Car Show Classic: The 60th Anniversary Of The El Camino – Part 2

I’ve returned this morning to wrap up the El Camino 60th Anniversary report, and will start with the only picture of my El Camino taken during the show itself. Thanks to the heavy shadows, you’ll have to trust me on this, but looking at the three trucks in the center of the picture with their hoods up, it’s the one on the left.

I didn’t write up a trip report, as I worked very hard to minimize my time on the road, and mostly kept the wheels turning. In terms of mechanical problems, the basic systems all performed without a hiccup. Last week I made mention of a vacuum supply issue in the comments which affected the cruise control and HVAC system, but it did not slow the El Kylemino down, and I’ll make a full accounting once I have the chance to chase down the root cause.

Returning to the show we’ll start with the fourth generation cars, and pick back up on the straight six theme. I found data on the 6 cylinder market share for all El Caminos from 1974, and the 4th generation numbers are surprisingly small. The four years I could track averaged about 3.3%, a number much lower than my expectations- I was thinking the percentage would land somewhere in the mid-teens. Based on these numbers, it’s no surprise that the 10 or so fifth gen cars at the show all arrived with a V-8 mounted between the frame rails.

This lineup shows most of the fourth gen cars. They weren’t all 100 point show cars, but they all presented well with shiny paint and complete interiors. Since I rarely see any Colonnades on the road, I was excited to see these rare machines in the flesh.

Even this 4×4 model was pretty clean, although it was hardly original. During a close-up inspection I saw leaf spring shackles front and rear, so the original frame has been replaced. While I’m sure the off road prowess has been increased, I have to believe the overall ride quality has decreased by an equal amount.

Unlike the 1st and 2nd gen cars, these 4th gen cars changed very little from year to year. While not everyone will share my enthusiasm, I’m most partial to this ’73 fascia. I’ve heard critical phrases such as “half baked” and “phoned in” thrown its way, but I prefer round headlights and a full width grille on my fourth gen cars.

Especially compared to the faux Mercedes look arriving the next year. Talk about phoned in…

Then tacking stacked square beams onto the El Camino/Malibu Classic clip the next year, I feel that’s just throwing gasoline on a flaming pile of…

Sorry, my mother said if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all. I’ll only point out that GM kept round headlights on the Camaro until ’81 and the Corvette until ’82, so the square lights could have waited until the ’78 redesign.

Looking for good things to say, I find the ’76 grille texture an improvement. If I match this grille with a pair of round headlights, I might even embrace that Mercedes shaped grille opening.

But then came the ’77 with further change for change sake. Not loving it.

But the rest of the car drew me in. An El Camino Classic, it presented as well as any car at the show.

Under hood, the car looked perfect, with every part and label in place.

The two-toned paint presented the Colonnade body to best effect, and the colors really popped. Lots of folks feel the Rally Sport wheels are overdone at car shows, but this El Camino probably rolled off the production line wearing a set.

I don’t think anyone is building trim parts for this car, so I don’t know how the owner arrived with such a perfect interior. It may be a survivor car, but the exterior finish seems a bit too perfect. All I know is I’m loving it!

Everything on this car was period correct, right down to the full case of eight track tapes.

If you squint a bit, you can see this trucklet has a “GMC” badge mounted on the grille…

…and sure enough, the B-pillar badge adds “Sprint” below the GMC.

GMC created the Sprint SP to compete with the El Camino SS, and included most of the same equipment, but substituted “SP” badges anywhere Chevy used “SS.” This is a very nice truck, and includes most of the Sprint SP features (along with a 454 under-hood). However, it is a clone, since the owner could not find an actual SP to restore.  My favorite of the fourth gen cars, we’ll move from this high point to the fifth gen cars.

Sorry – The header should read “5th Generation V-6 Share”

As I said at the start, I was able to document the percentage of six cylinder El Camino sales for the fourth and fifth generations. As this chart shows, 1981 saw the largest percentage of V-6 El Caminos. Fuel costs had hit their peak (prices in the chart are adjusted for inflation). Based on these volumes, I’d expect to see a few fifth gen V-6’s at the show, and sure enough, I found them!

