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A Tale of two El Caminos


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My El Camino story starts in 1972,when I was a sophomore in High School. I had a job at a local wheel alignment shop,Weber Wheel Alignment (still in business today!) in West Palm Beach. Directly across the street from the shop was Independent Truck Equipment, a business that rebodied trucks to customer order. The owner of the shop,Rocky Derr, quite a character,drove a fully-optioned ‘68 El Camino SS 396, deep burgundy with black top and black interior that he'd bought new. Rocky had special ordered the El Camino to his specifications. It had bucket seats, console, power windows, tilt wheel, a/c, bed rails,mag-style wheel covers, and, of course, the powerful 396 engine.-it was fully loaded, fairly unusual for the time, as I recall.
Rocky enjoyed the "muscle" of his SS, and, from time to time, particularly after he'd partaken of a beer or two, I would literally be able to hear the SS from several blocks away,tires squealing and engine roaring, before I'd be able to see it. The SS sounded really good and looked fantastic in those colors. Muscle cars being the order of the day,I thought the SS 396 would be the PERFECT car for me. I approached Rocky and asked if he would sell it. "Absolutely not!" was his reply I would ask him from time to time,but his answer was always a firm “no”.
I didn't give up-as the years passed I'd continue asking, and his standard answer to me was always “Jim,you don’t have enough money to buy this truck”. In late 1980, Rocky special ordered an ‘81 El Camino SS, in identical colors and similar options to the '68, and the '81 became his new “driver”. The '68 was gently retired, but kept in his building and driven from time to time. I still kept trying to buy the '68 SS, but to no avail.
One day in April,2002, I got a call from Rocky. He had decided to sell his '68 SS,and,fortunately, thought of me first. He wanted quite a healthy price at the time, but I knew I'd regret it if I didn't buy it, even if I paid too much, especially after waiting 30 years. I bought the truck,and,of course, I’m really glad that I did!. She’s in my collection today.
Rocky passed on in 2009,and his widow decided to keep his ‘81 SS. She tucked it away safely in her garage, evicting her new Lexus in the process. She'd use the '81 SS from time to time and it was her pride and joy, and it kept memories of Rocky close to her.
Last Thursday I got a call from the family,saying the ‘81 was going up for sale. Like any car nut, I couldn’t say no.
The two “sisters”, Rocky’s two burgundy special-order El Camino SS’s, are now together again, residing safely in my garage. 

 

68 El Camino.jpg

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IMG_4378.jpg

Edited by car crazy (see edit history)
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The amazing part of this story is that the 68 survived all those years unmolested, right down to the gorgeous simulated mag wheelcovers. Kudos to Rocky and to you for maintaining its originality. ElCaminos are one of those vehicles that people can't/won't leave alone.

 

My dad had a low-option 68 in Malibu trim. Ash Gold, black vinyl top, saddle interior. 307, 3-speed, AM radio and standard heater, air shocks and nothing else. Had it had a little less rust I'd have probably tried to restore it but at that time there was no reproduction sheetmetal and it would have been easier and cheaper to buy another one.

 

35 years down the road finding a good unmolested example is tough. They're ALL red big-block 4-speeds with Chevy Rally wheels, no matter how they started life.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks, Glenn- I was always infatuated with this 'particular 68 SS, and I am grateful Rocky was as well, and that he preserved it in its original state. It's a very special car. You're right-it does seem that many El Caminos seem to have new, larger "crate" motors, and are modified to differing degrees. These definitely won't be modified under my stewardship.

It's too bad sheet metal wasn't available at the time to save your Dad's truck. But you will always have those memories of your Dad and his truck. Those are forever.

Edited by car crazy (see edit history)
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It's no secret that I like ElCaminos and Rancheros too. Any year, as long as it's not modified past an easy return to original.

 

I even like 80s Dodge Rampages and Subaru Brats! Something about a car-based trucklet...

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Great story. Nice to see that they are remaining together.

I admit I feel a closer attachment to the '81.

I was working at a Pontiac-Buick-Cadillac-GMC dealership when I first saw a sales brochure on the restyled El Camino/Caballero. I was impressed enough to ask the truck sales manager for a quote on one. The price seemed fair for a single guy still living at home with his parents, but I didn't order it.

One day a few weeks later ,I was out for a walk on my lunch break and a car transporter wheeled in with "my" Caballero sitting up top ! The truck manager rightly figured that it would be like waving a carrot in front of a donkey. I still have it.

Jim

1978 GMC Caballero 40 years later 002.JPG

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Ok....  I love this story on multiple levels. Just reading it brings me back to my youth, small town in Indiana, the car culture of it, the older adult men who had interesting stuff, the hours my buddies and I spent talking cars.  Beautiful stuff and thanks for sharing all of it including the pics. 

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Have never had a pickup but would be sorely tempted by the right El Camino ("better" SBC, four speed, AC.

