You know this CC, don’t you? Just a common El-Camino, nothing too special. But reading William Stopford’s recent outtake on the Aussie El-Camino, I was reminded of this post I wanted to do for a long time concerning the El-Caminos that were sold in Israel back in their day, and featured an extended cab unlike anywhere else in the world (to the best of my knowledge). This was a case of Israeli ingenuity which originated from expensive cars- and tight pockets…
Cars in Israel had always cost dearly. Right at the beginning of the country in 1949, the government considered those who had cars to be, well, rich. Cars back then were viewed as luxury and not necessity. So they were taxed at about 90% Purchase Tax (!). This has shifted throughout the years, depending on engine size, vehicle size and other criteria but remained mostly the same. You therefore understand any tax exemptions Joe-public could mount on his vehicle were gladly received- and actively sought after, as you’ll see.
From the mid Seventies, extensive tax exemptions were beset upon pickup trucks. Owners of these vehicles (mostly self-employed people who owned small and medium-sized businesses) were eligible for tax credit on purchase and maintenance of these pickups, and thus pay less income tax.
The El-Camino, which was a very comfortable pickup (after all, it was based on a sedan), was well equipped (it was automatic, had power steering and air-conditioning) and had a relatively powerful engine, suddenly became very popular. It was much better than the other pickups on the market.
But it had a problem; the sitting arraignment was of course one (driver) + two (passengers). Obviously the El-Camino was not built to carry a family. So a modification was engineered: remove the rear window and partition (between the bed and cabin), cover the bed with a fiber canopy, install a rear bench and get a… station wagon complete with tax credits.
This, of course, hasn’t escaped the Tax authorities, which were not amused, as they say. So an ingenious solution had been devised: Once again the rear window and partition were removed and a fiber canopy added, but this time it was extended only enough to add a (narrow) rear bench to create a “double cabin” El-Camino. Using the original rear window to neatly finish off the conversion was also cleaver, as it just about looked like an option from the factory.
This was as best as you could get- drive in an American car AND screw the IRS over. What could be better?
As you can see, This started with the Chevelle-based El-Camino (Mk 4). Try as I might, I couldn’t find any photos of the early Station-Wagon setup. They’re probably all dead by now.
Specifically, this is of course a GMC Sprint, but you get the idea.
Note that they even installed quarter windows for the rear passengers.
When the next generation, Malibu-based El-Camino arrived, it was even more successful in Israel- as was the Malibu itself. Many Pickups “escaped” the conversion, because with or without it, the tax exempt still applied:
This one and the El-Camino above it are largely unmolested examples, original late Seventies’ cars.
And here’s a converted El-Camino, freshly painted, of course. Note this one has no quarter windows.
But this one does, and boasts vinyl! Shoddy workmanship aside, you could almost convince yourself that it’s a factory option. This is from Google and the only photo that’s not mine, but I wanted you to see one example of a conversion from the back.
Here’s another restored car, from a profile view that shows the “double cabin effect” best.
Same car, different time (and updated graphics by the owner).
All this lasted until the mid-Eighties, when the Tax authorities canceled the tax exemption on the El-Camino and the likes. The local dealer decided to cease from importing it, and so this “era” came to an end. Tax credits were still applied to other commercial vehicles, but this time very small pickups and vans, mostly European (such as VW Caddy or Fiat Fiorino) and no conversions or modifications were allowed.
Nowadays, the El-Camino is highly regarded among the Israeli classic car collectors. From the workhorse that it was in the Seventies and Eighties, it’s now considered to be a basis for improvements, if not full-on customization. Cars that are most sought after are ones without the aforementioned conversion, because in all honesty, original “single cabin” El-Caminos look- and are built- much better than converted ones. Also, once it’s a classic car (and with no tax exemptions), you have no need for back seats.
I’ll leave you with three more examples of typically preserved/ restored cars. Unconverted, of course: