The 1964-1967 Chevrolet El Camino came from Chevy's part-car, part-truck El Camino first produced in 1959-60. Chevy's entry into the intermediate field would provide the ideal setting for the revival.
When Chevrolet dropped its original El Camino car-based pickup in 1960, few could have guessed the nameplate was actually only going on hiatus. The El Camino would return for 1964 as a smaller entry, based on a type of Chevrolet passenger car that was unknown in 1960. Its combination of moderate size, proven powertrains, and plentiful performance options would make the second-generation El Camino a winner.
The 1965 El Camino combined the moderate size of a car with the performance of a truck. See more pictures of Chevrolet cars.
Ford, of course, had fired the first round in the sedan-pickup battle with its Ranchero, built from 1957 to 1959 on the full-size Ford platform. Chevrolet responded with its like-sized El Camino in '59, but would build it that way for only two model years.
Meanwhile, Ford was busy transforming the Ranchero into a much smaller offering based on its new-for-1960 Falcon compact. The Falcon Ranchero consistently rang up around 20,000 sales per model year from 1960 to 1963. However, when Chevrolet unveiled a new El Camino in 1964, Ford was immediately put on the defensive.
The exact chronology of events and who did what to bring the El Camino revival to market have become murky with the passage of time. However, your author did locate a member of the original concept team who well remembers the story of how the intermediate El Camino came to be.
When Eugene "Geno" Skowronski reported to work at Campbell-Ewald Advertising, Chevrolet's ad agency, on September 8, 1960, it was the start of a career that would span more than three decades and include dozens of new-vehicle introductions. Skowronski's very first assignment: help Chevrolet Truck Sales Manager James Conlon and his product planners research a replacement for the 1960 El Camino.
Some Chevrolet dealers were disappointed with the El Camino being dropped for 1961. They had liked the extra sales provided by the half car/half truck. They were also aware, of course, that Ford was still very much in the game with the new compact Ranchero, which was selling well.
The short-term solution offered by Chevrolet -- the 1961 Corvair Rampside pickup, with its rear engine and bi-level load floor -- was simply too different to compete against the small, but thoroughly conventional, Ford. (Besides, Ford also had a more direct competitor for the Rampside in the Econoline.) The dealers wanted another El Camino.
According to Skowronski, the planning team initially flirted with a somewhat El Camino-like concept featuring dual Corvair engines. Called the Trailblazer -- a name that would return at Chevrolet decades later -- it quickly came to naught.
The team next turned to the soon-to-be introduced Chevy II compact, which would be built on a conventional rear-drive chassis. Skowronski recalls that a Chevy II wagon prototype was modified into a pickup. Subsequent evaluation determined that the Chevy II wasn't really suited to becoming a truck.
By early 1961, the team had begun to focus on the 1964 Chevrolet "intermediate" then under development. A two-door station wagon was already proposed for the new-car line; such a vehicle could contribute structure and even body panels to an El Camino. The robust and proven Chevrolet powertrains to be offered in the new car would contribute the power. And the new full-perimeter-frame chassis could add the durability an El Camino needed.
The only problem was timing: For three model years, Ford would have the passenger-car-pickup field all to itself. Even so, after many meetings, the decision was made to build the new El Camino on the forthcoming Chevrolet intermediate platform.
Thus, the 1964 El Camino was apparently a work in progress by the time Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen replaced Ed Cole as Chevrolet's general manager in late 1961. Knudsen, a car guy in every sense, had made stodgy Pontiac into a stellar performer, style leader, and stunning sales success starting in the late Fifties. He was about to lead Chevrolet into some of its most exciting and successful years as well.
The Chevelle would be the division's fifth car line, joining the regular Chevrolet, Corvair, Chevy II, and Corvette in Chevrolet showrooms. Although he did not "father" the Chevelle, Knudsen would proudly introduce it to the automotive press several months before the public introduction.
The El Camino's unique attributes were designed in a special GM Styling studio that handled station wagon development. Photographs from the design studio indicate that the basic styling and much of the detail had been worked out by autumn 1962.
As with the original El Camino, the cab and pickup box of the new truck were built into an integrated assembly. Essentially, the long rear-quarter panels of the two-door wagon formed the exterior sides of the six-foot El Camino cargo box.
The wagon's sloping B-pillar -- clearly evocative of the 1955-1957 Nomad -- was also adapted for the El Camino. In some dimensions, such as depth and length, the bed of the new El Camino was larger than that of its 1959-1960 ancestor.
In addition to the full-perimeter frame, the new El Camino would share the Chevelle's 115-inch wheelbase and full-coil suspension. The four-link rear suspension -- an impressive feature for the time -- was adapted to the new sedan-pickup.
However, inflatable rear air shocks would be standard on the El Camino; their job was to help level the vehicle when carrying a load. Typical of pickups of the era, El Camino weight distribution was inherently biased to the front. Base models had about 60 percent of their weight on the front suspension.
This would, of course, have a negative but unavoidable impact on traction and handling compared to Chevelle passenger-car models. El Camino payload capacity ran up to 1,200 pounds when equipped with a six-cylinder engine, or 1,100 pounds with V-8 power.
Standard-model trim started with bright moldings that highlighted the rear roofline, pickup box and tailgate, and rear window. The standard editions had a starting price of $2,260 with a six-cylinder engine, $2,368 with the base V-8. The Custom model, which cost an additional $81, added bright wheelhouse and lower-body moldings, plus additional shiny trim for the roof drip gutters, upper door frames, and windshield pillars. All models carried "Chevelle" nameplates on their front fenders.
The El Camino was built in the same General Motors Assembly Division plants that produced Chevelles, so the full palette of colors available for Chevelles was extended to the El Camino. Wheels were body color, with a small bright center cap. The Chevelle Malibu's full wheel covers and simulated wires were optional.
Engine choices initially included a pair of inline sixes and two versions of Chevy's 283-cid V-8. The former were the 120-bhp Hi-Thrift of 194 cubic inches and a special version of the 230-cube six with a relatively aggressive camshaft that boosted horsepower to 155, compared to 140 when used in the full-size Chevrolet.
The Chevelle 230 was also treated to a plated valve cover, air-cleaner top plate, and other bright touches, and was identified by special front-fender emblems. In the V-8 series, the 195-bhp Turbo-Fire 283 with a two-barrel carburetor was standard, with the 220-horse four-barrel carb/dual-exhaust engine optional.
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