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Holden Ute History - 1951-2007

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Holden continues the long-running tradition of a genuine Aussie automotive icon with the new Holden VE Ute range.

While our society has changed dramatically since it first hit the road in 1951, the Holden Ute remains an enduring symbol of hard work and a laidback lifestyle; a definition of the essential Australia. Its development reflects the changing social history of this country from the practical vehicle of the early years to the more performance focused two-door sports car for a work-hard play-hard generation.

The utility concept is an Australian original and it's been with us in one form or another for more than 80 years. Our romance with the coupe utility, which is based on a sedan equivalent and has a load bed integral with the cabin, began in the mid-1930s, when several manufacturers made their own versions. General Motors-Holden's built coupe ute bodies for Bedford, Chevrolet and Vauxhall. It also constructed Chevrolet utes to Army specifications as part of a mammoth World War II manufacturing effort.

When the war ended, GMH turned its attention to producing an all-Australian car, and the famous first Holden, the 48-215 (FX) sedan, was launched in 1948.

With primary industry prospering and demand for the coupe utility expanding, it was only a matter of time before the first Holden Ute, derived directly from Australia's Own Car, made its entrance in January 1951.

They called it the 50-2106 Coupe Utility - and it was destined to blow all of its rivals, Chevrolets and Vauxhalls included, into the weeds.

The formula was right from the word go: affordable, versatile, good-looking, rugged and durable. Just like the 48-215, the new Holden Ute could cruise all day at 65mph (105 km/h), take steep hills in its stride and return remarkable overall fuel economy figures of 30 miles per gallon (9.4l/100km). Not only that, buyers discovered, you could use it to round up the sheep.

Successive models, from the much-loved FJ onwards, went on to make their own colourful and character-filled contributions to the enduring legend that is the Holden Ute.

After nearly 60 years of evolution - from workhorse to thoroughbred, from tradesman's transport to sports machine - today's Holden Ute remains linked to its heritage by the lion emblem it proudly displays and by the same attributes of versatility, reliability and great driveability.

How the Holden Ute legend unfolded ....

1951 - 50-2106 (FX) Holden Ute
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A go-anywhere workhorse, the first Holden Ute (universally nicknamed FX) was light, strong and surprisingly fast, thanks to a modern OHV 6-cylinder engine. Cheaper than any of its rivals, it was the answer to a farmer's prayer - and an urban businessman's as well. So many people lusted after it that the waiting list grew to 70,000 before the end of the first year. Although the FX Ute's strengthened load floor supported an official payload of 7cwt, this limit was blithely exceeded by many owners. Like the sedan, it featured a fully integral 'Aerobilt' all-steel welded body. The original brochure pointed out that its high power-to-weight ratio meant that drivers could 'feel the punch and power of that 6-cyl., 21h.p. engine that carries your loads over the toughest hills...gives you performance challenging anything on the road...' The clincher? 'Holden is designed for Australia and built in Australia... The result is a vehicle you will be proud to own.' Telescopic front shock absorbers and wider rear springs were introduced late in this model's life.

1953 - FJ Holden Ute
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Now beloved of restorers, modifiers and street machiners, the FJ Ute was a face-lifted version of the 50-1206. Mechanically almost identical - a panel van variant was added in late '53, new design differential and axles in '54 - it sported that unmistakable, era-defining, chrome grille and stylish monogrammed hubcaps. There was a bigger choice of exterior colours and the luxury of a pull-down sunvisor on the passenger side. Proud owners chose from an expanding accessories list which included rear wheel spats and chrome door handle protectors. The FJ Ute also benefited from the introduction of tubeless tyres in early '56. It continued in production after the launch of the FE sedan and from mid-1956 was fitted with the FE's more powerful engine.

1957 - FE Holden Ute

Released just before the first Holden wagon in February 1957, the 'new look' FE Ute had a lower and sleeker Australian-designed body, although its engine, gearbox and differential were basically unchanged. It was equipped with wrap-around tail/stop lights, rear 'bumperettes' and spare tyre accessible via a fold-down rear flap. Like the sedan, it featured the first one-piece curved windscreen, all-new dashboard, improved steering, better ride and handling, 13" wheels, upgraded brakes and a 12-volt electrical system. Panel van variants were now based on the station wagon.

