What happens when styling and profiling are combined with hauling heavy loads? Coupe utility vehicles are half-and-half creations that really defy classification. Check out where American muscle and automotive functionality first began to merge in these classic commercials preserved on YouTube.
The idea for a car that was part pickup first took shape in Australia. As the story goes, a letter was written to Ford by an Aussie farm wife, asking if they could produce a vehicle that would allow you to go to church on Sundays and haul pigs to the market on Mondays.
In 1934, Ford Australia released the first coupe utility. But it wasn’t until 1957 that the company took a chance on the design here in America with the Ford Ranchero. For the next 30 years, American drivers had a number of choices when it came to vehicles that combined the hauling ability of a pickup with the comfort and drive of a car; among them: the Ford Ranchero, Chevrolet El Camino, VW Rabbit Pickup, Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp, and the Subaru BRAT. Take a look at some of these old commercials and then head on over to the HVA’s Facebook page and tell us what you think: Is this a “hybrid” design that deserves to make a comeback?
More Than a Car! More Than a Truck!
Offering truck drivers the cabin comfort, stability, and drive performance of a car is a major selling point in today’s truck market. Arguably, it all began in the late 50s when Ford created a whole new category of vehicle in America with the introduction of the Ranchero.
The Ranchero would go through a number of transformations from 1957 to 1979. In the beginning, the Ranchero was marketed to farmers and Southwest ranchers looking for a car with the utility and hauling capacity of a standard, half ton, F-Series pickup. By the late 1960s, the Fourth Generation Ranchero entered the muscle car arena with its clean, straight lines, dual stacked headlamps, and plenty of power. In 1967, engine options for the Ranchero started with a 200 cubic-inch, straight-6 and went up to a 390 cubic-inch, big-block V8 giving 315 hp.
Who’da Thought a Pickup Could Look This Good
Motivated by the success of the Ranchero in 1957, Chevrolet tried going head-to-head with the competition two years later with the shamelessly Spanish-sounding El Camino. Based on the Impala, the El Camino survived for only two years before orders plummeted, forcing designers back to the drawing board. The El Camino reappeared in 1964, this time based on the Chevelle. SS versions of the El Camino debuted in 1968, the year that firmly established the model as a premier muscle car. From 1978 through 1987, El Caminos shared chassis components with the Malibu and, for the first time, were available in a V6.
While full size coupe utility vehicles are no longer for sale in the U.S. market, a Chevrolet-badged Lumina Ute is still sold in South Africa and the Middle East. This particular model—save for some minor changes necessary to make it available in the U.S.—has long been responsible for rumors that GM may one day bring the El Camino back to America.
America ’s Lowest Price Fun Car
First introduced in 1978, the Subaru BRAT (an acronym for Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter) had fuel economy and a price point that will make modern car buyers weep. (Just check out the commercial.)
The most famous BRAT owner, President Ronald Regan, owned a 1978 model that he kept at his Santa Barbara ranch. But the BRAT could not compete with the rising popularity of small trucks in the early 80s, and the model was finally discontinued in North America in 1985.
Subaru was the last to dabble in the American coupe utility market when in 2003 they introduced the 4 door, all-wheel-drive Baja. But owing to its poor fuel economy at a time when drivers were beginning to feel pinched at the pump, the Baja did not sell well and was discontinued in 2006.