In the days before trucks were set up like big luxury sedans, the El Camino was a practical alternative for buyers wanting some light-truck capabilities with car-like road manners and amenities.
Ford, not Chevy, deserves credit for the El Camino’s design, as well as its Spanish-inspired name. For 1957, Dearborn realized that it could sell a few more station wagons by removing two-thirds of the car’s roof and marketing the new machine as an open hauler. The early Ford Ranchero was successful, and became even more so when it was shifted downstream to the penny-pinching Falcon platform in 1960.
Chevrolet’s El Camino sold well in its first year, 1959, but its numbers flagged against the smaller Falcon. The El Camino and its stablemate, the sedan delivery, were both phased out in 1960—it’s unclear whether this was due to disappointing demand or as part of some larger plan. The model resumed production in 1964 on the mid-size Chevelle/Malibu A-body chassis, where it would remain until 1987.
The 1968-1972 El Camino shared its chassis and some of its sheetmetal with the A-body Chevelle station wagon. The cargo box was built to be functional, with double-wall construction on the side panels and a ribbed steel floor. The tailgate, too, was strong and functional—ribbed and double-walled, with a center release for one-handed opening. Like many small trucks, the El Camino’s bed couldn’t easily accommodate a 4-foot by 8-foot sheet of plywood, as there were only 44 inches between its rear fender wells. At its widest points, the bed measured 59 inches and was just over six-feet long—dropping the gate yielded an additional 22.5 inches of length.
For 1969, the El Camino was one-year into the A body’s significant redesign and it received the styling updates that Chevrolet made to the Chevelle line.
Sheetmetal and minor trim differences aside, Chevelles and El Caminos rode on identical all-welded perimeter steel frames, but the convertibles and the El Camino had boxed frame members for added rigidity. Coil springs were standard fare, front and rear, on Chevelles, but the El Camino’s rear suspension received a boost from factory-installed air shocks. When inflated, these shocks raised the El Camino’s payload capacity by 500 pounds.
The fun began when buyers checked off the Z25 SS 396 package, unleashing the El Camino’s inner muscle car. In ’69 the $370.15 package included, as its base powertrain, a 325-hp Turbo Jet 396 with a floor-shifted three-speed manual transmission. Also included were front disc brakes, dual exhaust, a blacked out grille with an SS 396 badge in place of the bowtie logo, special SS hood, special exterior badging and wheel opening moldings, stiffer suspension and 14×7 sport wheels shod with G70-14 red stripe tires. For an additional $123.75 buyers could move up to the L34 350-hp 396; for $258.25 the L78 375-hp 396 or for $661.75 the L89 375-hp 396 with aluminum cylinder heads. Turbo-Hydramatic was also available with any of the 396s as were wide-ratio and close-ratio four-speed gearboxes.
Inside, El Caminos could be ordered with Strato-Bucket seats and a center console, but bench seats were common. The instruments were shared with Chevelles and SS 396 name plates were included on the dash and door panels. There was also an SS emblem affixed to center of the steering wheel.
The stunning Monaco Orange El Camino featured here is the product of an extensive restoration which was detailed in the September 2010 issue of Hemmings Muscle Machines.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Mike McNessor.