1958 - FC Holden Ute

A part of the golden Holden era when domestic sales topped 50 per cent of the market, the FC Ute continued to deliver the winning formula of performance, durability and unbeatable value for money. A minor facelift and upgrade with largely identical specifications - distinguished by the letters H-O-L-D-E-N across the front of the bonnet, replacing the FE's winged emblem - the FC delivered a smoother and more refined level of performance.

1960 - FB Holden Ute

At a time when Johnny O'Keefe (She's My Baby) competed on the charts with Jimmy Darren (Gidget), Frank Sinatra (High Hopes) and Guy Mitchell (Heartaches by the Number), the American-influenced FB ushered in a fresh new body design matched to the FE/FC floorpan and mechanicals. It had a wraparound windscreen, full width grille, lowered bonnet line and lower load height, more headroom and a deep-dished steering wheel, but missed out on the FB sedan's finned, classically chrome tail light assembly as it retained the previous model Ute's rear end styling. Mechanical improvements included an engine upgrade that delivered more power and torque. The high-roofed FB panel van was again based on the Ute.

1961 - EK Holden Ute
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While EK Special sedans and wagons introduced Holden's first automatic transmission and electric wipers, commercial versions like the basically unchanged EK Ute and its panel van variant remained steadfastly three-speed manual (column shift, no synchro on first). Parking lights were incorporated in the top grille bar, a new ventilation air intake located forward of the windscreen. Total sales of the Holden Coupe Utility climbed past 150,000 in this era and Holden operated five vehicle assembly, three body assembly, and two major fabrication plants Australia-wide.

1962 - EJ Holden Ute
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The first of Holden's streamlined sixties favourites, the 'clean sheet' EJ body was completely new - well-integrated and more low profile, with a flatter bonnet, squared-off rear end and smaller tail light clusters. The EJ Ute was released six months after the passenger models and advertised as the "Holden Half Ton Utility. Right out ahead in good looks ...the only utility specifically designed for Australia .. full headroom in the cabin for three six-footers...". It was the first Holden Ute to offer automatic transmission and standard seat belt anchorages. While the original grey engine and drivetrain were carried over, overall performance benefited from a major brake upgrade and significantly improved ride and handling.

1963 - EH Holden Ute

While the Ute variant of the fastest-ever selling Holden retained the EJ rear end and did not feature 'Power Swept' rear styling, it was powered by a completely new six-cylinder engine, available in two versions. The standard 149 'red' engine and bigger 179 were 33 per cent and 53 per cent more powerful respectively and more fuel efficient than ever. Buyers could order their Ute with the 179 engine and manual transmission from early 1964. From early 1965, EH Utes were fitted with upgraded HD model brakes and HD wheel trims. For the same price as the EJ, the EH was cheaper than mid-50s Holdens and unbeatable value for money.

1965 - HD Holden Ute
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Released six months after the sedan, the HD Ute had a completely new body and was the largest yet. Its load compartment was longer and broader, the rear tailgate opening appreciably wider. Like the sedans, it had curved side glass, wider seating and a new dash facia design and it used the new sedan tail lamps and wraparound rear fenders. It offered a choice of three engines, including the powerful twin carburettor X2 version of the 179, new two-speed Powerglide auto transmissions, an alternator, new balljoint front suspension and optional front disc brakes - Holden's first.

1966 - HR Holden Ute

One of the most popular 60s models, the HR featured softer front end styling than the controversial HD, with parking lights now located in the grille and new 'Magic Mirror' colour range. The Ute's rear styling was unchanged, except for a new nameplate scripted on the tailgate. Engine capacities increased to 161 and 186 cubic inches, the smoother 186S replaced the X2; a four-speed, all-synchro manual and limited slip differential were optional. The Ute also offered soft-feel seating finished in durable new Sadlon vinyl upholstery, optional power steering and power disc brakes. A safety upgrade delivered standard front seat belts, padded sunvisors, exterior mirror, shatterproof interior rear view mirror, reversing lights and windscreen washers.

1968 - HK Holden Ute
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Advertised as 'Bigger all round!' and 'Stronger all through!, the New Generation HK Ute offered more load capacity than before and a longer, wider, deeper load area. Available in standard Belmont and up-spec Kingswood versions, it had a longer wheel base, wider track, bigger brakes, 14" wheels, stronger suspension and 'toughest in the business Double Life construction'. Safety items included dual circuit brakes and energy-absorbing steering; buyers could choose between three six-cylinder engines and an imported 5-litre V8. The remarkable array of factory-fitted options also included contoured bucket seats, air conditioning, deluxe heater/demister, 'Superlift' rear shock absorbers, limited slip differential, heavy duty radiator, battery and air cleaner.

