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New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

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.

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