(first posted 1/9/2015)
October 5, 1960
I’m sorry I haven’t written to you sooner. Our trip to America was very exciting, on one of the new DC-8 jets. New York was incredible, all those skyscrapers. Iowa City is a nice little town, and I am quickly learning English in school. Everything is sooooo different; how can I begin to explain it all? And the cars! I have seen so many fantastic cars, and the new 1961 models just came out. But of all the strange and amazing things I have seen so far, this one is the ultimate. You won’t believe it, but this is actually a truck!
Back in Austria, small trucks (called “pickups” here) are so different than the ones here. They are obviously designed for carrying loads, and the bed takes up the most of their length.
And the sides of their beds flip down, to make loading and unloading easier. Oh, before I forget, there are a few VW buses in Iowa City; our church even has one. But I haven’t seen a VW pickup yet.
In Iowa, mainly the farmers drive pickups, many of them older ones like this one. They seem to be very rugged. And although the bed is not as big as on the European pickups, at least it looks like one could use it for actually hauling things. I’ve seen pigs riding in them.
On the new ones, the cabs are lower and some of them have beds where the sides of the bed extend all the way out to the side of the truck cab, which makes them look sleeker. But the sides don’t still fold down. I wonder why?
So why would they also build this thing? And call it “El Camino”? Chevrolet already has a whole line of pickups. But it does look amazing, ja?
It just seems odd that they would have those sharp fins sticking out right where people have to lean in to load things into the back or sides. Or if you’re a kid just trying to look into the bed. The bed isn’t very big at all, once you actually see it.
If you’re a little kid, forget it. Maybe that’s the reason; to keep kids from snooping into the beds of their El Caminos.
Especially if it’s missing its trim. Ouch!
I suppose there are other practical reasons for the fins too. Why else would they have them?
But the best thing is the cab; it’s just like the Impala four door hardtop, but without the rear seat. I love that pointy lip sticking out over the rear window. So many of the GM cars have it, but it’s mostly gone away for the 1961 cars. I’m going to miss it.
The interior is of course just like the Chevrolet sedans too, except no back seat. I like those five big round pods; the 1961 dash is a lot more boring in comparison.
And that steering wheel is pretty neat too; a lot nicer than the Ford steering wheel. But wait until I tell you about the Chrysler steering wheels, Harald, and some of their cars too. Maybe this El Camino isn’t the strangest thing I’ve seen so far after all. I don’t know how to begin to describe them to you.
Anyway, I just love that cab in this truck. I wonder why they don’t use a similar one for their really big trucks, the big semi tractors. Imagine this way up high; that would be so cool.
I asked the man who owned this El Camino if I could see under the hood. Americans are so friendly; you just wouldn’t do that on the street in Innsbruck. It has a V8 engine; think of that, Harald. A V8 engine in a little truck than can barely carry anything. A VW pickup can carry a ton, and only has a four little cylinders with 36 hp. This one has 185 hp!
But that’s not all. I saw another El Camino, and noticed it had a different emblem on the front of the hood, with flags on it. The owner told me it meant that there was a bigger engine under the hood, and asked if I wanted to see it? Of course!
Wow! The man said it had 348 cubic inches, which I had my dad convert to liters for you: 5.7!! Almost twice that of an Adenauer Mercedes 300! In a truck with a small cargo bed. And this one has three carburetors and 315 hp!! That’s more than a big semi truck tractor!
The man told me to stand near the back of it, and then he got in and started it up and revved it up and down like crazy. It had the most amazing sound! Wicked and snarly with a staccato. He said that the 348 was famous for its distinctive exhaust sound. Well, VWs have a distinctive exhaust sound, but they sound like a girl farting in church compared to the nasty bellowing of this thing. And it’s a truck! What a crazy place this is. But I love it.
So who would buy a truck like this? I guess Chevrolet must be asking this question too, as the El Camino is already cancelled after just two years. There’s no 1961 models in the brochures anywhere.