1969 - HT Holden Ute

The facelifted HT Belmont and Kingswood Utes boasted '48 big changes for the better'. They were distinguished by a new plastic grille, revised tail light cluster, new instrument panel with built in tachometer option. Improved ride and handling and a quieter ride came courtesy of a wider track, new rubber suspension bushings, new sub frame suspension and engine mounting and lighter steering. Engines now included the Australian-designed and built 253 and 308 V8s. Manual models featured synchromesh on all forward gears and a new articulated windscreen wiper with a wider sweep improved visibility.

1970 - HG Holden Ute
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The third and final version of the big-selling HK/HT body style, the HG Ute featured a finer mesh grille (chrome for the Kingswood) with a centrally mounted Holden lion symbol and was the last with quarter vents on the side windows. It offered a selection of five Australian-built engines and the option of a new locally built Trimatic 3-speed automatic. V8 models were fitted with improved disc brakes. From early 1971, a motorised heater/demister became standard. HG Utes produced after July 1971 used the more powerful HQ-type 173 and 202 engines.

1971 - HQ Holden Ute & One Tonner Cab-Chassis

The totally new HQ Belmont and Kingswood Utes were built on the longer (114") wagon and Statesman wheelbase and were the first to have a full length chassis frame and steel load floor. They delivered lower-profile styling, more load capacity and the full raft of HQ engineering innovations, while retaining rugged leaf spring rear suspension. Among new features were upper level flow-through ventilation, an anti-theft ignition lock, improved seating and floor-mounted handbrake. A Sandman Ute, with mainly SS-derived interior and exterior features, was introduced in January 1974.

Named for its payload capacity, the 'tradesman's favourite' one ton cab-chassis model was the first of its type to be fully designed and developed in Australia. More a truck or pickup than the traditional sedan-based ute with an integral load area, the one-tonner had a sedan-derived front half and a 120" wheelbase. It took a wide range of rear body styles to suit all kinds of factory and after-market specialist applications from tray model and taxi truck through to baker's van and camper van bodies.

1974 - HJ Holden Ute
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The HJ range - Holden Ute (the Belmont name was dropped), Sandman Ute, Kingswood Ute and Kingswood Sandman Ute, represented a major refinement of the long-running HQ series. Front end styling was totally new, the grille (with new Holden lion logo) more pronounced, bumpers more protruding. Rear styling was carried over. Upgraded interiors featured full foam seating, a new dash with revised two-outlet ventilation system and strip-style speedo. All engines now had cable-type throttle control and 10cwt passenger ride suspension was available as an option.

1976 - HX Holden Ute

A major change to this series was the introduction of low-emission versions of each Holden engine to meet the government's new Australian Design Rule 27A. For the first time, drivers had the advantage of fingertip control of wipers, washers, indicators and headlight beam via a stalk mounted on the steering column. The Sandman 'recreational' Ute and its panel van variant, well promoted and with plenty of appeal for younger Holden buyers, sold very well.

1977 - HZ Holden Ute
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The fourth revision of the body style that began with HQ, this range was distinguished mainly by its 'egg crate' grille with headlights separate, new badging and hubcaps. The HZ introduced an important advancement in Holden suspension development, Radial Tuned Suspension (RTS), which brought advancements in handling safety and better brakes. These combined with other modifications - such as uprated springs and shock absorbers, rear anti-rollbars and upgraded front bars - to give it a sportier feel. The Sandman Ute was equipped with a 4.2 litre V8, power steering and trip meter as standard.

1980 - WB Holden Ute
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The last of this line, the WB series Holden Ute and Kingswood Ute featured new front panels, grille, headlight treatment and distinctive large tail light clusters. The one-tonner shared the same front grille and sheetmetal. Initially, the Kingswood had a unique grille and headlamps, but later in 1980 all commercials shared it. Dash fascias were black, GTS-type instruments were optional following the demise of Sandman; new-style bucket seats were standard on the Kingswood. The Utes were powered by the standard 3.3 litre six and optional 4.2 litre V8 'Blue' engines introduced earlier with the VB Commodore, with specific sumps and accessory mountings. The WB Utes were phased out of production late in 1984.

