Chevrolet El Camino History

Produced by General Motors, the Chevy El Camino is a two-door coupe vehicle with a cargo bed behind the passenger cabin. The original purpose of the launch of the El Camino in 1959 was to compete with Ford's Ranchero, a popular vehicle during the late 50's.

Initial Launch and Discontinuation

The first El Camino--launched in 1959--came out a couple of years after the Ford Ranchero; both were based on a station wagon design. El Camino sales were initially very stagnant, selling far less than Ford's Ranchero, Only 22,246 were manufactured in the El Camino's first year of production. The more conservative 1960 model of the car sold just 14,163 vehicles, which led to Chevrolet discontinuing El Camino production.


El Camino was reintroduced in 1964; this time it was modified to be similar to the Chevrolet Chevelle, sharing many of its design characteristics. In 1965, modifications to the car's exterior were made, and it got a front end that was similar to other larger Chevrolets. New versions of the trim and grill, along with a modified bumper, were added to the El Camino's exterior in 1967. Air shocks continued to be a standard feature of the car, providing for sufficient load compensation. Disc brakes were also included in the car design the same year. 


The first El Camino was produced for the 1959 model year two years after the Ford Ranchero. Chevrolet stylists had considered a new coupe pickup well before the Ranchero appeared; according to stylist Chuck Jordan, Harley Earl himself had suggested such a thing back in 1952. As was often becoming the case, though, it took Ford's example to convince Chevrolet to move, and Chevy's response to the Ranchero did not appear until 1959, just as Ford was preparing to shift gears. Like the Ranchero, it was based on an existing and modified platform, namely the new-for-1959 Brookwood two-door station wagon and corresponding sedan delivery variant; unlike those models, the El Camino was available with any trim level and drivetrain option corresponding to the car line, including that of the Chevrolet Impala.

This was the year of the completely redesigned, longer, lower and wider full-sized Chevrolet. It sold in fewer numbers than the more conservatively styled Fords, so too did the El Camino in comparison to the Ranchero, with 22,246 built the first year.

The similar but less flamboyant 1960 model sold even less at 14,163 units, at which point Chevrolet discontinued the model.
Second generation 1964 Chevrolet El Camino 1964 Chevrolet El Camino
Production     1963–1967
Model year(s)     1964–1967
Assembly     Atlanta, United States
Baltimore, United States
Fremont, United States
Framingham, United States
Kansas City, United States
Oshawa-Ontario, Canada
Platform     A-body
Engine(s)     327 cu in (5.4 L) V8
396 cu in (6.5 L) V8
Transmission(s)     2-speed automatic
3-speed automatic
3-speed manual
4-speed manual
Related     Chevrolet Chevelle

Second generation (1964-1967)

Four years later, Chevrolet re-introduced the El Camino, based on the Chevrolet Chevelle. The 1964 model was identical to the Chevelle forward of the B-pillars, but Chevrolet marketed the El Camino as a utility model and Chevelle's most powerful engines were not available. Initial engine offerings included six-cylinder engines of 194 and 230 cubic inches with horsepower ratings of 120 and 155, respectively. The standard V8 was a 283 cubic-inch Chevy small block with two-barrel carburetor and 195 horsepower (145 kW) with optional engines including a 220-horsepower 283 with four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts. Added to the El Camino's option list during the course of the 1964 model year were two versions of the 327 cubic-inch small block V8 rated at 250 and 300 horsepower (220 kW) - the latter featuring a higher compression ratio of 10.5 to 1, larger four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts.[1]

The 1965 El Camino received an attractive facelift with a veed front end similar to the redesigned full-size Chevrolets. 1965 saw the availability of a higher performance version of the 327 engine rated at 350 hp (261 kW) that was also available in Chevelles under option code L-79. Most of the other engines were carried over from 1964 including the 194 and 230 cubic-inch Turbo Thrift sixes, the 195-horsepower 283 cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V8 and 327 cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V8s of 250 and 300 horsepower (220 kW).[2]
1966 Chevrolet El Camino

1966 brought added a 396 cu in (6.5 L) V8 engine to the lineup rated from 325 to 375 hp (280 kW). 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. New sheetmetal highlighted the 1966 El Camino, identical to the Chevelle forward of the B-pillars. A new instrument panel with horizontal sweep speedometer was featured. Inside, the standard version featured a bench seat interior and rubber floor mat from the lower-line Chevelle 300 series while the Custom used a more upscale interior from the Chevelle Malibu with plusher cloth-and-vinyl or all-vinyl bench seats and deep twist carpeting, or optional Strato-bucket seats with console.

