Chevrolet El Camino Review - Classic Muscle Cars Review  - Muscle Car

Chevrolet El Camino Review – Classic Muscle Cars Review 

Car Models


Written by Elise

22nd February 2021

Chevrolet El Camino Review – Classic Muscle Cars Review 
Blog   >    Car Models   >   Chevrolet El Camino Review – Classic Muscle Cars Review 

Chevrolet El Camino Review – Classic Muscle Cars Review 

By Charlotte Iggulden

‘El Camino’ translates from Spanish as ‘the path’ or ‘the way.’ It is an appropriate name for a car that signalled a new direction for General Motors (GM). From 1959-60 and 1964-87, the Chevrolet El Camino was a vehicle hybrid, combining the practicality of a pickup truck, passenger car comfort, stylish design, and, with the Super Sport package, high-performance muscle.

According to The Drive, the El Camino is “the world’s most loved car/truck.”

This is our comprehensive review of the Chevrolet El Camino.

History and Background of El Camino

The 1920s American roadster utility or ‘roadster pickup’ was the first two-door vehicle based on a passenger car that incorporated a rear cargo tray. A coupe utility with a fixed roof was developed by Ford designer, Lew Bandt, for an Australian farmer in 1932/4. The improving economy led to a preference for comfort. GM Australia produced a Chevrolet coupe utility in 1935, before Studebaker’s 1937-39 Coupe Express and Holden’s 1951 sedan-based model.

Automotive designer and GM executive Harley Earl proposed the coupe pickup concept in 1952. However, the 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier pickup truck was a forerunner of the El Camino, featuring passenger car styling, luxurious interior and optional V8 engine.

Ford, Dodge, and Studebaker offered flush-side cargo boxes on several 1957 pickup trucks before the coupe utility body style appeared in America. Adapted from a two-door station wagon, the 1957 Ford Ranchero established a new market segment. Practical and nice to drive, it sold 21,706 units.

While Chrysler was unmoved by this unexpected new rival, GM designed their own two-door car-based truck. The Chevrolet El Camino was introduced on October 16, 1958, for the 1959 model year.  Combining a “passenger style car” with “the cargo capacity of a pickup,” its “dramatic slimline” appearance was “the handsomest thing that has ever happened to hauling.”

A smart coupe utility was more respectable in a 1950s suburb than an industrial design: “This new combination of glamour and utility makes the El Camino an ideal vehicle for busy suburbanites who have both an eye for style and weekend work … it’s just right for hard working farmers, ranchers, or businessmen.” 22,246 El Caminos were sold in its first year, surpassing the Ranchero’s debut and 14,000 sales in 1958.

The recession and demand for smaller cars meant the first-generation production lasted until 1960.

The El Camino was revived amidst the muscle car wars in 1964. Just as the Ranchero transferred from the full-size Fairlane to the compact Falcon, the second and third-generation El Camino was based on the Chevelle. The high-performance Super Sport boasted exclusive engines like the legendary 454 V8.

In the spirit of the times, it was restyled almost every model year.

The success of the Chevrolet S-10 pickup contributed to the El Camino being discontinued in 1987.

El Camino Specs

The Chevrolet El Camino debuted with a standard 135hp, 235cid Hi-Thrift I6, 154hp 261cid Jobmaster I6 with 235 lb-ft torque, 185/230hp 283cid Turbo-Fire V8, and a more powerful Turbo-Thrust 348cid V8 with 335hp. Rochester Ramjet fuel injection was optional for V8s.

1959 transmissions included standard three-speed manual, optional four-speed, and two-speed Powerglide automatic. It was lower, with a longer 119in wheelbase, 26 cubic inch feet bed volume, tryex cord tyres, improved full coil suspension, and safety-girder X-frame construction, both new for 1958. Maximum length 210.9in.

The base 1960 283cid V8 was detuned to an economical 170hp, without fuel injection. It cost $2,366 for a six-cylinder, with $107 extra for a V8.

Over the course of two years, Chevrolet produced 36,409 El Caminos.

Second generation, 1964-1967

The 1964 El Camino was marketed as a light utility vehicle on a smaller 115in wheelbase. Without the Chevelle’s more powerful engines, it sported three straight sixes with 194-250 cubic inch displacement, with 159 maximum horsepower, a 200hp-226hp 283cid, and an optional 327cid V8 with 300hp. 

A powerful big block L78 396cid V8 with 375hp was added in 1966. Its ¼ mile was faster than 1965, with mid to upper 14s as opposed to low 15s.

Air shocks remained standard on the 1967 El Camino.

Third generation, 1968-1972

The Super Sport debuted in 1968. The 1970 ‘SS-396’ model displaced 402 cubic inches and 360hp; the ‘Turbo-Jet’ appealed to muscle car fans who wanted the practicality of a pickup truck.

Several SS models received the highest-powered production engine to date, the 7.4L LS6 454cid, producing 450hp/500 lb-ft torque and a 13 second ¼ mile at 106mph.

The 1970s energy crisis influenced government and insurance regulations, reducing performance, horsepower, and compression.

A rebadged El Camino, the 1971 GMC Sprint received the same transmission and engine.

Fourth generation, 1973-1977

The 1973 El Camino was overweight, decreasing performance. The SS was a trim option only, available with 350cid or 454cid V8. 1974 engines included a base 350cid, with new optional 400cid and 454cid. 

The 1975 standard engine decreased to 105hp 250cid I6. The 454cid produced 215 horsepower before being discontinued, alongside manual transmission options on V8s.

The 400cid was dropped in 1977.

Fifth generation, 1978-1987

V6 engines became available for the first time.

