Chevy El Camino: A Look Through the History and Generations

The Chevy El Camino is one car that evoked a lot of questions and mixed feelings from when it was released by General Motors in 1959. The main question was, is it a truck or is it a car, but the unique part is that it was both.

Chevy El Camino

The El Camino had a great run from 1959 to 1987, spanning five generations before it was finally discontinued. In this guide, we take a closer look at the car-like pickup truck, including the four generations and their features.

What Is the Chevy El Camino?

The Chevrolet El Camino is a coupe utility vehicle manufactured by Chevrolet under General Motors from 1959 to 1987, with a break between 1960 and 1964. The vehicle was different from the standard pickup truck in that it was adapted from the two-door Chevy station wagon platform.

The El Camino cab and cargo bed were integrated into the body of the car. The car was released as a response to the popularity of Ford’s Ranchero, which was a coupe utility. It was first introduced in the 1959 model year, and this lasted for only two years. The car was based on the Biscayne B-body. Production continued from 1964 to 1977, and the car was based on the Chevrolet Chevelle platform.

Then from 1978 to 1987, it was based on the GM G-body platform. In the United States, the El Camino is classified as a pickup. There were also some variants of the pickup car, like the Sprint, released in 1971, and the Caballero, released in 1987.

First Generation

The first generation of the Chevrolet El Camino lasted from the 1959 to 1960 model years and was introduced two years after the Ford Ranchero. It was built on an existing platform, the Brookwood two-door station wagon, which was modified. The 1959 model was also well-styled, so it sold 50 percent more than the Ranchero, which has a simple design.

The El Camino was available with a full-sized Chevy drivetrain. As for the chassis, it was the Chevy Safety Girder X-frame design and a full-coil suspension. The El Camino had a payload rating from 650 to 1,150 pounds, which was pretty impressive since it was still a car. The payload rating depended on the powertrain and suspension.

  • Engine and Performance

The El Camino offered three engine options. The 3.9-liter straight-six engine offered 135 horsepower, while the 4.6-liter V8 engine offered between 170 and 250 horsepower.

Chevy El Camino Engine

The most powerful was the 5.7-liter V8 engine with 250 to 325 horsepower.

 

Based on the engine, you could also get a 3-speed manual transmission or, with overdrive, 4-speed manual transmission, seamlessly shifting Turboglide automatic transmission or Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission.

  • Interior and Exterior Styling

There was only a single trim level, as Chevrolet combined ideas of its other trims. On the exterior, you will notice features from the Bel-Air trim, like the full-length bodyside moldings and wide moldings on the rear roof edge and side windows. But the interior featured the Biscayne trim, with features like embossed leather and patterned vinyl on the bench.

Chevy El Camino Exterior Styling

It was also the first pickup from Chevrolet with a steel bed floor. The roof had a unique design, too, with a rear overhang and forward-leaning rear pillars. By 1960, the Chevrolet El Camino went through a facelift, especially on the exterior. The taillights were changed to small round twin bulbs, and the rear fins were flatter. The number plate was also put at the rear.

  • Sales and Reception

Chevrolet made 22,246 units in 1959 and 14,163 in 1960. Orders were very high in 1959 but plummeted in 1960, so Chevrolet discontinued the model. On the other hand, Ford still had high demand. While the first generation was discontinued, Chevrolet released the Greenbrier, which was a car-based pickup.

Second Generation

The second generation of the Chevrolet El Camino lasted from 1964 to 19567, and it went through multiple facelifts. The 1964 El Camino was designed similarly to the Chevelle two-door wagon and even came with badges from El Camino and Chevelle.

The Coupe utility vehicle came with a less original body and was more compact and simpler than before so that it would be seen as a utility vehicle, not a passenger car. The wheelbase was reduced by 10 centimeters, and the loading area increased. There was also some standard equipment like the level control for air suspension.

  • Engine and Performance

There were a wide range of engines available in this generation. These include 194 cubic-inch 3.2-liter I6, 230 cubic-inch 3.8-liter I6, and 250 cubic-inch 4.1-liter I6. Also, Chevy introduced the 283 cubic-inch 4.6-liter Small Block V8, 327 cubic-inch 5.4-liter Small Block V8 and 396 cubic-inch 6.5-liter Big Block V8 engines.

