and the building of our post-war nation is staggering.
And their effectiveness in their various roles – and their amazing longevity – is a testament to the world-class quality and ingenuity of Australian designers and manufacturers. TJ
The Australian Falcon ute, launched in 1961, is the world’s longest-running unbroken nameplate on a car-based ute and second only to the Ford F-series as the longest-running commercial badge.
The Aussie icon’s unbroken 50 year sequence of models is particularly worthy of celebration. It was Ford and the local Falcon ute that kept the iconic Aussie ute alive during its darkest days, after both Holden and Chrysler abandoned the local ute market.
The first XK Falcon ute followed the passenger car range to market in May 1961. Although it looked similar to the 1960 US Ford Ranchero based on the same Falcon model it was always a very different vehicle, with a more compact and practical design tailored to tough Australian conditions.
The US Falcon-based Ranchero featured the longer two-door Falcon’s doors, which in turn pushed most of the load area behind the rear wheels for extra length and rear overhang.
For a fully laden workhorse, the US design was too vulnerable to major damage while negotiating Australian creek crossings, spoon drains and other outback obstacles.
Because the US Falcon wagon also shared the same shortcomings, Ford Australia presented a unique short-tailed local wagon, panel van and ute range.
Extended side pillars and a rear parcel shelf also gave Aussie Falcon ute drivers some useful extra storage space and some relief from the hot sun, while the sedan’s shorter front doors freed up load space ahead of the rear axle.
Suspension and ride height were also beefed up for the rugged off-road conditions that many Falcon utes would encounter.
As the first compact six cylinder ute with the power to match its load capacity, the new XK Falcon ute soon replaced Ford’s other local utes based on the US Ford Customline and the British Ford Zephyr.
It was also the sleekest-looking ute ever offered on the Australian market and looked every bit as modern as the sedan, sharing its styling and compact proportions front to rear.
With each facelift, the Falcon ute became more Australian as it was toughened up and styling upgrades were no longer tied to US models.
The process started all over again in 1966 with another unique Falcon ute, this time based on the XR Falcon. Compared to the US model, its shorter wheelbase and overhangs were far more suited to tough conditions and it wasn’t long before this body style replaced the US Ranchero in South Africa, which shares similar driving conditions to Australia.
Ford then became the first and only local manufacturer to offer its high performance V8 engine in a local ute with the 351cid/5.8-litre Cleveland V8 option from the early 1970s. Combined with the GS option, buyers could virtually specify a ‘Falcon GT ute’ in everything but name.
The big news was in 1972. The new XA Falcon ute owed nothing to any overseas model with its long Fairlane wheelbase, coupe roofline and extended, frameless doors from the XA Falcon Hardtop. Despite a passing resemblance to the US Torino-based Ranchero pick-up, it was much tougher with far greater clearance.
After this popular ute series went through XB and XC facelifts, it was replaced by the XD with its classic European looks in 1979.
This design was so ahead of its time that the same cab and style-side design remained current until 1999 with panel changes limited to those ahead of the windscreen.
In the early 1990s, this design was also badged as a Nissan to comply with local industry model rationalization requirements. It was this model that saved the Australian ute after Holden dropped its commercial range in 1985 and Chrysler’s Valiant ute was withdrawn in 1979.
By 1990, Ford was also ready to abandon the ute market after a flood of imported Japanese 4x4s and cab-chassis models exploited loopholes in local regulations that exempted them from key safety and duty requirements.
However, the 1993 demise of the Ford Capri export program to the US freed up a separate factory that allowed Ford to continue low volume production of the XG and later XH facelifts, based on the earlier XD series independent of the passenger car range.
The arrival of Holden’s first Commodore-based ute in 1990 helped bring the focus back to the locally-made models, boosting sales of both. As the Japanese economy went into meltdown, both Commodore and Falcon ute sales took off.
This prompted Ford Australia to launch the AU Falcon ute range in 1999 – the first all new Falcon ute since 1979. An immediate success, it was a radical departure from previous Aussie utes, usually built on a toughened unibody version of the wagon platform.
