Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Australian hybrid. History of the Chevrolet El Camino
The idea for the El Camino isn’t exactly American, though. Long before this concept had legs in the U.S., Australia had fully embraced the car/truck concept. Known down-under as the “Ute,” these hybrid Fords and Chevrolets were rolling through the Outback as far back as the 1930s. Even today, long after the El Camino’s exit from the American market, Utes are still a popular mode of transportation in Australia.
Based on a full-sized Chevrolet wagon platform, the first generation El Camino only lasted two years. They were pretty cars—maybe too pretty for truck work. Interiors were relatively sparse, but they were fairly glittery on the outside, decked out with the up-level Bel Air-style trim.
In fact, the El Camino wouldn’t return again until 1964. This time, it was based on the intermediate Chevelle platform, and like the Ranchero, this downsizing proved to be popular. The El Camino followed all of the styling changes and improvements enjoyed by the Chevelle. You could buy a bare-bones version, complete with an inline six, to a high-horsepower SS. By 1966, you could even get a 396-c.i. big block in your El Camino. Suddenly, the El Camino didn’t just haul … it hauled!
The late 1960s was the heart of the muscle car era, and the El Camino was not immune. By 1970, you could order an El Camino SS with a 454-c.i., 450-hp LS6 big block. This wasn’t just a utility vehicle to help you out around the ranch anymore. An El Camino equipped like this was one bad mamma-jamma.
Of course, horsepower was choked to death by the end of the decade. They were prone to rust. They had all the quality control issues that people hated about cars from that era. All cars were a bit of a tradeoff back then, but the El Camino was more popular than ever.
In the meantime, we can enjoy the El Camino for what it was. The slideshow below contains more than 140 pictures of El Caminos that I took at various car shows and events over the last couple of years. They are obviously still adored by enthusiasts, and are a nice change of pace from all the ’57 Chevys, Mustangs, and Corvettes that you usually see at the local car cruise. There’s even a ’52 Chevy Australian Ute and a custom-made ’58 El Camino-type thing. Check ‘em out.