Home » The Homely-Cute Gumdrop Is The Hallmark Of Utility Vehicle Photography: Cold Start

The Homely-Cute Gumdrop Is The Hallmark Of Utility Vehicle Photography: Cold Start

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I have a lot of automotive predilections and near-fetishes that seem peculiar, even to myself. And yet, at the same time, I’m powerless to fight against them; they have the power to stay my gaze and grab my attention like a sky-herd of owls seizing an abandoned prairie-meatloaf. One category of these predilections is the type of utility vehicle that is known by various names: cab-over, one-box, bread loaf, hoodless wonder, you name it. Sometimes they’re trucks, sometimes vans, sometimes buses, but they’re always strangely appealing.

And, even better, when photographed for their brochures and advertisements, there seems to be some unspoken rule that a full-frontal picture must be taken of their strange, cute-ugly gremlinly faces. All seem to have roughly the same sort of gumdrop shape and proportions, along with very expressive arrangements of lights, bumpers, grilles, and the other elements and details that form the front end of an automobile.

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I love these front-end views of these utility vehicles, so I’m going to share a bunch of mid-century (and some ’70s) examples with you, until you either delight and agree with me or run away, screaming.

Honestly, either reaction works, so let’s dig in.

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Unic has an unfortunate name but was an early 20th-century maker of passenger cars and trucks. This particular one has a great, sort of Art Deco-ish look, and I think those inner lamps are part lamp and part horn?



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Ford of Britain’s Thames vans were analogous to American Ford’s Econoline – the ubiquitous workhorses that formed the backbone of a nation’s move-crap-around network. They had a good, gremliny face, even with detailing that suggested a nose, a rarity on these sorts of machines.


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Ford of Germany built the Taunus Transit, which used the V4 and V6 engines from the Taunus passenger cars. Also, with a great, slightly worried-looking face.

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Possibly the best-known in this category, Volkswagen’s rear-engined Type 2 buses and vans all had simple, grille-less faces. As I’ve noted before, these could take on some very specific Muppet-related looks.

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The Hanomag Garant had a lot of swoopy, curvy details, and, as shown here in green, was highly reminiscent of some sort of bulky frog or toad.

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The legendary Mercedes-Benz Unimog is an interesting, go-anywhere example of this cabover/one box design philosophy, and the addition of the high ride height and huge tires gives the machine a more rugged sort of character; it’s more feral, less civilized.

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We’ve got another Hanomag here, A Kurier, essentially the same body as the Garant, but in red, far less froggy. This is a great example of the suggestive power of color.


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Saviem (Société Anonyme de Véhicules Industriels et d’Équipements Mécaniques) was part of Renault, and made all sorts of trucks and buses and other hardworking machines. This 1963 Saviem S5 is a great example, and has a great cabover-gumdrop-gremlin face, as seen from the front, with just enough oddly whimsical detailing – check out the eyebrow-like swoops over the headlamps – to make it a great example of this genre.

Some manufacturer needs to bring back a modern truck or van with these proportions and this sort of evocative and expressive face! They feel like creatures, and I think more strange creatures roaming around our roads, delivering our beer and toilet paper and selling us tacos and ice cream can only be a net positive for society, right?


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20 days ago

My favourite is the UAZ van. It looks like it has a mustache!

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