Brits just don't get it when it comes to pick-ups, yet. In the US however for millions of urban cowboys, the pickup truck represents the rugged, pioneer spirit of the Western frontier. The what? Lest we forget, America's West was "won" by criminals, drug addicts, religious zealots and murderous sociopaths. And the pickup truck represents nothing more than the triumph of marketing over utility. Sure, manufacturers try to make them useful, with four doors, remote control cargo lids and enough torque to tow Minnesota. But c'mon, an SUV, off-roader or a proper truck makes a Hell of a lot more sense than one of these cartoon cowboy's chariots.
As usual, it takes an Aussie to show the world that the word "frontier" is synonymous with "insane asylum". The men Down Under understand that anyone who chooses to live hundreds of miles from civilization is, by definition, a lunatic. It's no surprise, therefore, that HSV have created the Holden Maloo "sport ute". The Australian tuning outfit has a long tradition of transforming GM products into maniacal machines, for no apparent reason other than boredom. Hey Bruce, what should we do with this girly little pickup truck? I dunno. How about we give her a 345bhp Corvette engine? That ought to perk her up a bit. You reckon?
I reckon. The 5.7 litre alloy V8 propels the Maloo from 0 to 60 in 5.5 seconds. The top end lives somewhere north of 160mph. No question: this is a pickup with pickup. But before we explore the handling implications of a miniature pickup truck that's faster than a Porsche Boxster S, let's have another look at this mad machine…
From the front, the Holden Maloo looks about as exciting as a Hertz mid-size rental. The pickup's low stance and tarmac sniffing front spoiler can't disguise its humble origins as a volume GM product. Then you turn the visual corner and the flatbed appears. It's practical enough, capable of stowing over 490kg of gear under a removable cover. But c'mon, it's absurd: budget compact meets ZZ Top hot rod. The Maloo's relatively short load area seems like a dumb joke. The spoiler is the all-too-obvious punch line. Everything looks either too large or too small for everything else, if you know what I mean.
Sidle inside, and you leave the visual confusion for a world of American luxury. For thirty-five UK large you all the mod cons: air conditioning, CD, trip computer, cruise control, leather sports seats, the lot. It's all a bit plastic fantastic, but you wouldn't really want sober, German-style ergonomics in a pickup truck, would you?
Or maybe you would. I don't know. The Maloo blurs the normal distinctions. Twist the key of what is, by American standards, a ¾ scale pickup and you get a NASCAR bellow. Whenever I hear a Chevrolet LS-1 Heritage engine doing its thing, I expect to be in something low and slinky or huge and intimidating. The Maloo is neither. Wrestle the agricultural six-speed gearbox into first, ease out the clutch and the Maloo feels the perfect size: not big and heavy like a "normal" US-style pickup, nor light and anaemic like a Japanese knock-off. It drives just like, gulp, a sports car.
You heard it here first: the Maloo is one seriously capable road machine. Thanks to its semi-trailing arm, fully independent suspension, and some spring, damper and sway bar fettling by HSV chassis guru Mark Thomas, the Maloo can be hurled into corners at ludicrous speeds. And not crash. The Race Logic traction control and limited slip differential allows all areas access to the machine's mighty torque. But there's so much feedback that only the truly deranged will evoke electronic assistance. Provided you don't load the cargo bay with cement blocks, even amateurs can drift the Maloo's featherweight back end around corners. Really.
...round the Nurburgring!
Considering the Maloo's chuckability, the ride quality is superb. Avoid the really big bumps, and you can enjoy comfortable, low speed cruising. To that end, the power assisted steering errs on the side of lightness. Still, there's real precision lurking underneath the user-friendliness. So much precision that UK importer Rod Clausen is itching to pit the Maloo against the new BMW M3 at the fearsome Nurburgring racetrack. A quick sprint down some Hertfordshire county lanes reveals that it's not as preposterous a contest as it sounds. Like the M3, the Maloo is a safe, dependable ride that loves being hammered when conditions allow.
Yes, but who's buying this thing? It may be mad to build it, but surely it's madder to buy it. Precisely. In the UK, the first 20 Maloos have been snapped-up by speed-obsessed English eccentrics. They join their Australian counterparts, who'll stick a motor on a bathtub for a bit of a laugh. Perhaps America's criminals, drug addicts, religious zealots and murderous sociopaths should email Bob Lutz, asking the GM boss to import the Maloo into the States. In fact, America's heritage demands it.