I came across this El Camino at the end of this past February while in Evanston, the city just north of Chicago. It was still pretty cold outside that Saturday, but I was determined to leave the house after spending most of my day being responsible and getting my personal work and chores out of the way. I had to do a little internet research to find out where I wanted to go and what I felt like doing, but my basic goal was to find something small and relatively inexpensive with which to treat myself at the end of a week of tasks well executed. Things don’t have to cost a lot of money to bring me joy. It’s often true that the less something of good quality costs relative to how great, delicious, or unique it is, the more satisfied I am, especially if I get to keep more of my hard-earned money.
I had set out for a used clothing store I found online that I had never been to before, but ended up going to the small, locally-owned, gourmet chocolatier that had taken its place in the same storefront. Noir d’Ébène (French for “black of ebony”) ended up having exactly what I didn’t know I needed (not wanted, but needed) that afternoon, which was a super-delicious, handcrafted, dark chocolate candy bar of single-origin, Peruvian cacao beans, embedded with various fruits and nuts. I felt pretty good about not bringing home one more physical object that would take up space in my home, but rather a special treat I could enjoy as part of the memory of that day’s explorations and meeting new people.
Before I made it to the candy boutique, though, I stumbled across a parking garage in which this El Camino was parked. It had caught my eye from the sidewalk, and unlike the ’73 Ford LTD Brougham I had spotted and photographed in a different parking garage in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, there were no cars parked immediately adjacent to it, which enabled me to get a few decent shots of it. The first thing that struck me was how much the squared-up, quad-headlamp look introduced for ’82, which lasted through the end, effectively modernized its front end. I do like the dual-light models and have written about several of them, but the later models with four lamps just look smarter to me, somehow.
1980 Chevrolet El Camino. Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois. Sunday, May 3, 2020.
I grew up in a family where everyone else wore glasses. I did not. The relatives I looked up to as a young kid all wore them, which made me think that one day, I, too, would “graduate” to wearing glasses once I was of a certain age. It would be a rite of passage. But, alas, my eyesight remained excellent and I never got those glasses I had once pined for. Vehicles with four headlights have always had a more premium look to me, as those lights are very much like the eyes of a car’s or truck’s “face”. It would be only a bit later in my childhood when I would realize that “four eyes” was an insult that was the bane of some of my peers who needed corrective lenses to actually see. While the ’80 model pictured above might have a bit of a “sad” expression, the restyled countenance of our featured truck seems to possess a strong, steely gaze.
I had to do a license plate search in order to discover that this El Camino was a final-year ’87. Though the standard engine that year was a 4.3L V6 with 145 hp and 225 lb.-ft. of torque, this one has (or had) the optional, 150-horse, 305 cubic inch V8 with 240 lb.-ft. of torque. It was originally manufactured in Ramoz Arizpe, Mexico. It also has the Conquista option (RPO D91), which was an exterior trim package that consisted of two-tone paint, special chrome moldings that separated the upper and lower exterior colors, and exterior identification.
All Conquistas I’ve seen pictures of have a roof and lower-body section in one color, with the central part of the main body in a contrasting color. On this example, only the roof is a different color, with the rest of it being all silver. Given the aftermarket wheels, my educated guess is that this ’87 had gotten a silver respray at some point, with the some of the Conquista-specific chrome trim purposely removed . I also find it fascinating that the El Camino had lasted all the way through the ’87 model year, especially given the popularity of the S-10, Chevy’s other small truck. Also, contrasting the El Camino’s basic styling sourced from the late-’70s Malibu against that of the slick, redesigned, full-sized C/K pickup that arrived for ’88, I’m hard-pressed to find any common design language between the two trucks.
According to one source, there were only about 13,700 ’87 El Caminos that found buyers (along with just under 1,900 GMC Caballeros) before the final curtain came down. Time moves only forward, though. The El Camino had its day and still has its fans (including me), though this model is probably not ever coming back to new car showrooms. I suppose it might have been serendipity that the vintage clothing store I had been looking for on the day I spotted this truck had been replaced by a new and amazing chocolate shop. It’s always a helpful process to try to be ready to embrace change and let go of the familiar, just as smaller trucks like the S-10 came to fulfill a role that the El Camino had occupied before. Still, this example is special for being from el final del camino, or the end of the road. Adios, amigo. Glad to know you.
Saturday, February 26, 2022.
Very good point, Dennis, about the headlights being the “eyes” of the car’s face. That’s a principle which has on occasion been forgotten by the designers of such weird unfortunates as the Subaru Tribeca and Nissan Juke.
I had always found single-headlight-per-side headlamps from 1958 onward to be a bit declasse too. The end of the sealed-beam era mostly ended that dual/quad headlamp distinction, replacing both with amorphous blobs. Then LEDs came around and made headlamp shapes even weirder.
I’ll agree that the use of LEDs and odd shapes kind of killed the whole “face of the car” thing for me. I get that design evolves, but I’m still catching up. Fighting back the idea that cars are just appliances anymore.
