1965 Chevrolet El Camino

Hauling into its second year, the 1965 El Camino had a new frontal appearance, again shared with the Chevelle. The new grille, hood, and front bumper came to a slight peak at the center, replacing the flat-faced 1964 look. Consequently, overall vehicle length increased 2.5 inches. "Good looks never carried so much weight," Chevrolet said in its advertising.

1965 Chevrolet El Camino
The 1965 El Camino featured a
single-lens taillight design.

The El Camino began to stand apart from the intermediate passenger cars, though, as Chevelle nameplates were stricken from the pickup's flanks.

External engine ID (for all engines except the base six) now appeared ahead of the front-wheel opening. A new single-lens taillight design was used. Back-up lamps migrated to the rear bumper, enhancing illumination when backing up. (Dummy lenses filled the openings on standard models.) The tailgate emblem border changed from gold to white at the top, and from black to red in the lower area. Lower-bodyside moldings were also new on the standard models.

El Camino Customs featured a new bright bodysill molding, however there was no lower-body molding extension aft of the rear wheels this year. There were 12 exterior color choices, 10 of them new. Inside, trim changes and improvements included a new two-key locking/ignition system and increased sound-deadening insulation.

On the options list, an AM-FM radio became available for the first time and a "low D-note" horn option could be added to El Camino's standard two-horn system to provide a "distinctive signal." New dealer-installed accessories also included an auto compass, cruise control, and Chevelle wheel covers. Simulated wire wheel covers were also available.

The El Camino Custom could again be ordered with what was essentially Chevelle Super Sport trim, including SS- type bodyside moldings. The bucket-seat package continued to include a floor console, when a four-speed was ordered, and Chevelle SS wheel covers.

While the 195-bhp two-barrel 283 continued as standard in V-8 models, the optional four-pot version was cut. The 300-horse 327 V-8 was now readily available. Its 250-bhp companion utilized new cylinder heads and a larger-diameter singe exhaust system (with a dual system as an option). The exceptionally strong L79 350-bhp 327 was also offered.

In six-cylinder models, the 194-cid engine continued as standard. The optional 230-cube engine was now rated at 140 bhp, having lost its special camshaft -- and its chrome accents.

Suspension was retuned for a softer and quieter ride. New low-profile tires reduced El Camino ride height for 1965 due to their smaller rolling radius.

Touring on the auto-show circuit in 1965 was the Surfer 1 El Camino concept vehicle. This topless roadster pickup was displayed trailering a correspondingly customized drag boat. Both were powered by Chevrolet's brand-new 396-cid Mark IV engine otherwise found in full-size cars, the Cor­vette, and a mere 201 Chevelle Z16s.

Totally fresh exterior styling gave the 1966 Chevelle and El Camino a new look, although they utilized the same basic substructures as the 1964-1965 models. On the El Camino, all outer body panels below the beltline -- except for the tailgate skin -- were new.

With the Chevelle two-door wagon dropped for 1966, the El Camino rear quarters were now unique, though the new vertical taillamp design was shared with Chevelle wagon models. Back-up lights again became integral with the taillights, as in 1964. For the first time, El Camino had its name on the front of the vehicle, on the emblem at the center of the new wraparound grille.
Inside, there was a new instrument panel and blue replaced aqua as one of the three standard interior colors. A black interior (in place of blue) was available with the Custom bucket-seat option. Headrests were a new option for this year, and in March, shoulder belts also became available.

1965 Chevrolet El Camino
1965 Chevrolet El Camino offered three different colors
for interiors, including the red shown here.

Performance-orientated buyers were excited to learn that Chevrolet's "big-block" 396-cid Turbo-Jet V-8 was now available for El Camino in 325- and 360-bhp versions. Even better, the L78 solid-lifter 375-bhp engine became a midyear addition.

This Special High-Performance V-8 cost $425 extra and 3,099 were sold -- though how many went into El Caminos is unknown. Published road tests of the era indicated quarter-mile times of just under 16 seconds with the 325-hp 396. The 375-hp engine would clock about a second faster with stock tires and chassis components.

Down the chart was a single 327 V-8. This amalgamation of the former 250- and 300-bhp engines was rated at 275 horsepower. The 220-bhp four-barrel 283 rejoined the options list. The two sixes and the standard V-8 were carried over for another year.

A heavy-duty fully synchronized Warner floorshift three-speed manual available with the 396s was extended as an option with other El Camino engines in mid '66. A four-speed was still available only with V-8 engines; with the 360- and 375-horse mills, the four-speed was a close-ratio gearbox.

On Custom models, specific lower-body bright moldings included an extension aft of the rear wheelhouse. The ribbed moldings had a black paint fill, à la the Chevelle SS. (To the chagrin of owners then and now, the distinctive domed hood featured on Chevelle SS396 models was not offered from the factory on the El Camino.)

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