For today’s CC, let’s look at something from the mysterious end of the spectrum. My last CC was on a white pickup that generated some distinctly articulated feelings and today’s is, well, a white pickup that could be equally controversial but in a different way. We do know it’s a 1974 El Camino. Might it prompt all type of reaction also? We shall see as any controversy will erupt once we delve into the circumstances of the mystery and uncertainty that envelopes it, much like that coat of white paint.
So let’s dive into the weeds to see what we can find out. Like all mysteries, this requires some unraveling because there is no proof of there being any actual, bonafide Spirit of America El Camino.
What We Know:
Chevrolet began celebrating the American Bicentennial of 1976 a couple of years early, but there’s nothing wrong with that. Their initial volley of commemoration was the 1974 Spirit of America trim optionally available on Impala, Nova, and Vega coupes.
As outlined in a brochure for the Vega Spirit of America, it came with white exterior paint, red and blue stripes, and a tape badge on the front fender denoting it as being a Spirit of America model. Inside, one would find white upholstery and other miscellaneous doodads.
More specificity is by the GM Heritage Center. The General’s information for the 1974 Impala provides an entire page specifying what is included with the Impala Spirit of America package. Here’s a screenshot showing what GM put into the package on Impalas.
It is also debatable whether this was transferred to the factories verbatim; note the availability of blue exterior paint.
With this being an internal document, likely a lesser number of people were concerned over use of the word “Spirt”.
The information continues.
Doing a similar search among GM Heritage Center information kits for the 1974 Vega yields no similar information. There is no information yet available from the Heritage Center for the 1974 Nova.
The brochures at oldcarbrochures.com contain a three page brochure on the Vega, two-thirds of which is shown between here and the picture above. Neither the 1974 Impala nor the 1974 Nova brochures have any reference to the Spirit of America models.
The eagle headed figurine in the lower right hand corner of this pamphlet is a copy of the decal found on the front fenders of the Nova and Vega Spirit of America models. Each was customized for the vehicle they were used on.
Apart from the name at the top, they are just like the one found on each of the front fenders of our subject El Camino.
This particular El Camino has a white vinyl seat. For the Classic trim found here, which mimicked the Malibu trim used on passenger cars, GM says the interior was colored either black or blue when equipped with the white vinyl seat; it’s dark blue on this example despite what looks to be black in this picture.
We also know by looking at the lineup of Spirit of America models, the Malibu / Chevelle is conspicuously absent. Granted, the Monte Carlo, Camaro, and Corvette are also, but it certainly appears Chevrolet had this series aimed at the bread-and-butter passenger cars.
Let us not forget the El Camino was considered to be a light truck and all El Camino information is found under light trucks on the GM Heritage Center website. Any advertising for a Spirit of America El Camino is nonexistent in numerous internet searches. Similar is the case for product information.
Although the article was about the Nova Spirit of America, we’ve touched upon the existence of the El Camino Spirit of America here. Various internet discussion boards provide no definitive conclusion about the El Camino Spirit of America being anything other than a creation that originated…somewhere.
The dealer tag on the tailgate reads Brown Chevrolet in Devine. A quick search reveals a Brown Chevrolet in Devine, Texas, and they have been in business since 1966.
So was the El Camino Spirit of America a factory offering or a dealer concoction?
What We Don’t Know:
One key thing we don’t know is at what point in the year the Spirit of America models were introduced. Given GM’s production of sales information on the Impala series prior to the start of the model year, it is obvious it was planned early on; might the Vega and Nova be later editions which could, in turn, reflect toward similar being the case for the El Camino? At whatever point the Nova and Vega were released it was still early enough to allow advertising with the Impala.
Another unknown item is the trim on the seat. While we know white vinyl came with either black or blue interior trim, with blue being the color here, there is no mention of contrast piping. There is blue piping on these seats. Without a doubt the seat could have been reupholstered sometime along the way, and that’s another item we don’t know.
Should this Spirit of America El Camino be a dealer creation, we do not know if this was a local, regional, or national endeavor. If it’s a manufacturer creation, we know nothing about option codes, cost, content, lead time, and time of introduction.
We also don’t know the size of glass barrier Chevrolet had between cars and light trucks in their advertising and brochures. From all indications it seems the chasm was fairly wide at that time.