While I totally agree that the quad lamps look better than the duals, to me the key detail is the way that the grille opening is moved down in its space. Of course the hole is the same height across the front but the opening itself is lower with a thicker chrome strip across the top. This is a complete turnaround from the earlier front where the chrome goes up over the rounded edge of the front and the grille is above the level of the headlamps.
Notice in particular the brochure with the blue car that uses lighting to obscure the chrome top of the grille. It completely alters the character of the front.
Great observations. The slimmer overall profile of the grille within the front of the car is transformative.
I agree that this front end looks much better. I will join you in your fan-dom for these Elkys.
One thing I find mildly funny is the juxtaposition of the “handcrafted, dark chocolate candy bar of single-origin, Peruvian cacao beans, embedded with various fruits and nuts” with a garden variety, very (small “d”) democratic Chevrolet. The El Camino is more of a Nestle Crunch bar – an ordinary candy bar with a little something extra to make it interesting, much as the El Camino has that little something extra that makes the basic midsize sedan more interesting.
I’ll always love a candy metaphor. In terms of candy bars, I’m thinking the El Camino (for me) would be more along the lines of a “Whatchamacalit” (sp?), for two reasons. First, it’s not for everyone, though it has its devoted fans. Then, “whatchamacalit” best sums up the kinds of discussions I remember about it. “Is it a station wagon with the roof cut off, or is legitimately a truck?”
Oddly in the 50s, the 4 headlights were premium level cars so much so that some would “fake” a 2nd headlight (“christine” cars) and others hodge podged glued them on (studebaker) sorry dont recall exact model!
On flickr last night, I saw a ’56 Cadillac with ’58 quads and upper fender very slickly integrated. However, it still looked weird, like a radiation mutation.
Gord, this made me think of the 1958 Packard, that had some extra body tacked onto the front to make the headlamp nacelles bigger to accommodate quad lights.
I’m always surprised that the El Camino held on as long as it did. I suppose, though, that as long as GM was building G-body coupes, it wasn’t any big deal to build a relative handful of G-pickups.
This El Camino (from the license plate search) appears to have been built in Mexico. I wonder if any of those G-Body coupes were also built in Mexico on the same line, or if there was a line or process dedicated just to the El Camino and GMC Caballero.
Wikipedia says that El Camino and Caballero production shifted to Mexico in 1985, by which time I think the other RWD A/G car versions were out of production. I remember touring the Fremont GM plant (now Tesla) soon after these replaced the Colonnades, and I can still visualize a variety of 2 and 4 door, Chevy, Buick, Cutlass and Pontiac, many in full brougham regalia, but can’t recall if there were any El Camino’s on the line.
Some of the coolest things I remember doing in the ’80s were touring some of the GM plants where cars were being built.
The RWD Regal (and Grand National) and Grand Prix lasted until ’87, and the Cutlass Supreme (Classic) and Monte Carlo lasted until ’88.
I remember touring Fisher One in Flint around ’86 where Regals and Cutlasses were being assembled nose-to-tail, getting to sit in front clip-less bodies for like 30 seconds as they went down the line. That was thrilling to the young me.
Only the Buicks and Oldses were being built – to your point, I didn’t see any Chevys or Pontiacs.
El Camino and Ranchero are the auto equivalent of the mullet hair style.
The squared-up front end of the El Camino is like seeing a guy in a mullet in a tuxedo.
According to old C&D article about an ’86 “El Co”, they were kept in production since “the tooling was paid for, so why not?”. Direct quote.
btw: “Mullet” cut was not called that in the 70s/80s, early 90’s when “in”. Started with UK New Wave musicians on MTV, and pop/Rock star Rick Springfield in ’81. And was called either “New Wave” or “Shag” cut.
When it got too common with working class and middle aged men, then was declared “out” by fashionistas, and called ‘Mullet” [along with “you might be a … if’…” jokes] in the late 90’s to 2000s/2010’s. To me, it’s been so long, who cares?
The fascinating thing about the ’00s mullet phenomenon was that people (men, especially) holding on to the styles of their youth into middle age was nothing new, for the same sunk-cost reason mentioned by C/D (‘the clothes are paid for…”)
But this was a hairstyle that took some effort to maintain.
I don’t know where you live, but mullets went out by the time Grunge came in-1989.
Yes, well. According to an old C&D article about headlamps, sealed beams are poopy because “light from the filament is bounced out through the lens by a light-dispersing granular coating of glass inside the reflective bowl itself”. Direct quote. Completely made-up nonsense, not even close to true or correct, but it’s a direct quote from an old C&D article.
My college-aged nephew was sporting a mullet recently, and I was like, wow. Clearly the connotations that developed back when I was his age have been lost on the current crop of young adults.
