1959 CHEVROLET EL CAMINO BACKGROUND
Following Ford’s success with the 1957 Ranchero, Chevy wanted a piece of the action. Ford created this new niche in the market, catching the rest of the industry flat-footed, and it took Chevy 2 years to respond. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The same thing happened again with the Mustang and the Camaro 8 years later. Chevy’s seminal Tri-Fives (1955-57) were followed up by the one-year-only ’58 Impala, but for the 1959 model year, a whole new platform was being built. Chevy too this opportunity to launch a pickup version to compete with the Ranchero, and they called it “El Camino” which means “the path” in Spanish. From the A-pillars forward the new 1959 Chevrolet El Camino shared everything with every other car in the 1959 Chevy lineup. It was actually based on the Brookwood 2-door station wagon. Of course, the 1959 bodywork is swoopy and doopy and you either love it or you hate it. But the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino outsold the ’59 Ranchero 22,000 to 14,000. The styling was toned down slightly for the 1960 model year, which would be the final year of this initial 2-year run. The El Camino disappeared from Chevrolet’s lineup for 3 model years, only to reappear in 1964, now based on the midsize Chevelle platform. The 1959 Chevrolet El Camino remains popular 50+ years on not only because it is the first of its breed, but literally because of its polarizing Batman-styling.
MY OWN 1959 CHEVROLET EL CAMINO
No, not this one. I was given a 1959 Chevrolet El Camino in about 1997 for free, as a non-running project. It had a 283 4-barrel / 3-on-the-tree. The body was fairly straight and rust-free, the trim was all there, the interior was complete but trashed, and it didn’t run. By the time I was done, I put in a new battery, cables, belts & hoses, plugs, wires, points, condenser, rotor & cap, rebuilt the carburetor, changed all the fluids, tuned it up and got it running. I did a brake job and a guy gave me some near-new used tires for it. I totally detailed out the engine compartment, carefully masking and painting with a shaker can. It came out great. I removed the trim and lightly prepped and primered the body with shaker cans just the way it was, then put the trim back on. I polished up the hubcaps. I drove it down to the Goodguys Car Show in Pleasanton CA, put it in the show with a For Sale sign on it, and sold it in the first few hours for $1700. At that point, I was in the thing about $400, not counting my labor. The guy who bought it got a good deal too, because it was a solid car and the hard work was done. It ran well, and the engine compartment was gorgeous. All he had to do was get the minor bodywork done, have it painted then do the interior. I never saw it again, but I’m curious if he ever finished it.