When is a truck not a truck? When is a car not a car? These are not Zen koans. They are good questions that come to mind when you think about the Chevy El Camino.
The Chevrolet El Camino was kind of a car, and kind of a truck. It had a pickup truck bed, but the body of a car. The class of vehicle is technically called the coupé utility .
Chevrolet was doing the monkey-see, monkey-do thing with the El Camino. Ford came out with the Ranchero for the 1957 model year. They took the body of a two-door station wagon and added a pickup truck bed in the back.
You may think that this is a rather sketchy idea, but, in fact, the buying public was quite interested. The Ranchero was successful from a sales perspective, so General Motors wanted a piece of the action.
The El Camino was introduced for the 1959 model year. As the story goes, General Motors auto designer extraordinaire Harley Earle hatched the idea during the early 1950s. The Chevy El Camino was also built around a two-door station wagon.
It was low-slung and sleek with sharp lines, and it was actually a rather eye-catching vehicle from an aesthetic standpoint. Three different engines were offered in the El Camino. The basic low-end engine was a 235-cubic-inch I6.
If you wanted improved performance you could get the El Camino with a 283-cubic-inch V8 with either a two-barrel or a four-barrel carburetor. The most powerful engine option was a 348-cubic-inch V8. The most potent combination of options delivered a robust 315 horsepower, and it could go from zero to sixty in approximately seven seconds, according to Hot Rod magazine.
During the initial model year of 1959, the El Camino enjoyed good success. The vehicle actually did better than the Ford Ranchero with sales of around 22,000 units. This would lead to the belief that the vehicle was on firm footing, but things went south in 1960.
Sales plummeted to just 14,163 units, and General Motors decided to pull the plug on the Chevrolet El Camino. The car did return four years later as a hybrid Chevrolet Chevelle, and it remained in production through the 1987 model year. We will look at the later incarnations of the El Camino in a future post.