The Ford Ranchero came out before the Chevy El Camino and was Ford’s version of a car/truck hybrid vehicle. The public’s first chance to get their hands on them was in 1957 and the outcome was good, in-fact the outcome was so good that Chevrolet decided it was time for them to get in on the action, and thus the Chevy El Camino was born.
El Camino is a Spanish name that stands for “The Road”. The name and the idea was first introduced to the public by Cadillac in 1954 at the Detroit Motorama. Even though it received some serious attention, the idea never set sail and Cadillac would eventually drop the project after about one year.
But Chevrolet was keeping a close eye on Ford’s progress with the Ranchero, and seeing the success they were having with it, Chevy decided to make a move of their own. In 1959, Chevrolet relaunched the El Camino based off the Chevy Impala Bel Air frame and styling. But again, the El Camino would find itself without a lot of buyers.
Experts believe the reason for the poor sales was that Ford down sized the Ranchero from a Ford Fairlane based frame to a Ford Falcon based frame, making the car smaller and more desirable to drive. This in-turn left buyers heading toward Ford for the hybrid vehicle and forced Chevy to put the El Camino project back on the shelf.
But again, GM was taking notes from Fords progress and after a few years the El Camino resurfaced in 1964 with a smaller frame and style based off the Chevelle. After that point, the El Camino stayed on Chevrolet’s roster for 23 years with 1987 being the last year for the odd Spanish named car/truck.
One of the things that help kept the El Camino on the market for so long was the engine performance. Since it was based off a Chevelle, the El Camino got all of the same treatment including performance packages that through the years included a 327 CI. motor in the early years, beefed up to a 396 CI. starting in 1966, and when the muscle car era really hit full swing, the 1970 El Camino was outfitted with a 454 CI. motor. There were smaller motor options like with all of GM products, but these motors are what attracted consumers.
Unfortunately for consumers who enjoyed the big gas guzzling motors, 1973 brought an end to the muscle car madness. De-tuned fuel-efficient engines that performed poorly when it came to high-performance found their way into just about all cars of that era including the El Camino.
Thankfully, another styling change for the El Camino in 1978 kept consumers wanting more. The Chevelle took a turn for the worst after 1973, Chevrolet tried to hold on to it, but found that without the allure of big muscle car power it just was not a car people were buying anymore. So in 1977, Chevrolet discontinued the car, and instead of using the Chevelle for a base for the El Camino they turned to the Malibu for the inspiration. Luckily for Chevy, fans of the El Camino seemed to like the change to the sleeker style, and sales stayed high enough to keep it in the product line-up.
But unfortunately in 1987, Chevrolet had to dump the El Camino. The look was out-dated, the power was unimpressive and consumers had already gravitated towards the much more efficient front-wheel drive cars. Although the El Camino was fun to drive if you were a car enthusiast, the rear-wheel drive and the light-weight rear-end made them tough to drive in the winter. GM was making great strives in the technology department and unfortunately, there was no room for the El Camino.
The El Camino spent many successful years in Chevrolet’s product line-up and unlike a lot of cars that get discontinued, the El Camino did not become a junkyard bound car. Still to this day there are car enthusiast that purchase, own and restore these babies. You are likely to never go to a car show, dragstrip or a car cruise in America without seeing at least a few of them souped-up and ready for show.