Chevrolet has long been known to make some truly iconic cars. The long-serving Camaro is, perhaps, the most famous of all these icons. The El Camino, for its part, is one of the strangest of the bunch. It was technically tagged as a coupe utility—a hybrid between a car and a pickup truck—though it is classified as a truck in North America. It was intended to combine the usefulness and carrying capacity of a pickup, and maneuverability and more sculpted look of a car. To modern sensibilities, it seems like an odd couple marriage, but back then it was pretty well-received.
1959-1967: A match made in heaven
The idea for a combi-truck and car was actually in the works in Chevrolet as far back as 1952. Like the Ranchero it was meant to beat, the El Camino was based on an existing and modified platform—in this case, the 1959 Brookwood sedan. The El Camino was available with any drivetrain option as with the car it was based off, but only came with a single trim level. In 1959-1960, that trim was upgraded to that found on the Impala.
The advantage of this set-up was first seen in terms of safety—the EL Camino features am x-frame design and full-coil suspension. The other advantage—in terms of carrying capacity—was seen in a payload rating between 650 to 1150 pounds. This was a respectable capacity, and saw many El Caminos in use in farms across America. Power came from a 283-cid Turbo-Jet V8 with two- or four-barreled carburetion or a 348-cid Turbo-Thrust V8 with four-barrel or triple two-barreled carburetion—the latter providing a hefty 335-bhp.
Between 1964 and 1967, the El Camino was reinvented on the Chevelle platform. This gave it a more boxy appearance that, in fact, was closer to a pickup than a car. One of the more impressive additions to the engine choices during this time was the 327-cid, small-block V8 rater at a respectable 300 horsepower. The numbers were slightly deceiving as it seemed to provide less power than before. But the truth was that the balance between power output and efficiency was excellent.
1968-1997: A good run indeed
The Chevelle base was maintained until 1973 when the El Camino was once more redesigned. What resulted was a much larger El Camino. An energy-absorbing hydraulic front bumper was added onto the Chevy to give it both added size and weight. Apart from that, front brake discs became a standard. By the time 1978 came about, the El Camino had finally reached its peak. It was trimmer, sleeker yet still very reliable and functional. Better still, it was its own vehicle already—no borrowing from the frames of others. The final engine model to power this last El Camino was a hefty 5.7-liter V8 diesel capable of putting out 105 horsepower.