Chevrolet El Camino

1960 Chevrolet El Camino: The El Camino was introduced for the 1959 model year two years after the Ford Ranchero. Chevrolet stylists had considered a new coupe pickup well before the Ranchero appeared; according to stylist Chuck Jordan, Harley Earl himself had suggested such a thing back in 1952.

This was the year of the completely redesigned, longer, lower and wider full-sized Chevrolet. It sold in fewer numbers than the more conservatively styled Fords, but 22,246 El Caminos were sold, compared to Ford's 14,169 Ranchero.

Like the Ranchero, it was based on an existing and modified platform, namely the new-for-1959 Brookwood two-door station wagon and corresponding sedan delivery variant; unlike those models, the El Camino was available any drivetrain option corresponding to the car line, but used a single trim level; the exterior used Bel-Air trim while the inside was trimmed like a low-end Biscayne. No other trim options were available from the factory, although 1959-60 El Caminos are often restored with Impala body mouldings and interiors. The El Camino was built on Chevy's 1959 passenger-car chassis that featured a "Safety-Girder" X-frame design and full-coil suspension, both of which had debuted on the 1958s. The 119-inch (3,000 mm) wheel-base was 1.5 inches (38 mm) longer than that of the 1958 models, though. Overall length for all 1959 Chevys was up to 210.9 inches (5,360 mm). The El Camino's payload rating ranged from 650 pounds to 1150 pounds, with gross vehicle weights ranging from 4400 to 4900 pounds, depending on powertrain and suspension options specified. The somewhat soft, passenger-car-type standard suspension enabled the El Camino to stand level without a load. (By contrast, the Ranchero came with stiffer heavy-duty rear springs that provided it with a standard 1100-pound payload rating and gave it a distinct "rake" when unloaded.) The quirky Level Air suspension option, in its second and final year, was listed as available, but was almost never seen on any Chevrolet model, much less an El Camino. The 1959 El Camino was promoted as the first Chevrolet pickup built with a steel bed floor instead of wood. The floor was a corrugated sheetmetal insert, secured with 26 recessed bolts. Concealed beneath it was the floor pan from the Brookwood two-door wagon, complete with foot wells. Box capacity was almost 33 cubic feet (0.93 m3).

The 283-cid Turbo-jet V8 with two- or four-barrel carburetion and several Turbo-Thrust 348-cid V8s with four-barrel or triple two-barrel carbs (the latter with up to 335 bhp (250 kW; 340 PS) by mid 1959) were among the entries. Even the 250- and 290-bhp 283-cube Ramjet Fuel Injection engines were available.

Hot Rod magazine conducted a test of an El Camino equipped with the hottest powertrain combination available in early 1959—a 315 bhp (235 kW; 319 PS), triple-carb, solid-lifter 348 V8 mated to a four-speed. HR testers clocked 0-60 mph times of around seven seconds, estimated top speed at 130 mph (210 km/h), and predicted 14-second/100-mph quarter-mile performance with a rear-axle ratio suitable for serious drag racing installed.

A total of 22,246 El Caminos were produced for 1959. That bested the count of 21,706 first-year Rancheros made in 1957 and the 14,169 Ford sedan pickups built in direct competition for the 1959 model year. But 1960 would be a different story.

The similar but less flamboyant 1960 model started at $2366 for the six-cylinder model; another $107 for a V8 with the two-barrel 283. At first glance, the exterior once again had a Bel Air look, with that series' bright-metal "jet" appliqué and narrow trailing molding used to accent the rear quarters. Inside, Biscayne/Brookwood appointments also persisted. The seat was now covered in striped-pattern cloth with vinyl facings. Available interior trim shades were once again gray, blue, and green. Floor coverings were in medium-tone vinyl. Mid-1959 powertrain availability was carried over with minimal changes for 1960: The base 283-cid V8 was detuned a bit for fuel economy and was now rated at 170 bhp (127 kW; 172 PS), and the fuel-injected engines were officially gone.

Orders plummeted by a third, to just 14,163, at which point Chevrolet discontinued the model; meanwhile, Ford moved 21,027 Rancheros, which were now based on the brand-new Falcon compact. The pioneering American sedan pickups just did not connect with enough car-buying Americans. Perhaps these early "crossovers" didn't carry enough passengers; in a time when baby-boomer families dominated the market, three across was the best they could offer. The low-level trim and marketing efforts focused almost exclusively on commercial customers may have inhibited sales, as well.

Source: Wikipedia, 2012

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