The picture above is from another Spirit of America El Camino found in the comments of an article that appeared in these hollowed pages. The placement of the tape stripes and badges appears to be identical to our particular example. If the “Spirit of America” package was a dealer add-on for the El Camino, it appears there was some very specific guidance on interior and exterior options for the recipient vehicle. It would be inconsistent, not to mention weird, to have the Spirit of America package on a black or green (interior and/or exterior) El Camino, would it not?
It would also appear there was very specific guidance on color, length, design, and placement of the graphics. This gives the indication of there being a strong desire for uniformity regardless of where the vehicle was ultimately trimmed.
If one thinks about another, contemporary dealer option, how much uniformity is there amongst the vinyl and/or canvas roofs that are dealer additions? With the various Caliente, Executive, Admiral, El Presidente, and Le Barf Bag editions, there isn’t any consistency. Perhaps this isn’t the best example, but hopefully this illustrates my thoughts.
Earlier the blue piping on the seats was mentioned. It took some effort to find a white interior in a different 1974 El Camino, but there is one in this video. There is no contrasting piping.
Given its wear and butt indentations, along with the overall condition of the vehicle itself, it leads one to think these are likely the original seats, but that is speculation.
This El Camino has spent some time in Texas having been sold in Devine at one point. It is 25 miles southwest of San Antonio, where the sun works undesirable wonders on paint and graphics. It strongly appears to have been parked inside for a portion of its 44 years, giving the appearance of it being entirely original.
General Motors provided cars nearly every year during the 1970s for use at the Indianapolis 500. It was sometimes the case for replicas to be shipped to a dealer with the graphics uninstalled.
About This Particular El Camino:
I’ll admit I cheated just a bit on this one – it’s sitting at a dealer who has older cars in his inventory. It’s parked between a 1947 Chevrolet and a 1960 Oldsmobile Dynamic 88 which I wrote up a while back.
It’s advertised as being a project car and its 350 V8 is reported as being seized.
With this dealer being one that is close to the house, I’ll pop in there occasionally to see what he has. There had been a ’60 or ’61 Valiant there a few days earlier, which is why I had stopped. While the Valiant was gone, this El Camino was a terrific consolation prize.
My Conclusion (not to be confused with anything else):
The Spirit of America El Camino was a factory supported endeavor. There is simply too much uniformity in the graphics among El Camino examples and similarity to the Vega and Nova to not have been given some type or degree of factory support.
With the dearth of advertisements or factory information for these, one should not reflexively think this was a dealer option. General Motors has a history of various special editions that may or may not have received any type of promotion. A much later example of that would be the Chevrolet Corsica XT.
A lack of promotion for the Spirit of America El Camino could also be related to it being classified as a light truck, not a passenger car. This package arguably added bling to a pickup during a time when additional bling was not the norm. GM may have been going for a subtle approach given the clientele in their pickup showrooms generally had different outlooks and goals than those in the passenger car showroom. Having this sitting next to a stripped six-cylinder Cheyenne might not have sat well when Farmer Bob, Plumber Pete, or Contractor Charlie went pickup shopping.
While I’m saying it was factory supported, I’m not saying it was necessarily created at the factory either. My reference to the Indy 500 cars was a reference to how graphics could have been shipped with an El Camino that been built to meet prerequisites for color and options with the graphics then being installed by the dealer if the customer desired. As such it isn’t really a dealer option as much as it was dealer outfitted.
It would also seem that for the effort Chevrolet went to for the Impala, Nova, and Vega, it would be counterintuitive to have Spirit of America insignia on just any run of the mill El Camino. There is uniformity in appearance, and it’s highly doubtful this would have happened if delegated to the interpretation and creativity of umpteen local dealers spread over the continental U.S. One can’t help but think Chevrolet would want the same appearance for any El Camino Spirit of America had it been sold in Devine, Texas, or Bend, Oregon, or Corning, New York.
For that matter, would Chevrolet have wanted to run the risk of a Spirit of America El Camino sold in Devine, Texas, to possibly be parked at a Burger Chef or Howard Johnson’s next to another vastly different appearing Spirit of America El Camino sold twenty-five miles away in San Antonio? Not likely.
Thus my position on this being factory built or, at the very least, dealer outfitted. The Spirit of America El Camino was supported by Chevrolet. There is simply too much uniformity for it to be anything else.
That’s my take on this highly intriguing and refreshingly different 1974 Chevrolet El Camino. Frankly, while I’ve never been an El Camino fan, am not particularly fond of white vehicles, and of the opinion the Colonnade bodies are an acquired taste (particularly in white), something about this particular Elky captivates me immensely. Go figure.
So what is your hunch on the origins of this El Camino?