Mark Oastler

Few Australians really appreciate what was distinctive about the Aussie ute to support its claim as a local invention, let alone know whether it still applies.

Fact is, Australia did not invent the ute. The idea of placing the cabin of a passenger car ahead of a purpose-built load area is as old as the car itself.

What Australia did invent, though, was the notion of combining a more stylish, comfortable and roomier coupe roofline with an integrated well-side light truck body –  the ‘coupe ute’.

Even if Australian wealth in the 1930s was on the land, banks wouldn’t finance two vehicles. The remoteness of Australian farms and industry dictated a light truck for carrying vital supplies well ahead of a car purchase.

Before the 1934 launch of Ford Australia’s first coupe utility based on its top of the range V8 passenger car, Ford was inundated with requests for a vehicle that combined both functions.

According to the late Lewis Bandt, the local Ford engineer credited with inventing the coupe utility, his colleagues from sales asked him to develop a “vehicle with more passenger protection and comfort – a vehicle which would give farmers all the comfort and economy of a family sedan and still have the carrying capacity of a light truck.”

It is now folklore that at least one farmer and his wife requested a vehicle that would take them to church on a Sunday and the pigs to market on a Monday. There was a handwritten letter to that effect still in Ford archives in the early 1990s.

The outcome (below) was groundbreaking, although it was more evolutionary than revolutionary. Even Henry Ford is on record as suggesting that the boys back in the US needed to take a look at Bandt’s “Aussie Kangaroo Catcher”.

1934 Ford Coupe Ute was an Aussie world-first that created a new commercial vehicle genre.

Like everything that has come out of the Australian motor industry, the design of the coupe ute was dictated by Australian isolation and tiny economies of scale that couldn’t pay for another round of fancy expensive tooling.

Ford Australia was already building a classy, wooden-framed, 5-window coupe in the latter part of 1933 that was quite different to the US model.

Bandt’s idea was to start with this local coupe roofline, running boards and similar rear guards, then extend the body frame horizontally instead of curving it downwards for the boot and dicky-seat section.

The extended frame could then support a one-piece pressing that spanned from the doors to the end of the load bed, continuing the fine body line that extended to the grille. The spare wheel/tyre was moved to the passenger’s side front guard.

The result, effective from the similar 1934 upgrade, was an integrated body style instantly identifiable as a version of Ford’s new coupe; a model established in 1933 as a “V-8 Luxury” model with “the thrill and luxury of V8 performance”.


The Coupe Ute legacy

The correct shared-coupe roofline remained critical to all Australian coupe utilities before and during World War II. After an all-steel version followed in 1935, Ford applied the same idea to its small British Fords in 1939, with a similar but scaled-down version of the same coupe roofline.

These Australian coupe utes maintained cabins and chrome-laden front styling similar to Ford’s small local coupes. They were very different to the spartan British Ford 10 commercials, with their tight square-backed cabins and painted grilles.

Although local Ford V8 coupe utes after war’s end in 1945 no longer used rooflines identical to current coupes, the styling relationship was still very strong as the rear windows were shared and the side windows were slightly reduced.

Coupe utilities featuring the same 5-window coupe style based on key Ford US Custom/Customline models from 1948-56 remained on sale in Australia until 1959.

Ford's popular 1950s Mainline series remained faithful to Bandt's 5-window coupe styling philosophy.

These origins explain why so many cars that were ‘top shelf’ models in other markets were made into coupe utilities in Australia including the Ford Zephyr, Vauxhall Velox, various Dodges, Plymouths and De Sotos, Chevrolets (both sedan and truck ranges), Chryslers and others.

Stories abound of overseas executives horrified that their Australian arms wanted to convert their company’s best sedans into a light truck, yet in Australia it was the highest of honours. Their well-heeled buyers wanted and needed both in one vehicle.

It’s why until recently local coupe utilities had the highest resale in the business and why older examples are fetching two to three times their passenger car equivalent. It’s not just about rarity but what these vehicles meant to their owners in times gone by.

It didn’t matter that these coupe utilities didn’t have a back seat. It was common across Australia until the late 1960s to cram as many passengers across the front as possible and those who wouldn’t fit, were given a blanket and cushion to ride in the back!

Because the Australian market after 1945 could no longer support the tooling for the latest all steel two-door coupes, all local coupe utes soon featured the shorter front doors of the four-door sedan models, blurring the relationship between coupe and ute.

The definition of a coupe utility then became further blurred, with the first Holden utility, the 50/2106 released in 1951. Although beautifully styled with a rounded two-door cabin that replicated the sedan’s roofline and fancy rear guards pressed into the one-piece sides, it no longer featured the Ford coupe’s extra side glass and was not much roomier than similar work vehicles from the US and UK.

By 1960, Holden was no longer matching the roofline nor the rear styling of its coupe utes to its latest sedans. By 1964, Ford had let the rear styling of its Falcon coupe utility fall behind for the first time but caught up again in 1966. Chrysler was the first to link the rear styling of its local Valiant ute to the wagon in 1965, a precedent that Holden followed in 1968 and Ford in 1972.

Early '70s XA Falcon heralded the return of a 'fast roofline' for the ute with long, elegant coupe doors to match.

From that point, all local utes were based on cut-down wagon platforms, usually with a plate bolted over the rear passenger footwell to create a flat load floor. All traces of their coupe origins had disappeared, except for a single noteworthy exception.

The only recent Australian ute closely related to a coupe was the 1972-79 XA-XB-XC Falcon ute (above) that shared the rakish, frameless extended doors of the Falcon Hardtop with a fast roofline to match. Later Falcon models would return to the extra side window of the original coupe utility, but only to hide a return to shorter four-door sedan front doors.

Throughout this later period, Australian legislators defined tougher safety rules for these passenger car-based local utes that didn’t apply to imported pick-ups. Because buyers didn’t know better and chose on price, the local coupe utility almost died in the late 1980s until parity in safety and emissions laws was restored.

Since then, Ford (with the introduction of its AU Falcon ute) has separated the load bed from the cabin but retained an extended coupe-like cabin, while Holden has styled its roofline into a sleek integrated styleside load bed.

So has the Australian coupe utility lost its vital point of distinction? Is it enough to have a refined passenger car cabin as per the original brief still present in the latest Falcon? Or does it need to have the load bed integrated with the cabin like the Commodore?

Have better coupe utilities been produced overseas? Have the latest pick-ups blurred the line between passenger car comfort and load carrying so much that it doesn’t matter anymore?


Lew Bandt’s ‘distorted’ Coupe Ute legacy

Unfortunately, the first coupe ute’s direct link to the 1933-34 Ford coupe is in danger of being lost forever following an unintended distortion initiated by Lewis Bandt himself.