To be fair, though, there was a lot of mullet-wearing action from entertainers in the ’80s, and it wasn’t all low-income. Even outside the realm of musicians, and for a few TV sitcom examples, there was Kirk Cameron in “Growing Pains”, Alfonso Ribeiro in “Silver Spoons”, etc. Lots of kids I went to school with had them, and they weren’t all jerks. To be honest, I was a little jealous of the kids who could pull off that look, because I knew I couldn’t! LOL
I would say the modern equivalent to the mullet is the goatee. They were quite the rage in and around the 2000-2005 era, then quickly went out of style. But I see lots of guys in their 50s still hanging on to them, a good 15 years or more later.
I was guilty of the ’90s goatee, but haven’t had one for a really long time. To your point, they were everywhere and then nowhere seemingly overnight. It’s usually a pretty good indicator if a fellow has one that he’s must be roughly my age.
When the facial hair is gray, it’s a bet that the style is out.
I could easily see the El Camino making a comeback, and can already hear the wailing and gnashing of teeth about it being a 4-cylinder 4-door, mainly hybrid, fwd/front-biased awd model competing with the Ford Maverick.
This is a good point. I suppose what I meant is that this type of vehicle wouldn’t come back – a utility vehicle based heavily on the existing structure and body shell of a passenger car. I think bringing back the name on something sized similarly to the new Maverick would be a great idea.
I thought that this car hung around a little past 1987. Wasn’t there an El Camino SS that was basically a “Monte Carlo SS in the front, and an El Camino in the back” (in keeping with the Mullet theme mentioned above 😉)? – See the picture below. Perhaps these were customs, but I thought for sure that Chevy made them this way toward the end.
I seem to recall these roaming around brand new up until almost 1990 if memory serves.
1987 was definitely the last, official model year for the El Camino, but the Super Sport did come from the factory with this front end! Here’s the picture from the ’87 brochure.
Here’s a modified version I had seen at the 2015 edition of the annual Back To The Bricks car festival in Flint, which I called the “El Camaro”. I thought it was nicely done, but I could tell it was an older customization as it was showing just a little bit of wear.
These are reverse mullets: party in the front, business in the back.
I wonder if anyone has retrofitted rectangular headlights to the rectilinear big Fords, Lincolns, or Mercurys of the 70s. It probably isn’t worth the effort for hidden headlights, but their round ones always looked odd to me when they were visible. Perhaps because they didn’t put nice trim around them behind the panel.
Excellent find and story Joseph, thank you! This nose design, while attractive, reminds me a lot of the look Ford used for the early first gen Panther LTDs. Like an unusual mashup of Ford and Chev styling here. If I saw it approaching in my rear view mirror, I might even confuse it for a moment with a ’75 Seville nose.
1975 Cadillac Seville
Thanks, Daniel. The two examples you provided definitely have extremely similar placement, shape, and configuration of grille and lights!
I have a 87 El Camino silver and black conquista only has 69,000 miles on it ac cruise all works no modifications at all factory 305 stock wheels also I’m glad to see other people still appreciate the old cars
Possibly for sale
These are my second favorite generation of El Camino after the Chevy II based second generation. The size and proportions are closer to the 60s trucks are generally neater looking than the Colonnade generation. I always liked the small quarter window that added interest and emphasized the coupe utility. look. The other cool thing is the interchangeability with the G body cars so you could build a high performance Buick Grand National Amino, or go full brougham with an Olds Cutlass Supreme Amino since the powertrain, front sheet metal and most of the interiors would interchange.
There’s a slightly older Chevy El Camino that the owner occasionally uses to haul his canoe. I guess that makes it party at both ends.
I’m not aware of a Chevy II based ElCo. Do you have any photos?
Sorry, my mistake, the second generation was the early Chevelle, which is still smaller and neater than the rather overwrought Impala based ones as well as lighter and more elegant looking that the third generation with the big pillars.
From time to time I’ve run mind-movies of ’77-’79 (-’90 if we must) B-body utes.
There’s a handful of this generation of El Camino’s in my neighborhood, so I don’t think of them as rare. But in a partial CC Effect, yesterday I saw the back end of a Malibu wagon slotted into a Palo Alto supermarket parking stall in a row of Tesla’s and Asian CUV’s. It was the first non-Elkie of this gen I’d seen in years. While I always liked the styling, and still do, the wagon rear view with its plain window and featureless sheetmetal, and bumper-mounted lights, is maybe a little too austere for my taste.
“Austere” is a good word for the rear styling of the wagons for the reasons you described. Next to many modern vehicles, it looks almost Bauhausian.
Enjoying the conversation about mullets. Usually it was the early Novas that are called that. I started working construction in the early ’80’s (Had long hair, no mullet.). Bought an ’84 that I still have and yes still being used. Original 305 I pulled out still working but I did not trust after 300,000 plus miles. Installed a Chevrolet 300 hrs crate motor. Also 700 R4-great combination for the ’90’s. There is a LS 1 with LS-7 heads for it’s next continuation of it’s life.
Nice El Camino