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El Camino, Spanish for “the road”, was considered a sedan pickup or “crossover” vehicle. It was an attempt to appeal to both car and truck customers with a mixture of individual comforts and utility features. What is a sedan pickup? Generally it is considered to be a utility vehicle built on a passenger car chassis, with passenger car frontal and cabin styling and a cargo box seamlessly integrated into the design elements.
The utility coupe pickup models were being manufactured in Australia as early as the mid 1930’s by GM’s Australian Holden model line.
Introductory sales literature for the El Camino was aimed at the gentleman farmer, construction foreman, or others interested in light-duty, rural or suburban hauling. In both appearance and performance, it offered the best qualities of a fine passenger car. The exterior was dressed up a bit with midlevel Bel Air-style side trim and the large curved rear window was framed with chrome.
The 1959 El Camino was promoted as the first Chevrolet pickup built with a steel bed floor instead of wood. The floor was a corrugated sheet metal insert and its box capacity was nearly 33 cubic feet. Chevy’s 283-cid “small-block engine was the base power plant in V-8 models which rode on 119-inch-wheel-base, X-frame chassis with full-coil suspension. The six-cylinder model came with a 235.5-cid Hi-Thrift six, which was newly detuned to 135 hp in the interest of operating economy.
Depending on engine selection, a customer could choose a 3-speed manual transmission, a 3-speed overdrive, Powerglide 2 speed automatic, or Turboglide automatic. Price started at $2352 for the 6 cylinder and $2470 for the 8 cylinder. A total of 22,246 El Caminos were produced in 1959 dropping to 14,163 in 1960.
The sedan pickup had trouble connecting with enough car buying Americans to stay in production. One reason was possibly that they just didn’t carry enough passengers. In a time when baby-boomer families dominated the market, three across the front was the best an El Camino could offer and this just did not meet the needs of a large share of the car buying population. In addition, marketing efforts were focused exclusively on commercial customers.
Though the El Caminos manufactured in 1987 were the last of their kind, the concept remains powerful even today. Chevrolet has recently shown designs for a contemporary sedan pickup, but has not committed to production as of yet. Perhaps we will be seeing an automobile similar to the original El Camino sometime in the near future.
- Car-based pickup, introduced in 1959 to compete with the Ford Ranchero
- Purchased new by Harold LeMay, and he proposed to Nancy LeMay in this car
- 14,163 produced Price new: $2,473