El Camino History

This will give a small overview about the history of the El Camino. Well, we all know most of the history of it from 1959 to 1987. Where does the name "El Camino" come from? What was around before 1959? Before Chevrolet had the great idea? Here I`ll try to answer some of these questions:


The El Camino wasn`t the first vehicle which combined the comfort of a passenger car and a truck. "Correct" - you`ll agree - "Ford was the first manufacturer in `57, who did it." Yes - and no - (okay, I`ve no clue about the Ranchero history and that`s not the point at the moment) I mean before Chevy had the idea of the El Camino as we know it now. There was always the demand for a truck with the comfort of a passenger car - or a passenger car with the load capability of a truck. As we know, the early pickup trucks were made for hard work, they had to be cheap, with no luxury and no options and no power steering or power brakes - in short words: a piece of metal with an engine, 4 wheels and a rough bed. Forgive me, all you pickup lovers who are so fond of those nice old vehicles..... but in those days it wasn`t very cool to pick up your girlfriend for dinner or movies in these pick ups - same like today with some of the cheaply made, mostly plastic, Japanese or Korean built cars.


Where does the name "El Camino" come from and what does it mean?

El Camino is spanish and means (directly translated) The Road, The Way, The Course, The Path, The Walk and so on and so forth. A historic road leading through California is named the "El Camino Real" (pronounced re-al). Real means (directly translated) Sincere, True, Royal or Kingly. Now you can make some combinations like The True Road, The Royal Way, The Sincere Path and so on. Chevrolet didn`t want to confuse the people with such a name, so they skipped the Real.


Actually the name "El Camino" was used some years before. Cadillac presented their project car called El Camino at the 1954 GM Motorama. A 2-passenger coupe with a lot of features which were included in the following years of Cadillac models.

                   

The exhaust configuration, windshield, roof saddle, spoked wheels, quad headlights, fluted side panel, gull-wing bumpers with "bullet" tips all turned up the following year on the production prototype for the Eldorado Brougham; the shape of the tail-fins turned up on the production Eldorado models of 1955, 1956, the Eldorado Brougham of 1957-1958 and the standard 1958 Cadillac production models. The pointed bullet-shaped, gull-wing front bumper was shared with many Cadillac showcars of the period; the "bullets" were sometimes rubber tipped; these rubber tips appeared on stock Cadillac models in 1957 and 1958. "El Camino" was finished in silver-gray and featured a brushed stainless-steel roof.

The fluted lower body panel on the front fender and door was duplicated on the rear fender of the Brougham prototype for 1955; The "El Camino" and "La Espada" were the first Cadillacs on which quad headlights appeared; these became an industry standard in 1958. Powered by the Cadillac 230 horsepower overhead valve V8 engine, the El Camino had an over-all length of 200.6 inches and an over-all height of 51.6 inches. Its maximum over-all width was 79.9 inches. Like the striking La Espada, the two aircraft type seats were high backed and built into headrests which flow back to the rear window. A distinctive pioneer in its exterior color as it was in its styling, the El Camino was strikingly attired in a pearlescent Silver color. The instrument panel was covered with a gray leather as were the door hang-ons. The lower roll and cover of the instrument panel cluster area was chrome plated. The insert area behind the instrument dials was hand-brushed aluminum. The tunnel pedestal's upper surfaces were hand-brushed aluminum and the convex shoulders and sides of the pedestal were leather covered as was the armrest. Seat inserts, the bolsters and facings, as well as the upper side wall of the interior and the triangular armrest on each fluted aluminum door panel was graced by distinctive Gun Metal Gray leather. The steering column, horn button and horn ring were bright chrome plated. The wheel rim was wrapped in gray nylon cord. The headlining for the hand-brushed aluminum top was perforated gray Naugahyde which provides an acoustical effect further reducing any operational sound that might be evident. The rear shelf was pearlescent silver fiberglass. The carpet was of gray nylon loop frieze. Instruments and controls for the El Camino were aircraft type and were identical with those used in the La Espada. In the El Camino, Cadillac had again pioneered the ultimate in motoring design and performance and achieved in this car the link of today with the future. Four hooded headlights had been incorporated into the front end - an outer pair for normal city driving and an inner pair for long range, pencil-beam use. The latter set were put out of action automatically by an Autronic-Eye when in traffic.


1920 -1950

1936 Chevrolet offered the Coupe-Express and the Coupe-Delivery. Which was essentially a five-window Business Coupe with a cargo box built into its trunk (replacing the trunk lid) and a side mounted spare. A trunk lid was supplied also and could be switched with the cargo box by loosening four bolts and substituting one accessory for the other. Step pads were also added to the rear bumper, allowing the user to reach into the rather deep box.

The same was available through 1938

and 1941 as you can see on the pictures.

  

Actually these are pictures of Holden Utes - don`t know the year, must be something between 1940 and 1950 - which is also a part of the Chevrolet (GM) group. This car was available mainly in Australia (and South Africa?). You can see similarities if you look at the new Chevy SSR.