Because all AU utes shared the same cab-chassis design, the styleside versions – for the first time in local Ford and Holden ute history – featured a load bed totally separate from the cab similar to an F Series truck.
Extra storage space inside and retention of the live rear axle and its leaf springs reflected Ford’s intensive market research. Local Holden and Ford utes for the first time were no longer directly comparable, as Holden pursued the sports ute market with sleeker looks and coil spring independent rear suspension in later models.
A special high performance AUII Falcon XR8 Pursuit 250 ute, powered by Tickford’s hand-built 250kW stroker version of the Windsor V8, marked a welcome return to the tough muscle ute market which continues with today’s FPV range.
Even though BA upgrades including nose section were later applied to the original AU cab and load bed, not all features were shared with the passenger cars.
The ute then had to wait until the FG launch in 2008 before it was again fully aligned with the current sedan range and its ongoing upgrades. (see MK II upgrades story at Truck Jungle).
*Look for the full Heritage section covering 50 years of Falcon ute models soon at Truck Jungle
It’s taken the officials from the popular Ford Falcon vs Holden Commodore V8 Utes racing category to raise the question that few Australians dare to ask. Will there still be an Aussie ute around by 2015? And if there isn’t, what will they race instead?
For anyone working to a five-year plan, it’s a valid question that must be under scrutiny in Holden and Ford boardrooms, in Australia and in Detroit. Chances are that it has already been answered.
The Aussie ute is one of the few Aussie icons yet to fall to imported alternatives or be hijacked by an overseas company – but there is not much in it. A trend in sales figures over the past decade cannot be ignored.
Back in the year 2000, Ford sold 10,493 utes in the first full year of the AU Falcon cab-chassis against 8,342 Commodore utes.
Even if the AU sedan could never be as popular as its VT Commodore rival, the order was reversed with the ute. Ford seemed to have made the right choice opting for the cab-chassis over Holden’s unitary styleside ute, offering full load flexibility with the refinements and safety of a current passenger car.
This was at a time when the imported cab-chassis light trucks were still a long way short of the local product in handling, grunt, braking, safety and cabin comfort.
Also in 2000, Ford struggled to shift 2,568 4×2 and 3,254 4×4 Couriers while Holden found homes for 10,564 4×2 and 8,286 4×4 Rodeos. It is fair to observe that Holden, by not offering a Commodore cab-chassis, more than made up for it in extra Rodeos which offered more drivetrain options than Ford’s Courier.
And even if the Commodore ute surrendered 2000 sales to the Falcon, Holden’s single Commodore ute style was probably more profitable and easier to build.
It’s worth noting that also in 2000, Toyota was selling 10,261 4×2 and 11,830 4×4 Hilux examples while Nissan sold 2,079 4×2 and 2,635 4×4 Navaras – both significant figures.
A decade later, in 2010, Ford’s FG ute range – the best in the local company’s history with its combination of style and cab-chassis versatility – struggled to find 9,099 buyers in a buoyant ute market. By comparison, the Commodore ute soared to 11,405 with just one body style.
But that’s not the end of it. The old generation Colorado (Holden’s rebadged Rodeo) had slumped to 2,229 4×2 and 11,007 4×4 sales; a reflection of its old school refinement, size and drivetrains which explains why the 4×2 models took a big hit.
Ford’s PK Ranger (a rebadged Courier), in its last year of the old series amidst plenty of news leaks about the ground-breaking 2011 PX model, found 4,850 4×2 and 9,836 4×4 sales. Even more significant were the 14,935 4×2 and 24,961 4×4 Hilux sales and the tiny 1,747 4×2 and massive 19,424 4×4 Nissan Navara sales.
It is the transition in the Navara sales from 2000 to 2010 that tells the story. From a respectable also-ran in 2000 and almost incidental 4×2 presence in 2010, the Navara 4×4 range is now within reach of the all mighty Hilux.
