Working vehicles have always been the backbone of Australia, hauling freight, people and livestock across this massive brown expanse.
Until quite recently, the humble Aussie ute (read: utility vehicle) was every respectable tradesman’s vehicle of choice. Utes are essentially a sedan cabin cobbled with a tray rear end that lets us mix business with pleasure. Think of them as the automotive equivalent of the reverse mullet haircut; comfort up front, business in the back.
Sadly though, the death of Aussie automobile manufacturing means that cheap utes from GM Holden and Ford Australia are now a thing of the past, and fresh spare supplies have dried up too.
Almost ironically, the skyrocketing costs to now buy and maintain a ute makes them too valuable to be knocked around on building sites. Those lucky enough to still own a certified piece of Australiana on wheels – and especially the high-spec V8 models – most likely have them covered in a shed somewhere, only to be seen and heard rumbling through the streets on sunny weekends.
The closest thing to a silver lining may be the creativity some owners are employing when shopping for a replacement working vehicle. While I’m certainly not claiming the death of the Aussie ute is solely responsible for the uptake in interest in older US-sourced working trucks, it is hard to ignore the link, especially if you think back to when American pickups started to gain momentum here.
In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to see trucks become the new flavour of choice for Australian enthusiasts for the next few years.
That statement alone is probably enough to see me kidnapped and lynched at the next truck meet, because there’s a deep line in the sand between utes and pickups. If it’s a model that’s derived from some form of sedan or wagon, it’s definitely not a pickup truck. Trucks are purpose-built for work life.
If I discover why it matters so much I’ll be sure to share it, but for now I’ll just respect that this is the way.
The many different origin stories, interests and styles really came across while I strolled through Sydney’s first Pickup Trucks Downunder Meet & Greet.Meet & Greet
Keen to understand the growth of the pickup truck scene in Australia over the past five years, whenever I wasn’t behind the lens I was talking to owners, trying to discover the origins of this eclectic crew of enthusiasts.
It’s not often you see such a diverse crowd all together, but the differing origins and styles were of interest to all. Muscle car enthusiasts, mini truckers, kustom lovers, both young and old – a real melting pot of people that most closely resembled the old school hot rod scene.
Some were priced out of their first choice for classic metal, some had become bored with the more traditional options, while others just grew up with an affinity for working trucks.
There was also a pretty heavy contingent of ex-mini-truckers, who felt like the old C10 Chevys and Fords were the next logical step for them.
A number of trucks were built with vintage shells sitting on top of contemporary chassis and drivelines. Talk about the best of both worlds – old school cool and modern reliability.
Identical trucks could have rolled out of the factory together coated with the same paint, and they’d still look plenty different if parked up here.
Every truck really is a custom build, usually with a lot of work carried out by the owner’s hands.
With these pickup truck builds, there’s no single recipe for success, as there is with other niches. Say for example you own an R34 Nissan Skyline GT-R; a slightly lower stance completed with a pair of Nismo side skirts and RAYS Volk Racing TE37s are a common sight. If you’ve got yourself a VL Holden Commodore, a set of gold Simmons B45 wheels are almost a requisite.
And you know what? If that’s how you want your car to look, that’s great.
If there’s one rule that seems to govern the truck scene, it’d be outlawing that whole cookie-cutter line of thinking. No two of the 110 trucks on display at this event looked the same, or even similar. Stockers, hay lifters, slammed, supercharged, patina-laden and polished – they were all different.
I’d imagine that this line of thinking is a major drawcard, both for the creative minds turning spanners on their trucks, and also the punters that come to check out the vibe.
If it began life as a working vehicle it’s welcome. There’s some debate over whether utes that are derived from sedans and wagons should count, but if it’s a rad build, most people seem OK with it.
Take a look through this gallery and let me know in the comments section if you could ever see yourself trading your mini-truck for a full-sized rig.