Don't let the plain exterior fool you. This El Camino mixes the best of old Detroit brawn
Detroit began dabbling in the sport truck scene way back in the '50s - and not necessarily with the intention of launching a fad, although every marketing manager probably dreams of transforming a stone into a Pet Rock or ugly, freely rotating wheels into Spinners. Chevrolet introduced the El Camino in 1959 to homestead the territory that had been staked out by Ford's Ranchero. Originally basing the El Camino on the Impala platform, Chevy switched to the Chevelle template in 1964 after suspending manufacture of the El Camino in 1960. In 1987, the El Camino retired, Reagan exhorted the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall, the world's population reached 5 billion, and condom commercials appeared on television for the first time.
More car than truck in its day, the El Camino now resembles the slammed pickups cruising today's streets. Or is it that sport trucks, with their car-like handling and configuration, resemble the El Camino? Whatever the case may be, no pickup quite captures the ambiguous combination of the El Camino's low, musclecar lines and truck-like cargo capacity. And a classic Camino makes an inexpensive canvas upon which to exercise your automotive craft. At least, Jim Swartz thought so. He dropped $600 on a '64 model, dragged it into his body shop in Magnolia, Texas, and got busy blending white-glove restoration with aggressive contemporary styling.
Aside from the solid red paint from PPG, eyeballing the body from a distance reveals little, but look closer and you'll notice the body lines are hardly stock. A molded, steel scoop from a '70 Chevelle bulges easily from the hood. Swartz shaved the door locks and emblems and moved the gas intake to the cargo bed, smoothing an already sleek-looking body style. Bright original metal trim frames the aftermarket diamond-plating that lines the bed. Inside the cab, the changes are even more apparent than the exterior. A red dash encircles an aluminum dash insert and gauge cluster. The custom center console got the same color treatment as the dash, as well as a Sony head unit, speakers, and a boost gauge. The console extends between the two red-and-gray leather seats to the rear of the cab, where two forward-firing subwoofers are suspended in custom enclosures above the Sony amplifier bolted to the floor. Diamond-plate floor mats in the driver's and passenger's footwells complement the dash and console aluminum inserts and visually pop from the clean, gray carpet. Beside a red-grille speaker, a flaming Chevy emblem flares in base relief from each door panel. Tweed lines the doors and embraces the pillars, headliner, and subwoofer enclosures. All in all, the staff at PC Upholstery did a great job on this El Camino's interior.
After flipping the switches on its Air Ride suspension to pry it off the ground, you can see four GM disc brakes and Monroe shocks behind 17x8-inch Cragar wheels wrapped by P225/50R17 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires. Powering the El Camino is a '91 350ci tuned-port V-8 with tuned air intake runners for improved airflow muscling out the battery, which Swartz moved beneath the cargo bed. Cast-iron heads snap a lid on 4-inch pistons, and Hedman headers evacuate exhaust as efficiently as possible. The whole package is backed by a shaved firewall and gleams silver and red.
We first spotted this El Camino a year ago. At the time, Showfest was its first big debut, and what a premier. Hopefully, we'll see more reinterpreted Caminos as we travel the circuit. Until then, we'll have to bask in Swartz's vision of a classic progenitor of the sport truck scene.