Instead, Chevrolet has brought out this Corvair Rampside pickup. It’s as different from the El Camino as it possibly could be. It’s very European, really just like a VW pickup, with an air-cooled rear engine and a cab in front. But it has very modern styling. And it has a neat side gate that folds down so one can load things into it very easily that way.
But its exhaust sounds kind of farty too; nothing like that bellowing big 348 V8. I wonder if Americans will like it any better than the El Camino. I’m not sure Americans are ready for European style trucks. Now if they could put a 348 V8 in this Rampside, that might be good. But then they already have regular pickups; why do they keep inventing new ones?
Next time I write I promise I will tell you about the 1960 Imperial this rich old lady in the next block has in her garage.
I love it, but you knew that already.
My favourite vehicles are the 1959 El Camino and the 1963 Corvair truck.
The dockside picture is amazing. I’d always wondered why VW’s high bed was acceptable in Europe. It certainly wasn’t acceptable here.
All the trucks in that picture have beds above the wheels, so it was obviously a Euro standard. It wasn’t just an oddity forced by the rear engine.
Makes sense if trucks are strictly commercial, driving from one loading dock to another loading dock. It doesn’t work in US where pickups began with farm service and extended to a mix of commercial and personal. We’re accustomed to loading and unloading a pickup from ground level.
Small Euro-trucks, also the ones with the engine in the front, always have and had the same setup as a big diesel truck. Give or take a few exceptions to the rule. The bed is completely on top of the rear wheels, not (half) inbetween. The bed is fully rectangular, flat and as wide as the truck itself.
With the sides flipped down the bed is not really high. Very easy to load and unload from three sides. Manually or with a forklift. Without the removable sideboards you can haul cargo that’s actually (slightly) wider than the bed / truck. Which happens quite frequently, as I can remember.
Some great photos BTW !
It’s not only a question about loading height, but about width. European cars and also European trucks up until the 70’s were very narrow in comparison to their American counterparts. They could’ve made a lower truck bed between the wheels, but what would be the point? You couldn’t load anything there anyway?
Vans and trucks made on the same platform would be built in different ways. Vans usually with a floor low to the ground for easy access, and people needing low access would go for one of those. Trucks made on the same parts would generally have their entire cargo bed on top of the rear wheels. For easy pallet loading.
Pallets were standardized, and the trucks built to cater for them. Like the American equivalent of every station wagon being measured for a 4×8 plywood sheet. And those pallets would simply not fit between the rear wheels if the cargo floor had been any lower.
The 1965 Ford Transit was the first “Euro” van built on a for European standards very wide platform. And it met enourmous success just because of that. Like the narrower Renault Estafette, it took Renault until 1980 to meet those standards with their Trafic/Master vans.
Very rare, a classic Ford Transit American Style.
More information here:
VW also put a large storage “trunk” under the load floor, convenient for carrying around tools while the materials you were headed to install went in the main cargo box.
That underbody storage bin is one of the advantages of the design. I remember some 70s Fords having something similar.
Underbed storage on a flatbed is even better. This is similar to what I have. Storage boxes mounted both above and below the flatbed.
Nice and tough looking flatbed truck with those dual rear tires.
But how much higher exactly were the beds of those afterwar Euro pickups? Perhaps not that higher than the beds of US pickups, if we take into account that European vehicles were (and mostly still are) smaller than US vehicles, including height? I wonder…
Perhaps someone has access to data (or real vehicles and a tape measure?)
Hmm that’s the first thing I thought too, complare that to a new US pickup. At least with the fold down bed sides you wouldn’t have to throw stuff an additional 3′ to get it over the sides on the old VW.
They were about the same height as an American pickup with a flatbed.