For that, Nissan can thank its D40 Navara range; itself a model that shares its cabin with the respectable Pathfinder passenger model.
Any informed Aussie light truck fan can tell you what’s going on here. Faced with a choice of a comfortable, quick, safe and refined 4×2 FG Falcon single cab-chassis with extra toughness, or a comfortable, quick, safe and refined 4×4 Navara/Hilux dual cab-chassis – but with extra clearance, traction, toughness, seating for five and higher driving position – more Aussies are now looking at the latest dual-cab imports.
This battle for Aussie hearts and minds has only just begun, with the new VW Amarok, latest PX Ford Ranger and coming Holden Colorado still to enter the fray with all guns blazing, along with some really tasty Hilux and Navara upgrades.
And for the ‘sports-car-with-a-big-boot’ buyer, faced with a choice of Ford’s sports versions of its 4×2 FG Falcon cab-chassis with basic rear live axle and leaf springs, or Holden’s VE Commodore V8 performance ute with looks, handling and grip to match, buyers are cementing Holden’s dominance of this niche category.
And there is little Ford can do about it, in the absence of a V8 entry model and a grippy IRS rear end that can cope with more power in the top models.
So if Holden can’t muster more than 11,405 Commodore ute sales when it virtually owns the sports ute category, is there room for Ford as well?
Does it make sense for Ford to design a whole new rear end specifically for its sports models, when winning even half the difference in Commodore ute sales won’t make a big difference? If Ford was lucky, it might pull an extra 2000 sales from a diminishing pool.
But it’s the year to date (YTD) 2011 figures that are really alarming. By the end of November 2011, in what is already a record year for automotive sales, Falcon ute sales had plummeted to 6,420 and Commodore had dropped to 8,889; the absence of a V8 accounting for the loss of at least 2000 Falcon ute sales.
Meanwhile, the 10,854 PX Ford Ranger 4×4 sales have already comfortably overtaken the full 2010 figures – and that’s with only some of the new range on sale. Toyota already has 22,776 4×4 Hilux sales in the bag and Nissan 18,652 Navara 4×4 sales.
So, is the end of the Aussie ute in sight?
Has the new-found passenger car levels of refinement, safety, grunt and space for five in the imported light trucks made the original Aussie ‘coupe utility’ concept redundant?
Is the sports ute market still healthy enough to support another generation of Ford and Holden entries? Or would a Ranger/Colorado/Hilux/Navara with a disc-braked IRS cradle hanging off the rear and hot V8 petrol engine fill the gap?
Regardless of any local loyalties, it is not hard to see why the V8 Ute race category is looking at its future options right now. TJ
Australian dependence on light trucks built in Thailand has hit a major snag due to recent floods, with supplies of vital new models to be delayed until the Thai industry gets back on its feet.
For the local Australian arms of Japanese manufacturers, it is the second shock for an industry still reeling from the fallout of the tsunami that Japan earlier in 2011.
Nearly all Japanese-badged light commercials (as well as those sold as a Holden or Ford) are now sourced out of Thailand to exploit the free trade agreement between Thailand and Australia.
The worst affected appear to be Ford and Holden, as this latest disaster has coincided with the most important new light commercial ranges in the history of these local companies.
Both are desperate to achieve momentum so that they’re ready to do battle with vastly improved next generation Chinese models on their way in 2012.
FORD recently revealed its new Ranger in top shelf XLT specification only, with the aspirational five cylinder 3.2-litre diesel engine as a halo model for the all new PX range.
Bread and butter Ranger models were supposed to follow in the closing months of 2011, including a Single cab, SuperCab 4X2, Hi-Rider 4X2 and Wildtrak 4X4, as well as a new 2.5-litre four cylinder petrol engine and 2.2-litre diesel.
Although the main factory escaped flood damage, many Thai component suppliers and their workforces were not so lucky.
The Thai industry has been working around the clock to get supplies back on track, but it hasn’t been enough to avoid delays. In Ford’s case, the rest of the Ranger range won’t arrive until well into 2012.