In his retirement, Bandt had tried unsuccessfully to acquire a genuine 1934 ute of his design. So, ever resourceful, he built one himself from a cut-down 1934 sedan (below) which left it with a very different roofline to the 1934 coupe and his original ’34 coupe utility.

Tragically, Bandt was killed in this replica on his way home from filming an ABC TV documentary about his invention. To honour his legacy, local Ford V8 fans rebuilt the smashed-up replica for the Bandt family, which stayed faithful to its historically incorrect cut-down sedan roofline.

However, because it is housed in a Ford collection, more and more parties assume that it is a correct reference to the original. It has even appeared on an Australian stamp with this incorrect roofline. TJ

Bandt's '34 Coupe Ute replica. Compare its upright sedan rear roofline with that of the sloping coupe original (top photo).


Holden's new-for-1971 light commercial vehicle range introduced the legendary HQ One Tonner (right).

Holden’s last Kingswood passenger car-based Holden ute and panel van commercials and the legendary One Tonner cab-chassis spin-off laid the blueprint for the modern Australian light commercial vehicle.

These HQ-based models, first released in 1971, were forced to incorporate passenger car safety and engine emission advances not applicable to imported light commercials under anomalies in Australian Design Rules introduced at around the same time.

Drivers and passengers were therefore never treated as second-rate citizens with roomy crash-tested cabins, proper flow-through ventilation, exceptional vision, low wind and mechanical noise levels and a stable, low centre of gravity stance on the road.

For the long distance tradesman, outback farm worker, plant operator or miner, there was no better light commercial to haul fuel, stock, tools and feed.

Power-to-weight ratio and the passenger car handling were also exceptional for the times, especially for a one ton cab-chassis. The wide choice of beefy, long-lived and simple engines mated to an equally effective range of transmissions – including three and four-speed manuals and an automatic option – were a bonus.

Although diesel was never considered seriously for this type of vehicle in Australia in the 1970s, LPG was emerging as a desirable low cost alternative fuel for fleet and long distance use.

Unlike their four cylinder rivals, these six cylinder Holden commercials had enough in reserve to cover any performance loss on LPG. Engine upgrades to cover any performance loss or durability issues on LPG were cheap and widely available.

One Tonner proved itself a rugged and comfortable long distance load hauler, on or off the beaten track.

The One-Tonner quickly also became a popular choice for fast, long distance couriers who progressively upgraded their vehicles as parts wore out. Add an additional lazy rear axle, extra LPG tanks, warmed-over V8 with Bathurst racing internals and a few creature comforts inside and it would be hard to find a better rig for rushed overnight deliveries to remote outposts.

The One-Tonner was also unusual as it was not a variation of the unibody styleside utility, which had its load area integrated with the cabin. The One-Tonner featured its own separate cab design and a longer wheelbase that positioned much of its extra payload ahead of the rear axle.

The only downside to this was the limitations of its extended tail-shaft which left Holden’s most powerful V8 engines off the options list.

The last of these Holden commercials also had attitude. Those that survived a thrashing and overwork were often customised with Statesman or late-model front clips, ahead of load beds and trays that were truly works of art.

Few remain in original specification today, as the challenge was to keep an old Holden commercial on the road at minimal cost. Despite the fact that these commercials ran for over 14 years with few cosmetic changes, there were many changes under the skin.

One Tonner's extended wheelbase ensured the bulk of any load was carried in front of the rear axle.

Holden One Tonner Model History

November 1971

Beefy perimeter front sub-frame of the HQ passenger car was extended to a full perimeter chassis for the new HQ ute and panel van. The soft coil rear springs of the sedan and wagon were swapped for strong leaf springs. The long 114-inch/2895mm wheelbase and tail lights were shared with the wagon and prestige Statesman model.

The HQ cab-chassis, more commonly known as the One Tonner, was built on an even longer 120-inch/3058mm wheelbase. A first for a local commercial since World War II, the One Tonner had a separate cabin backed by hefty chassis rails that could underpin flat or drop-side trays, Luton peak vans, campers, ambulances, fifth wheel towing and specialist applications such as fire-fighting and race course attendant vehicles.

The One Tonner’s truck-style painted steel front bumper and painted block-pattern pressed steel grille, round indicators placed next to the headlights out of harm’s way and painted wheels and hubcaps were different from the other Holden commercials and said ‘Tough’ with a capital ‘T’.

Most One Tonners had very hard working lives and few exist in original trim like this.

The One Tonner wheel rims were also seam-welded for extra strength compared to the standard wheel’s four-point welds. The painted truck-style bumper, the pressed steel grille and the wheels, hubcaps and badges, were all painted White or Seagull Grey depending on the body colour.

HQ One Tonners were painted in enamel, not the usual Holden acrylic lacquer of other HQ models. Before today’s laser-cut adhesive decals, this allowed for the enamel sign-writing of the period. By HJ, though, One Tonner paint finish was the same as the rest of the range.

It also featured a new Salisbury heavy duty differential across the range, while the banjo type was standard on other commercials. The super-low 4.44:1 rear axle was usually only seen in six-cylinder manual versions, supposedly to allow a reasonable service life for the clutch (on hill-starts especially) if a one-tonne payload was carried often.

Initially, the full range of sixes (173 cid/2.8 litre & 202 cid/3.3 litre) and both versions of the Aussie V8 (253 cid/4.2 litre & 308 cid/5.0 litre) were offered, except for the One Tonner which was limited to the 173cid/2.8 litre six. The 202cid/3.3 litre option was added to the One Tonner in November 1972.

Transmissions included the M15 all synchro three-speed column-shift manual, M22 wide ratio four-speed floor-shift manual for the sixes and the M40 Trimatic three-speed auto. The V8 engines came with an M20 or M21 four-speed manual.

The original super low ratio 4.44:1 diff in the One Tonner rarely stayed in the vehicle beyond the trip home from the showroom, before most owners changed it to something taller.

Not long after release, head restraints were required under Australian Design Rules.

February 1973

New speedometer with dual mph & km/h readings and odometer in miles was fitted in the lead-up to Australia’s switch to the Metric system. Amber front indicators were now required by law, forcing the parking lights to be re-located inside the headlights. Front indicator lenses were changed from clear to amber on all models. The 253cid/4.2 litre V8 option was offered in the One Tonner. Trim materials, dash finish and colours were revised.


Full metric km/h speedo and km odometer. Incoming HJ model full-foam seats were retro-fitted to the last of the HQ models in 1974 by some dealers.

One Tonner owners often loaded them up well beyond the factory-rated payload, which exceeded 1.3 tonnes.

October 1974

HJ facelift. Styleside utes and vans featured new square-edged grille of fine horizontal grille bars, but the One Tonner retained its HQ-style pressed steel grille front.