 

CC sounds like we grew up in the same place, getting quite a Florida contingent, just for me it was a time of Briggs, Norm Latham, Crane Cams was just down the road a bit and the AADCO sway bars were just a bit north. Would be a rally or autocross nearby every weekend.

 

Someday will tell the tale of why first gen Camaro rear sway bars went through the transverse muffler...

 

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Great story and great looking cars (uhm trucks?)  If you dont mind me adding,

My best friends father worked at the local Chrysler plant but drove a 69sh el camino. Pretty stock car, it was a dark green with a black vinyl top. We worshiped that thing, as kids all we ever talked about was owning an el camino when we grew up. Surprisingly I have never owned one!  I had a friend in HS that had one about the same 69/70, his was a legit SS and Im gonna say it was a 454 but I may be wrong. Its been a long time and I dont know that much about them to even know if the ss came with a 454. I do know that thing got about -5 mpg on a good day. It was all black, had the big tires on back with cragars, all of the standard fair for a HS kid with a hot rod. Another one I came across in late years, was a customer of mine that bought one new, looked similar to the newer one you have. He was pretty well off and it was his 'go to the dump, haul brush around the yard car'.  It had low miles but was used like a truck. He moved to a retirement village, I have no idea what happened to it, I still kick myself for not asking to buy it. AND lastly, there was a roofing and siding company in Lancaster that for years the only work trucks they ever had were el caminos. They must have had a dozen or so at one time.

 

Thanks for letting me vent, I have a soft spot for these cars.

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5 minutes ago, TAKerry said:

Great story and great looking cars (uhm trucks?)  If you dont mind me adding,

My best friends father worked at the local Chrysler plant but drove a 69sh el camino. Pretty stock car, it was a dark green with a black vinyl top. We worshiped that thing, as kids all we ever talked about was owning an el camino when we grew up. Surprisingly I have never owned one!  I had a friend in HS that had one about the same 69/70, his was a legit SS and Im gonna say it was a 454 but I may be wrong. Its been a long time and I dont know that much about them to even know if the ss came with a 454. I do know that thing got about -5 mpg on a good day. It was all black, had the big tires on back with cragars, all of the standard fair for a HS kid with a hot rod. Another one I came across in late years, was a customer of mine that bought one new, looked similar to the newer one you have. He was pretty well off and it was his 'go to the dump, haul brush around the yard car'.  It had low miles but was used like a truck. He moved to a retirement village, I have no idea what happened to it, I still kick myself for not asking to buy it. AND lastly, there was a roofing and siding company in Lancaster that for years the only work trucks they ever had were el caminos. They must have had a dozen or so at one time.

 

Thanks for letting me vent, I have a soft spot for these cars.

The 454 became available on the El Camino in 1970. There was even an LS6 454 available as an option,with 450 hp. I can only imagine the thirst that engine must have had!

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Intricacies of Generous Mother back in the day, CID limits on intermediates/compacts was common in the 60's. Pontiac broke that rule when they stuffed a 389 in a Tempest in 1964. Jim W. used to say the initials meant "Get Those Orders" - the only way to forgiveness was lotsa sales.

 

Then for the rest of the sixties, 400 cid was the limit. George broke that rule stuffing a 455 in the Cutlass in '68, Chev with the 69 COPO Camaros, and then the rule went away in '70 and everyone had a 455 (always thought the short-stroke Buick was the best stocker. Pontiac got the short end because they never had a "big block" just had to keep punching out the 265 & 455 required a really long stroke (why the SD had an 80 psi oil pump) because the bore was at the limit.

 

Have to remember metallurgy/lubricants have come a long way since the 60s & am amazed at the engines Jim Butler is building today.

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Loved the story and it's great to see the two stable mates are once again together with a loving owner.

 

One day I hope to finish up my '64 El Camino.

 

At one time I was going to put a warmed over 383 in it but it's going back together with the original 283/4 speed combo it left the factory with.

 

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4 hours ago, rocketraider said:

The amazing part of this story is that the 68 survived all those years unmolested, right down to the gorgeous simulated mag wheelcovers. Kudos to Rocky and to you for maintaining its originality. ElCaminos are one of those vehicles that people can't/won't leave alone.

 

My dad had a low-option 68 in Malibu trim. Ash Gold, black vinyl top, saddle interior. 307, 3-speed, AM radio and standard heater, air shocks and nothing else. Had it had a little less rust I'd have probably tried to restore it but at that time there was no reproduction sheetmetal and it would have been easier and cheaper to buy another one.

 

35 years down the road finding a good unmolested example is tough. They're ALL red big-block 4-speeds with Chevy Rally wheels, no matter how they started life.

Yeah I was that guy. In 1977 I bought a bone stock '72 with a 350 2 barrel bench seat. Swapped in a 454 and a 4 speed and custom paint. Put on SS emblems and had fun. Looking back, wish I still had it and that I would have left it alone...

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1 hour ago, padgett said:

283 is a much underrated engine, short stroke will wind to the moon. Just needs dual quads & a cam. 2.02 heads would be nice.

