The 1959 Chevy El Camino Turned Australia’s Everyday Car Into an American Icon
After Ford had a hit with the ’57 Ranchero, Chevy rushed in with its first El Camino.
While Ford and Holden had been battling it out with their "coupé utility" variants in Australia since the 1940s, America had to wait until 1957 to get a proper ute based on a car platform. It was Ford that struck first with its unique Ranchero model. Chevrolet decided to cook up an answer by converting the floorpan of its Brookwood two-door wagon, a project that lead to the 1959 El Camino. Marketed for only two years, the original El Camino outsold the Ranchero in its first year, only to be badly beaten in 1960 by the Falcon-based second generation of Ford's ute.
Advertised with slogans such as "more than a car—more than a truck" and "good looks never carried so much weight," the 1959 Chevrolet El Camino Custom was a stylish offering indeed with its Bel Air looks, also featuring nearly 34 cubic feet of cargo room with skid strips and double-walled sides, plus a 283-cubic-inch V8 with a two-barrel carburetor good for around 185 horsepower. Chevy customers could even choose from 13 solid and 10 two-tone color options. With all that thrown on the table, in 1959 and 1960, GM produced a total of 36,409 utility coupés.
Following 1960's poor sales and the ute's discontinuation, the El Camino was only re-introduced for 1964, this time based on the Chevelle. The hottest '64 variant packed a 327 small-block rated at 300 horsepower thanks to its raised compression ratio of 10.5:1, a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts.
Unfortunately for GM, 1964 became the year of the Ford Mustang, which meant they once again had to come up with a counter-attack, the pony known as the 1967 Camaro. On the side, the El Camino kept rolling until 1988 with the final evolution being the GMC Caballero, while GM's latest concept around this subject was 2010's Pontiac G8 ST, based on Australia's 361-horsepower Holden Commodore Ute. Pontiac is no more, yet GM would rather remind us to what a clean '59 El Camino Custom can offer to this day.
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