Since the dawn of time, humans have been fascinated by the concept of the chimaera: two seemingly disparate animals mashed together by providence into one fantastical beast. In the automotive world, there’s a similar can’t-look-away species, the steel-and-metal equivalent of a winged lion or bull-headed minotaur. We’re referring of course, to the ute, that daring combination of car and truck.
In the world of utes (or car-trucks, or caminos, or crucks) there exist models both wonderful and awful, vehicles that balance the scales of good and bad taste across a line that is admittedly quite fine. We took a look at all of them—yes, all of them—and picked out the 20 coolest, compiling them here in alphabetical order for your debate, scorn, and admiration. (Okay, maybe in some cases they’re simply among the least uncool.) Away we go!
Austin A40 Coupe Utility
Model Years: 1948–1957
Available Engine: 40-hp, 1.2-liter I-4
Styling: Buttoned-down British with pontoon fenders.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: A stiff upper lip prevents smiling at its 45-mph top speed.
Actual Utility: Four hay bales or six bleating sheep.
Why It’s Cool: This is what every Aussie grandpa drove on the farm in the years before Sputnik and widespread color television.
Austin A50/A55/Cambridge Coupe Utility
Model Years: 1954–1972
Available Engine: 50-hp, 1.5-liter I-4
Styling: Cross between a ’55 Chevy and a Nash Metropolitan.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: It’s like piloting two 55-gallon drums.
Actual Utility: Well, half-ton commercial models made it to market in 1957.
Why It’s Cool: Nissan liked the A50 Cambridge so much it sought a license to build them in Japan, no doubt influencing the brand’s later forays into the ute-iverse.
Armstrong Siddeley Whitley 18
Model Years: 1949–1953
Available Engines: 18-hp, 2.3-liter I-6
Styling: It’s hard not to see the link between the Whitley 18 and the later Willys Jeepster.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Cable-operated rear brakes can make even 18 horsepower exciting.
Actual Utility: Respectably long bed, limited towing due to wheezy engine.
Why It’s Cool: Armstrong Siddeley was the same company that manufactured Hawker fighters and Lancaster Bombers during World War II. Its foray into the automotive world was brief, with only a few thousand vehicles sold per year.
Chevrolet El Camino
Model Years: 1959–1960, 1964–1987
Available Engines: Various; sub-100-hp six-cylinders all the way up to 450-hp, 7.2-liter LS6 V-8s
Styling: Early El Caminos feature sharp rear fender “wings” and rounded front ends, while later cars would square-up to match the bodies of the Chevelles and Malibus they were based on.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: LS6 cars are burnout machines par excellence, what with 500 lb-ft of torque and no actual weight above the rear wheels.
Actual Utility: Excels at hauling kegs, busted dirt bikes, or teenagers.
Why It’s Cool: The El Camino is business in the front, party in the back. Plus, it’s the car-truck everyone has heard of, its name often applied to virtually any example of the species whether factory-made or homebrewed.
Model Years: 2003–2006
Available Engines: 300-hp, 5.3-liter V-8; 400-hp, 6.0-liter V-8
Styling: Y2K retro fabulous at its most extreme, pairing ’50s-style flared fenders with a retractable hardtop.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: When outfitted with the LS2 and a six-speed, the SSR was a legitimate stoplight-to-stoplight menace.
Actual Utility: Carries all the Rogaine your doctor can legally prescribe, and also tows 2,500 lbs.
Why It’s Cool: It’s so dorky it’s basically cool again, and it’s the convertible El Camino your dad always secretly wanted. Plus, GM deserves props for actually approving this oddball for production.
Chrysler Valiant Ute
Model Years: 1965–1981
Available Engines: Various; 145-hp, 3.7-liter I-6 through a 255-hp, 5.9-liter V-8
Styling: Jumping back and forth between American and Australian styling depending on the model year, the Valiant would snag its cues from a number of different platforms and badges.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: A little less exciting than the El Camino, due to lack of big-block shenanigans.
Actual Utility: Available in a wide range of specialty body styles, including the covered Drifter panel-van design.
Why It’s Cool: You could pick up a Valiant Ute with a hemi-headed straight-six that was never offered in North America.
Datsun 220 Coupe Utility
Model Years: 1958–1961
Available Engines: 37-hp, 1.0-liter I-4; 60-hp, 1.2-liter I-4
Styling: Datsun took its compact Bluebird coupe and added a cargo bed, with some models maintaining four-passenger seating.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Fewer grimaces once the 223 model gained an independent front suspension.