Dash changes, including a strip-type speedo and improved ventilation, plus new full-foam seats applied across the board. The One Tonner ‘Style Package’ did not feature a “sedan-type grille” as listed in the brochure but had the One Tonner grille, bumper and badges chrome-plated with normal Belmont/Kingswood hubcaps and wheels painted accordingly.

January 1975

Vapour trap fuel canisters were introduced officially, but many cars built earlier than this date had them including late production HQs.

August 1975

Purpose-built HJ ambulance package for the One Tonner and van featured latest HJ sheet metal, with the dual headlight grille from the HJ Premier. Hence the 308cid/5.0 litre V8 was finally made available as an option for the One Tonner. Most One Tonner 308cid examples were mated to tough TH400 autos, making them far more durable workhorses than the manual transmission and Tri-Matic versions.

One Tonner's strong and versatile cab-chassis design made it adaptable to a wide variety of custom bodies.

Early 1976

Lower steering ratio to require less steering effort in examples not fitted with power steering.

July 1976

HX facelift. ADR27a emission-controlled engines lost power and fuel economy. New square speedo and multi-function column stalk inside. HX Kingswood ute and van gained a new grille with vertical bars, while the base models looked much the same as the HJ series.

Apart from detail paint changes, One Tonner appearance was unchanged while cabin interior was upgraded to HX specifications.

The One Tonner’s ‘Style Package’ option was continued. Entry level 173 cid/2.8 litre six was deleted as it was no longer considered strong enough for the job, leaving the 202 cid/3.3 litre six with power front disc brakes as the entry level package. Clutch operation went from rod to cable.

One Tonner's rugged perimeter chassis remained virtually unchanged throughout five model changes and 14 years of production. It was often adapted for use in other vehicles including kit cars and speedway sedans.

October 1977

Major HZ facelift with RTS (Radial Tuned Suspension) and improved equipment levels. RTS included new front suspension upper control arms and location, new positive castor and negative camber front end geometry, uprated springs, bushes and shock absorbers all round and an anti-roll bar at the rear for all models. As a result, the Holden commercial range was transformed. Kingswood models were also given quartz-halogen headlights.

The venerable One Tonner still retained the early HQ-style front but with the latest HZ internal cabin changes including yellow instrument needles, centre armrest, RTS improvements and a larger Salisbury rear axle.

The previous HJ-HX Style Package changed to the HZ ‘Appearance Package’ which added a chrome bumper and chrome HQ sedan-style hubcaps to the standard silver-painted One Tonner grille. Many owners, though, completed the package by chrome-plating the grille as well.

All of these upgrades combined to make the HZ model the best and simplest all-round work horse in local One Tonner history.

Late 1979

New pull fork clutch mechanism fitted to all HZ and UC manual transmissions to bring them into line with the new VB Commodore.

'New look' WB Kingswood ute had a quality, upmarket appearance.

April 1980

Remnants of the stillborn WB passenger car range (killed off by the Commodore) appeared as a Statesman prestige model and a commercial range trimmed back to four models; the basic Holden ute and panel van, an optioned-up Kingswood ute and of course the One Tonner.

The WB model marked the first styling change for the One Tonner since it appeared in 1971. The bucket seat option was the latest design standardised across Statesman and Commodore.

New blue XT5 engines shared with the VC Commodore restored power and economy to both the six and V8 models. Cylinder heads, camshafts, carburettors, inlet and exhaust manifolds, electronic ignition and lower compression ratios were amongst the many changes.

The heavy duty Salisbury rear axle from the HZ One Tonner carried over into all WB One Tonners and was added to the V8-optioned WB utes and vans, although the One Tonner still had a larger rear universal joint and yoke. The banjo-type rear axle on the six cylinder utes and vans was replaced by a lighter Salisbury type.

For the first WB series, the base Holden commercials and One Tonner shared the same circular headlights in a full-width painted slatted grille with matching painted bumpers (below). The first WB Kingswood ute had rectangular halogen headlights and a separate grille with a fine block pattern insert in black and chrome bumpers (above).

Early WB One Tonners seemed to pay homage to the original HQ with a truck-like painted slatted grille and bumpers, before adopting the more refined Kingswood version. WB was the last of the mighty One Tonners.

Late 1980

All WB commercial levels including One Tonner shared the upmarket rectangular headlight WB Kingswood front.

WB transmissions included the M15 three-speed manual, M20 four-speed manual (with high-ratio first gear), M22 four-speed manual (with low-ratio first gear) and an M40 Trimatic.

The TH350 auto, available on the 308 cid/5.0 litre where specified on earlier models, was replaced by the Trimatic by November 1981.

Although the 308cid/5.0 litre V8 was not ‘officially’ available at the end, there were indeed factory examples built for certain buyers ‘in the know’.

Holden listed four GVM (Gross Vehicle Mass) figures for the utes. The 3.3 litre six initially came with a 2155kg GVM while the 4.2 litre V8 had a heavier 2200kg rating. The 3.3 dropped back to 1800kg and the V8 back to 1900kg with a 500kg recreational payload rating. The Holden One Tonner had a 2600kg GVM for the 3.3 and 2660kg GVM with the V8.

All WB commercials were phased-out in 1985 before Australia’s 1986 switch to unleaded petrol and new emissions requirements.

*Special Sandman utes and vans to be covered under a separate feature at Truck Jungle.       

Some Helpful Hints

  • Holden’s most rugged commercials ever had few faults apart from typical Holden niggles. Because the rugged chassis encouraged overloading, bends and cracks in the section behind the cabin are not uncommon. Cracks near the rear spring hangers and around the front engine mounts and rear of the lower control arms are the result of merciless hard work and metal fatigue, not any design shortcomings.
  • Early ‘Red’ six and V8 engines (pre-WB) are easy to maintain and recondition. However, later model pollution gear was a nightmare and will almost certainly be missing. Later ‘Blue’ engines – especially the V8 – restored mid-life power losses, but the composite fibre timing gear and plastic distributor drive gear in the Blue sixes did not belong in such rugged commercials. Most radiators needed to be upgraded and a sub-standard non-genuine water pump will create major problems.
  • The V8 is known to chop out its camshaft and lifters, so listen for heavy rattling from the centre of the engine below the carburettor at idle.
  • Poor quality aftermarket engine and electrical parts can give more trouble than the worn parts they replace, although new partnerships between Holden and early parts suppliers such as Rare Spares are addressing this issue.
  • LPG conversions have been around long enough for worn valve seats in the head to be an issue. Check the LPG tank and installation date as the major statutory 10-year refit of the tank may be imminent.
  • The Trimatic auto is so crude that an abrupt, decisive change is an indicator of good health and strong hydraulic pressure. They are amazingly cheap to repair when they finally die or get lazy.
  • The manual gearboxes simply wear out, with noisy 1st, 2nd and 3rd gear clusters and bearings the major indicators. Or the sloppy linkages can be so worn that the shifter jumps out of the gate then leaves you stuck without a gear! A first-to-second change can lock-up a worn column shift but it is an easy repair. Even the sturdiest Salisbury diffs are failing from sheer hard work and they do cost serious money to repair.
  • Every brake, steering and suspension part does it tough on these commercials, so assume it is worn out until proven otherwise. Replacing the early front drums with discs is a must for even and trustworthy braking. Cabins are usually worn out or sun damaged beyond repair. Even if nothing’s fancy inside, finding the correct colour and trim pattern for each worn out item can be a time-consuming and often futile process.

