The history of the mass produced coupe utility truck can be traced back to a 1932 letter sent to Ford Motor Company by a farmer’s wife in Australia. She asked for a vehicle they could drive to church on Sundays and haul pigs to market on Mondays. The letter inspired Ford designer Lew Brandt, which resulted in the company’s 1934 coupe utility. Mind you, these vehicles, along with Chevy’s 1935 version and Studebaker’s 1937-1939 Coupe Express were only being sold in Australia at the time. It wouldn’t be until 1957 that the body style would come to the States, when Ford introduced the Ranchero. While one Chevrolet stylist has said Harley Earl suggested a coupe utility for the domestic market as early as 1952, Chevrolet didn’t act the idea until it had to respond to the Ford Ranchero. This led to the release of the El Camino on this day in 1958 for the following model year.
Based on the 1959 Brookwood two-door station wagon, the first year El Camino found great success, outselling Ranchero approximately 22,000 to 14,000. While it could be dealer equipped with any Chevrolet drivetrain at the time, the El Camino was only available in one trim level, which featured mid-level Bel Air styling on the outside and a lower class interior based on the Biscayne.
The following year was a complete flip flop for Chevy and Ford. A dismal 14,163 El Caminos left the lot for 1960, compared to some 21,000 Fords. This led Chevrolet to discontinue the model. It would be revived in 1964, this time based off the Chevelle, a platform it would utilize through 1977.
In 1970, El Camino buyers could opt for Chevrolet’s most powerful engine from the factory, though not many checked that box. The LS6 454 CID engine made 450 hp and allowed the El Camino to run 1/4-mile times in the upper 13s at about 106 mph. The fun didn’t last long as the engine option was discontinued in 1971. The El Camino grew in stature for the next few years, continuing to use Chevelle styling on a wagon chassis through 1977.
The last generation of the El Camino was built from 1978 until 1987 and utilized the GM G-Body platform. A range of trim and power train options were available through the decade. From 1985 on production was moved to Mexico, with the final El Camino rolling off the assembly line without much of a fuss in 1987, some eight years after the last Ranchero.
Cover: 1959 Chevrolet El Camino by Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0