The history of the Chevrolet El Camino model began in 1959 when Chevrolet released the first generation of this elegant truck, which stayed on the assembly line until 1987, survived 5 generations, and became a style icon.
General Motors liked to be the first with novelties, especially in the 1950s. But the fact was that by the time it released the Chevrolet El Camino “sedan-pickup truck” its archrival Ford had been building a similar Ranchero for two years. That must have been somewhat annoying because Chevrolet researched the pickup sedan truck design back in 1952. The history of the semi-car-semi-truck concept dates back to 1934, when the small company Hudson, followed by the famous Studebaker in 1937, created its pickup truck. The idea turned out to be quite popular. Later, in 1956, Ford released its version called Ranchero and had already been selling with might and main for two years when El Camino appeared. It’s hard to say what kept GM from launching a “Blue Oval” competitor for more than two years, but the car quickly gained popularity after the release and, along with the Ranchero, became pioneers in the style that today is known as the “crossover”. Interestingly, at the launch of the model, there were concerns that “the potential market for this car is limited to people with high incomes living in California.” The reality turned quite different, and among the buyers were people of different income levels, who lived from Alaska to Florida.
Source: Mecum Auctions
The first vehicles of this model were based on an existing platform, as the management decided not to develop a separate one. As a basis was taken a Brookwood model of the same 1959 year of production. Accordingly, the novelty ute style acquired an X-shaped frame design and a spring suspension. The wheelbase was also solid – as much as 3023mm. Air suspension was offered as an option.
The 1960 model was outwardly similar to Bel Air, internally to Biscayne: this is how the first generation El Camino could be characterized. The payload was up to 1150 pounds (515 kg), and the volume of carried cargo was about 1 cubic meter with a gross weight of 4900 pounds (2200 kg), which, even by modern standards, was not bad at all. The standard engine was an eight-cylinder 283 (4.6L) Turbo-jet with a twin or quad-barrel carburetor, producing 185 (135 kW) and 195 (143 kW) horsepower, respectively. As an option, the same volume was offered, but with Ramjet fuel injection, already up to 290 hp (213 kW)! But, this was not the most “powerful” block yet: the best one was the 348th (5.7 l) with an unconventional, three-carburetor power system, which produced up to 335 hp (246 kW). In 1960, the standard unit was derated for fuel efficiency – its power dropped to 170 hp (130 kW), and the fuel-injected engine was forgotten for many years. The exterior, like the interior, did not undergo any changes, gray and pale green colors and cheap upholstery materials were present in the 1960 release as well. It’s still unclear, why the management decided so: whether the marketers miscalculated something, decided to save on the quality of materials, and did not pay due attention to the advertising campaign, given the “promoted” model, or, perhaps, the reason was completely different. But, the fact is that orders were falling before eyes – almost 3 times less than last year (in 1960, El Camino lost 37% in sales against the previous year – selling only14,163 units). It became clear that in its original form the machine is not viable. Ford, by the way, faced the same problem and briskly reduced the size of the Ranchero. GM’s problem at the time was that the only option that could theoretically build a downsized El Camino was the Corvair. But the Corvair was not suitable, at least because of the rear-engined layout. As a result, the “big” El Camino left the market for a long three years.
Source: Mecum Auctions
Interestingly this car was the first pickup truck from an American company with a metal cargo platform. From earlier, until the end of the 60s, the other cars had a wood platform. El Camino’s floor was covered with corrugated sheet metal.
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