The Chevrolet El Camino, (El Camino is Spanish for "The Road"). A car built by Chevrolet in the United States, was produced in response to the success of the rival Ford Ranchero. In its years the El Camino was sold under three main models, The Super Sport, The Conquista, and the regular El Camino.
In Mexico, it was sometimes badged and sold as the Chevrolet Conquistador.
First generation (1959-1960) El Camino
The first El Camino was produced for the 1959 model year (two years after the Ranchero) and was based on that year's Chevrolet Impala. The car's development was rushed, and it was not as successful as the Ford, with 22,246 built the first year. The 1960 model tracked the changes on the Impala, with an extensive restyling. Sales were down at 14,163 and Chevrolet decided to discontinue the model. In total, 36,409 first generation El Caminos were produced.
Second generation (1964-1967) El Camino
Four years later, with the Ranchero still selling well, Chevrolet reincarnated the El Camino, based on the then-new Chevrolet Chevelle. That 1964 model was basically identical to the Chevelle forward of the B-pillars, but Chevrolet considered the vehicle a practical, utility model and the Chevelle's most powerful engines were not available.
1965 saw the availability of performance versions of the 327 engine with some 350 hp. 1966 brought added a 396 in³ engine to the lineup rated from 325 to 375 hp. The 1965 327 would run low 15s in the 1/4 mile (at some 90 mph), while 1966 to 1969 models were easily into the mid- to upper-14s. The El Camino followed the Chevelle's styling update for 1967, with a new grille, front bumper, and trim. Air shocks were introduced, allowing the driver to compensate for a load.
Third generation (1968-1972) El Camino
1968 introduced a longer El Camino, based on the station wagon/4-door sedan wheelbase. A new, high performance Super Sport SS396 version was launched, alongside the Chevelle version. 1969 models were very similar, but 1970 saw the availability of a new SS396 which actually displaced 402 in (although all emblems read 396). Chevrolet's largest and most-powerful engine of the time was also put into a select few El Caminos. The LS6 454 in³ engine, rated at 450 hp and 500 ft·lbf of torque, gave the El Camino 1/4 mile times in the upper 13 second range at almost 105 mph.
The 1971 model saw reduced power and performance, along with the rest of Chevrolet's line, as lower-octane unleaded fuel was mandated, and emissions controls began to be felt. Single headlights replaced double for 1971, and the grille came now to a point. Little changed but still lower power outputs for 1972.
In the picture above, this model is driven by Scott Hill of Fu Manchu. A rebadged El Camino called the GMC Sprint debuted in 1971.
Fourth generation (1973-1977) El Camino
For 1973, the El Camino was restyled again, matching changes to the Chevelle. It was the largest generation of El Camino, but thanks to lighter construction, it weighed less than the previous generation. A front-end restyle with quad stacked headlights was done in 1976, but otherwise it was the same truck until 1978.
Fifth generation (1978-1987) El Camino
A new, smaller El Camino was unveiled in 1978, with more sharp-edged styling. With a single headlight design, until a later revision in 1982 that had a four headlight design on the same body style as previous years from 1978 to 1981. Since the Chevelle was no longer produced, the El Camino instead shared components with the Chevrolet Malibu and Chevrolet Monte Carlo. V6 engines (based on the Buick or Chevrolet 90-degree V6) were available for the first time, and from 1982 through 1984, Oldsmobile-sourced diesel engines.
After 1984, GM shifted El Camino production to Mexico for three more years. Production ceased after the 1987 model year, as sales of the Chevrolet S-10 true pickup truck were outselling its passenger car counterpart.
1984 to 1987 El Caminos (and its twin, the GMC Caballero) were produced in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. Around 200 unsold 1987 El Caminos were sold as 1988 models.
The El Camino today
Many El Caminos are still used as daily drivers, and some are used in various racing venues. The 1980s version is the most popular of any of that generation of body styles, though the late 60s command the highest prices and inspire the most replicas from Hot Wheels, Matchbox and Johnny Lightning which have produced few Ford Rancheros. The Discovery Channel program Monster Garage once turned an El Camino into a Figure-8 racer (dubbed the "Hell-Camino"). The drift team Bubba Drift uses a 1986 El Camino as the only drifting truck. It is one of the few drift trucks that uses an automatic transmission instead of a manual transmission.
On a production note, it has been constantly rumored for years now that GM may bring back the El Camino. GM already has a vehicle ready in Australia in the form of the Holden Ute, save for some minor changes necessary to make it available in the U.S. This may have been backtracked within the past couple of years, however, as the Subaru Baja, the only "pickup car" recently available in the US, didn't sell well at all and was dropped after the 2006 model year. In addition, the Pontiac GTO (which Holden built and exported for Pontiac and was loosely related to the Holden Ute) didn't sell well either and was only programmed for three years ending in 2006 due to Holden upgrading the platform it was based on. A Chevrolet model, known as the Lumina Ute, is sold in South Africa.
Appearances in pop culture
- The titular character of "My Name Is Earl" owns a fourth generation El Camino, although it has suffered damage and now has several replacement parts.
- In the animated King of the Hill, Khan trades in his Maxima for a 1980s El Camino as he transforms into a redneck, and he parks it visible in the parking lot to help generate sympathy for his daughter who is applying for college.
- On the television series Prison Break, "Scan" portrayed fugitive Fernando Sucre hotwiring an El Camino pickup in Defiance, Ohio.
- In the sitcom That 70's Show the character Steven Hyde owns a second generation El Camino.
- The El Camino is ostensibly the subject of the songs "El Camino," by Ween and "El Caminos in the West" by Grandaddy.