The difference in car cultures from one country (or region) to another is something I find fascinating. However, it seems that US-type light commercials found favor in countries which were relatively desolate and wild, such as Australia, South Africa, NZ and Israel, although the French had pick-ups closer to the American idiom too (and significantly, those were immensely popular in Africa and also Israel)… I’m not sure what conclusions I can draw from this. However, another difference is that European light commercials had to settle with what, for American standards, were preposterously low power figures. I am not sure this all had to do with practical reasons like fuel costs: after all, crawling up fully loaded up the Alps with 30-40 hp was no fun (it was no fun with 78 hp in the VW T4 I drove there 40 years later). This under-power philosophy is something European manufacturers only left behind recently; these days however it is not unusual to be overtaken on the Autobahn by a Mercedes Benz Sprinter or a VW Crafter doing 100MPH…
Look at the developments in diesel technology in the past decades. Not that long ago a 3.0 liter turbo diesel in a big van or light truck had 100 hp or so. Now it’s somewhere around 200 hp. Hence the discussions now and then about speed limiters in vans….
A Volkswagen T2, that must be the last commercial vehicle with a gasoline engine I had a ride in.
And look at the big trucks. In the seventies and early eighties they drove from Northwestern Europe to the Middle East with a circa 300 hp truck. Now I see 600+ hp trucks hauling flowers to Germany….
As for low power in European vehicles in general, that was not just because of the fuel costs. In most European contries, yearly insurance and registration costs are very high for engines with big displacement and high horsepower. This was probably the case already decades ago.
Even cost of manufacture (and subsequently, price of new vehicles) was perhaps a factor, smaller engines and smaller/lighter vehicles probably cost less to manufacture, I’m guessing.. I think there were steel (and coal) shortages in post-WW2 Europe…
But that doesn’t explain why even prewar European cars were generally small, with tiny engines. Besides the already-mentioned tax-horsepower formulæ penalizing large engines, I believe it was higher fuel taxes & medieval urban planning, long before anyone cared about oil-supply crises, pollution, or carbon dioxide. And there is simply less need for a car in Europe’s less expansive geography, as any tourist there can discover.
Ironically, popular prewar American cars (during great economic hardship) were of more rational size with moderately-sized engines, so the late-’70s downsizing was a sort of reversion back to this.
I also have to wonder whether the fact that Europe was not a volume oil-producing region at the time influenced their auto manufacturing. The parallels between Europe and Japan re: small cars seems too much of a coincidence.
You also have to factor in the standard of living in these countries in that period, too. Americans in general were always regarded as being unbelievably rich in comparison. Even in my childhood. You only had to look at the ads in American magazines to see that – products undreamed of! I remember reading 1950s National Geographics at school – talk about culture shock!
Remember, many foreigners were only maybe a generation away from mere subsistence. Any car or truck would be viewed as a luxury item. Here in Australia (by no means as poor as postwar Europe) many families were getting their first car in the 1960s, and often a small used car at that.
A bit different to America.
The historical difference between American and European car engines is purely due to taxes. In America, the vehicle was taxed on the total market value of the entire car and the tax was small. In Europe, the tax is typically determined by engine displacement and transmission type and was a large amount of money.
So in Europe, the strategy to minimize tax burden was to get the most power out of the smallest engine and match it with a manual transmission, while keeping the car as light as possible to lessen the burden on the small engine.
In America, the strategy was to build the cheapest most reliable horsepower possible and use it in a wide variety of cars across a wide variety of sticker prices. This meant the “aircraft principle” applied. The aircraft principle is roughly thus:
determine how much power you need, then design an engine that will produce that level of power with the least amount of stress to bearings, pistons, and internal parts, while at the same time minimize the number of moving parts and eliminate complexity whenever possible.
This strategy results in a large displacement engine of moderate compression ratio running at fairly low RPMs with minimal number of valves and camshafts and the simplest fuel system, ignition system, coolant system, and lubrication system possible.
Then in the 50s it was discovered that the European cars designed with tiny engines had a huge advantage in automobile racing because the light weight engines and cars handled so much better on a race track. American cars designed using the aircraft principle were not well suited for racetracks. They were suited for going long distances in a straight line at a constant speed…just like an airplane is designed to do.
