I found this ’73 El Camino a couple of weeks ago, and threw the pictures in my files. I didn’t have anything pithy to say about it, but I figured over time I’d gain some insight and an article would follow.
After several weeks, I still don’t have much to say about this El Camino, but I had noticed something rather interesting about El Caminos in general. Despite being out of production since 1987, these trucks are EVERYWHERE here in Los Angeles. How common are they? As common as roosters in Kauai.
Don’t believe me? Then this post should provide all the photographic evidence required to convince you.
For our international readers, the El Camino was a car based pickup built by Chevrolet from 1964 to 1987. It typically shared front body panels and doors with the intermediate sedans, and the rear bumper and tailgate with the intermediate wagon, but used unique door glass, as well as a dedicated roof and rear quarter panels.
Chevrolet also built an El Camino in 1959 and ’60, but based it on the full sized sedan. These models are far less common on the streets of LA, and if I ever find one of these X-frame equipped “batwings,” I’ll immediately write up a traditional CC article.
I’m not sure why these trucks are so common here. As you can see from this picture, I’ve found examples from all model years. My photo collection potentially spans from ’64 to ’87 (I can’t nail down the model year for every picture- Late model El Caminos lack year by year trim changes) .
I might be able to put together a similar collection of Mustang pictures, but that’s about it. No other car comes close to being this common. Ford has built over 5 million Mustangs, so it’s not surprising they are everywhere, but Chevy only built about a million El Caminos (including the ’59 and ’60 models), so why are they so ubiquitous?
An obvious reason is utility. Two guys were using this Camino for a building maintenance job a block from my office (note the ladder in the background). I’m not sure if this Chevy was hauling construction debris or hauling tools to the worksite, but the owners were definitely taking advantage of it’s truckish features.
Another option is a stylish ride. I found this black beauty parked outside the Spire’s restaurant on Hawthorne Boulevard. Clearly, this owner rarely used his truck to haul bricks down gravel roads.
Finally, these El Caminos could belong to dog lovers. This owner (who was nice enough to pose his truck for me at the Del Amo Mall) carried a large Husky in the back.
Actually, I don’t think there’s a single reason that explains my frequent sightings. The selling points of the El Camino included utility and flexibility, and it seems clear these factors have helped keep them on the road. To help make this case, my photo collection include plenty of trucks with a patina that reflects a life of hard work, rather than a life of leisure.
I’m sure the Chevy drivetrain under the hood also helps keep these trucks on the road. Although the demands of emissions and fuel economy led to some underpowered engine options over the years, all these trucks can take advantage of Chevy small block power, and there are several million spare blocks inhabiting the local junkyards.
A driveline any idiot can fix also allows these El Caminos to keep on truckin’. Although this example may currently be “waiting for restoration,” I’ve no doubt someone will come along with enough mechanical skill to put it back on the road. Some trim parts may be difficult to locate, but engine, driveline, and brake parts are not only common, but also cheap.
Yep, given some elbow grease and a large pile of money, it’s just a matter of time before that beat up old SS model looks like this (I told you these things are everywhere).
Take some time to check out the backgrounds of these photos- In many cases, these rigs are sitting in a parking lot, rather than someone’s driveway. The folks who own these don’t keep them around for the next weekend car show, they drive them. This well used example is parked in a Silver Spur parking lot pretty much every day, providing the owner’s daily transportation.
Really, besides that SS model in the carport and this mid seventies model with the plastic window covering, all the cars I’ve posted here appear to be fully functional and in daily use.
In some cases, in daily use and in great shape (This is three blocks from my office- These things are down right commonplace).
In 1964, if I had to pick out one car or truck to use for the rest of my life, I doubt I would have gone with the El Camino. But looking at this example, it now seems an attractive choice.
I should also note that these pictures don’t represent a lengthy collection period. Once I decided to document our local El Caminos, I captured all the pictures in about two weeks. For example, I found this car sitting in a convienence store parking lot. In fact, I took five of these pictures Saturday, while teaching my daughter how to drive.
I do find it interesting that I found so many 1964 to ’67 models rolling around town. It’s the oldest generation and had the lowest production numbers among these trucks, but provided me with more picture opportunies than every generation except the final one. I think there’s a couple of reasons for that…
The 68-72 models were sold during the height of the muscle car era, making them a bit different than the other generations. I’ll bet there are plenty of these El Caminos tucked away in Los Angeles garages, all wrapped in bright and shiny paint with Holley and Edlebrock parts mounted underhood.
Conversly, these 73-77 models are the opposite of the muscle cars. They have too little power and too much metal. While all the intermediate El Caminos have similar bed dimensions, this body of this generation was 15 inches longer than the rest, and it carried an additional 600 pounds. Compared to other generations, this truck was a whale.
Fortunately, the final generation returned the El Camino to it’s roots-
201″ Overall length, 117″ wheelbase, 3,300 pound curb weight, and 5 liter V-8 power.
Based on the popularity of these cars on the streets of LA, I’d say these were the perfect dimensions for the El Camino. It matches the dimensions of the ’63-’67 cars (which helps to explain their popularity), and it worked so well in ’78 that Chevrolet built this final generation for 11 years.
Of course, nowadays, buyers will have to settle for recycling existing El Caminos. Good news- For those of us in Los Angeles, there’s still plenty of opportunities to acquire one. They are everywhere!
In closing, I don’t see the El Camino ever returning to production. Even though the basic formula is well defined, many new vehicle options have appeared on the market in the 25 years since Chevy dropped their car based truck.
Compact pickups, minivans, SUVs and CUVs all offer a comfortable interior, quality ride and similar load capacity to the El Camino, so there’s little incentive to further explore this unusual automotive niche.
So enjoy these 20 images, and the next time you visit Los Angeles, see if you can spot your own set of our most common Curbside Classic.