Car Show Classic- The 60th Anniversary of the El Camino Part 1

As an owner of several classic cars, I’ve attended many classic car shows, and discovered each one has its own unique vibe. Despite that, there are common threads to each, starting with the feeling as I make that early trip into the parking lot. The feel is always the same- a mix of excitement and confusion as I make my way through the registration process and figure out where to park. The lot looks pretty thin in this shot, but by mid morning it had filled to the brim with Elkys, and today I’ll share images of the first, second and third generation models.

Here’s a row of first generation models (’59 and ’60). This shot shows eight of them, but there were another 3 or 4 floating around. A very rare sight on the streets, it was fun to see so many gathered in one spot.

Flat fins and cat eye tail lights- Gots to be a ’59 Chevy!

Especially from the back- I’m titling this composition “Fintasia.”

All the first gen cars were either fully restored or bright and shiny customs, so I’ll share a couple of shots of this ’59 as representative of the breed. Lots of the ’59s came in a shade of red, which only accentuated the … umm… exuberance of the first gen styling. In contrast, this silver example is almost subdued in its presentation.

At least as subdued as a product of its time can be. I should apologize for the picture quality at this point- The Texas sun made framing up photos a challenge, and I also set up my camera to maximize storage at the expense of pixel count. The reflections in this picture were unavoidable, but other shots suffer due to those factors. I’ll strive to do better at during the 75th Anniversary!

This white car caught my eye for the triple carb setup on top of the intake. Chevy built a triple carb 348 in ’59, and I suppose one or two could have left the factory in an El Camino, but not these fuel mixers…

Because these “Carbs” are in fact a FiTech 6 throat EFI set up. I wasn’t aware this existed, and the car owner thinks the kit up came out about eighteen months ago. I’d be very reluctant to run triple carbs on the street, but I find a “tri-power” injection system very tempting. If I every buy something packing a big block, I’d strongly consider this induction system (spoiler alert- Very unlikely). Still, cool is cool, earning this car a call out.

This ’60 earned a spot in my showcase for a different reason- 10 or 11 of the first gen cars were ’59s, and this was the ONLY 1960 model at the show. In 1960 Chevy saw a 50% decrease in El Camino sales, and it appears El Camino fans reflect an even stronger bias than the marketplace. Speaking for myself, I definitely prefer the ’59- the ’60 tried to tone down the styling excesses, but reducing the volume took away the impact without an improvement in sound quality.

This row contained the second generation cars. I find the second generation cars rather plain, but GM did make significant changes to the front clip sheet metal every year. Of course, these styling changes faded out in later generations- The Gen 5 trucks saw almost no sheet metal changes throughout its lengthy ten year production run.

The ’64 really makes my “on the plainer side” argument. Over the years, people have accused Chrysler of stealing GM styling elements, but to my eye Chevy stole this grille straight off the ’63 Dodge 880, as shown in the insert. Hmmm… styling thievery seems to flow in both directions.

However, I do think Chevy recovered nicely with the ’65. While very little changed, the fender edges, texture, and detailing work so much better. Now I see a hint of the ’64 Impala, a vast improvement.

Despite the 2nd Generation car spanning a mere 4 model years, Chevy made significant changes in ’66. Oddly enough, this front clip looks a lot like the ’68 clip, based on the angled body line running back from the top of the headlights…

while the ’67 moves the front fender edge back alongside the headlight in a style that recalls the ’65. Maybe this jumbled approach to styling helps explain why I keep second generation cars at arms length.

But I will express strong admiration for this clean ’65. Initially, I thought it was all original, so I took several shots hoping to document what it looked like rolling out the factory door.

However, this under-hood shot shows a number of non-original features, including the chrome panels up front, the upgraded aluminum radiator, and the NASCAR style cowl induction system. Despite these changes, I really like this car- The modifications add a little bling, but maintain a period look and feel to the car.

Inside, the same vibe continues. The seats, center console, and steering wheel are custom, but I really like the quality of the work, the choice of materials, and the colors.

I didn’t get a picture of the 3rd generation row, but my goodness what a shiny line up! We’ve talked about muscle cars and car shows in the past, and the 3rd gen El Caminos were no different- If you extrapolated actual production numbers based on the survivor cars at this event, you’d assume most cars built between 1968 and ’72 were SS models…

…with full gauge packages, bucket seats, and center consoles.

On top of that, you’d also be left with the impression that fully half of them left the factory with a big block. To be fair, this big block is a mere 402, and is not in an SS. When the (Texan) buyer spec’ed out this El Camino, he built an unusual rig. It came with the big block…

…and a very nicely featured interior, but with none of the boy racer pieces associated with the SS package. To my eye, it was more Formula Firebird than Trans Am, and a nicer car because of it.

As a nicely restored car that isn’t an SS (original or clone), I think this car deserves a place in the Curbside Classic spotlight.

In fact, I’m going to highlight every gen 2 car at the show that WASN’T an SS, starting with this nice blue ’72.

A blue ’69, with not so lovely rims from the wrong era, but showing off that angled front fender line first seen in 1966.

Another ’72, also with newer rims but wearing a lovely shade of green.

This ’69 has period correct rims, and a period correct vinyl top. Personally, I’d like to swap these rims onto the blue car, and then take that one home.

Yet another ’72. For some reason most base cars were ’72s (included our red Big Block example), but muscle trucks were getting expensive to operate by this point in the game, so I guess I shouldn’t be surprised.

Speaking of muscle motors, from day one the base El Camino left the factory with (not) muscular six cylinder engines. In fact, this 1959 sales document only made mention of the 235 straight six and the 283 small block V-8. The 1959 El Camino option sheet did include the 348 big block, but it seems Chevy considered a four barrel 283 more than enough engine for their buyers.

With the introduction of the A-body Camino in 1964, Chevy took another look at the engine options and decided 194 cubic inches would suffice for the base power plant. Of course, they also put the 365 horsepower L76 on the menu, if you were willing to forego an automatic.

Then just 2 years later they grew the option list to include a 396 Big Block. The second generation cars came in a plain wrapper, but certainly offered many different flavors under the hood.

Finally in 1970, we achieved maximum displacement. The base six reached 250 CID, and the Big Block expanded to 454 cubes. But as always, buyers had a choice of six or eight spark plugs. With that in mind, I set out to capture a picture of a straight six El Camino at the El Camino 60th Anniversary, and found…

Nothing, Nada, Not a thing. I did talk to an owner of a second gen car, and he admitted his car had BEEN a six shooter, but it now packed a small block. That’s as close as I came the entire day. A somewhat disappointing outcome, but perhaps we should celebrate the cars that remain, rather than curse over things we cannot have.

Next week, we’ll move on to the fourth and fifth generation cars, where we may finally find a six cylinder under hood. In regards to that, I’ll only offer this hint for those in the know- Yes, El Kylemino made it all the way to Dallas.

Until then, D/S