Suddenly the American public began to believe the European type was superior to the American type of car due to the race results. This was not true however. Americans began buying imported European cars and began to learn the hard way that European cars were typically not intended to sit in for a week straight while traversing the North American Continent, or for example, at a steady 90MPH nonstop from Iowa to California and back, and maybe 100+MPH across Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada. The European cars did not stand up to that kind of use(abuse?) and neither did the people in the smaller European cars. But a large American car did so, repeatedly over and over ad nauseam, without a problem, and equally importantly,with comfort.
With the tax-hp ratings such as those in France, is it possible that something more powerful was out of financial reach of the owner/farmer at that time?
Edit: Thanks AWEboss
Another factor is that in Europe the van (“camionette” in French) has always been more popular than small trucks / pickup-trucks. From small to very big, any size you want.
The pickup-truck in the US is more likely a van in Europe.
By the way Paul, I’m sure you are aware of the car-based pick-ups available from Steyr in the 30s; those were more in the Peugeot 202 idiom though. Then there was the Steyr 260 in the 50s which was vaguely like a US 1 ton flat bed (and even more American looking as a van) but those were oddities on the market for sure…
“In Iowa, mainly the farmers drive pickups, many of them older ones like this one… I’ve seen pigs riding in them.”
That’s a rather rude thing to say about Iowa farmers’ wives…
He’s new here. It’s easy to confuse the two.
The glasshouse on the Camino almost looks as though it’s been installed back-to-front…
“The man told me to stand near the back of it, and then he got in and started it up and revved it up and down like crazy. It had the most amazing sound! Wicked and snarly with a staccato . He said that the 348 was famous for its distinctive exhaust sound.”
Anyone desiring to hear that 348 need only listen to The Beach Boys ‘409’. Brian Wilson stayed up all night getting the sound of Gary Usher’s 1959 Impala 348 just right for the song.
So it should have been “She’s so great, my 348”.
What a wonderful place Oregon must be! You would never see a ’59 anything as a 12 year daily driver up here metro NY, and I don’t think it’s just the salted roads that are to blame, although they might be one root of the cult of “new” that pervades our car culture. After all, a merely 20-year old car is getting rare here, and most of them aren’t rusty because anti corrosion measures are so effective these days. One can speculate about other possibilities, like the cost of meeting emissions as a car gets into its second 100K miles, but that’s still a perception issue. We see it as more sensible to committ to a $200- $500/month loan than to put 3 grand into fixing the old flivver, which it isn’t. But rather than demonstrate a PowerPoint on the subject, let’s just say that, given the options, Northeasterners will always opt for “new and improved”, rationalizing the importance of “improved” to get the “new”.
Great post Paul!
Nice ! .
I didn’t like the ’59 / ’60 Chevies for many years , they were unsellable to boot , we’d break them for parts & bail the bodies as scrap metal the *instant* they came in all through the 1970’s & 1980’s , now I rather like the bat wings but I doubt I’ll ever buy another one .
Some years ago I was way out in the Mojave Desert picking through the detritus left behind by some druggie mouth breathers and found a slab of wood with ’59 Chevy taillights crudely screwed to it as rear taillights used when dragging junkers or trailers , one lens was 1/2 smashed , I showed it to my buddies as the sort of thing we’d cobble up in the 1960’s and David grabbed it , I believe it still hangs in his garage .
One of the few times Chevy followed Ford in anything in the 50s. Hard to imagine that anyone thought these would be a big enough market segment to go to the trouble.
We have to give credit to the American manufacurers though. They tried several concepts for a lighter than regular duty pickup. It took the Japanese to finally crack the code: take a standard pickup and shrink it.
I am wondering how the owner of the gray El Camino gets in and out of his truck…..There are no exterior door handles visible and the door key locks appear to be missing…..It would seem that he would need to leave a window open to reach inside to open the door via the inside door handle in order to open the doot….and there would be no way to lock it when leaving the vehicle if the windows are shut because there would be no way to get back in.
Remote solenoids,great til the battery goes flat.A lot of custom cars use them
Remote solenoids like on kustom cars. Pretty standard modification in that scene fellow.
I was amazed by the El Camino when I saw one on holiday in California in 1964 towing a trailer with a Harley Davidson flat tracker.