The El Camino followed the Chevelle's styling facelift for 1967 with a new grille, front bumper, and trim. Air shocks remained standard equipment on the El Camino, allowing the driver to compensate for a load. The year 1967 also brought the collapsable steering column and options of disc brakes and Turbo Hydramatic 400 3 speed automatic transmission. It was the second year the 396 could be had in the El Camino (both 13480 300 Deluxe base and 13680 Malibu series). Since the L35 396/325 hp engine was the base for the SS396 series, the number of L35 engines reported sold by Chevrolet in 1967 (2,565) were sold in one of the two El Camino series since these were the only series the engine could be ordered in. Since the L34 (now 350 hp) & L78 (375 hp) were available in either El Camino series as well as the two SS396 body styles, there is no way of knowing how many of these optional engines went to which body style. Chevrolet does report 17,176 L34 and 612 L78 engine options were sold in 1967 Chevelles but there is no breakdown of body styles. The TH400 3-speed automatic was now available as an option (RPO M40) with the 396 engine in both the SS396 series and the 396-equipped El Caminos. The manual 3-speed transmission remained the standard transmission with a heavy duty (RPO M13) also available along with the 2-speed Powerglide and either M20 wide ratio or M21 close ratio 4-speed transmissions.

Third generation 1967–1972

Model year(s)     1968–1972
Assembly     Arlington, United States
Atlanta, United States
Baltimore, United States
Flint, United States
Fremont, United States
Kansas City, United States
Van Nuys, United States
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Platform     A-body
Engine(s)     307 cu in (5 L) V8
350 cu in (5.7 L) V8
396 cu in (6.5 L) V8
454 cu in (7.4 L) V8

 Third generation (1968-1972)

The El Caminos of this period shared exterior and interior trims with the Chevelle Malibu including cloth and vinyl or all-vinyl bench seats and deep twist carpeting. All-vinyl Strato bucket seats and center console were optional.

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 marked the first time that the legendary Chevrolet 350 V-8 was used in an El Camino.

1970 saw the availability of a new SS396 which actually displaced 402 cu in (6.6 L) (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 (336 kW) and 500 lb·ft (680 N·m) of torque, gave the El Camino 1/4 mile times in the upper 13 second range at almost 105 mph (169 km/h).

For 1971, mandated lower-octane unleaded fuel necessitated a reduction in engine compression, and GM's A.I.R. system, a "smog pump", was added to control tailpipe emissions. Power and performance suffered. Single headlights replaced the dual light for 1971, and the grille was veed.

Engine offerings for 1971 included the 250-6, small block V8s of 307 and 350 cubic inches; and big block V8s of 402 and 454 cubic-inch displacements. Horsepower ratings of those engines for 1971 ranged from 145 for the six to 365 for the 454 - all in gross figures.

A rebadged El Camino, the GMC Sprint debuted in 1971. It shared the same engine/transmission offerings as its Chevrolet counterpart.

For 1972 little changed but still lower power outputs. Engine offerings for 1972 included the 250-6, small block V8s of 307 and 350 cubic inches; and big block V8s of 402 and 454 cubic-inch displacements. For 1972, horsepower measurements were switched to the "net" figures as installed in a vehicle with all accessories and emission controls hooked up - this change brought the horsepower ratings for 1972 down to a range from 110 horsepower (82 kW) for the six to 270 for the 454 V8.

