Gear Head Tuesday – Chevy’s El Camino Launched

Gear Head


Chevrolet launched their El Camino pick up on 16 October 1958 –
but Ford (and Studebaker) were first (and second)!

On 16 October 1958, Chevrolet their car-truck that it called El Camino. The name means “the road” in Spanish and perhaps was inspired by California’s El Camino Real – “the Royal Road” as the road connecting the Spanish mission chain that runs from San Diego to Sonoma is called.

El Camino

San Juan Bautista

59 El Camino-rr

In the  U.S., Ford’s Ranchero, another passenger car-based pickup truck, had
already been on the market for two years. El Camino was a combination sedan-
pickup truck built on the Chevrolet passenger car body, with the same “cat’s
eye” taillights and dramatic rear fins the ’59 Chevrolets are remembered for. It
was, ads trilled, “the most beautiful thing that ever shouldered a load!” “It
rides and handles like a convertible,” Chevy said, “yet hauls and hustles like
the workingest thing on wheels.”

“Who’s on first?”:

34 ford_v8_model_40_ute

Above: Ford of Australia introduced the Ute in 1934 – passenger car front with a pickup bed at the rear. Below: Studebaker brought the concept to the U.S. with their ’37-’39 Coupe-Express:

Ford was first in Australia with the concept but second in the U.S..
Seen below is Ford’s ’57 Ranchero. 

Ford’s Ranchero was the second “car-truck” sold in the United States – Studebaker had beat Ford to it in the U.S. exactly twenty years prior – in 1937. The idea, however, originated in Australia when an Australian farmer’s wife wrote Ford of Australia asking for a car that could carry her to church on Sundays and her husband’s pigs to market on Mondays. As a result Australian farmers had been driving what they called “Utes” – short for “coupé utility” – all around the outback since Ford launched the farmer’s wife’s request in 1934.  Ford engineer Lewis Brandt designed a low-slung sedan-based vehicle that offered passenger car comfort in the front, with wind-up windows and sedan seats and a rough-and-tumble pickup in back. The Ute was a huge hit; eventually, virtually every company that sold cars Down Under made its own version.

In the U.S., Studebaker introduced their Coupe-Express in 1937 and offered it for three model years. As part of the planned all-new 1957 Studebaker-Packard bodies, sharing the same basic body shell, Studebaker had planned on re-introducing the Coupe=Express, no doubt in response to Ford’s Ranchero.

57 Studebaker-Packard body spin-offs

Above: The interchangeability program for the planned but unbuilt 1957 Packards and Studebakers. The Studebaker Coupe-Express is shown at the bottom left. Below: drawing of the ’57 Studebaker Coupe-Express in camper mode.

57 Studebaker Coupe-Express-camper

In the United States, Ute-type vehicles were slower to catch on than in Australia. Though Ford’s Ranchero was a steady seller, likely due to Ford’s long dominance in the light truck field in the U.S., the first incarnation of Chevy’s El Camino was not a big seller and GM discontinued it after just two years. In 1964, the company introduced a new El Camino, this one built on the Chevelle platform. In 1968, the more powerful SS engine made El Camino one of the iconic muscle cars of the late 1960s and 1970s.

In 1987, Chevrolet dropped El Camino from its lineup for good. Today, the car is a cult classic. In 2008, Pontiac announced plans to introduce an El Camino–inspired “sport truck” and even considered naming it El Camino, before settling on the shorter G8 ST. In 2009, however, GM’s financial difficulties forced the carmaker to postpone production of its new models; it also announced plans to eliminate the Pontiac brand altogether by 2010. The Ute that began in Australia could also be considered the forerunner of what evolved into modern SUVs.



Add yours →

  1. Gordon Kertzel 17/10/2017 — 08:30

    As usual, in the USA every one else came up second to Studebaker! Too bad management made so many bad decisions! Gordon

    Liked by 1 person

    • Studebaker was a scrappy little company. I wish they had been able to bring those unbuilt ’57s to market.

      In the ’60s, I think that if cancer hadn’t felled Sherwood Egbert, he would have led Studebaker into the next century.


  2. As usual you have brought something for me to read that peeks my interests. New to me the Aussie Ute. I never wanted the Ranchero nor the El Camino, but did enjoy seeing them. It is easy to see the usefulness. Especially for the one vehicle families.
    I am sure Sherry would have appreciated riding in the ElCamino rather than my work trucks.


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