It’s been decades since I’ve seen a ’59 El Camino. I’m taken aback by how great the batwing styling actually works on this. Everything in proportion and flowing. Not everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but this sums up the 1959 automotive scene perfectly. We might now look back on these as huge, heavy, powerful, gaudy and overstyled. but at the time I loved them.
When you think about it the El Camino (and Ford Ranchero) make no sense whatsoever. But these were truly American creations that epitomized the prosperity and confidence of the times. Europeans of the era, just 15 years removed from WWII and still suffering its effects, could never understand.
You might want to check the curb weight of any ’59 Chevy , they were huge but made of tin foil & air , they fold right up in minor collisions .
I liked and ran VW Single & Crew Cab pickups for many years as the Shop Truck for my Indie VW Shop but trying to get a Motocycle up that high for transport wasn’t any fun , lemme tell ya .
For fun , look up the first 1,000 VW Crew Cabs made in 1959 ~ the third door was ‘ suicide ‘ ~ I had two of them .
“When you think about it the El Camino (and Ford Ranchero) make no sense whatsoever”
I have to disagree on this. They make perfect sense, much more so than using a full on pickup as a daily driver/personal use vehicle. If youre a contractor, rancher, farmer etc then a fullsize rig is the way to go. However, as someone who needs a truck for occasional homeowner duties, my ‘shortie’ Ram 1500 is way too much truck for that. Mini trucks make a lot less sense, as they were executed. Theyre grossly underpowered and not enough room to fart in the things unless you go for an extended cab…and then you have something longer and less maneuverable than a shortie fullsizer with just as bad mpgs…but less power.
Utes like this give all the benefits of a car–spacious seating, better handling, ride, better aerodynamics AND lockable interior space (look at the package shelf on this Elky and the behind the seat space it covers) and still a bed thatll do 90% of the lite duty hauling a casual user needs. And if its your thing (like it is mine) it makes a great platform for a hotrod. Theyre just as much ‘truck’ as a compact without the shortcomings.
OTOH, a halfcabbed bobtail 4×4 such as a bronco, Commando, Scrambler, etc is the 4×4 version which is offroader first, truck second. I had a Scrambler in college, many buddies had mini trucks. My bed was a bit smaller than theirs but their weak 4 cyl and v6 engines could barely move any kind of load. My AMC 258 didn’t even flinch when I had that Jeep packed with heavy furniture and such when doing moving jobs. And it was unstoppable in snow, ice, mud, etc. It got worse mpgs than their 4 cyl S10s and Nissans but not THAT much. 16 hwy vs 22 isn’t huge. Id rather spend $40 more per month and be capable of doing more vs being so limited. And cramped.
Much as I love my Rumble Bee, if Dodge had a ute version of the Magnum with the Hemi, it would make a lot more sense. Itd handle all the hauling Ive done with my truck and theyre even faster/better handlers. OR, a new Scrambler would be even better….
Guess I’m totally biased being an Australian, but I’ve driven a few F trucks while living in the US in the late ‘90’s and have had a couple of those Japanese dual cab 4×4’s provided by my employer. But my daily drives have always been Holden and more recently Ford utes, and they are far superior on the road than either pick ups or those Japanese things. Fast, comfortable and way safer. I’m a carpenter by trade and my current Ford Falcon FGX XR6 turbo carries all my tools, I have racks to carry materials, but usually delivery from the timber yard is used. I really struggle to understand the appeal in this country of vehicles like Toyota Hiluxes and Ford Rangers, especially when driven by people’s that aren’t even tradesmen. The last company car I had was a 2018 Mitsubishi Triton and it was a chore wheeling that thing around the city, a total barge of a vehicle, slow, wallowing and fugly to boot.
Love the winged wonders. Practical? Who cared! They were longer, lower, and wider!
The Corvair pickup is a match to the VW ones, also, you could say.
I do like ‘oddball’ pickups. That cadet blue VW transporter is MEGA sweet. Id like one exactly like it with a worked up motor rolling on fuchs and dumped in the weeds. Something about those earth tone colors that just looks right, and that blue/grey really grabs me.
