LEADING UP TO THE CHEVY EL CAMINO Ford of Australia was the first to put forth the idea of a car that worked like a truck, way back in 1932 with their Coupe’ Utility. GM followed in 1935 with their Holden Division’s own take on it. Fast forward to 1955 and Chevy’s radical new Cameo pickup. It molded in the old step-sides with smooth, car-like fiberglass rear quarters, lavished the whole thing in 50s-style chrome trim, and most importantly, improved the interior to almost car-like levels of comfort and convenience. No one had ever thought of this before. A pickup truck that was actually nice inside? The Cameo ran for a few more model years, but never achieved high volumes. However, Ford picked up on the idea and put their own twist on it with the 1957 Ranchero.
1st-GEN CHEVY EL CAMINO, 1959-1960
Again it took Chevy a couple of years to respond with the 1959 El Camino. Since the only car in their inventory was the full-sized Chevy Bel Air/Impala-series, it as built on that. They were big, over-styled (like the rest of the 1959 GM cars, and especially the Chevy) with complete curves and bulges and trim of every sort. Cat’s-eye tail lights, laid-down gullwing fins, an overly-busy front grille, and gobs of chrome. The 1960 was more subdued in styling and looked better for it. But sales weren’t there (just 14,163 in 1960) and the model was dropped after the 1960 model year. Ford soldiered on with its own Ranchero and soon downsized it onto the compact Falcon platform.
2nd-GEN CHEVY EL CAMINO, 1964-1967
After a 3-model-year hiatus, the El Camino returned, but this time on the midsized Chevelle platform. They were available in a variety of trim levels, soon to include the Super Sport or SS option, and a wide range of engines. Two 6-cylinders were offered, along with several small block V8s, starting with the 195hp 2-barrel 283, and topping out, in ’64 and ’65 with the 300hp 327. The 396 big block V8 was added to the lineup in ’66 in 3 flavors: 325hp, 350hp and 375hp. The 3-speed Turbo Hydramatic automatic transmission came in ’67. The El Camino was getting constantly updated and refreshed each year, and received a new sheetmetal skin in ’66. Of course the El Caminos that we are most interested in are the Super Sports or the El Camino SS. By the end of the 2nd-generation, it was no longer possible to get an SS with a small block. They all had 396 big blocks. So the model became known as the El Camino SS396.
3rd-GEN CHEVY EL CAMINO, 1968-1972
The 3rd-generation ended just after the Muscle Car Era peaked in 1970. Everything that came after was afflicted with Smog-Dog Disease and so is of less interest to us here. But this last generation was stupendous! A new body brought an entirely new look, more squared-up, upright, beefy, muscular. Call if what you want, there are few car prettier than a 1970 Chevelle or El Camino SS. The cars improved greatly in all areas with the change in generations, more comfort, better handling, on a slightly longer wheelbase. They offered the usual range of engines, but the big news came in 1970 with the introduction of the 454 big block V8. The SS454 came with two versions of this monster motor, the 375hp LS5 and the fire-breathing LS6 with an understated 450hp. These LS6 cars were among the fastest cars from the entire Muscle Car Era. Available with either a heavy duty Muncie M22 “rock crusher” 4-speed manual, or a Turbo Hydramatic 400 (TH400), it was the king of the streets in its day, and now its the king of the auctions. A real LS6 brings big money, just make sure it’s real.
CHEVY EL CAMINO, THE LATER YEARS
The El Camino was such a great product that it survived the muscle car era to soldier on through downsizing and another 2 generations, ending in 1987. But since none of them could realistically be considered a “muscle car”, we won’t get into their details.
Second & final year for the 1st-gen El Camino, the only ones to be built on a full-size Chevy chassis. The nameplate would disappear until coming back in 1964, now built on the midsize Chevelle platform. The 1960’s styling was tamed down from the ’59’s extravagance.