Hansy Mannil Jul 10, 2023

We didn't always have 4x4s, Utes, Muscle Cars or Hybrids. Today they are the mainstream, but have you ever wondered how they came about?

War, changing government regulations, the price of oil and climate change have all been factors in the formation of innovative categories and world-renowned cars.

We take a closer look at what was happening in the world when new categories emerged, as well as the cars that made the world sit up and take notice.


The Ute

Both an Australian-icon and a 'how did we survive without this' invention, the Ute was the first car to successfully combine work and play in the one vehicle.

In 1932, a farmer's wife wrote to the head of Ford asking for a car that could 'take the family to church on a Sunday, and take the pigs to the market on a Monday'. Money was tight in Australia in the thirties, and farmers couldn't afford both a truck and a family sedan.

With that duality in mind, 22 year old Lewis Bandt was tasked with designing such a vehicle that the world has never considered before. By combining a 'high-sided open back' with a 'two-door Ford V8 Coupe', the Coupé Utility was born. Catchy as the name was, it wasn't long before The Ute was in the Australian lexicon.

The idea was a global hit, and Bandt's idea has inspired similar designs throughout rival companies worldwide. In 1961, Ford unveiled the Falcon XK which has been a fan-favourite and work-site staple since its release. Ford has since sold Utes in more than 180 countries with over 500,000 Falcon Utes sold in Australia.

The car has since gone down in Australian history as a cultural phenomenon since its humble beginnings with 1 in 10 of every car bought today in Australia being a Ute. It wasn't long before the Ute was exported to the US. More likely to be known as a 'pickup truck' by the Yanks, the Ford F-Series full-size pickup truck has been the best-selling car in the US for the past 32 years.


The Mini

A class of its own

In 1956, when a fuel shortage across the United Kingdom led to petrol rationing, sales in large cars plummeted, and so, demand for small cars was on the rise.

Leonard Lord, observing (with distaste) the rise in popularity of the German-made Volkswagen Beetle, designed an English car that maximised passenger space within a size never before seen in a vehicle.

The Mini was also a pioneer in front-wheel drive technology, being the first of its kind with a four-cylinder engine mounted transversely, which was instrumental in the Mini's ability to maximise passenger and luggage space in its compact design.

The Mini boomed in its homeland, where its revolutionary design and thriftiness made it a popular choice for both the trendsetters and the penny-pinchers.

Due to its popularity, in 1969 the Mini broke away from its Austin and Morris branding and became a marque of its own.

In 1994, BMW acquired the rights to the Mini, and although the design today bears little resemblance to the original Lord model, it continues to be a popular choice worldwide.

The Mini has been awarded second place in the most influential car of the 20th century and the European Car of the Century (behind the Ford Model T in both instances), and the Number One Classic Car of All Time by Autocar.

In its lifetime, 5.3 million Minis were sold – which made it the most popular British car in history.

Clearly size doesn't matter; it's all about what you do with it.


Muscle Cars

World War II was over and there were more people employed than ever before. People were happy and had money – and they wanted a car that reflected that.

The Oldsmobile 88 was the first car that was designed to cater for the rising American taste for speed and power in their vehicles.

Its top speed was little over 150kph, it took 13 seconds to go from 0-100 – but it was the birth of the first All-American muscle car.

It combined a V8 engine with a sleek design to bring a thrill to drivers that had never been seen before.

The much-needed injection of power gave a boost to the Oldsmobile brand image, bringing with it a new demographic of clients. The speed of the car also filled the trophy room, with the Oldsmobile winning six out of nine NASCAR circuits in 1949.

With Oldsmobile shutting up shop in 2004, the Muscle Car category has since been ruled by sleeker modern models such as the Mustang GT and Challenger SRT Hellcat. With top speeds around 320kph, these new-age beasts might outshine the Oldsmobile in a time trial, but may never reach the level of 'cool' associated with their predecessor.

Need proof that the Oldsmobile 88 is the ultimate in cool? In 1951 the song 'Rocket 88' was released, and is believed to be the first ever rock and roll record. Game, Set and Match.


The Compact

In 1955, the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry put the call out for Japanese car makers to design what was to become a 'national car concept'.

This car had to comply with a strict list of requirements including regulations on weight, speed, fuel consumption and service requirements. These regulations resulted in a vehicle slightly bigger than the 'kei car' ('light car'). With the tax benefits afforded to this model by the government, the affordability of the car meant that it's popularity was immense.

For those who wanted something a little larger than a Mini, but in a size that was still economical and fuel-efficient, the 'compact car' was the perfect mix of sustainability and convenience.

The first car to be built under these requirements was the Toyota Publica. The name was given to the car to reference the English phrase, 'Public Car', though the name was often lost in translation and became misinterpreted to 'paprika'.