Loving that Rampside too. Another cool truck that should have been more popular.
What does “rolling on fuchs” mean?
I guess “dumped in the weeds” means the same as “slammed”, i.e. significantly lowered suspension?
Fuchs are those sweet mag style wheels you see on 70’s-’80s Porsches from the factory. A lot of VWs use replicas, since the originals are spendy. But they make German tin really pop.
This one is a bay window pickup, but its in the weeds and on Fuchs:
Thanks for clearing this up for me! Now I see what you mean, I didn’t know these Porsche wheels are called fuchs.
I must say, however, that I do not find them particularly attractive. They’re ok on (older, 80s or earlier) Porsches and maybe on original Beetles, but otherwise they can look somewhat silly (it really depends on the vehicle and what kind of overall look you want to achieve). On that T2 in your link, the wheels are the weak link (looks-wise) of the car, they should get some other style of wheels, and the wheels are too small (and I don’t say that very often, as I think modified cars usually end up with too big wheels)
I think the corvair rampside is the thing on the page that I wish still lived. Have had an Elky (66 model) and thought of it as a classic (translation-a pain to keep running if you are not a mechanic like Nate). There is a 59 parked not far from my house with no engine or front fenders/hood. I sort of forget they ever existed till I see one. IMO El Caminos make sense because they worked in my world when I was a single sailor. They had the gas mileage that a single cab truck lacked and there were shells available when you needed them.
I think GM could have made a winner with the rampside had they focused on it. Inner city use of an air cooled six that didn’t pull studs continually had a future (IMO). I would just as likely be driving one of them now as what I am driving. It would have been better for today’s chores than what I used. There must be a translation somewhere for GM that means opportunity lost. I loved there products for a long time.
Personally I am not a fan of the rear end of 1959 Chevrolets. I think the “cats eyes” look make the car look a bit demonic.
In fact it kind of reminds me of the M.A.D. logo from the 1980’s Inspector Gadget cartoon series.
The batwing styling on the ’59 is absolutely amazing in all its forms, but it does seem to work particularly well on the Elky. Very cool to see this one still used as a daily driver!
That rampside was a great idea too. Kind of a wonder that no one has ever tried to make one since then…
The big failure (IMO) point of Rampside Corvair pickups was : the flimsy ramp/tailgate thing ~ the GM ads showed Farmers walking animals up it and rolling milk cans up it but doing this or even walking on it , made it bend and dent to wrinkly junk in a matter of months when measured in daily light duty use .
Sad because I remember them , L.A. County bought several and installed Gas Pump measuring can / meters in the beds and they were all near *perfect* when sold as salvage in the 1980’s .
In general , Corvairs were decent cars , very light and nimble to their small engines didn’t work very hard .
There were several short comings but head studs pulling was never one I encountered .
Bless Generous Motors Corporation for at least _trying_ to give America a European style light duty truck…
It failed but so many do .
I wonder why Peugeot never tried selling the 404 (?) based ‘ Bakkies ‘ here ~ their styling was spot on for the 1960’s and I loved the way they drove .
(hadda go back and fix my spelin’ errors)
Suppose that explains a lot – typical GM cost-cutting even back then. Sounds like it should have had some diamond plate or similar backing to strengthen it and provide a suitable walkway…
The ’59 El Camino is from a period in American automotive history when cars were rolling artwork. To me, these are like sculptures!
Exactly. And in some ways about as practical as a sculpture – but just look at the thing! RoadArt.
Just so Chris ;
The tailgate is always the weak link in Pickups , then as now .
I was shickled titless when I bought my current Shop Truck in TEXAS (1969 Chevrolet C/10) as it has a diamond plate rear bumper that’s cur away so the tail gate hangs _straight_down_ for easy loading instead of bending the crap out of it like most do .
