What exactly is an El Camino? Is it a car? Is it a truck? Is it a station wagon? Nope, it’s an El Camino, and there’s simply nothing else like it.
When the Chevy El Camino cruised into the automotive world in 1959, it was met with confusion and curiosity. Developed to compete with the Ford Ranchero utility coupe, the El Camino was about $6,000 more expensive than the Ranchero but arguably faster and more stylish.
It had a long bed in the back, a wide grille in the front, and plenty of options for custom colors and decorative pinstriping. Its first model drove like a souped-up station wagon, which was wonderful or terrible depending on your point of view.
Let’s take a drive down memory lane and look at the history of one of the world’s weirdest and most beloved classic muscle cars, the El Camino.
How the El Camino Was Born
Chevrolet created the El Camino by taking a wagon platform, adding a cargo-style cab, and morphing it into something that resembled a passenger car. Of course, it had a truck bed on the back, so it lacked family-car appeal – a fact that quickly gave it a “bad boy” reputation.
From a distance, it looked like the recently-introduced Ford Ranchero, but up close it looked sleeker and much more like a muscle car. Some would argue that the 1959 El Camino actually pre-dated the 1957 Ranchero, based on early concept cars Chevy brainstormed in the mid-1950s.
The El Camino also predated most small, lightweight compact pickup trucks that became popular in the late 50s and early 60s. And it attracted a different buying market than early pickups because it was an everyday vehicle, not a cargo carrier.
The First Generation of El Caminos
The world’s first El Caminos were based on the platform of the Chevrolet Brookwood station wagon. Unsure how to capture buyers’ interest at first, Chevy tried but struggled to compete with the Ranchero in the consumer marketplace.
Still, the vehicle built a quick and devoted following among a certain sector of car fanatics. Perhaps it was just odd enough to be interesting because about 36,000 El Caminos were sold within the first two years.
The Second El Camino Generation Emerges
By 1964, Chevy had taken a fresh look at the El Camino and redesigned it based on the popular Chevelle. They dressed it up with new trim details plus a new and safer front bumper and grille. Chevy also gave it air shocks that provided a smooth ride, even with a heavy load on board.
Not only was the new El Camino more comfortable and more practical, but it was also more powerful. Eyeing affluent muscle car fans, Chevy touted the new El Camino’s small-block V8 rated up to 300 hp. Soon, they also introduced even throatier versions at 350 and 375 hp, including a heavier but extremely powerful big-block model.
Third Generation: Larger But Lighter
In 1968, the El Camino was redesigned yet again, this time on a 4-door sedan platform. It was noticeably larger, but due to the auto industry’s lightweight construction innovations, it was also lighter than its predecessors. This gave it a fun, maneuverable drive.
The front end was reworked to include stacked quad headlights, giving this new generation of El Caminos a distinctly different look than earlier models. Under the hood, it had a big-block V8 and in its beastliest version, it had an engine that could push 450 hp.
Sadly, this era of El Caminos came to an end during the oil crisis of the early 1970s when government regulations clamped down on gas guzzlers. New El Caminos had to use lower-octane unleaded fuel and Chevy had to reduce the vehicle’s power somewhat to play by the rules.
Surviving into the Fourth Generation
Between 1973 and 1977, Chevy made major changes to its offerings and discontinued many cars, including the Camaro SS, Monte Carlo, and Impala. This led to speculation that the El Camino would be next on the chopping block, but it survived.
This generation is perhaps embodied by the two-toned El Camino Super Sport with a double-domed hood and a blackout grille. Its standard engine was a 105 hp 250 cubic inch version, with an optional V8 that could go as high as a government-mandated 215 hp.
The Fifth and Final Generation of El Caminos
From 1978 to 1987, Chevy continued to crank out El Caminos with a variety of styling and front-end tweaks. Customers could select a V6-engined version or even a diesel version fitted with an Oldsmobile engine.
Historians will note that this is the period when Chevy moved its El Camino production to Mexico, where it was sold locally with the bold brand name of El Conquistador. But interest in the El Camino was already beginning to wane in the States.
Why? Blame it on the Chevy S-10 pickup. The S-10 was seeing huge sales across the U.S. and the El Camino suddenly seemed less exciting by comparison. In 1987, Chevy discontinued it and despite rumors and hoaxes about its reintroduction, it seems to be gone forever.
The End of an Era
By the end of its 25-year run, more than 1 million El Caminos had been sold. Today, it’s unknown exactly how many remain in the world. The brand retains a huge and protective following of devoted fans, particularly in western states like California, Arizona, Washington, and Oregon.
Although it’s a car that has sometimes been ignored in the classic car market, interest has surged and rare examples have gone for as much as $102,300. So when someone asks, “What’s that?” just tell them, “That’s an El Camino and there’s nothing else like it.”
The Legacy of Classic Auto Insurance
When you need to protect your classic El Camino, we’re here to help. No other insurance agency offers the same level of stellar service and genuine passion for classic cars as we do.
Classic Automobile Insurance Agency is a family business built on a love of classic cars. We take every opportunity to bring you unique learning opportunities like our hugely successful Project C10, powered by American Modern. Having owned a variety of collectible vehicles ourselves, we understand the special protections your iconic ride requires.
Whether you bought it at an auction, drove it off the lot, or restored it to perfection in your garage, we have a plan for you. We’ll build you a customized auto insurance program that is designed specifically for owners of collectible cars while providing the top-notch customer support you expect.
Visit our website at www.classicins.com to get an instant quote online, or call 888-901-1338 and see how we can help safeguard your dream car.