Whilst the Publica might not be the first car that comes to your mind when you think of the compact cars that millions drive around the world, the Publica was heralded as the first successful creation in this category.

After the Publica was released, it inspired a whole host of cars from every car-maker keen to take part in this new market.

Today, the most popular compact cars include the Honda Civic, Mazda3 and the Ford Focus.


Urban SUVs

1984 Jeep Cherokee XJ

Built initially as a workhorse used in the Second World War and the Korean War, the Willys MB (predecessor to the 'Jeep' name) along with the Ford GPW are the four-wheel drive vehicles that inspired an entire category of recreational 4WDs.

The name 'Jeep' referred to a car in prototype stage, with the name meaning an 'untried or untested vehicle'.

Post-war the popularity of the Jeep soared, as they became available to the public on the surplus market. The military model was popular amongst farmers, and a sportier, roomier model of Jeep was developed for consumers.

And so in 1974, the Jeep Cherokee was born. The first in Jeep's transition from battle ground to school run, it was when the second version came along, the 1984 Cherokee XJ, that the world truly began to take notice.

The 1984 model shared little with its predecessor – except a name. The newer model was lighter, higher and more manoeuvrable, which made it a more comfortable ride for passengers who had been feeling every bump and grind during both metropolitan and off-road driving. The Cherokee combined Jeep's rugged history with a more modern, forward-thinking outlook.

It was named '4x4 of the Year' by three leading car magazines in 1984, and has sold almost 3 million units worldwide.

As demand in the US for SUVs began to grow, the Jeep Cherokee set a new benchmark for vehicles that were both tough and comfortable.


Hybrid Cars

Toyota Prius

First introduced as a concept car at the 1995 Tokyo Motor Show, the Toyota Prius was the world's first mass-produced gasoline-electric hybrid car.

In the same year as the concept for the Prius was released, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was created – global warming was fast becoming a matter of public concern.

Initially only built and sold in Japan, the car won the Japan Car of the Year award only months into its life.

By 2000, the car was introduced to the world market. Tax deductions available for Americans who bought a Prius established the US as its second biggest market (behind Japan).

Between 1997 and 1999 when the Prius was only available in Japan, it sold just 33,000 units. However, just 8 years after its worldwide launch, Toyota sold its 1-millionth Prius and by 2013 had sold over 3 million.

The Prius currently represents 65.4% of the 8 million Toyota hybrids sold worldwide, and with thanks to its celebrity fans including Leonardo DiCaprio and Cameron Diaz, the Prius has also become a go-to fashion statement for eco-warriors worldwide.


The Ford Model T

Back where it all began...

In 1908, Henry Ford saw the first of his Model T cars leave his Detroit factory and head out into a world where mainstream, commercially available and affordable automobiles didn't exist. Nineteen years later, the 15 millionth Model T left the factory floor.

So how did Ford revolutionise the industry?

Ford's ground-breaking introduction of 'assembly line' vehicle production made it possible for a car to be made in five minutes rather than the usual fifteen, which in turn dropped the costs significantly making the Model T far cheaper than other models available at that time.

With Ford declaring he wanted to 'democratise the automobile', the price and durability of the vehicle meant that it comprised as much as 40% of all cars sold in the US.

Compared to current models, the Model T isn't exactly a model of driving perfection - it had to drive backwards up steep hills to keep petrol feeding into the engine. But with 16.5 million units sold, the 'Tin Lizzie' still makes the top ten list of most sold cars of all time. The car was named the most influential of the 20th century and Henry Ford has gone down in history as an international treasure/rock star of the motor vehicle industry.


An Honourable Mention

It's one of the best-selling cars of all time, despite the fact it's only available in red and yellow. It has a removable floor, no airbags, no windows and runs purely on human energy. It's sold more than 10 million units since its humble beginnings thirty years ago. In all that time, the design has barely changed.

It was the best-selling car in the US in both 1991 and 2008, it was the best-selling car in the UK in 2011, and is also in the Top 20 best-selling cars of all time.

Stumped? Your final clue: It can also only fit one person inside, and the box it comes in says it's suitable for ages 1 to 5.

You've got it now.

First on the market in 1979, the Little Tikes Cozy Coupe was designed by Jim Mariol (a former parts designer from Chrysler).

In a market where children sat on cars, rather than in them, the Cozy Coupe was a playground must-have with a design that had never been seen before.

It has held onto its popularity for over 30 years now - and at $50, it's a first car you won't mind buying your kid.

Your next car? Probably not.

A category-defining car? Definitely.

Want to get your hands on your own timeless car? Let us help you find a great deal on finance. Call 1300 STRATTON (1300 787 288) or get an online quote today.

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