HOLDEN is monitoring the situation closely, as it planned to roll out its striking new Colorado range in the first quarter of 2012. This is looking less likely as Holden insiders are now bracing for a delay into the second quarter.
Although MITSUBISHI is not about to release a new Triton range, it is more exposed than most when its Challenger SUV is also built in Thailand. Both now face delays in deliveries next year.
Equally of concern are the diesel engines built in Thailand for local Pajeros. Conscious that the Australian SUV market is about to shift up another gear, Mitsubishi in Thailand is working around the clock to iron out any delays when the Australian market is vital to the Thai facility.
NISSAN is also set to upgrade the specification of its D40 Navara range early in 2012, by further exploiting new shared manufacturing arrangements with Mitsubishi in Thailand.
Although it’s unlikely that the recent floods will change the schedule, Nissan could well face similar delays to Ford in rolling out the complete range in adequate volumes. TJ
Get ready for an invasion of the Australian automotive market by new 4X4 ladder chassis passenger wagons based on the latest light truck ranges, starting in 2012.
Because most will be sourced out of Thailand duty-free, they promise to be tough, cheap and effective, with the bonus of good fuel economy and five-star safety ratings following unprecedented safety gains in the latest generation light truck ranges.
After the Nissan Navara-based Pathfinder led the revival in 2005, the Mitsubishi Triton-based Challenger followed in 2009, but the game changers will be the next generation models from Ford and Holden.
Holden has already confirmed that the new Colorado 7, recently previewed as a Chevrolet Trail Blazer in Dubai, will be released in Australia as soon as it’s available.
Because the Ford Everest truck wagon based on the outgoing Mazda-based PK Ranger is a vital model in Asian markets, a replacement based on the all-new PX Ranger is a given.
However, the next Everest currently under development in Australia is also earmarked for more mature markets. Its extra size and style will be matched with new levels of safety, refinement and sophistication.
The return of these vehicles to the Australian market mark a full turn of the wheel, as these truck-based wagons were once a popular alternative to the heavier and costlier off roaders.
This time around they will provide a tougher but affordable alternative to the many soft roaders available to family buyers and will be vital in winning back sales following the decline in large 4×4 sales.
The big difference between now and then is that the cabins of early Japanese models were all restricted by the Japanese-mandated 1700mm width limit and were of limited use to families with older children. The coming generation will be closer in size to the larger US truck-based models.
Both Ford and Holden would also be hoping that their new truck wagons will halt the Toyota LandCruiser Prado sales juggernaut, itself a replacement for the HiLux-based Toyota 4Runner.
For Ford, a new PX Ranger-based wagon will neatly dovetail with the latest local Territory range, as well as provide a viable alternative for loyal local owners of the second-generation US Explorer.
Ford Australia has a long history with this type of vehicle, including a locally-assembled version of the US Bronco and the Ford Raider that was based on the Ford Courier-Mazda B-series light truck range. The local Blue Oval branch also offered a Nissan Patrol badged as a Ford Maverick.
A Ranger-based wagon would cover over all the gaps left by the demise of these models.
The Colorado 7 is also perfectly timed for Holden when the company has been left exposed in this segment for some years, after the Isuzu-based Holden Jackaroo was dropped and the Commodore-based Holden Adventra missed its mark.
Holden also sold several versions of the huge Chevrolet Suburban badged as a Holden. The Colorado 7 would be at ease in the company of any of these past Holden models.
As a growing number of older Australians leave the workforce for a nomadic lifestyle and younger families require extra luggage, seating and towing capacity, these new truck wagons are about to place a wide range of purpose-built 4X4 wagons and softroaders on notice. TJ
At Truck Jungle, we love tough trucks no matter where they come from and we reckon some of the best on the planet right now are the wild balloon-tyred beasts created by Arctic Trucks International in Reykjavik, Iceland.