1990 - VG Holden Ute
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Product of a $10 million budget and three years of development by a small team of dedicated Holden designers and engineers, the VN Commodore-based VG Ute was given a hero's welcome. It was billed as 'the largest Holden Ute ever built' and 'the most comfortable and powerful on the market, with more load capacity (720kg) and passenger room than its Falcon competition'. Smart styling, mechanicals and wagon wheelbase were derived from the all-new VN Commodore and it was available in two levels: the 3.8 litre V6 Holden Ute and more highly specified Ute S, both of which had a new load-sensing valve for improved braking performance under varying loads. Ute features included a versatile bucket/bench seat, four-wheel disc brakes, coil springs all round, and power steering. The S model delivered bucket seats and sporty extras like a limited slip differential, tachometer, 15" wheels, custom tonneau cover, optional 5.0 litre EFI V8. The striking, high-performance HSV Maloo Ute also made its first appearance in 1990.

1992 - VP Holden Ute

This Ute shared the VP 'family' model coding and was launched in February 1992. It had headlights and larger turn lenses wrapping into the front guards, a full-width acrylic grille with low air intake, a central circular badge on the bonnet's leading edge and small blinker repeaters on the front guards. Handling and ride quality were improved and the 127kW 3.8 litre V6 engine benefited from a series of refinements that made it smoother and quieter. Power steering came standard and the Ute and Ute S featured a smaller steering wheel for better visibility and control.

1993 - VR Holden Ute
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A major upgrade, the VR Ute looked dramatically different from its predecessor, with new front end design, twin port grille, new headlights and tail lights, a large central air intake and flared wheel arches. The soft-form dash fascia and instrument cluster were all-new, a high-tech electronics package controlled mechanical, comfort and security features such as a locally-designed electronic door/ignition key and remote central locking. V6 power output was lifted to 130kW, two V8 engine options (165kW and 185kW) were offered, electronic automatic transmission featured power and economy modes. Extensive front suspension revisions and a wider track gave the VR Ute an improved road feel and better turn-in, front brakes were upgraded. The S Ute featured cruise control and a driver airbag was optional.

1995 - VS Holden Ute

Very similar in appearance to the VR - identified by a silver-highlighted grille surround - the long-running VS Ute (Series I, II and III) heralded a major engine upgrade. Among new components of the 3.8 litre V6 engine (which carried the ECOTEC name for the first time) were the cylinder block, heads and manifolding and an all-alloy cast sump. Supplemented by the use of low friction technology, these improvements delivered a 13 per cent increase in power (up to 147kW @ 5,000rpm) while reducing fuel consumption by five per cent. Brakes and auto transmission were improved, 15" wheels were made standard, driver and passenger airbags were optional. The first Holden Ute SS made its appearance as a limited edition special (300 units) in May 1998 and another was offered in March 1999.

2000 - VU Holden Ute
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The first completely new Holden Ute in ten years, the VU combined class-leading driving dynamics with the flexibility of a working vehicle. Its fully integrated sports utility styling was highlighted by flowing, rounded lines and a 'snap lock' flush-fitting tonneau cover. The all-new VU body structure shared the VX Commodore wagon wheelbase. Uniquely, the three-model range, Ute, S and SS, was equipped with independent rear suspension, endowing it with sedan-like ride and handling qualities. This was complemented by passenger car levels of performance, comfort, safety and refinement that were to become a trademark. Stronger-bodied and bigger inside and out than its predecessor, the VU offered greater cargo carrying capacity than before - a maximum of 830kg on the auto Ute. A dual fuel petrol/LPG option was available on V6 auto models. A 152kW 3.8 litre V6 was standard on Ute and Ute S with the SS Ute powered by a 225kW 5.7 litre GEN III V8.

2001 - VU Series II Holden Ute

Subtle stying changes and interior refinements characterised Series II models. SS Ute introduced the option of striking coloured leather interior trims designed to complement two new exterior colours Red Hot and Hyper Yellow, while black leather trim joined the option list. An alarm system was fitted for the first time, operated via remote control Power Key which sounded the vehicle's horn when triggered. New stalk controls were fitted for indicator, wiper and more intuitive twist switch cruise control functions. ABS was available on the entry level Ute for the first time.