My 70 C10 (Fleetside long bed) had the same type of rear bumper and I loved the way the tailgate stays could be slipped out of the edge of the tailgate and it would rest on the bumper. I could back into the driveway with my rear wheels in the low point where street meets driveway and load and unload with a hand truck using it as a ramp. Didn’t need a helper to load and unload almost anything using this method. I really miss being able to do that.
In 1974 the VW dealership I worked for had a 68 Bus single cab pickup for a parts runner. In those days the dealerships would go to the VOA warehouse in Harbor City and pick up daily orders, and also weekly stock orders. Everything would be checked with the packing list for correct part, amount, and condition. Body parts and glass was checked before leaving the dock, and any problems were taken care of before you left. The high bed was great for the loading dock height, and the large area under the floor was great for boxes full of the smaller parts. These things were used by the majority of the dealers back then, along with a lot of regular Buses minus seats. A stock order with maybe a couple of short blocks on board made for exciting merging on the freeway, you were up to 35-40 MPH by the time you ran out of merge lane and had to pull in front of someone going about 70. One time I used a 59 crew cab from the used car dept when the regular truck was being serviced, this one had 36 HP instead of the 55-60 hp engine of the 68, that was really fun to get up to speed. If Batman had a truck, the 59 El Camino would be perfect.
Jan. 9th, 2015
It’s been more than 50 years since I told you about the ’59 El Camino. Chevrolet quit making them a long time ago. The Ford Ranchero was also discontinued decades ago. As I recall, Chrysler and the independents never really even tried to enter this niche.
Americans still drive their “pickups”, in fact their popularity has increased. 50 years ago pickups were for farmers or tradesmen, now CPAs and computer programers drive them too.
The style of bed with the sides pushed out to the width of the cab has become the norm. The bed itself is usually shorter these days because Americans now prefer 4 door pickups; a family sedan with a truck bed. Usually this type of truck is driven by a single commuter.
The pickups have become much harder to load as they are now much higher off the ground than was the case 50 years ago. For some reason Americans prefer that the trucks are so high that it is very difficult to get into the cab w/o an assist handle. Consequently the bed is so high that one is loading at almost chest height. Americans still have not caught on to fold down sides on their pickup beds, which would really help given the high load platform. Americans continue to be very friendly, but can be very skeptical about ideas that did not originate here. Maybe that’s why the Americanized Utes never found a large market and are no longer built.
Next time I write I’ll try to explain why American manufacturers have turned their backs on smaller sized “compact” pickups. I’m not sure I really understand as Toyota still sells a bunch of them here.
Love this, and love that El Camino.
Great post! A 59 Chevy would have to find a place in my 200-car MM garage. Cant post a photo at the moment but I recently saw a stritched VW single cab with about a 10-11′ tray. That group shot is impressive but I dont recognise all the vehicles. Grey DKW at the back, blue Goliath (with wheel arches protruding above the tray) but what are the other two?
200 car garage? I’d have a ’59 Chevy if I only had a 20 car garage!
Don’t refer to those Iowa girls as “pigs”, it gets their panties in a bunch.
I always loved the `59 Chevies-the El Camino was no exception. Say what you will about the styling, it looks great in all its incarnations, be it coupe, convertible, 2 or 4 door sedan, even wagons to a lesser extent. Gotta smile when I see the `59 El C.A local funeral parlor in Brooklyn NY had one for a flower car until the mid 70s, when it was replaced with a `65 El C.The owner`s son took it and made a street rod out of it, but kept it in black. Cool vehicle, drop dead-no pun intended beautiful.
I always liked that flat-top styling, I thought it worked the best on the El Camino. Funny the 60-66 Chevy trucks also had this styling, but the cars dropped the flat top in I believe ’62. So the trucks carried an outdated style for quite a while. I have a ’65 truck and it is one of the most unusual styled trucks I have ever seen. Its obvious they didn’t design it with a wind tunnel. I wonder what my drag coefficent would be.
I was fascinated by that dockside photo, since I only recognized the Volkswagen immediately. And if I want to know something I just start searching…searching…and searching. And then I found them….
The white one is a DKW Schnellaster.
Green: a Tempo Rapid.
Blue: a Goliath Express 1100.