If these wild-looking snowmobiles look familiar, that’s not surprising. These guys built the bright red Toyota Hilux that starred in BBC Television’s Top Gear Polar Challenge in 2007, when show hosts Jeremy Clarkson and James May in the Hilux prevailed over Richard Hammond (on a dog-drawn sled!) in a race to the Magnetic North Pole. It was one of Top Gear’s most popular TV specials.
The Polar Challenge was one of several major expeditions involving Arctic Trucks, which have included similar treks to the South Pole and across the Greenland glacier.
In each case, they have been the first automobiles to drive in these areas. The company claims that such expeditions are of great importance, as they provide unique opportunities to test their highly modified vehicles in the worst possible conditions.
And despite their aggressive appearance, these jiggers minimise damage to the environment as their huge, low pressure tyres are designed to roll right over the top rather than through the terrain, be it snow, ice, sand or rocks.
Arctic Trucks was founded in 1990 when Toyota Iceland started modifying 4×4 pickups for extreme off-road applications. The company now operates independently from Toyota and has expanded its operation into Norway and other countries in recent years. It also now assists other vehicle brands requiring such specialised modifications.
Arctic Trucks focuses on two key customer groups. One is the private recreational vehicle owner wanting to venture much further into the wilderness with confidence.
The other consists of search and rescue teams, military, police, park rangers, research organisations and utility suppliers like telephone, electricity and gas companies. Not only in Iceland and Norway but all around the world, from the snow and ice of northern Europe to the scorching sands of the Sahara.
You’ll be seeing a lot more of Arctic Trucks and some of their amazing modified vehicles at Truck Jungle, because we really admire their design skills, quality of workmanship and the capabilities of their vehicles.
For starters, check out this great video clip that takes you inside the AT workshop and shows the incredible amount of work required to turn a couple of brand new stock standard Toyota Hiluxes into Arctic Trucks to die for.
We were gobsmacked by the extensive alterations required to chassis, drivetrain, suspensions, wheels, tyres and bodywork to complete such a conversion.
This clip also shows the completed trucks being packed up (oh so tight!) into a shipping crate, flown by cargo plane into the wilderness and then set loose on the snow and ice, proving the effectiveness of the huge, soft footprints of their balloon-like 38-inch tall tyres in such conditions. TJ
From January 2012, the Ford Transit commercial range will feature a new 2.2 litre TDCi engine, which delivers significantly more power and torque with lower fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions than current models, at no extra cost.
It could be the steroid shot Ford’s iconic Transit needs to boost sales in a market segment dominated by Toyota (HiAce) and Hyundai (iLoad).
In October 2006, Ford split the once exclusively rear-drive Transit range into entry level front wheel drive and upper level rear wheel drive models on the arrival of the VM series.
The big drop in power for the entry models though was out of proportion with their healthy one tonne payloads; a factor that also affected the mid-2010 front drive ECOnetic model with its 1172kg rating.
Ford has now been forced to further close the gap, after six-speed manual transmissions were standardised across the range from July 2010.
The new Duratorq 2.2 litre four cylinder turbo-diesel engine will be available in two states of tune: 92kW/330Nm for front wheel drives (an increase of 7kW and 30Nm) and 114kW/385Nm for rear wheel drives (an increase of 11kW and 10Nm).
The new high efficiency 2.2 litre engine also replaces the current 2.4-litre engine fitted to all rear wheel drive models.
Fuel economy and tailpipe emissions also achieve significant gains across the MY2012 range, with the Transit 280S model (entry level one tonne van) boasting the highest combined-cycle (ADR 81/02) fuel consumption improvement of 11 per cent to 7.2L/100km and CO2 emissions at a class leading 189g/km.
The new 280S van’s efficiency boost has resulted in fuel economy and emissions performance equal to that of the ‘green’ inspired but slow selling ECOnetic Transit van. Not surprisingly, the ECOnetic model will be axed.
“I’m certain our Transit customers will welcome the arrival of this new 2.2 TDCi engine and its many benefits,” said Ford Australia boss Bob Graziano. “The additional power and torque will make the driving more enjoyable and the increased efficiency is sure to make a difference at the bowser.” TJ