The SS was replaced by editions like the Black Knight, although it returned briefly in 1984. It shared the Monte Carlo SS’ 190 horsepower 305cid V8.

From 1982-1984, diesel engines were sourced from Oldsmobile. The 1985 V6 and V8 produced 132hp.

El Camino Performance

Hot Rod magazine tested a 1959 El Camino 348cid V8 four-speed with a special high-performance rear axle suitable for drag-racing. It went from 0-60mph in 7 seconds, with an estimated top speed of 130mph, and 14 second ¼ mile at 100mph. 

Critics said suspension on first-generation El Caminos was softly sprung, akin to a passenger car. The Ranchero was a harder ride and more capable of rough pickup work.

Blair Blakeley advises that with “only one seat, it’s not useful as a car and you can’t haul as much as a pickup.” However, he owned “a 64 and ’77 El Camino, [which were] great for [his] auto restoration business”, being more comfortable to drive and still allowing him to haul parts in the back.

Onathis Reddit thread dedicated to El Camino owners, SweetumsTheMuppet declares the vehicle to have been “the perfect combination of utility and muscle car. I can work on my ’72 and make it fun and muscley, but then take it to Lowe’s and pickup stacks of 4×8’s to get work done. It’s not just a car I can drive occasionally. I need 400hp to haul twelve 6×6’s.”

In a YouTube review, RatRodRory says his base “cowboy Cadillac” 1982 El Camino is the “ultimate daily driver.” With 18 miles to the gallon, it is “very good for a 305cid V8 with 170hp,” although it lacks catalytic converters.

El Camino Model Comparisons

First-generation Chevrolet El Caminos were built on the full-sized Brookwood two-door station wagon platform. Its highly stylized space-age design included ‘bat wing’ fins, teardrop taillights, Bel-Air exterior trim and Biscayne interior in blue, grey, or green. New features appeared in 1959: Magic-Mirror acrylic lacquer paint finish, tinted glass, air-con, and a 50% larger rear window with over 1000 square inches of the viewing area.

The 1958 recession rendered excessive dimensions and styling impractical. Chevrolet had not predicted frugality and although simpler, the 1960 El Camino remained larger than what the market demanded. Sales fell to 14,163, whereas the Falcon-based Ranchero rose to 21,027.

In 1964, the El Camino was relaunched on the midsize A-body platform, appearing like a ‘Chevelle pickup’ and available as a Super Sport. Following the Chevelle, the 1967 model received a new front bumper, grille, trim.

The 1968 had a total body makeover; built on a 4-door sedan, it was longer but lighter. The SS-396 transformed it from utility to sporty, with plenty of chrome and a D88 stripe package including two wide stripes. Its front end featured quad headlights.

The 1973 model year was the largest to date, with wagon chassis. The base version and SS shared the Malibu’s interior and exterior. The new 1974 El Camino Classic received the luxurious Chevelle Malibu Classic trim. 

A new grille appeared in 1975, and rectangular headlights in 1976. The 1977 ‘colonnade’ body style featured vertical headlights; the Classic remained the most popular model.  

Fifth-generation El Caminos had four trims: Classic, Black Knight, Royal Knight, Conquista, Super Sport, and Malibu. Built on the economical G-body platform, they were smaller, with sleek styling and single headlights.

The Sprint was renamed Caballero in 1978 and produced through 1987.

1982 was again transformed, with new grille and quad headlamps. 

Chevrolet El Camino in Popular Culture

In season two of the American neo-western crime drama TV series, Breaking Bad (2008-2013), Jesse Pinkman, played by Jesse Plemons, desires a blue El Camino but buys a Toyota. In the 2019 sequel, El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie, Jesse escapes a white supremacist compound in his captor’s black 1978 El Camino SS with red stripes. Once in Alaska, he notices a blue El Camino, but again purchases a Toyota. His dream car simultaneously symbolizes his road to freedom, revenge, and a painful past.

The car also appears in music videos, The Mexican (2001) film, and season two of ‘Supernatural.’ Even Lady Gaga owns a black El Camino.


The Chevrolet El Camino delivered unique design and muscle to an otherwise industrial pickup truck. The popular 1959 model year was stylish enough to pull up outside a luxury hotel, and practical enough to work on a farm.

Its presence in popular culture as a cult classic car has increased its desirability. 

The versatile El Camino cleverly dances between different automotive segments, finding a great middle ground. Its fanbase spans muscle car aficionados, truck enthusiasts and luxury car buyers amongst others.

Classic El Caminos are predominantly found for sale in the USA, although a few do surface in the UK, with average prices increasing on all generations. 

Considered impractical in 1960, the first generation now sells for five figures, especially with low mileage. Hagerty has reported that second-generation models command the highest value; a 1965 396 sold for $102,300 in 2018. RatRodRory attests that although the less powerful G-Body is not as coveted, parts are plentiful if anything breaks, and are interchangeable with the Monte Carlo or Cutlass. Other generations share parts with the Chevelle or Malibu, making them easy to maintain or restore.

Author: Charlotte Iggulden

Muscle Car UK and Pilgrim Motorsports are leading UK classic car specialists for muscle cars, sports cars and classic car restorations. We build, service and upgrade all classic cars, specialising in Mustangs, V8 engines, Carroll Shelby Cobras and Corvettes.

For more updates, news and tips, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

All cars on our feeds are available and up for sale. Looking for something specific? We can help.

We also provide service and restoration on any car, classic or otherwise.

Ask for a quote

Liked This Article? More Like This:

Jason Momoa’s Classic Mustang Restoration

5 Common Mustang Problems And How To Fix Them

Muscle Car Popularity Rising in UK

Don't forget to share on social media!

Related Articles