2002 - VY Holden Ute
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The VY Ute range adopted a stronger 'face' and more angular lines when it was launched in September 2002. The smart interior treatments and instrument panel with binnacle-style cluster featuring multi-function digital displays, centre console and steering wheel were all new. Chassis dynamics were better than ever, while revised steering systems provided a precise feel and more driver feedback. The range gained all new hardware such as 'twilight sentinel' automatic headlamp control, headlamps off programmable time delay, high feature Blaupunkt audio systems and road-speed sensitive intermittent wipers. Passenger airbags were introduced on SS Ute, while its Gen III V8 engine was boosted to 235kW with a specially tuned twin exhaust system. Meanwhile, Holden's brawny One Tonner Ute workhorse was revived in VY guise in June 2003 after an 18-year absence from the marketplace.

2003 - VY Crewman

Holden introduced the crossover four-dour Crewman Ute in 2003, paving the way for a raft of new niche models. Crewman was the first passenger-derivative crew cab - seating three people in the back seat - to hit Australia. Engineers used modular design techniques, adapting the existing V-car architecture to achieve the best balance between passenger space and rear load area. Crewman was the longest Holden vehicle ever to be produced, measuring 5305mm tip to tail. Half monocoque, half chassis frame, the Crewman employed a torque arm system from One Tonner to ensure its durability and strength. A longer, wider AWD version called the Crewman Cross 8 followed in October the same year, using the permanent AWD Cross Trac system launched earlier in the Adventra crossover wagon.

2004 - VZ Holden Ute

When the VZ series Ute was introduced in August 2004, the Holden Ute range was enjoying a record-breaking sales run. A host of performance upgrades, including new generation 175kW Alloytec V6 engines and a power upgrade to the 5.7 litre Gen III V8, built on an already successful package. V6 powered utes came with a new, premium application six-speed manual transmission, increasing the towing range by 30 per cent. Four-speed automatics gained an electronic upgrade, ABS-equipped models offered improved braking performance and all models gained power windows, cruise control and 'drive by wire' electronic throttle control. VZ styling cues were adopted from sedan accentuating width across the front, giving Ute, Crewman and One Tonner an even more assertive road presence. Each model had unique air intake openings inserts, bumper facias and contrasting headlamp bezels. For example, SS versions of the Crewman and Ute featured fender vents, twin horizontal 'optic fibre' parking lamp treatments and fog lamps.

2005 - Holden VZ Crewman Cross 8, Cross 6 and One Tonner Cross 6
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Dubbed the tradie's dream, the All Wheel Drive (AWD) One Tonner was introduced alongside two new AWD Crewman models in February 2005. The AWD One Tonner Cross 6 was an Australian first, capable of carrying a load and heading offroad. It differed from its RWD One Tonner sibling with a higher ground clearance and Cross Trac system, while still retaining its car-like attributes. Also made available for the first time was a V6 version of the AWD Crewman called Crewman Cross 6. In VZ form, Crewman Cross 8 gained a power and brake upgrade, electronic throttle control, climate control and revised four-speed auto. Major visual changes to VZ AWD utes included new front fascia design, twin spear sculpted hood and flared black wheel arches.

2007 - VE Holden Ute

Taking the legend to a new level, Holden's VE Ute is the first all-new Holden Ute since 2000. Its design is set to reignite the passion for Aussie-built performance utes and build upon the legendary ute icon. Considerable energy was directed into the safety and performance attributes of the new ute range, with ride and handling, braking performance and feel all significantly improved. The award-winning VE Commodore forms the basis of the new Ute, with the acclaimed front cabin styling, increased cabin space, world-class ergonomics and passenger comfort carried across to the ute. Its workhorse credentials are undiminished with practical load carrying capability and tray functionality remaining a cornerstone of the Holden Ute's iconic status.

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I like this one a lot!

:withstupid: Same here, that would be perfect to replace my Av.

Great article Fly. Interesting read.

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That '62 is probably my favorte generaton...

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Yup.... very 1961 Chevrolet in styling. :)

Don't get me wrong though I love the '51-up styling too.

The mid-1950s ones are beutiful too!

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I like this one a lot!

Yes. That or the face from the '02 should've been the face they based the GTO off of...far more aggressive, far more Pontiac-ish than the bland front on the actual model.

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