HQ-WB Holden One Tonner: Global View

Because the Australian market was critical to Japanese light commercial exporters in 1971, the full-chassis HQ Holden HQ ute/van commercials and One Tonner cab-chassis had a profound impact on global models. The boosts in power, refinement levels and styling were quite dramatic from this point.

It also marked the beginning of the end for the long-standing US commercials adapted to local production from Chrysler and International.

Only Ford survived the onslaught by supplementing its equally popular local Falcon utes and vans with a unique locally-built version of the imported F-series cab-chassis and styleside pick-up from the US, using local engines, trim and paint that could rival the Holden One Tonner’s blend of appointments and load carrying ability. In the process, it built a local cult following for the F-series that now rivals any Holden.

The achievement of the HQ series, especially the One Tonner, is that it educated the local market to expect the rugged work capabilities of a light truck with the performance, refinement and safety levels of a passenger car.

This precedent has ensured that a market still exists for a similar local Falcon version 40 years later. The critical difference is that both use a rugged passenger car as a starting point.

However, the demand in mature and emerging markets for a high riding light commercial truck that achieves the same blend of refinement and ruggedness has grown to such an extent that the development path is working in the reverse direction.

New generations of light trucks are now being engineered for global markets with such high levels of performance, safety and refinement that engineering a similar vehicle from a strong passenger car base is no longer a guarantee of creating a benchmark as significant as Holden’s HQ series was in 1971. TJ


Factory-built 4×4 pickups are produced in such vast numbers by a multitude of global manufacturers that we pretty much take them for granted today.

However, back in the 1950s such vehicles were a global rarity, which makes surviving examples of the little known ‘NAPCO’ Chevrolet and GMC (plus Ford and Studebaker) trucks produced during that era rare and desirable.

When World War II ended, the only new 4×4 one tonne pickup available to the private buyer in the USA was the excellent WDX Dodge Power Wagon first released in 1946; a civilian adaptation of the legendary WC series military truck that proved very popular.

Clearly, there would soon be great demand for similar 4WD pickups, as a plethora of public utilities and private industries began to flourish. Which is where ‘NAPCO’ comes in. Those five letters stood for ‘Northwestern Auto Parts Company’ which was established in 1918 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

During WWII, NAPCO’s specialised automotive engineering skills had been focused on fulfilling military contracts for the US government. When hostilities ended in 1945, the company switched to production of automotive components for civilian and commercial use.

And one of those was the NAPCO Powr-Pak 4×4 conversion kit, neatly packaged in a robust 200cm x 76cm x 66cm wooden crate that weighed about 640kgs ready for shipping.

In the space of three hours and with only four mounting holes needing to be drilled into the chassis frame, the Powr-Pak could turn a humble 2WD pickup into a 4WD ‘mountain goat’ capable of tackling the toughest terrain.

The 4×4 kit had everything required for the swap, including a complete replacement front differential assembly (with no change to the standard turning radius), two-speed Spicer 23 transfer case, propeller shafts, wheels, brakes, shocks, everything. And most were GM-sourced parts, which made servicing a breeze for GM dealers.

No welding or gas-axing of the chassis was required. In fact, NAPCO guaranteed no damage to the chassis frame during the three-hour installation. It was a clever and simple ‘bolt-up’ job, using tried and tested components that were immensely strong and durable.

Private buyers and government departments could order a new pickup and a NAPCO Powr-Pak, which could be shipped anywhere and easily installed within a day by either a dealer or specialist  aftermarket fitter.

Another great Powr-Pak attribute was that with its simple ‘bolt-on’ design it could be easily transferred from one truck to another. It also offered an engine-driven Power Take Off (PTO) option to run a winch and the transfer case was rubber-mounted for smoother and quieter operation.

The ability to switch from 2WD to 4WD whilst on the move was also claimed, although we have heard since that attempting such a shift-on-the-fly manoeuvre can result in lots of nasty crunching noises and expensive drivetrain damage! We are talking about the 1950s technology here, so that’s fair enough.

Although these 4×4 conversions were performed on Chevrolet, GMC, Ford and Studebaker vehicles, the name NAPCO is mostly associated with Chevrolet and GMC including ½ ton, ¾ ton, one and two two-tonners. There were also Suburbans and panel-sided vans in the mix.

Indeed, the Powr-Pak conversion proved so successful that it became a GM Regular Production Option (RPO 690) in 1957 and installed on the assembly line. And, not surprisingly, any reference to NAPCO was absent from that point, as shown above.

The NAPCO conversion era came to an end in the early 1960s, after GM did a complete redesign of its pickup truck range which included independent front suspension on the 2WD models (in place of the previous leaf springs/live axle arrangement) and introduced a specific chassis frame for the 4WD models.

Today there is growing interest in these unique NAPCO trucks, with several websites dedicated to finding and restoring vehicles and increasing the historical knowledge base.

These include Joe Fox’s Classic GM Truck Site and the Napco Owners Group which have done extensive research on this rare breed and from which Truck Jungle sourced some useful background info for this story. If any of these great US trucks have ended up in Australia, we’d sure like to know about them.

To provide some valuable insight into what the NAPCO-equipped trucks were capable of, take a look at this  corporate promotional film made by Chevrolet back in 1957, called ‘Meeting the Challenge’. It is a worthy title, too, because Climbing Colorado’s towering Pikes Peak the hard way – straight up – was certainly a challenge! 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.

1961 XK Falcon ute looked similar to 1960 US Ranchero but was a unique Aussie design.

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.

Reduced overhang of XK's unique short-tail was designed with Australia's rugged conditions in mind.

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.

Release of the new XR Falcon range in 1966 heralded a bold new look for the popular half-ton ute.

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.

New for '72 XA Falcon ute featured smooth new body styling that was arguably the best of the breed.

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.

XD ute's sharp-edged European design heralded another bold styling change for the iconic workhorse.

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.

XH ute was a marriage of EF sedan style front sheetmetal with the original XD rear.

