is occasionally mounting the kerb outside the local intermediate school while a child does a tumble roll out the back door, before the leather-laden spaceship rushes to get to that 9am hot yoga class.
A numbers game
Toyota Corollas have been the mainstay of rental car companies, Government departments, and the terminally dull for an indeterminable length of time — since, we think, around the Middle Ages, perhaps a touch earlier. Over quarter of a million Toyota Corollas have graced our roads over the last 40 years. That is a lot of driving at 85kph on the open road and holding up a queue of traffic before accidently filling up with diesel for the second time this month.
Over that period, the Corolla topped every sales poll and broke records for numbers sold, month in, month out. As sure as death loomed ever closer, the Corolla continued to drive us to graves of boredom. They proved that form over function was just something people say when they’re reading home-design magazines. Yes, Corollas were and are reliable and economical, but they will hardly impress your mates or get anywhere near pressing the buttons of the cute bird down at the coffee shop.
So, when the Corolla was pipped from number one spot, we, the car people, took some solace in the fact that perhaps the general public had some sense. But what could beat the world-beater? What could out-do the Corolla when it came to appeasing accountants and putting up with abuse as corporate pool cars? Well, it was a truck. A ute, to be exact. A blunt instrument of load-bearing efficiency. Or so we thought.
Ranger on duty
The Ford Ranger was the vehicle capable of taking the Corolla’s mantle, breaking records in the process. Not bad going for a vehicle at a 30-per-cent premium over the Corolla. So, how did the Ranger do it? How did a truck become the most popular, highest-selling model in New Zealand?
Sometimes, to get your prey, you must act like your prey. Which is what the Ranger did. It took what we know about trucks and utes, the bluntness, and refined it. Ford made the Ranger feel a lot more like a car than any other ute before it. And that meant the Ranger became a viable alternative for people requiring a large car, a small truck, or an SUV.
Since the Ranger toppled the Corolla’s reign of beige-tracksuit terror, others have followed. The Hilux remains a firm third behind the Ranger and Corolla. A quick glance at the top-selling car list also reveals a number of soft-roaders from manufacturers you mightn’t consider to be at the forefront of off-road
technology. From the Kia Sportage and surprisingly good Hyundai Santa Fe to the newly released VW Tiguan, soft-roaders and other SUVS are becoming more and more popular.
And so is the bigger stuff. It wasn’t so long ago that, if you wanted a luxury 4x4, your options were limited to the ubiquitous Range Rover or Jeep’s Grand Cherokee. Of course, being proudly British built, the Land Rover was a proper right-hand-drive vehicle, but the Jeep — previously confused about the RHD market — was a full-blooded Yank tank. This meant that a Jeep would leave Detroit in LHD format and require conversion for the English and Antipodean market.
Word is that, when the new Jeep was released in the mid 1990s, Chrysler dealers were sent a number of chiropractic bills from new owners who had to sit slightly skew-whiff due to the less-than-stellar conversions or redesigns.
Soon came the Ford Explorer, once again in full American spec. Then the Japanese got in on the action — Mitsubishi with the Pajero; Nissan, with its now-timeless Patrol/safari; and Toyota, of course, with newer and better versions of the Land Cruiser. And it didn’t take long before European manufacturers woke up to this emerging market, so, by the turn of the century, we were seeing BMW, Mercedes, and VW all joining the party. These manufacturers now have 4x4s as an integral part of their business, and, in some cases, those models have even managed to keep the companies alive and kicking so they can concentrate on the fun stuff (we’re looking at you, Porsche Cayenne).
Given these suburban tractors are taking over footpaths and supermarket car parks around the country, we thought the time more than ripe to explore the heritage of the ute and the 4x4 and ask the question, can these ‘trucks’ be considered classic cars?
We managed to find three excellent examples covering three different eras, checked them out, and lined them up with their modern equivalents.