Grey: a Ford Taunus Transit.
…But instead of searching I just should have asked Paul where he found the photo, because here they are in the Hamburger Museumhafen. 🙂
The standard American pickup is not very useful until you put a flatbed on it. My last 4 pickups have all had flatbeds mounted at standard loading dock height. The drop down tailgait is a terrible invention. It forces you to reach past the tailgait to grab your cargo. That is just plain stupid, not to mention destructive to your back. Those El Camino truck-like things were not meant to be used as a work vehicle. They were toys. Plain and simple. However, I understand they are tremendously popular in Australia where they are called “utes”, prounounced “yoots”, which I believe is short for utility.
When I moved to LA in the 80s I would often see a 59 Impala Wagon in Silver Blue … turns out it was Rock Hudson’s and his partner, who had sued his estate for intentional negligence, used it as his daily driver. This was during and after the trial. Me being the car buff would spot it 100s of times literally everywhere around town.
It matched one that the Morgan’s had had prior to their 68 Country Squire.
Volkswagen eventually introduced their own take on the El Camino. They were built in the ill-fated Westmoreland factory until 1984, while European production continued until 1992. They certainly couldn’t tow like US El Caminos, Rancheros, or El Diablos; but they did combine car-like ride and handling with a healthy dose of utility. They also inspired Chrysler to produce the sportiest little pickup of them all. The Rampage may have remained on the US market longer than the Rabbit Pickup/Caddy that served as its template.
Rear window lips need to make a come back. Not just the rear tack on spoilers like today. It adds so much dynamic to design flow. I doubt they will but a guy can dream.
My late father had one of these in the mid-60s… a black ‘59 with a 348 and three on the tree.
About the European trucks with the fold down sides on the bed. In the mid 2000s I spent some time in Korea. The majority of the small trucks were either Kia Bongos or Hyundai Porters. They were both cab over engine and the load bed had fold down sides. They also had dual wheels that were smaller than the front wheels. This allowed the load bed to be lower. I am guessing that the dual wheels are required to get sufficient load capacity in the smaller size.
‘We used to drive to Lafayette & Baton Rouge,
In a yellow El Camino, listening to Howlin’ Wolf….”
— Lucinda Williams:
on “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road”
Chevrolet discovers the ute only several decades after GMH in Australia began producing them, surely the mothership must have known about coupe utilities from down under.
The Euro preference for side-loading goes back a long ways. You can see it repeatedly with horsecarts and pushcarts in these photos from 1880 London.
It was clearly defined in early motor trucks around 1918. The British versions of US trucks were side-loaders or side-tippers.
Another 59 El camino shooted during Hot August Night in Reno back in 2007
Paul, what was it like going to grade school when you didn’t know English well, or at all? I know that many people who immigrated as children have negotiated this situation successfully, but I’d think the first months would be rough.
It was a bit bizarre at first. There was a kid in my class whose parents had emigrated from Austria before he was born, but had learned a bit of German, so he was able to help a bit.
The younger one is, the easier it is to learn a new language. I was reasonably fluent in six weeks.
My older brother and sister had already had some English in school in Austria, as it’s mandatory starting in fourth grade.
It was a real bitch for my mother; it took her years to feel even partially comfortable speaking English.
When I went off to 7th grade, I was in a group kids who were thought to be reasonably smart, and I saw that we’d been signed up for Spanish. I thought the idea of a foreign language was daunting, but there it was.
So the teacher walked into our first Spanish class and said, “Buenos días, clase. Me llamo Señora Principato.” She went on for some time, and I wondered if she spoke English at all! Well, she was born and raised in the US, but she seldom spoke English in class. If you lapsed into English, she’d say, “¡No hable inglés!” (I used Google Translate for that in order to get the accent marks and the inverted exclamation point, not because I couldn’t have translated it myself.)
The bed on this 59 El Camino looks pretty small compared to the body of the car. How does this bed compare in size to the 64 Chevelle El Camino from 64?
I always thought a VW exhaust sounds like a girl farting in church!