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.

AU was the first Falcon ute to feature a cab-chassis design. Styleside box and cab were separated.

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.

BA's new front sheetmetal had a more muscular look, particularly in four-headlight XR specification.

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.

The versatility of the AU Falcon's cab-chassis design was an instant hit with buyers.

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.

VU Commodore's unibody design was in stark contrast to AU Falcon's cab-chassis. It still is today.

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.

FG Falcon ute has never been better, yet sales have been in constant decline.

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.

The rise and rise of the Nissan Navara reflects the changing tastes and needs of the Australian ute buyer.

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?

Stylish VE Commodore ute now dominates the local 'sports ute' market.

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.

Sign of the times. Toyota's HiLux pickup has been Australia's favourite ute choice for many years.

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



Holden's 2012 Colorado 7 was recently previewed as the Chevrolet Trail Blazer in Dubai.

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.

Asian market Ford Everest shows obvious DNA ties with the outgoing PK Ranger pickup that it's based on.

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.

Ford PX Ranger-based truck wagon will be something worth waiting for.

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.

2012 Holden Colorado 7 offers seating for up to seven passengers.

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






MY2012 Ford Transit range includes cab-chassis, bus and van variants.

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.

Transit cab-chassis can haul payloads up to 2240kgs with new 2.2 litre TDCi in 114kW tune.

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



With a payload exceeding 1.3 tonnes, the HQ One Tonner was built to work hard.

The iconic Holden One Tonner, launched in November 1971, not only showed what levels of refinement, performance and longevity could be achieved in a serious work vehicle – it was also a game changer.

It hardly seems 40 years have passed since the One Tonner arrived, when you could find at least two at just about every work site across Australia over the past four decades. Even today, some owners have quite happily paid for a second and third rebuild when there is still nothing quite like it.

The creation of the One-Tonner was an inspired move by then Holden managing director Max Wilson. Aware of the gap between the larger US cab-chassis models assembled or manufactured in Australia and the growing range of more accomplished but underpowered four cylinder cab-chassis models from Japan, he moved quickly.

Holden’s new HQ series, the first all-Australian, all-new model since 1948, was the ideal starting point with its hefty front perimeter chassis frame and upgraded six cylinder and V8 engines.

Wilson always preferred the brassy, in-your-face looks of big US models. Holden grilles from the late 1960s that looked like farm gates reflected this look. Wilson was no fan of the sophisticated styling and softer Euro-style front of the HQ passenger car range he inherited and made sure it was scrapped by 1974 – but not before the whole HQ range became the most successful Holden ever.

One Tonner's unique front really stood out from its HQ ute and van stablemates.

For his prized HQ light truck concept, Wilson wasn’t prepared to wait that long and insisted on fitting a painted egg crate grille over the HQ grille aperture; a smart move when every big truck had one. For Wilson, though, it still didn’t look tough enough.

Desperate to find a cost-effective measure to create that elusive ‘tough truck’ presence, he instructed his designers to unbolt a huge painted steel bumper from a Bedford truck assigned to the engineering department at the time and make it fit.

To everyone’s surprise, it bolted straight on and created the right work vehicle look that distinguished the One-Tonner from all other HQ Holdens, including the vans and utes. Separate park light/indicator units next to the grille replaced the vulnerable bumper-mounted items on other HQs.

The One-Tonner looked simple, rugged and easy to repair, an impression backed by reality. Unlike any before it, its wide track and low centre of gravity communicated stability, with or without a load.


One Tonner cab was attached to the chassis using insulating rubber mounts in true 'truck' tradition.

Holden exploited the HQ’s front perimeter chassis frame by grafting boxed chassis members over its ends under the passenger area, to create a full chassis that could support a huge range of work and leisure bodies behind the cabin.

The soggy coil springs of the passenger cars were swapped for hard-working rear leaf springs, supporting a tough Salisbury live rear axle unique to the One-Tonner.

Although Holden built its HQ commercials on the HQ Statesman’s longer 114 inch/2895 mm wheelbase, it was boosted to 120.4 inches/3058 mm for the One Tonner. Crucially, this added load space within the wheelbase – not behind it.

And like the sedans, it could also seat three full sized Aussie adults across the front; a big advantage over the narrow-gutted Japanese imports.

One Tonner was loaded with features, including generous flow-thru ventilation with the windows closed.

The iconic Holden One Tonner continued in production until 1985 with surprisingly few changes, which only proved how good the original concept and design was.

The low speed lugging power and low maintenance of Holden’s sixes were ideal for such a work vehicle. As Holden raced its sixes and V8s, tougher engine internals quickly found their way into the One Tonner for a variety of high speed and heavy towing applications.

 Long distance overnight couriers soon discovered that an extra rear axle, giant driving lights, bull bars and powerful, upgraded V8 engines running on LPG made it ideal for express deliveries over all roads to remote areas.

Even an ambulance pack with a quad headlight Premier front was offered. ‘No limits’ really meant something with the One-Tonner.


Versatile One Tonner design could be tailor-made to suit virtually any application.

The switch to the local Commodore eventually left the One Tonner nowhere to go and it took Ford to revive the concept and keep it alive with the similar AU Falcon cab-chassis design from 1999.

Holden briefly revisited the genre in 2003-06 with a cab-chassis based on the VY-VZ Commodore, but without the tough HQ starting point it lost something in the translation. TJ

 *The full Heritage story of the Holden One-Tonner coming soon to Truck Jungle


Ford Australia claims its latest FG Falcon Mk II sedan and ute range is packed with more technologies and features than ever previously offered by the brand in this market sector.

The iconic ‘Aussie’ Falcon ute is going to need every bit of help it can get to keep its footing in a local ute/pickup market being flooded with an unprecedented number of imported full-chassis one tonners offering extra passenger vehicle features and refinement – including, ironically perhaps, Ford’s all-new PX Ranger.

Due to go on sale in December, the new FG MkII ute range will consist of three models – base XT workhorse, XR6 and XR6 Turbo.

Base model XT workhorse with dropside tray

Missing in the new line-up will be the unloved R6 model, which with subtle appearance and comfort upgrades was designed to bridge the gap between the base XT and up-spec XR models when introduced to the FG range in 2008. However, poor sales of the R6 sealed its fate.

It becomes the second Falcon Ute model to be axed,  following in the wheel tracks of the iconic XR8 which was sidelined last year (along with its sedan sibling) after Ford chose not to re-engineer the locally-built 5.4 litre DOHC Boss V8 for tough new Euro IV emissions laws. For XR8 ute buyers, this first round of Mk II announcements is a case of ‘no news is good news’.