Chevy El Camino Performance

The horsepower ranged from 120 in the 194 cubic-inch engine to 250 hp in the 327 cubic-inch engine. There was a standard three-speed manual gearbox with overdrive. Other options were the four-speed manual transmission and the 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission.

  • Interior and Exterior Styling

Customers could choose three interior colors for their car, which were red, aqua and beige. There were interior features like all-vinyl trim and rubber mats, but the El Camino Custom offered upgraded door panels, carpeted floors and a two-tone steering wheel. Other features included bucket seats, electric windows, air conditioning, a wooden steering wheel, and a tachometer.

Interior Styling of Chevy El Camino

The 1965 El Camino was redesigned with a new radiator grille, bumper and bonnet, a new taillight design, and 12 exterior colors. There were also more options like cruise control, AM-FM radio, compass and soundproofing. By 1966, the El Camino came with new vertical taillights and a redesigned instrument panel. Chevy also offered more interior colors.

The 1966 model also came with 15 exterior colors and had an emblem at the center of the grille. The final face-lift in this generation was on the 1967 El Camino. This came with Cheese Wedge taillights and a wood-look trim panel on the tailgate.

  • Sales and Reception

Chevy released 32,548, 34,724, 35,119, and 34,830 El Camino models in the 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967 model years, respectively. It was dubbed the “gentleman’s pickup” and was well received by customers. This is clear in its sales figures, as it also surpassed the sales of Ranchero. It was not discontinued, but Chevrolet simply moved to the next generation.

Third Generation

The third generation lasted from 1968 to 1972, with a wide range of features. The 1968-1972 El Camino came with a longer body, as it was based on the Chevelle station wagon and four-door sedan. This gave it a wheelbase of 116 inches while the overall length was 208 inches. It also came with the exterior and interior trims from Chevelle Malibu.

Chevrolet also released the High-Performance Super Sport SS396 version as a separate model, called the El Camino SS. This was a sporty car which followed the current trend of muscle cars. The truck grew by 10 inches, and there was a new bodywork. Chevrolet also added interior and exterior equipment from the Malibu.

  • Engine and Performance

The third-gen El Camino was available with five engines. These included the 230 cubic-inch 3.8-liter six-cylinder engine with 140 horses, 250 cubic-inch 4.1-liter six-cylinder with 155 horsepower, 307 cubic-inch 5.0-liter V8 with 200 horses, 327 cubic-inch 5.4-liter eight-cylinder with 250 to 275 horsepower, and finally, 396 cubic-inch 6.5-liter eight-cylinder engine.

The latter offered 325/350 horsepower with the L34 and a whopping 375 hp on L78. The standard option was a three-speed manual transmission. Other options include 4-speed manual transmission, 2-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, and 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic transmission.

  • Interior and Exterior Styling

The 1968 El Camino was lighter than previous generations and came with dual headlights and side marker lights. There was fabric and vinyl or full vinyl for the seats. Options included the vinyl Strato bucket seats, center console, air conditioning, clock, headrests, cruise control, power steering, vinyl roof and height-adjustable steering wheel.

By 1969, El Camino came with minor external changes like a new grille ad front bumper, reversing lights on the tailgates and higher side marker lights. The 1970 El Camino had a major facelift with a redesigned interior. It came with twin headlights and a plastic surround outside the grille, round flashing lights and rectangular reversing lights in the bumper and tailgate.

There was another revised design in 1971, mainly in the front. There was a new radiator grille in a V-shape, twin headlights but less performance due to the emissions standards. The GMC Sprint was also released at this time. The 1972 model was the final release in the third generation and came with minor changes like a revised front grille.

  • Sales and Reception

The El Camino was well-received, with a production of 41,791, 48,385, 47,707, 41,606, and 57,147 units in 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, and 1972, respectively. It became an instant hit, and this generation had the highest El Camino sales of all time.

Fourth Generation

The fourth gen El Camino was launched in 1973 and lasted until 1977. The El Camino offered a new and lighter construction, so it weighed less than its predecessors. It was also the largest model in the El Camino series. It also offered more options and equipment packages.
There were two new trim packages from El Camino, which are Conquista and Estate. This offered a striking look, with a two-tone paintwork and wood finish, respectively. It also came with the SS option, which was similar to the Chevelle Malibu.

