They say isolation makes Australians do things differently. If that's true, Stephen Rich's '52 Chevy "ute" is a great example of Aussie innovation.
Like all Aussie utes, this one's story began more than 60 years ago when an Aussie farmer cut the back off his sedan and replaced it with a pickup bed because he was tired of putting sheep on the back seat of the family car.
The story goes that he later boasted to his mates down at the local pub that his new car had "the comfort of a family sedan and the carrying capacity of a small truck." It was the perfect sales pitch, and the idea caught on.
By 1940 General Motors Australia was building its own "coupe utility" as fast as farmers were buying them. Aussie farmers christened their new car the "ute," and they've been buying them ever since. Today, GM's fuel-injected, air bag equipped version of this classic Aussie car is as popular as Fosters lager.
Stephen Rich's ute started its working life 47 years ago in the country town of Windsor, west of Sydney. It rolled out of the showroom in gloss grey with six-cylinder power, ready to do an honest day's work. In those days Windsor was a small farming community. But times have changes. Windsor was swallowed up by Sydney's suburban sprawl years ago; the ute is painted San Remo Green; and Chevy doesn't even build Chevys in Australia anymore.
General Motors replaced Chev utes with their all-Australian Holden utes in 1952. For the final model years, '49-52, GM Australia built around 8,000 Chev coupe utilities. They used the American Chevrolet sedan front clip and fabricated rear quarters and the ute tray at their Fisherman's Bend plant in the southern Australian state of Victoria. And while there is little doubt that this ute's heart is American, it bears the souls of a great Aussie icon.
These days Chev utes are getting hard to find, but the vast, dry Aussie outback can still give up a beauty like Stephen's '52. Seven years ago, Stephen paid $2,000 for his ute. He bought it to use as a donor car for the two-door sedan he was customising at the time. The tray on the old farm car was battered, but the rest was too straight to destroy, so the Sydney tool-and-die maker transformed the ute into an award-winning street machine-and swapped the sedan for the ute's new San Remo Green paint job.
After a three-and-a-half year restoration and customisation job that included several trips to the States to buy performance parts, the ute is powered by an '89 Camaro L98 tuned-port injection motor running through a Turbo 350 and a 9-inch rearend.
These days, Stephen says he loves to drive the car around Sydney, and that he really enjoys running the odd modern car off the lights. He often says things like, "You should have seen the look on the yuppy in the Audi when I passed him with the wheels spinning at 40 miles an hour."
There is no doubt that Stephen's ute has come a long way since its sheep hauling days on Windsor's country streets. Who would have ever imagined that this low-cost Aussie utility vehicle would retire as a glistening green hot rod that is far more accustomed to the polishing hand than the scuffing hooves and daggy tails of bleating sheep on their way to market?