1950 - 1960

Later in the mid-1955 to 1959 Chevy built the new-style trucks called the Second Series or also known as the Chevy Cameo Carrier. With the rakish wraparound windshield, fenders integrated into the body styling, and "egg-crate" grille that always seems to look good on a Chevy and made a styling link with the new Chevrolet cars. The new option to this series was a peppy V8 mouse motor - so-called because of its diminutive size - represented fresh engineering. Also new in 1955 was the overdrive-option - not only for the light trucks, also for the cars. No longer did pickup owners have to trudge along at 45mph with the engine straining at peak rpm. Equipped with an easy-spinning V8 and overdrive, a Chevy pickup could now cruise effortlessly at 70mph. Together with this new improvements, the color-matching interior becomes more luxury, more car-like.

The spare tire was hidden behind the center section of the rear bumper. There were many other new options available - air-condition, 4-wheel drive and so on. This was the beginning of the combination of a truck with a car. An early SUV or MPV or whatever. The social acceptability began with this Cameo Carrier.

In 1957 Ford introduced a similar truck with a slightly different concept. This Ranchero was built on a passenger car chassis, rather than on a half-ton truck chassis. It featured an integrated pickup body. It was an ideal vehicle for those people who used one vehicle for both business and pleasure. - Okay, enough words about Ford.

In 1958 Dodge came out with the "Sweptside" D100. A two-tone chrome-trimed pickup truck with fins and a rear bumber from a Dodge station car. It was the first truck with tail-fins in the history - and nowadays a rarity.

In 1959 (October 16th, 1958 - to be exact) Chevy fought back with the introduction of their El Camino. Based on the radically styled 1959 Chevy passenger car - the 1959 Impala - , the El Camino was a dramatically beautiful sedan-pickup. Chevrolet combined a car with a truck: Chevy described it as "More than a car - more than a truck".


1960 - 1987

In 1961 Chevy unfortunately dropped the El Camino. Dropping a new model, two years, into a program, was very uncharacteristic of Chevrolet. Normally, they stuck with a product until it dominated the market. The Suburban and the Corvette are the best examples. Both are still in production after decades.

In 1964 Chevy introduced an all-new El Camino. It was based on the mid-sized Chevelle. The 1964 El Camino was obviously a fresh, new package, but it maintained a link with the older model with its good looks and sparkling performance. The El Camino was offered with two six-cylinder engines (194cid 120hp or 230cid 155hp) or the 283cid V-8with either 195 or 220 horses. However this situation was soon improved when the 327cid V-8 became El Camino option. The only restriction was that Chevy wouldn`t install the fuel-injected version with 375hp in an El Camino.

In 1966 (the supercar era) the El Camino was offered with RPO 135 which represented an SS396 El Camino with a 325hp, 396cid V-8. Also available was the 350hp version of the 396cid V-8.

Since the El Camino was in a sense a captive of the design boundaries of the Chevelle, it tended to follow the trends that dominated the mid-sized car field. Thus as the supercar era faded away, so did the super quick El Camino. As the Chevelle was periodically restyled, so was the El Camino. But it had a few distinctions of its own. There were in addition to the SS models, El Caminos known as Classic, Royal Knight and Conquista versions. These were essentially trim options, but their availability enabled a customer to order an El Camino that was tailored to suit his or her own personality.

In 1971 the El Camino became a cousin: the GMC Sprint. From 1978 on they named it GMC Caballero. GMC truck dealers had wanted GMC truck version of the El Camino for two reasons: First, many of them wanted one for use as one of their own dealerships light delivery trucks. Second, many (actually most) GMC truck dealers also sold several other GM line automobiles such as Pontiacs or Oldsmobiles and since, by now, the El Camino was a established muscle car, they wanted a chance to sell some. The only difference between the El Camino and the GMC Sprint/Caballero are the nameplates and, for a few years, some minor cosmetic trim. It had the same seven engine-options as the El Camino. The Sprint sales brochure made reference to "eight transmissions", but said nothing else about them. The El Camino brochure had listed six.

In 1978 the El Camino/GMC was based on the Chevy Malibu. The front end sheet metal was shared with the Malibu and side doors with the Monte Carlo. The rear tailgate and bumber was shared with the Malibu Station Wagon. For the first time, the El Camino had a unique chassis - it was shared with no other Chevrolet. GMC introduced the Caballero. This wasn`t a new name for a GM car. Caballero was used in 1957 from Buick for their luxury Buick Estate Wagon.

1979 was the last year where they had a 350cid V-8 option on their list. From 1980 on the 305cid V-8 was the biggest engine which could be ordered.

1987 Chevy dropped sorrowfully the El Camino from the line due to low sales figures. Appoximately 15,625 El Caminos/Caballeros were sold in 1987 and 745 in 1988...............


Special thanks to Carl Roller and Hugh Laubis, who sent me some of the pictures above and some further ideas. Sources were partially from the El Camino & SS Muscle Portfolio, Chevrolet El Camino Photo History and Chevrolet Pickup Color History. Please let me know if you have some further facts about the pre-history of the El Camino.