  • Engine and Performance

The 1973-1977 El Camino came with different engine options under the hood. There was the 250 cubic-inch 4.1-liter I6, 307 cubic-inch 5.0-liter V8, 350 cubic-inch 5.7-liter V8, 400 cubic-inch 6.6-liter V8 and 454 cubic-inch 7.4-liter V8. For the EL Camino SS, you could choose between the Big Block 350 or 434 cubic-inch V8.

The standard transmission was a three-speed manual, but the options included 4-speed manual transmission and Turbo Hydramatic 3-speed automatic transmission.

  • Interior and Exterior Styling

The El Camino came with a new design in this generation, with energy-absorbing hydraulic front bumpers, improved coil springs and standard disc brakes. There were reinforced door impact beams and an acoustical double-panel roof. By 1974, there were some updates like the El Camino Classic version, which offered wood grains, carpets and top-of-the-line equipment.

By 1975, it was redesigned with a modified grille and a revised chassis, which gave smoother and quieter handling. The car came with radial tires and sports mirrors. The 1976 model came with new rectangular dual stack headlights on the Classic model. Then by 1977, there were hardly any changes except with the engine.

  • Sales and Reception

The Chevy El Camino was very popular when it was released, as it topped the sales of the previous generation. The production numbers were 64,987, 51,223, 33,620, 44,890, and 54,321 in the 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976 and 1977 model years, respectively. The 1973 model year sales were never topped again.

Fifth Generation

The final generation of the Chevrolet El Camino lasted from 1978 to 1987. This generation came with a smaller, angular and sleeker design, but there were also modern and updated features.

The unique part was that this generation was given its chassis for the first time and did not have to share it with any other Chevy model. The El Camino released the Black Knight, Royal Knight and Conquista, which were special trim packages released in this generation.

  • Engine and Performance

The El Camino offered different engine options in this generation. These include the 3.3-liter 200 cubic-inch V6, 3.8-liter 229 cubic-inch V6, 3.8-liter 231 cubic-inch V6, 4.3-liter 262 cubic-inch V6, 4.3-liter 262 cubic-inch V6, 4.4-liter 267 cubic-inch V8, 5.0-liter 305 cubic-inch V8, and the 5.7-liter 350 cubic-inch V8.

As for the transmission, there were 3-speed manual transmission, 4-speed manual transmission, 3-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic, and 4-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission.

  • Interior and Exterior Styling

In 1978, the El Camino came with sharp-edged styling and a unique 117-inch wheelbase, saving up to 286 pounds. Then by 1979, the El Camino changed slightly by adding a new radiator grille. By 1980, it got another new radiator grille and headlight covers. The 1981 El Camino model also revised the radiator grille and a new dashboard.

The 1982 model got new headlights on both sides, a hatched grille and a wide pair of turn signals, and the instrument panel and seats were revised. The 1983 El Camino did not have a lot of changes except the aerodynamic front end.

By the final model year, Chevrolet combined the look of a sports coupe with the function of a sports coupe. The demand fell, and it was discontinued. Leftover units were sold as the 1988 model.

  • Sales and Reception

In the final generation, El Camino reported sales as high as 58,008 in the 1979 model, while the last year, 1987, recorded only 13,743 total units.

How Does the History of the Ford Falcon Compare to the Chevy El Camino?

The ford falcon generations and history are a captivating tale of innovation and success. Introduced in the 1960s, the Ford Falcon became an instant hit, offering reliability and affordability. On the other hand, the Chevy El Camino, released around the same period, blended the characteristics of a car and a truck. While both vehicles have their loyal fan base, the Ford Falcon’s extensive production run and its impact on the automotive industry set it apart from the Chevy El Camino.

Conclusion

With this complete guide on the Chevy El Camino, you know all there is to know about the iconic car-like pickup truck.

Here’s a summary of what we covered in this guide:

  • The Chevrolet El Camino is a coupe utility vehicle that looks like a car but with a pickup design.
  • The vehicle was initially meant to compete with the Ford Ranchero, but it later surpassed it in terms of sales.
  • The car ran for five generations from 1959 to 1987.

If you’re curious about the El Camino, you can get these vehicles in the classic car market. These classic cars are not as rare as you would expect, and if they are well-maintained, you can still enjoy them on the road.

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