When you look through the annals of automaking history during the classic era of the American Big Three, you notice how they tried to have something for everyone. The last thing that Ford, Chevrolet, and Chrysler wanted was to lose a customer because another company had something to offer that they did not. For better or worse, this spawned a “copycat” culture. When one company released a new model that became popular with the public, you could be sure that the other companies would follow suit in short order.
The creative minds at the Big Three were always looking for a new angle, and in the latter portion of the 1950s the people at Ford had an idea. There were consumers out there who were sitting on the fence as they tried to decide whether they wanted to buy a pickup truck or a regular passenger car. The truck bed gave them the ability to haul things, but the cab sat high and they were rather plain and homely; pickup trucks in the 1950s were built for working men, farmers and tradesmen. However, there were people who didn’t need a truck for work who did like the idea of being able to use the bed when they needed to. This perceived niche resulted in the development of the Ford Ranchero, a vehicle that was a typical sedan in the front, but built on a station wagon platform which enabled Ford to give it a pickup bed in the back. The Ranchero made its debut for the 1957 model year, and it was well received.
Of course, not to be outdone, General Motors got busy creating a similar vehicle, and in 1959 they introduced the Chevy El Camino. The 1959 El Camino was offered with a number of engine options, including the 235 cubic inch I6, the 283 ci V8, and the 348 cubic inch V8, the hottest of which was rated at 315 horsepower. The 348 with triple carburetors was clocked from zero to sixty in seven seconds, and the vehicle could travel a quarter mile in 14 seconds and reach top speeds of 130 miles per hour. In its first year the El Camino was able to eclipse sales of the Ford Ranchero, selling over 22,000 units.
The El Camino became a mainstay of the Chevrolet lineup, and it remained in production through the 1987 model year. They were built for speed at the high end, so the classic El Caminos are in the muscle car category today and they have traditionally been popular with both hot rod enthusiasts and those who are interested in authentic original restorations. The El Camino had a great run, and the unique and historic nature of the vehicle makes it a very cool vehicle to add to add to your collection if muscle cars are your thing.
Contributed by Fossil Cars Staff Writer