Actual Utility: A long-bed model improved on the ultra-brief hauling capacity.
Why It’s Cool: Everyone has a 510. No one has a Coupe Utility.
Ford Coupe Utility
Model Years: 1949–1953
Available Engine: 100-hp, 3.9-liter flathead V-8
Styling: A shoebox that’s been ute-ified. It also has just a single taillight on the right side.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: It beats walking through the outback.
Actual Utility: According to Ford Australia, the Coupe Utility was built as a “vehicle to go to church on Sunday and carry pigs to market on Monday,” based on an actual customer letter pleading for such versatility in an automobile.
Why It’s Cool: If Ford had imported these to America, the ute revolution would have happened here, too.
Ford Falcon Ute
Model Years: 1961–2016
Available Engines: Various; from 90-hp, 2.4-liter I-6 to a 449-hp, supercharged 5.0-liter V-8
Styling: The first Aussie Falcon Ute matched the American Falcon Ranchero’s looks, but things quickly went uphill from there. By the third generation, the Falcon was an Australia-only product, and in the 1990s it would come into a unique cab-and-chassis design.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Ford Australia applied the might of the Ford Performance Vehicle division to the ute version, which by the end of its run gave it world-class handling and acceleration.
Actual Utility: 5,000 pounds of towing capacity is not uncommon for these trucklets.
Why It’s Cool: The Falcon Ute is an Australian icon and helped define the country’s muscle and performance scenes.
Ford Model T Utility Runabout
Model Years: 1909–1927
Available Engine: 10-hp, 2.9-liter I-4
Styling: Classic Model T looks with a short cargo bed grafted on to the back. Some models featured a larger pickup bed but shared everything else with the passenger Runabout.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Driving a Model T in a modern context will have you questioning everything you’ve ever learned behind the wheel. The control set is unique, the brakes are frighteningly subtle, and a mere 20 mph on a country road feels like you’re about to qualify on the inside at Daytona.
Actual Utility: It’s safer to have the 100-proof moonshine in the box out back rather than on the seat beside you.
Why It’s Cool: The Model T changed America forever, and a bit part of that was its flexibility. The Utility Runabout allowed the affordable car to fill almost any role the owner might conceive of.
Model Years: 1957–1979
Available Engines: Various; from 145-hp 3.7-liter I-6 to a 375-hp, 429 Super Cobra Jet V-8
Styling: Ranchero styling mimicked that of Ford’s mid-size coupe offerings for each of the seven generations that were built.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Like the El Camino, the Ranchero could shred tires with the best of them and benefited from almost full access to Ford’s engine and performance toy chest.
Actual Utility: Most Rancheros were considered half-ton vehicles in terms of cargo, which matched them with the F-100 and F-150 pickups of the same era, albeit with a shorter bed.
Why It’s Cool: The Ranchero might not be the cultural icon that the El Camino is, but that just means you can get one cheaper than its bowtie-wearing rival.
Ford Zephyr/Consul MkII
Model Years: 1956–1962
Available Engines: 59-hp, 1.7-liter I-4; 86-hp, 2.5-liter I-6
Styling: Remember the shoebox we mentioned? Like that, but with a distinctly English flavor.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: A top speed of 88 mph would have pleased Doc Brown.
Actual Utility: Suitable as a flower car for a minor pop star of the era.
Why It’s Cool: There was a three-year waiting list for these in New Zealand when new.
Holden Ute / Utility / Commodore Utility
Model Years: 1951–2018
Available Engines: Various; from 60-hp, 2.1-liter I-6 through the last generation’s 430-hp, 6.2-liter LS3 V-8
Styling: Holden’s family of Utes have spanned more than half a century of styling trends and nameplates for the Australian brand.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Holden’s HSV performance tuners have churned out wild versions of the ute since the 1990s, with significant chassis and engine tech borrowed from GM’s North American operations.
Actual Utility: 1,000 pounds of payload was the rating for the last-generation Holden Ute.
Why It’s Cool: On the scene both before and after the Falcon, the Holden Ute was the most uniquely Australian automobile ever sold. Plus, it almost came to America as the Pontiac G8 Sport Truck.
