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.
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!
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.
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!
Hey, great to see pictures of readers and contributors that made it out to the show and looked for you! It sounds like it was a great show with much to see (and info to share). Thanks for the writeup, the last couple of months with tech posts about the El Kylemino made it like I was at the show and you exlained the whole car to me.
My dad has a mint, unrestored ’87 with the 305. I’ll likely get it someday.
I have plans….
The stacked square headlights are not my favorite on the 4th gens. Nor the similar Plymouth Fury of the same era.
I do love the more compact size and special editions of the fifth generation. I wonder who sued over Black Knight. I seem to recall there was a line of badminton racquets with that name.
Thanks for sharing.
I think there was still round headlights offered for the basic version of the El Camino for 1976-77.
Yes, round headlights were offered, but they went with less distinctive grille treatments (read that as “cheaper”).
So my preferred mesh grill only came with the ’76 stacked headlights. I also suspect the grille shell was (slightly) different in width, to keep people from swapping the deluxe grill onto the standard body.
Dave, the grille shells are not specific to the headlights. You can swap between a 76 or 77 Malibu Classic style grille and the base grille with no changes to the shell. The headlights swap easily too, you just need to change the headlight housing. Actually front end swaps for this entire generation are pretty easy.
I preferred the base grille and lights over the stacked lights and upscale grille for 76 and 77.
A little more on the table, here an El Camino with the Laguna front end. http://gmauthority.com/blog/2019/10/this-1975-chevrolet-el-camino-has-a-rare-copo-laguna-front-end/
Thanks for the roundup. I like the ColonnadeCaminos better every year. The 2 tone treatment is one of the best of the era in terms of working with the body lines. I cannot make a decision on the front ends – I like the round lights better, but prefer the later grilles. Can I choose . . . Cutlass? 🙂
The low level of sixes in that generation is not surprising. A six in a Colonnade Chevelle was a fairly rare thing as I remember the world of that time. The car was so big that the true thrift buyers went with Novas. That the V6 in the smaller style was much more popular would be expected, particularly with fuel prices what they were. I presume that these did not have the CAFE restrictions that the cars did, so buyers got the bigger and better V6s that were not often seen on the car side of things.
Thanks for making the trip and telling us about it.
“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.”
I often wondered about that, because it looks like it is the exact same nose cone. I’m guessing with a little blending of the two fenders, one could get an MCSS nose on the Elky, since I’ve seen lots of front end swaps of other A/G body cars onto the Elky. Those are all fun to see.
Speaking of Monte Carlo front end on an Elky. One guy did a very good custom job by looking to the photos. https://gbodyforum.com/threads/monte-carlo-clip-on-an-el-camino.25429/
“I’m guessing with a little blending of the two fenders, one could get an MCSS nose on the Elky”
There’s all sorts of web info on this subject, but it’s more than just a width issue. The MC’s fenders are longer, the width is greater, and the hood character lines do not match up.
You could swap the nose, hood, and fenders, but then the door lines do not lineup. Then if you swap the doors, the line defining the rocker panels at the back of the door are mismatched. The consensus is, for the easiest blend replace everything including the doors (or just get a Choo Choo cap).
I was unable to find it, but I’ve seen pictures of an Elky with a complete Pontiac Gran Prix interior and IIRC, the front end as well. Perhaps someone else also read about it and can provide a link??
While we talk of El Camino. Let’s bring a flashback of a CC article posted in 2017 about the El Camino bakkie from South Africa. https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/cc-outtake/cc-outtake-the-bakkie-is-back/
You learn something new at CC every day.
There were several of these El Camino SS(s) running around the Baltimore area back in the day. I though for sure that they came standard in their final years with Monte Carlo SS front clip from right the factory.
El Caminos are still popular in this area and I see them quite regularly. You still see many of these, especially in Eastern Baltimore County, Maryland. I’m convinced that these, and the F-Bodies are “The Official Car[s] of…” …let’s just leave it at that.
I agree with JPC on the two tone treatment of the Colonnades. That red and white one really looks nice.
I kinda remember it that way too, Rick. But I’ve seen no proof of it.
I agree on the Generation 5 El Camino being the”Official Car ( truck) of a certain age group. Mostly it is the ’82 on up here in Hoosier Land. Several of my friends over the years have had Gen 2 and Gen 3 El Caminos. In fact, a certain ’67 one that I know of, passed back and forth between two of my friends about a dozen times. One of the guys died last year and the surviving friend bought it then from the widow. It had been relegated to parts car status, but the current owner is rebuilding it for old times sake.
Except for the headlights and grille, that copper SS could pass for the ’75 Elky that I once owned. I loved that truck!
Oh they came with a six? I only see used imports here and they are collector hotrodder cars so I doubt sixes are on anyones shopping list unless youre getting a really early example and want something rare six cylinder Chevys sorta died out in this country in 56 when the small block V8 began being offered finally the same cylinder count as a Ford so that was what everyone went for, El Caminos were never locally assembled though only four door sedans even wagons came in built up from new already RHD.
The ’74 take rate of less than one percent, more like zero, was due to the fact that in ’73-’74 model years the 307ci V-8 was the base engine.
The seven main bearing 194-292ci Chevy sixes were a big improvement over the 1937-derived 235 that came before. But, the take rate was probably low in non-taxi mid and full size passenger cars and the El Camino/Sprint. Pickups, vans and Chevy II were another story. My ’71 C10 came with the 250.
That was a fun show with a ton of early models, I actually like’d the stock El Camino’s more than the modifieds
My brother ordered a ’78-’79 Royal Knight new. He wanted a stick, so it had the V-6 with 3-speed standard trans.
He also ordered it with power windows because at the time, he had a motor route for the local paper.
Nice finish up to the show Dave. It’s really cool you go to meet up with some fellow CCers. It’s also nice to see some of these later model cars being appreciated. The 73-77 models are pretty rare around here. They were very bad rusters and for years they weren’t worth saving. There are still a fair number of 78-87 models though, one very nice survivor that I see driven as a local summer driver.
This post was timely, as I was actually doing some work on a friend’s ’82 El Camino today. His was a V8 car though, still sporting the factory 305 with some mild performance upgrades. On the note of the six cylinder cars, there was a ’77 El Camino locally for a while that had a six cylinder and a manual transmission. I only saw the car once, and it looked to be a nice survivor. I wish I would have got some pictures of it.
I prefer the older ones. I have a 60 that’s being restored now. Should be done early spring. Parts are so hard to find. I wish I coulda made that show. Looks like there were quite a few there. Good turn out.