The El Camino is a genuine American legend. Launched as a stylish two-door pick-up in 1959, it spanned four decades through five generations, combining saloon car dynamics and performance with the rugged practicality of a more traditional pick-up truck.
In part it owes its existence to the enthusiastic reception the Ford Ranchero received from the buying public. The idea of building a pick-up truck on an existing saloon car platform was nothing new, but it proved popular for customers needing added utility without compromising on comfort levels. The Chevrolet El Camino was also offered with large capacity six and eight-cylinder engines for most of its life. We’re focusing on the fourth generation models for this guide, which means huge engines with strangled power outputs, thanks to anti-pollution devices.
The El Camino was a strong seller throughout production, and its swoopy lines, frameless door glass and generous proportions (it was the largest of all the generations) have endeared them to many enthusiasts over the years. A small number have found their way into the UK over the years, and today they can make for a practical, if slightly thirsty classic truck.
Which El Camino to buy?
The fourth-generation El Camino was produced for five years and while a fair number were produced they are now quite rare today, especially outside of the US.
Engine options ranged from an entry level 4.1-litre inline-six to a 7.4-litre V8. Despite their size, the outputs were low, with the six-cylinder producing around 104bhp, and even the gargantuan 7.4-litre pushing out only 242bhp. A three or four-speed manual gearbox was offered as well as a three-speed automatic.
Performance was languid on the entry-level models, although many have been upgraded over the years. The V8s in particular respond well to modifications. Picking a model to buy will more often than not be dictated by what is available at the time, searching for cars in the US will greatly expand your options. Do not be put off by modified examples as most El Caminos have been upgraded over the years.
Performance and specs
Chevrolet El Camino 7.3
||7.3-litre, 16 valve OHV V8
||242bhp @ 4000rpm
||375lb ft @ 2800rpm
||Three/four-speed manual or three-speed auto
Dimensions and weight
• Doors tend to sag as they are heavy, so check the hinges and see whether they need replacing or just adjusting.
• Window glass and interior trim should all be in good condition as these items can be hard to source and are pricy as a result. The same applies to the exterior plastics and moldings, missing items can be sourced however they tend to be very expensive.
• The engines may have been choked by emissions regulations when new, but they are low-stressed and can last many miles with regular maintenance. A good supply of parts means that it is better to settle on a car with engine issues that has a good condition body than the other way around.
• A lot of cars have had modifications carried out to enhance their performance and looks, so check any non-factory additions. Originality is generally valued in the classic car community, however US cars often benefit from some sympathetic modifications.
• Rust is a big issue on all El Camino models, especially if it has lived in the UK, and an otherwise mechanically good car can be rendered a write-off (or extensive labour of love) if corrosion has gone too far.
• Check the car over thoroughly with specific attention to the wheel arches, rear window, floor pans, front and rear bumpers and drainage holes. An often overlooked area is the access panel where a rear seat would have been fitted in the saloon, the seals wear out allowing water to leak in and slowly corrode away the floor and back wall of the cabin
1973: Fourth generation El Camino introduced, based on the Chevelle Wagon chassis. Three and four-speed manual transmissions were offered, as well as a three-speed automatic.
Engine options included a 112 bhp 5.0-litre V8, 142 bhp or 173bhp 5.7, as well as the top 242bhp 7.4-litre capacities. SS trim added sport style trim, and was available with the two larger V8 engines.
1974: El Camino Classic introduced as top trim level option, as well as the 6.6-litre V8 engine. The front grille was redesigned, cruise control became an option and suspension improvements were carried out.
1975: A 104 bhp in-line six-cylinder engine becomes new base model, while the 7.4-litre V8 is de-tuned from 242bhp to 212bhp. Shortly dropped from the line-up.
1976: El Camino Classic receives quad headlight treatment. Base inline-six only model to be offered with three-speed manual gearbox, all other models came standard with the three-speed automatic.
1977: For the final year of production for fourth generation El Camino, all models now had quad-headlights. 5.7-litre V8 engine also discontinued.
Owners clubs, forums and websites
• www.opgi.com/el-camino – El Camino parts site
• www.elcaminostore.com – US based El Camino parts site
• www.elcaminocentral.com – El Camino forum
Summary and prices
The Chevrolet El Camino has become a desirable classic over the years, and rising prices reflect its popularity. At the bottom end of the market you will be looking at £5000 or more for unfinished projects and tired cars that will require some work. £15,000 is what well cared for V8s trade for, although rare mint condition models can be upwards of £25,000.
Standard cars are very rare and many vehicles of this age would have been through a major refurbishment at some point, the key is to look for a verifiable history and ensure that the car is as complete and rust free as possible.
Words: John Tallodi