Nissan Sunny 1400 Bakkie
Model Years: 1972–2008
Available Engine: 63-hp, 1.4-liter I-4
Styling: Nissan took its Sunny sedan, added a truck bed, and then ignored the next four decades of styling trends.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: You could get a ‘sporty’ version of the Bakkie (also known as the B140) called the Champ, but it was an appearance package at best.
Actual Utility: Nissan’s marketing slogan was “put the power where the load is” to reflect that it was one of the few rear-wheel-drive utes offered in Africa.
Why It’s Cool: 275,000 of these rear-drive Bakkies were sold, primarily in South Africa, over an astonishing 37 unchanging years.
Model Years: 2002–2009
Available Engine: 86-hp, 1.5-liter Mitsubishi I-4
Styling: Sort of Subaru meets shade-tree project.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: The only ute on our list to boast ‘Handling by Lotus’ in its marketing materials.
Actual Utility: You could haul 1,500 pounds behind the Proton’s cab and tow 2,200 pounds behind the rear bumper.
Why It’s Cool: Its proportions are far more balanced than most modern front-wheel-drive utes, which tend to look like an infinitely stretching rubber band behind the cabin.
Škoda Felicia Fun
Model Years: 1997–2001
Available Engine: 75-hp, 1.6-liter I-4
Styling: The lifestyle version of the Felicia pickup was dipped entirely in yellow, which meant the interior of the cabin was like driving a beehive.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Taking 12.5 seconds to get to 60 mph is a hard ‘no’ on thrills, but it offers its own sort of goofy enjoyment.
Actual Utility: See below.
Why It’s Cool: Never offered in America, the Felicia Fun was a standard Felicia coupe utility with a unique, fold-out rear cabin panel that added two extra seats completely exposed to the weather. Kind of like a forward-facing Brat, but only half as dangerous.
Model Years: 1978–1994
Available Engines: 67-hp, 1.6-liter flat-4; 71-hp, 1.8-liter flat-4; 98-hp, turbocharged 1.8-liter flat-4
Styling: See those plastic seats bolted into the cargo area? They were probably the only part of the Brat that didn’t rust almost immediately upon leaving the freighter.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: The Bi-drive Recreational All-terrain Transporter is one of the few compact utes to deliver all-wheel drive, which gave it a leg-up off-road.
Actual Utility: Perfect for transporting your two dumbest friends in the back.
Why It’s Cool: The Brat was even more cavalier about the value of human life than the Felicia Fun, and those seats were all in the name of skirting the U.S.’s federal import Chicken tax for light-duty trucks.
Suzuki Mighty Boy
Model Years: 1983–1988
Available Engine: 30-hp, 543-cc I-3
Styling: The Mighty Boy looks remarkably similar to a kei-car version of the Volkswagen Rabbit mixed with the early Honda CVCC. With a truck bed, of course.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: Based on the Suzuki Cervo coupe, the Mighty Boy skipped the Cervo’s available turbo and as a result provides a remarkably staid driving experience.
Actual Utility: The cargo bed in the Mighty Boy is just under two feet long, making it best suited for pizza or tofu delivery.
Why It’s Cool: Saying “Mighty Boy” is hellaciously fun. Plus, look at it!
Volkswagen Caddy / Rabbit Pickup
Model Years: 1979–1994
Available Engines: Various; wide range of gasoline and diesel I-4 engines
Styling: Hey, this actually is a Volkswagen Rabbit with a pickup bed!
Fun-to-Drive Factor: All the nimble character of a Rabbit.
Actual Utility: Would you believe a half-ton weight rating? There’s even a picture floating around the internet of a Caddy hauling a 1,200-pound vertical milling machine.
Why It’s Cool: Further proof that the Rabbit/Golf family of cars can indeed be all things to all people.
Model Years: 1932–1942
Available Engine: 48-hp, 2.2-liter I-4
Styling: Willys took its ubiquitous coupe body and grafted an integrated cargo bed exclusively for the Australian market. It’s a unique look compared to the traditional Jeep trucks Willys would sell in America.
Fun-to-Drive Factor: More comfortable than a standard Jeep pickup, with plenty to pay attention to as you bounce down the road.
Actual Utility: Competitive with pickups from the same era—just don’t drop anything too heavy on that sheetmetal.
Why It’s Cool: Just over 400 of these utes were made, and a tiny percentage of those were convertibles—predating the Dodge Dakota Sport droptop by more than half a century. Even cooler: The bodies were made by Holden before that company decided to get into the ute game itself as a full-fledged manufacturer.