A nicely original, un-restored V-6 Camino

As it happens, all V-6 cars were 145 horsepower 4.3 liter TBI models. In addition to my car, there was this very original car, and a modified 4.3 making around 250 HP (not pictured). Sadly, there were no 3.3 liter or 3.8 liter cars (built from 1978 to 1984).

Although they shared the same basic architecture, the 3.3 came rated at 95 horsepower, and the 3.8 offered a max of 115 HP. These engines used off-set crank pins to help smooth the firing pulses, but the offset was only 18 degrees, so the engines were not true even fire sixes. Given those specifications, it’s no surprise the 4.3 over-represented.

The engine bay for the blue 4.3 pickup above- No Buick V-6’s to be had…

On a final V-6 note, early California El Caminos offered the 3.8 Buick V-6 as the base motor. These motors generally out performed the Chevy V-6’s, but still failed to make an appearance at the 60th anniversary.

Unlike the first four generations, the fifth gen section offered many examples of age related patina. While the owners were comfortable changing out the wheels and making under-hood modification, they either had plans for future paint jobs, or were happy with their cars as presented.

I appreciate this attitude, since this is my approach as well- I’ve covered some sunburned paint on the El Kylemino using a “rattle can” paint gun, and ground down and refinished a few minor rust spots. However, I also drive it to the junkyard 2 or 3 times a month, as well as regularly park it Home Depot. By maintaining the existing patina I can use it without sweating any parking lot damage.

Here’s another example- I didn’t get to talk to the owner, but it’s possible that primer coat indicates a paint job is in the future. Or maybe not…

Our final example in the patina line up stands out due to the “Conquista” emblem on the tailgate. One of the interesting aspects of the fifth gen cars are the many different appearance packages offered throughout the years.

None of them offered upgraded performance, but over its ten year lifespan the El Camino offered an “Super Sport,” “Black Knight,” “Royal Knight,” and “Conquista” package from the factory, and GMC offered the “Laredo,” Amarillo,” and “Diablo” packages on the Caballero.

Here’s a near matching pair of appearance packages- A 1978 Chevy Black Knight in back, and a GMC Diablo (in black) up front. As this picture shows, the fifth gen Chevy and GMC shared pretty much everything but paint and badging.

Next, a 1978 or ’79 Royal Knight. Supposedly, someone sued over the use of “Black Knight,” and Chevy changed the name of the package to Royal Knight. This car seems to support the story.

Seems like a car named “Diablo” should only be offered in black (or maybe red), but as this shot captures, GMC offered a white version as well.

Here’s a later Super Sport with the Choo Choo Custom conversion. Although you could buy this car new off the showroom floor, I didn’t list it as a factory package, since the cars were modified by Choo Choo Customs in Tennessee.

A second Choo Choo Custom included a diorama with a sign, Conductor statue, and rail tracks under the car.

On a technical note, the Choo Choo Customs appear to have a Monte Carlo SS nose cone grafted onto a standard El Camino body, but the nose cone is a unique part. Because the Monte Carlo fenders are several inches wider, Choo Choo Customs built a dedicated part that replicates the Monte Carlo look, but fits the El Camino fenders.

Well, that about covers the cars of the 60th Anniversary of the El Camino, but while in Dallas I made a couple of Curbside Classic Connections. First was reader Lee Shell, who met me for dinner in Friday night.

Before we headed out to for some Texas barbecue, Lee posed next to the El Kylemino. I made sure to position the sun behind my back, but I’m afraid the picture does not do Lee justice. At dinner, Lee’s son Matt met up with us and we spent a hour or so talking cars in the Curbside Classic fashion.

Then on Saturday, CC writer Pioneer Fox stopped by the show. His El Camino (Miss Lily Elk), is still sadly sidelined, but Pioneer Fox is holding a carb that’s part of his vehicle rehabilitation plan, so let’s keep our fingers crossed!

Beyond that, I met up with some personal friends during my time in Dallas, so overall, the 60th El Camino Anniversary was a very satisfying experience on many different levels. Personally, I’m looking forward to the 75th anniversary event!