The first two-door vehicle based on a passenger automobile with a rear baggage tray was the American roadster utility or “roadster pickup” of the 1920s.
In 1932/4, Ford designer Lew Bandt created a coupe utility with a fixed roof for an Australian farmer. As the economy improved, people began to value comfort more.
Before Studebaker’s 1937-39 Coupe Express and Holden’s 1951 sedan-based variant, GM Australia developed a Chevrolet coupe utility in 1935.
In 1952, Harley Earl, an automotive designer, and GM executive presented the coupe pickup concept.
The 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier pickup truck, on the other hand, was a predecessor of the El Camino, with a passenger car appearance, a sumptuous interior, and a V8 engine option.
Before the coupe utility body type was introduced in America, Ford, Dodge, and Studebaker featured flush-side cargo boxes on numerous 1957 pickup trucks.
The 1957 Ford Ranchero, which was based on a two-door station wagon, created a new market niche. It sold 21,706 units and was practical and enjoyable to drive.
GM created their own two-door car-based truck while Chrysler remained unaffected by this surprise new competitor.
The Chevrolet El Camino was debuted for the 1959 model year on October 16, 1958.
Its “dramatic slimline” look was “the most gorgeous thing that has ever occurred to hauling,” combining a “passenger type automobile” with “the freight capacity of a truck.”
El Camino Specs
The Chevrolet El Camino was introduced with a 135hp 235cid Hi-Thrift I6, 154hp 261cid Jobmaster I6 with 235 lb-ft torque, 185/230hp 283cid Turbo-Fire V8, and a more powerful Turbo-Thrust 348cid V8 with 335hp as standard. For V8s, Rochester Ramjet fuel injection was an option.
The base three-speed manual transmission, as well as the optional four-speed and two-speed Powerglide automatic transmissions, were available in 1959.
It was shorter, with a 119-inch wheelbase, a 26-cubic-foot bed volume, tryex cord tires, better complete coil suspension, and a safety-girder X-frame construction, all of which were new for 1958. 210.9in is the maximum length.
Without fuel injection, the base 1960 283cid V8 was detuned to an economical 170hp. A six-cylinder is priced $2,366 with an additional $107 for a V8. Chevrolet built 36,409 El Caminos during the course of two years.
El Camino Performance
A 1959 El Camino 348cid V8 four-speed with a customized high-performance rear axle appropriate for drag racing was examined by Hot Rod magazine. It went from zero to sixty in seven seconds, with a top speed of 130 mph and a 14-second 14-mile time at 100 mph.
Critics said that the first-generation El Caminos’ suspension was softly sprung, similar to that of a passenger car. The Ranchero was a more difficult vehicle to drive and capable of rugged pickup jobs.
With only one seat, Blair Blakeley warns, “it’s not helpful as a car, and you can’t haul as much as a pickup.”
He did, however, possess “a 64 and ’77 El Camino, [which] were fantastic for [his] auto restoration business,” since they were more comfortable to drive and allowed him to haul parts in the back.
Chevrolet El Caminos of the first generation were based on the full-size Brookwood two-door station wagon platform. It had a highly styled space-age design with ‘bat wing’ fins, teardrop taillights, Bel-Air exterior ornamentation, and a blue, grey, or green Biscayne inside.
In 1959, new features were introduced: A 50 percent larger back window with nearly 1000 square inches of viewing space, tinted glass, air conditioning, and a Magic-Mirror acrylic lacquer paint finish
Excessive size and aesthetics were deemed impracticable during the 1958 recession. Chevrolet had not anticipated frugality, and the 1960 El Camino, despite being simpler, was still larger than the market wanted.
Sales of the Falcon-based Ranchero dipped to 14,163, while sales of the Ranchero rose to 21,027.
The El Camino was reintroduced in 1964 on the midsize A-body platform, dressed up as a ‘Chevelle pickup’ and offered as a SuperSport. The 1967 model received a new front bumper, grille, and trim to match the Chevelle.
The body of 1968 was completely redesigned; it was longer but lighter, and it was based on a four-door sedan. With gobs of chrome and a D88 stripe kit that included two wide stripes, the SS-396 changed it from utilitarian to sporty. It had quad headlights on the front end.
With wagon chassis, the 1973 model year was the largest to date. The interior and exterior of the Malibu were shared by the base and SS models.
The sumptuous Chevelle Malibu Classic trim was applied to the new 1974 El Camino Classic.
In 1975, a redesigned grille was introduced, followed by rectangular headlights in 1976. Vertical headlights were added to the 1977 ‘colonnade’ body style, and the Classic remained the most popular model.
El Caminos from the fifth generation came in four different trim levels: Classic, Black Knight, Royal Knight, Conquista, SuperSport, and Malibu.
They were smaller, with elegant appearance and single headlights, and were built on the cost-effective G-body platform.
In 1978, the Sprint was renamed Caballero, and it was built until 1987. With a redesigned grille and quad headlamps, 1982 was altered once more.
Versatile El Camino
Jesse Pinkman, played by Jesse Plemons, seeks a blue El Camino in season two of the American neo-western crime drama TV series Breaking Bad (2008-2013), but instead gets a Toyota.
Jesse flees a white supremacist complex in his captor’s black 1978 El Camino SS with red stripes in the 2019 sequel El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie. When he arrives in Alaska, he finds a blue El Camino but decides to buy another Toyota.
His dream car represents his journey to freedom, vengeance, and a sad history all at once. The car can also be seen in music videos, the 2001 film The Mexican, and season two of ‘Supernatural.’ Lady Gaga herself owns a black El Camino.