Following a bigger than expected decline in Falcon ute sales, Truck Jungle was told by Ford Australia boss Robert Graziano that Ford had been forced to revisit this decision and consider a Mk II XR8 with a variation of the new Coyote V8 engine under the bonnet as a point of difference over the imports.

Expect a final decision on the V8 to be announced early next year, during the next round of Mk II announcements covering the EcoBoost four cylinder engine’s arrival in the passenger cars.

New ICC touch screen controls all main in-car functions

Major changes for the new FG Mk II Falcon Ute include:

  • New Interior Command Centre (ICC) with more user-friendly 8.0-inch colour touch screen multimedia interface, to control all the main in-car functions such as audio, phone etc.  Standard on XR6/XR6 Turbo, optional on base XT
  • New instrument cluster featuring revised design, graphics and improved functionality
  • New USB input facility to play MP3 audio files
  • Enhanced safety package with side-head/thorax (that’s the upper body area) airbags now standard on all Falcon Ute models
  • Dynamic  Stability Control (DSC) now standard on all Falcon Ute models
  • New exterior design appointments, including what Ford calls ‘tri-plane’ front end architecture with the now signature trapezoidal main grille design. XRs also get new high precision projector headlamps
  • New 18-inch alloy wheels on XRs, with new design 19-inch alloys available as part of the new optional Luxury Pack 
  • More effective dash, floor and body sound deadening package featuring increases to the inner dash insulator thickness and front floor sound barrier

XR6 with Styleside Box

 Although Ford appears to have significantly trimmed its Recommended Manufacturer’s List Pricing (MLP) for the FG MkII Ute range, it is more a case of bringing them in line with what was happening in showrooms anyway.

FG Mk II retail prices are now effectively aligned with the transactional prices of outgoing extra value packs and should provide a big boost to the artificially low and unfavourable resale figures generated by list prices that rarely applied in the real world. 

Combined with the added value of its new technology and features, Ford claims savings of more than $4500.00 for the base XT cab/chassis up to $5800.00 for XR6 Turbo:

XL (C/C)                $27,590

XL (SSB)                $27,990

XR6 (C/C)             $34,890

XR6 (SSB)             $35,190

XR6 Turbo           $39,190

Truck Jungle: Opinion

The Australian-designed and built Falcon Ute has never been better equipped or better value.

However, with such intense competition from imported, full chassis truck rivals that can tow and carry substantially greater loads, we think the Falcon Ute’s survival (just like its Holden VE Commodore nemesis) will rely more on appealing to the lifestyle buyer wanting a well-equipped and practical ‘sports car with a big boot’ (particularly the XR6 models) than the hard-nosed commercial shopper these days.

Yet Ford’s retention of a live rear axle and leaf springs, along with its wider choice of load carrying options over the ute’s rear chassis-rails due its cab/chassis design, remain major points of difference over the unibody styleside Commodore ute. TJ

The Hilux changed Australian attitudes towards Japanese utes. Who could have predicted that big Aussie bruisers would ever swap their six cylinder and V8 local utes for a “rice burner”?

It took some time for Australians to see past the funny styling, cheap plastic interiors and smokey four cylinder engines struggling under a load, that were the signature of early Japanese utes. The Hilux hastened this shift in perception, to the point where it has been regularly topping monthly sales charts as Australia’s biggest selling vehicle.

From the start, Toyota light commercials – which included the Crown ute and the utilitarian Stout range – were tougher than expected with their strong separate chassis. In terms of image and grunt, neither could match the locally assembled Ford F-series or the local utes. That was before the Hilux arrived in 1968.

Few know that the first Hilux was not strictly a Toyota. In the 1960s, Hino was one of the first Japanese companies to enjoy some success in the commercial and bus field, challenging entrenched Western attitudes that the Japanese couldn’t build a serious work vehicle.

Toyota took over Hino and in the process inherited the Hino Briska, which quickly evolved into the Toyota Hilux to become one of the most successful light commercials ever.

Later diesel 4×4 versions became the definitive Australian farm and contractor’s vehicle. And as it became more refined and better-equipped with mainstream western styling, it was perfectly placed to exploit Australia’s transition from a single-vehicle household economy.

The Hilux soon played a critical work and recreation role in booming multi-vehicle households after the economic woes of the early 1990s.

This shift in vehicle ownership also coincided with strict new child restraint laws that ended the family transport role for most local utilities. For many parents in single and two-parent families, a Hilux twin-cab and its rivals immediately became a mandatory purchase for those who had to transport their kids in a working vehicle.

The Hilux also gave birth to a new class of 4×4 multi-purpose vehicles with the 4Runner wagon. Since replaced in the local Toyota range by the Prado, the concept has been kept alive locally by the Nissan Pathfinder and Mitsubishi Challenger.

Private imports of the ‘Surf’ version of the 4Runner have generated such a separate and loyal following that if Toyota chose to return with a replacement Hilux-based wagon, there has been little loss in continuity.

Wide body = wider appeal

Limited up to this point by the 1700mm width restrictions of the Japanese market, local tariffs and unfavourable yen exchange rates, the Hilux was given a new lease on life in April 2005 with the all new wide-body Hilux series.

It was not only a half size bigger, but also sourced from Thailand. Along with the more favourable exchange rates, it also escaped import duty thanks to Australia’s free trade agreement with Thailand.

The increase in sales was dramatic, as it now had the width to accommodate three full-size Aussies across the cabin at a time when equipment and pricing became more competitive. It rapidly became the new benchmark for this segment.

Following a major upgrade in Australia’s diesel fuel quality after mid-2006, its powerful diesel engine quickly replaced the later V6 petrol engine as the premium engine of choice.

This new generation Hilux was also given the Toyota Racing Development (TRD) treatment, with a powerful forced-induction 225kW/453Nm version of the 4.0-litre V6 petrol engine in 2008. In hindsight, it might have achieved more than its limited sales if it had the LandCruiser’s 4.5-litre V8 turbo diesel, with its 195kW/650Nm under the bonnet.

This current Hilux generation has since received two facelifts, including the latest MY12 upgrade styled in Australia with a new grille that shares a family resemblance with the locally-upgraded Aurion.

New and used, the Hilux has always been slightly more expensive than its Japanese rivals but its solid reputation, longevity and reliability have proven to be worth the extra investment – especially if your business depends on it.

Yet it’s fair to say that in late 2011, the Hilux has never faced such tough and competent competition in its entire history, which can only work in favour of the buyer.

While surveying service centres to investigate what goes wrong with a particular model, it’s not often that you get the blank look that occurs when you mention ‘Hilux’.  However, the latest examples have generated some new compromises (see below) in its evolution from a compact no-frills work vehicle to a bulkier dual purpose passenger vehicle and work ute.