Fourth generation

Production     1972–1977
Model year(s)     1973–1977
Assembly     Baltimore, United States
Doraville, United States
Leeds, Missouri, United States
Arlington, United States
Fremont, United States
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Platform     A-body
Engine(s)     250 cu in (4.1 L) I6
305 cu in (5.0 L) V8
350 cu in (5.7 L) V8
400 cu in (6.6 L) V8
454 cu in (7.4 L) V8
Transmission(s)     3-speed automatic

Fourth generation (1973-1977)

For 1973, the El Camino was redesigned, and matched the Chevelle line. It was the largest El Camino generation, but thanks to lighter construction, it weighed less than the previous generation. Other than annual grill revisions and quad stacked, rectangular headlights in 1976, it was relatively unchanged through 1977. There were two different trim levels of El Caminos during this period. The base model shared interior and exterior appointments with the Chevelle Malibu while the El Camino Classic (introduced for 1974) shared its trim with the more upscale Chevelle Malibu Classic including notchback bench seat with folding armrest in either cloth or vinyl trim, upgraded door panels and woodgrained instrument panel trim. Offered as an option were the swiveling Strato bucket seats also available in Chevelle Malibus and Lagunas, along with a center console.
1973 Chevrolet El Camino SS

The El Camino was one of the few Chevrolet models to retain an "SS" or Super Sport version through this period as the Chevelle SS was dropped after 1973 and the Nova SS after 1976. The "SS" versions of the Impala, Monte Carlo and Camaro had already been dropped prior to that time, but the El Camino "SS" was an option package rather than a distinct model.

Engine offerings during this period included a 250 cubic-inch inline six and a variety of V8s including the 305, 350 and 400 cubic-inch versions of the Chevy small-block V8, and the 454 Turbo-Jet big block V8 which was discontinued after 1975. Catalytic converters were added to all engines beginning with the 1975 model.

In 1974, Chevrolet's sister division, Pontiac, reportedly took an El Camino body and grafted the urethane-nose front end from its Grand Am series and added the GA's instrument panel and Strato bucket seats with recliners and adjustable lumbar support along with Pontiac's Rally II wheels as a styling exercise for a possible Pontiac version of the El Camino, however the concept never reached production.

Production     1977–1987
Model year(s)     1978–1987
Assembly     Baltimore, United States
Doraville, United States
Leeds, Missouri, United States
Arlington, United States
Fremont, United States
Oshawa, Ontario, Canada
Ramos Arizpe, Mexico
Platform     A-body (1978-1981)
G-body (1982-1987)
Engine(s)     5.7 L (350 cu in) Small-Block V8
5 L (305 cu in) Small-Block V8
4.4 L (267 cu in) V8
4.3 L (262 cu in) Chevrolet V6
3.8 L (231 cu in) Buick V6
3.8 L (229 cu in) Chevrolet V6
Wheelbase     108 in (2743 mm)
Related     GMC Caballero, Chevrolet Malibu

Fifth generation (1978-1987)

A new trimmer El Camino was unveiled in 1978, with more sharp-edged styling and a one-inch longer 117-inch (3,000 mm) wheelbase. The front end featured a new single rectangular headlight design. The 1982 models featured a front end revision with a four headlight design that continued through 1987.

1978 through 1987 El Caminos were produced in four models: El Camino, Royal Knight, Conquista and Super Sport, and shared chassis components with the Chevrolet Malibu. Chevrolet 90-degree V6 and Buick V6 engines were used for the first time. The optional 305 cubic-inch small block V8 was rated at 150 or 165 horsepower (123 kW), and from 1982–1984, the Oldsmobile-sourced diesel engine was also optional.

The 1984-87 El Camino SS was offered in Choo-Choo special edition and shared the aerodynamic front end with the concurrent Monte Carlo SS, and received the L69 engine package, which included the 190 hp 305 V8. For 1985, GM shifted El Camino production to Mexico, and the new 4.3 L was standard through 1987. Production ceased after the 1987 model year, as sales of the Chevrolet S-10 conventional pickup truck were outselling its coupe utility counterpart. 425 unsold 1987 El Caminos were sold as 1988 models.
El Camino today

The Pontiac G8 ST was shown at the New York International Auto Show in March 2008. Based on the Holden Ute, it was built on the same G8 platform with a 73-inch (1,900 mm) cargo bed. The Sport Truck had the same 361 hp (269 kW), 6.0-liter V8 used in the G8 GT, as well as the 3.6-liter, 300 hp (220 kW) direct-injection V6.[3] The G8 ST, slated for release as a 2010 model, was to be GM's first coupe utility in North America since the El Camino was discontinued in 1987. In January 2009, GM announced to Pontiac dealers that the G8 ST was cancelled due to budget cuts and restructuring.

Please support our advertisers supporting them helps to support our 1981 El Camino Project