In-Motion Classic: 1976 Chevrolet El Camino – Try Everything

1976 Chevrolet El Camino. Tuesday, 7/19/2011. Downtown Chicago, Illinois.

It seems like a fairly common thing for specific makes and models of vehicles to be associated with certain products.  The combination that comes immediately to mind is Red Bull energy drink and the modified Mini Coopers that were used to promote it.  I’m not sure if Chicago had a higher concentration of these Minis than other cities, but for a while, it seemed as though these Red Bull-mobiles were everywhere for a while, giving “wings” to people in the form of free cans of this beverage being handed out by peppy youth.

When I had first moved to the Second City in my late twenties, I was doing the whole Red Bull-and-vodka thing at night on weekends before learning that drinking that really bad-for-you combo was like setting off a bomb in one’s heart.  I have had the occasional energy drink in recent years when on a long-distance drive somewhere, but that’s usually about it.  With all of that said, I feel that Red Bull chose wisely when selecting these perky Mini Coopers as a promo tool.

Red Bull Mini Cooper. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Saturday, 7/27/2013.

c. 2006 “Red Bull” Mini Cooper.  Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.  Saturday, 7/27/2013.

In the late 1990s, and before I was familiar with Red Bull (which then still seemed so foreign, so European!), I had discovered a different soft drink brand called SoBe that was new to the market around that time.  These were a range of non-carbonated fruit juice blends and teas that featured added herbal ingredients that were intended to enhance some aspect of one’s performance.  Some flavors of SoBe featured ginkgo extract, which was supposed to help you with focus and concentration.  Guarana was featured in others that were intended to be alternatives to traditional caffeinated drinks.  Other varieties included ginseng to help boost your immune system.  These are just a few examples.

I discovered SoBe right around the time I was a newbie in my now twenty-plus year insurance career.  One of my comfort rituals at that time was to start the day at my desk with a SoBe, which I fully believed was going to give me an edge as one of several technical assistants working in our little claims office.  Oooo… let’s get that ginkgo today, because I really need to be able to short-term-memorize those policy numbers so I can fly on the ten-key!

I took it all so literally, even if I’ve had a healthy dose of skepticism in my probably since around middle school.  My research method wasn’t entirely scientific, but I did basically try everything SoBe had to offer at the time to try to find out which flavors and additives had the best effects on my performance at work.  Doing so was fun, even if I now suspect that any added benefits I perceived at the time were a result of the placebo effect.

1976 Chevrolet El Camino. Tuesday, 7/19/2011. Downtown Chicago, Illinois.

To see this ’76 El Camino on State Street on a Tuesday after work about nine years ago was enough of a throwback for me, even without SoBe product placement on its sides.  I can recall having seen maybe five Colonnade-era El Caminos in the wild over the past ten years or so, but this one came rolling downtown on a main thoroughfare with “TRY EVERYTHING” emblazoned across its sides in green, capital letters, over a custom blue and white color scheme.

I’m probably not the most carefree person you’re ever going to meet.  Ziplining over the length of the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas last year probably wouldn’t have happened absent the strong encouragement of the three friends with whom I shared that experience.  (Peer pressure!)  I may often be silently calculating the costs and benefits of things, but the idea of trying new things does appeal to me, especially due to my risk-averse default setting.  This El Camino served as a rolling testimony to the idea of open-mindedness as a life philosophy.

1976 Chevrolet El Camino brochure photo, courtesy of

This Chevrolet is a model that did try everything in terms of its target market.  I think it’s fitting that a vehicle that’s basically half-car, half-truck would seemingly be well suited to fulfill many roles and duties.  It could be a small, no-frills pickup.  It could be legitimately sporty and fast with the SS models.  Starting with the downsized ’78 models, the Black Knight (1978 only) and Royal Knight (’79 – ’83) appearance packages made the El Camino look like the closest thing to a Pontiac Trans Am with a cargo bed.  The Colonnade generation that ran from 1973 through ’77 was the flossiest, most luxurious El Camino of them all, and our featured ’76 even featured the newly introduced, stacked, rectangular headlights that were in vogue for about five minutes in the 1970s.

1976 Chevrolet El Camino. Tuesday, 7/19/2011. Downtown Chicago, Illinois.

Our featured ’76 was one of just over 50,000 El Caminos produced for the model year.  A 250 cubic inch inline six was the base engine, with optional V8s available that displaced 305, 350, and 400 cubic inches.  Though several manual transmissions were offered, this one probably has a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic automatic transmission.  Base curb weight was around 3,800 pounds.  The pilot of this fine machine looked completely comfortable behind the wheel of this 215.2″-long machine during rush hour, amidst buses, taxis, other frantic drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  I seem to recall that this car had California plates, though I can’t find proof.  Driving one of these El Caminos cross country would certainly be an adventure, though I’m not sure I’d include that experience in my list of “musts” in my attempts to try everything.

Getting back to the tie-in between this El Camino and the line of SoBe soft drinks, I’m still quite sure what was intended by that slogan, nine years later.  Was it that drinking a SoBe would make one look more adventurous, or was this phrase chosen because a new line of new combinations of flavors that sounded questionable on the surface were about to be introduced?  The world may never know, though it appears that SoBes soft drinks are still being sold, as the above picture of one appears to be recent.  I may still be working from home at present due to the current pandemic, but it may be time for me to find a SoBe somewhere (hopefully with added ginseng or ginkgo) to see if it helps me do more insurance.  For old time’s sake.

Downtown, The Loop, Chicago, Illinois.
Tuesday, July 19, 2011.

Brochure photo and SoBe picture both as found on the internet.