For used buyers who need a hard working vehicle or a cheap to run and practical runabout, there should be a Hilux model and generation that covers a range of body styles and sizes to fit your budget.


Model History


RN10 series, additional grille above quad headlights. 1.5 litre, 82bhp/61kW (below).

RN 10 Series


RN13, RN16, as for 1970 model with fine grille bars, pokier 90hp/67.5kW 1.6 12R pushrod engine.

October 1972

RN20, RN25, new model with single full-width grille, separate twin slots below grille. Same 67.5 kW 12R engine (below).

RN 20/RN 25 series (US model)

March 1975

Facelift, lower grille surround extended towards bumper concealing twin slots of previous model.

November 1977

RN27 LWB half-tonne recreation pick-up. 2.0 litre 18R overhead cam engine. Styling as for 1975.

September 1978

New model RN30, RN40 and RN41 SR-5. Look for single round headlights in grille with four sections of six horizontal bars. Hilux has 1.6 12R pushrod, SR5 has 18R-C 2.0 litre overhead cam and disc brakes (below).

RN 30/RN 40 and RN 41 SR-5 series (LHD model shown)

April 1979

RN46 Hilux 4WD and RN41 2WD with 18R 2.0 litre 63kW overhead cam. 4WD has disc brakes, flared front guards, bolder grille with four framed sections of four horizontal bars.

June 1980

LN40 Diesel 2.2 litre, 46kW belt-drive overhead cam introduced. All models gain chrome bumper.

November 1981

Facelift. Square headlights, twin horizontal grille sections on 2WD models. Six vertical mesh grille sections on 4WD.

November 1982

Double cab RN41 with 18R 2.0 litre petrol or LN40 with L 2.2 Diesel.

November 1983

New model with new pushrod petrol and OHC Diesel engines. YN55 with 1.6 litre 1Y 55kW petrol, YN57 with 2.0 litre 3Y 65kW petrol, LN55 with 2.2 litre L diesel and LN56 with 2.4 litre 2L 55kW diesel. 4WD models become YN65 2.0 litre petrol and LN65 2.4 litre diesel. Look for 24 section grille on 2WD models, six horizontal mesh grille sections on 4WD models. 5 speed manual and 4 sp auto optional on 3Y petrol. 4 sp auto optional on 2.4 litre diesel (below).

YN 55/ YN 57/ LN 55/ LN 56 2WD series

YN 65/ LN 65 4WD series

September 1984

L 2.2 diesel dropped.

November 1985

YN67 4Y 2.2 litre 70kW petrol engine upgrade for 4WD.

February 1987

Facelift. Look for 18-section grille on 2WD, four-section grille on 4WD.

October 1987

YN55 1.6 IY petrol dropped. YN56 1.8 2Y 58kW petrol introduced with 4 speed column manual called Grinner.

October 1988

New model. Grinner YN85 with 2Y engine, RN85 2WD and R105 4WD with 22R 2.4 litre overhead cam 75kW petrol, LN85 with 2L 2.4 diesel, LN106 4WD with 2.8 60kW L diesel. Look for single horizontal grille bar and moulded bumper style (below).

YN 85/ RN 85/ LN 85 series

September 1990

Power steering standard.

September 1991

Facelift with rounded grille styles. LN85 dropped. 2.8 L diesel introduced to selected LN86 2WD models. Toyota logo in horizontal centre grille bar on 2WD. Forward sloping grille style on 4WD with large chrome grille logo (below).

R 105/LN 106 4WD series

August 1994

Mild facelift. Vertical bar below centre grille logo on 2WD. Large full-depth centre vertical grille bar on 4WD.

January 1996

‘Tamworth’ limited edition dual cab in 2WD and 4WD.

October 1997

New series introduced with price cut. Look for the more rounded lines, sculptured front guards with reverse sloping front and separate grille. LN147R (4X2 dual cab) and LN167R (4X4 dual cab) gained Prado’s new 3.0-litre diesel with 65kW/197Nm. Petrol fours on other models included a 2.7-litre EFI with 108kW/235Nm or a new entry level 2-litre (EFI) with 80kW/166Nm (below).

LN 147R 4×2 dual-cab and LN 167R 4×4 dual-cab gained new Prado 3.0L turbo-diesel engines

December 2000

Diesel boosted to 71kW/200Nm.

November 2002

New petrol 3.4-litre V6 with 124kW/291Nm added to range.

September 2003

V6 petrol now LPG compatible.

March 2005

First wide body series GGN25R arrives. New 4.0-litre V6 petrol with 175kW/376Nm and new 3.0-litre turbo-diesel with 120kW/343Nm. New 5-speed auto option on upper levels. Early grille had fat centre bar with pillar under Toyota logo (below).

First wide body GGN 25R series

October 2006

Diesel upgraded for new low sulfur fuel with 126kW/343Nm.

October 2008

MY09 upgrade with single slat open grille.

September 2011

MY12 upgrade with fine horizontal bar grille.


Some Helpful Hints

  • Because the Toyota Hilux is exceptionally durable, its reliability is its main drawback as it can attracts owners who don’t fix anything until it’s broken. Many have not been taken off the road for regular servicing, which can later generate a list of problems. Parts are reasonably priced.
  • Over the years, Hilux engines have changed dramatically as Toyota’s switch to front drive passenger cars has forced the development of specific commercial vehicle engines for load-lugging rear drive applications. 1Y, 2Y, 3Y and 4Y petrol engines were specially developed as simple, easy-to-maintain pushrod engines for commercial use. They are virtually maintenance free, but the hydraulic valve lash adjusters can suffer if oil is not kept clean.
  • The overhead cam 18R/22R petrol engines are variations of early Corona/Celica passenger car engines and are not as simple or reliable. Can suffer from rattly timing chains, severe oil burning and oil leaks around the front of the engine. Head gasket failure is also common with these engines as they age.
  • Unlike Toyota passenger car versions, certain Hilux 18R/22R engines do have valve clearance adjustment so it’s possible that noisy valve gear can be adjusted out.
  • Diesels are exceptionally long lived, but early models were short on grunt and cam belt change intervals and regular oil changes are essential. The injectors can be reconditioned but the pump can cost big money. Accelerate up a hill and check if it belches smoke under load.
  • This all changed with the later wide body series. Many operators found the bigger model to be less agile and more vulnerable to damage in tough conditions, which keeps pre-2005 models in steady demand. The later diesels are also far more sensitive to even slight variations in fuel quality and can generate five-figure repair bills if things go wrong.
  • The later V6 petrol engine is also thirsty and needs a top quality LPG conversion if it’s not to give trouble.
  • Concerns about certain Thai components across this market segment apply equally to the later Hilux, with some operators reporting that items such as clutches, shocks and other components are not as durable as they were previously.
  • Over its model life, the Hilux came as a short and long wheelbase pick-up, a double cab, an extended cab (Xtra) pick-up and a cab/chassis with a variety of tray tops and other fittings. Load capacity also varied, so before purchase make sure that it will meet your requirements.
  • The 3.0-litre diesel in the current shape HiLux is now known for fuel injector problems that first present themselves as excessive noise on start-up. As the fuel injector seals fail, they can cause such extensive damage that the entire engine will need replacing.  In some markets, these injector seals are replaced as a pre-emptive routine maintenance item. Poor fuel has been blamed in some cases but it is worth monitoring developments with local Toyota dealers and HiLux diesel specialists if in doubt.


