CC Capsule: 1959 Chev El Camino – Been Here A While

At least I think so.  This was just a chance encounter on a quiet back street of inner Melbourne, not far from a 1962 Ford Falcon survivor that I posted a few months ago.  I spotted the distinctive fins of a 1959 Chevrolet, which can’t be a common sight anywhere these days, and then soon realised it was even more unusual than that – an El Camino!


Responding to the 1957 Ford Ranchero, there were 22,246 El Caminos built for 1959, essentially by removing the roof from a 2-door station wagon. They weren’t imported into Australia though, nor were the Rancheros for that matter.

GM had however been building Chevrolet utes in Australia since the 1930s, until the Holden ute took over most of that market segment.  Ford’s Mainline ute based on the 55-56 Ford was an option for people wanting more size and power, until 1959 at least.

A little-known fact is that because of the station wagon origins, the El Camino was actually the first Chevrolet pickup with a steel bed floor instead of timber!

I had to find another photo for the bed floor, because this one had a neat flat-top tarpaulin.  The two-tone colour scheme is quite nicely done.  The 1959 Chevrolet provided a very stark lesson that not everyone knows much about cars; a few years ago a work colleague was looking at the bat-wings of a 1959 sedan and asked “what car is that?”  Now you couldn’t really get a more distinctive car, at least I would have thought so.  No-one is born knowing these things though!

Here is a shot of the cabin, with a full right-hand drive conversion.  This is the key sign that this ute has been in the country long-term, because for the last 10-15 years the requirement to convert a LHD classic car over 30 years old has been removed, and subsequently not many get converted now.  The registration sticker on the vent window is a few years old; they were abolished because everything is on-line now!  The ability to determine if a car’s registration is current at a glance hasn’t been replaced though…

The “been here a while” of the headline refers to how long this El Camino has been in the country; the current registration was fairly new, so it may have changed homes recently.  I don’t think I’ve been down this particular street before (or since) to know if it is a long-term resident.

The front of the El Camino is less distinctive than the rear, both in terms of being more conventionally styled, and sharing the same sheetmetal as every other ’59.  Does the ‘V’ badge above the Chevrolet script indicate this has a V8 engine?  I would have thought that anyone importing an El Camino would opt for the 283 rather than the 235 ci inline six.

The El Camino shared the same 119″ wheelbase as other Chevrolets, and thanks to the flamboyant sheetmetal only had room for a 76″ long cargo bed.  Depending on whether you had 8.00-14 or 8.50-14, payload rating was either 650 or 1,150 lb (300-520kg).

By comparison the 1959 Holden ute’s payload was 900 lb which probably would have been expressed as 8 cwt back then; and in UK-influenced Australia a hundredweight was 112 pounds (not 100) just to make things easier!  That also carried through to tons – there are ‘short’ tons of 2000 lb used in the US and ‘long’ tons of 2240 lb in the UK.  Just one reason why the decimal system is easier…

But the real point of the ’59 El Camino today is the style, whether you prefer the factory look…

… or something a little more radical.

These appeal strongly to my Australian ute gene and I could probably find space for one in my 100-car MM garage, but otherwise it certainly makes a nice addition to the streetscape.


Further Reading:

Curbside Classic: 1959 Chevy El Camino- Unrestrained Exuberance

Curbside Classic: 1959 Chevrolet El Camino – I Have Seen Many Strange And Amazing Things In America