Hilux: Global View

Australia was one of the few mature automotive markets to experience a wide range of early Japanese utes and was in the box seat to watch the evolution.

There were several market niches waiting to be filled between the locally adapted versions of large full-chassis US pick-ups, the unique coupe-utilities based on Australian passenger cars and the pick-up version of the British Land Rover. The Japanese often used the Australian market as a test context before going global in the early 1960s.

The earliest Japanese utes were based on their four cylinder passenger cars, to slot under the Australian utes with price and some fairly optimistic payload figures as sweeteners. A claimed one tonne capacity for the tiny 1.2-litre Datsun Bluebird was typical.

Toyota also presented coupe utility versions of the Toyota Tiara and Crown, which were similar to Australian rivals as the styling and cabin were based on the sedans. The Crown found steady buyers with its full chassis toughness, but barely adequate power.

Both Toyota and Nissan also offered separate light truck ranges based on more substantial purpose-built four cylinder pick-ups with up to a claimed two tonne capacity.

The Toyota Stout and Nissan Junior (later renamed Datsun two-tonner) were not directly related to any current Japanese passenger car even if they shared some mechanical parts. These vehicles, despite their substantial payload claims that invited comparison with the truck-based pick-ups from Ford, International and Dodge, were much smaller.

Both did reasonably well, as they were much cheaper to buy and run and were much more robust than the passenger vehicle-based utilities, even if they too were underpowered.

As Japanese passenger cars grew in size and switched to unitary body construction, there was a point when the smaller Japanese utes grew closer in size to these heavier duty models and became redundant.

After the Hilux charted its own course between these two classes of Japanese work vehicles late in the 1960s, Japanese rivals soon started separating their passenger range from their work vehicles with purpose-built light trucks featuring cabins that had grown in size. They loosely followed the styling changes of the 1.5-1.8-litre sedans, but charted their own path with full-chassis construction.

Around the same time, new ute versions of smaller Japanese 1.0-1.2-litre passenger models were created to fill the gap at entry level. Today’s global one tonne ranges are the direct descendants of the larger 1.5-1.8-litre models following their complete separation from the passenger car ranges, most of which occurred in the early 1970s.

As the Hilux has shown, the wheel is turning full circle as more passenger vehicle refinements are returned to the specification. TJ



You only have to talk to a mechanic or read a few internet forums to know that over the past few years a considerable number of diesel owners have experienced major fuel system damage, often resulting in extensive repairs to complex fuel pumps, injectors, filters etc costings thousands of dollars.

Surprisingly, many of the vehicles to suffer this problem have been well known, high quality brands. And relatively new models, with some of this damage occurring in vehicles with less than 25,000 kms on the clock.

So what’s going on out there? According to anecdotal evidence from mechanics we’ve spoken to and opinions expressed by various owners in public forums, the problem could be related to the type of diesel fuels being used and their compatability (or lack of) with modern engine technologies.

Today’s common rail diesel (CRD) engines feature levels of engineering refinement, performance and efficiency that are worlds ahead of diesel engines of the past.

The common rail design operates at much higher fuel pressures than older style diesels and therefore has much greater sensitivity to variations in fuel quality and cleanliness.

CRD engines are designed to run on today’s enviro-friendly, ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD) fuels, which became mandatory for use in Australia from 2006 with a sulfur particulate limit of 50ppm (parts per million). This limit was lowered to 10ppm in 2009.

CRD engines can also run on biodiesel, which is a blend of standard petroleum diesel and non-fossil fuel compounds made from renewable energy sources such as used cooking oil, animal fats and other agricultural products.

These bio-diesel blends are readily available in Australia, in concentrations from five per cent biodiesel (B5) up to 20 per cent (B20) or more.

However, check the warranty statements made by numerous manufacturers about the use of these ‘green’ fuels in their vehicles. Most clearly stipulate that they must conform to the Australian Diesel Standard, which specifies an allowance of up to five per cent biodiesel content (B5). Here’s two good examples:

Toyota Australia: “In the absence of biodiesel blend fuel standards greater than B5 (5% biodiesel blend) and due to the many variations of biodiesel fuel blends under production in our market, such as B20 and B30 (biodiesel blend 20% and 30%) Toyota is not in a position to evaluate the long term effect that these varied biodiesel blends will have on overall engine performance, fuel injection equipment durability, fuel economy and exhaust emission compliance.

“This statement is provided to inform Toyota owners of Toyota’s position with regard to the use of bio-diesel fuels in its products and also serves to confirm that Toyota New Vehicle Warranty will not apply to any failures that are attributable to the use of such fuels.”

Mercedes-Benz Australia: “Daimler AG has determined that diesel fuel containing up to five per cent biodiesel blend, known as B5, which conforms to the fuel standard EN14214 (bio diesel) and EN590 (diesel) meets the technical specifications for all passenger cars and light commercial vehicles equipped with CDI (common rail diesel injection) engines.

“We must also stress that vehicle damage that results from misfueling or from the usage of substandard, non-approved or privately blended fuels may affect your new vehicle manufacturer’s warranty.”

So why are these well designed and precision engineered CRD engines, which are built to provide hundreds of thousands of kilometres of trouble-free service,  suffering premature and expensive fuel system failures?

Are some diesel owners unaware of their vehicle manufacturer’s fuel recommendations and how they can affect their new vehicle warranty?

Are some diesel owners filling up with biodiesel fuel blends greater than five percent (B20, B30 etc) thinking they’re doing the right thing for the environment, but unknowingly destroying their engines?

Are fuel bowsers at some outlets incorrectly labelled, or labelled in such a way as to be hard for the customer to see when choosing which hose to stick in their tank?

Or have you just been unlucky enough to get a dirty batch of fuel, contaminated by water or goodness knows what else?

Unlike petrol, diesel fuel is susceptible to supporting organisms during storage which can be encouraged by the addition of bio-matter. Storage quality requires far more vigilance. Is every outlet doing what’s necessary to ensure clean, uncontaminated fuel?

We’d really like some owner feedback on this, to try and get a handle on what’s going wrong. ends..





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