 

I don't have a set of original Camel Humps for it but it does have the Power Pack heads on it now.

Considering putting on some aluminum heads to help wake it up a bit and just rebuild the Power Pack heads and put them on the shelf.

 

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I used to take my MGB to Weber for on-the-car wheel balancing (wire wheels) back in the 80s/90s.  They were the only ones who could balance them properly so no shake at speed.  

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IMG_1692.thumb.JPG.e3f3f894cbda0a0434c398c552945968.JPG
I too, like the El Camino.   My first one was a well used 1959 (First year) 283 with Powerslide automatic.

Felt like I was driving a aircraft carrier.   Second was a 1979 GMC Caballero.   The current one is a 1981 with

the annemic 307 V8.   I 'm the third old man in a row to own it since new.   No rust or collision damage ever,

but 170,000 miles and I'm still using often (Tuesday to the dump and last night. out to dinner)   The 307 is still

135 HP but whisper quiet and the A/C still works.   Just put white walls back on it last month to match the center-

fold in the 1981 sales brochure.   I like it better with whitewalls.   (Except the brochure car did not have Rally

Wheels)  It shared duties with my 57 Ranchero until August 2020 when the Ranchero found a new home.   I'll try

to get a picture tomorrow.   (But at 40 years old it's just not an antique car to me.)

 

238159516_81ElCamino.thumb.JPG.a4ebd92ffb022dddfe6bdd29be3423df.JPG

Edited by Paul Dobbin
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1 hour ago, Jim Skelly said:

It would be nice to see the El Camino, Caballero and Ranchero return.

First thing is what platform could it be built on? Second is it would probably look like that heinously ugly SSR thing GM tried to foist on us in early 2000s. GM has certainly produced some clunkers looks-wise in the past 30 years but that fugly thing took the cake. Uglier than the PT Cruiser knockoff HHR, and that's saying something. 

 

And GM never understood why it kept losing market share. The only people I knew that owned them were poseurs who couldn't afford a Corvette.

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I don't think GM has a single full frame passenger vehicle, do they?

 

Or would they put it on a uni-body platform like the Honda Ridgeline? 

If they did that, it would be a huge flop.

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I love these too.

After high school (1979 up) a close pal had a mint condition 68 Chevell. with 4 speed he bought from his brother and a 72 EL-C. We did intake' carbs,cam ,headers and rims on the El-C .Repainted it Super Gloss black with white hood stripes.

I use to borrow it to haul Model A Ford parts to swap meets and once trailer towed a 32 Chev ., 200 miles with it..A strong hauler. We rebuilt the transmission with some bullet proof positive shift kit as I recall too.

 

Later on an older friend bought a   later model EL-C at an auction with 30.000 miles. It  was shxt! A V6 with a crappy 3 on the floor with bull crap linkage that was horrable to shift..In and out of 1st was crazy azz difficult.

At 45,000 miles the cam was all done and car could barely pull it's own weight on a flat and floors were rotting out.

Maybe a 1979-85 model.I forget?

 

 

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I liked the SSR, and it certainly looked better than the Aztek and Rendezvous.  But that dark gray/black interior with no other interior color choice, plus the Corvette price, killed most potential sales.  Maybe GM could use a modified Colorado frame?  

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1 hour ago, Billy Kingsley said:

They could have just imported the Holden version from Australia before they killed that brand off. It was basically the same car as the SS. 

Yes. The Holden Au sedan platform was used by the Pontiac G8 (USA), the middle east badged as a Chev. and USA for some police branded as a Chev.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GM_Zeta_platform

 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pontiac_G8

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_Commodore_(VF)#Chevrolet_SS

 

 

The same basic platform was used as the Holden Ute.  Some had Chev V8's and others the Buick based V6 (made in Australia)

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_Ute

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_Ute#/media/File:2014_Holden_Ute_(VF_MY14)_SV6_utility_(2018-10-01)_01.jpg

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_Ute#/media/File:2008_Holden_VE_Commodore_SS_V_Ute_(rear_view).jpg

 


 

Quote

 

G8 ST

In addition to the sedan, a two-seat coupé utility called the G8 ST (for Sport Truck) was shown at the New York International Auto Show in March 2008. Based on the Holden Ute, it was built on the same G8 platform with a 73-inch (1,900 mm) cargo bed. The ST had the same 361 hp (269 kW), 6.0-liter V8 used in the G8 GT, as well as the 3.6-liter, 256 hp (191 kW) V6. After a naming contest with more than 18,000 suggestions, the name remained the G8 ST.[24]

The G8 ST, slated for release as a 2010 model, was to be Pontiac's coupe utility, and GM's first coupe utility in the United States since the Chevrolet El Camino was discontinued in 1987. In January 2009, GM announced to Pontiac dealers that the G8 ST was cancelled due to budget cuts and restructuring.[25]

 

 

RIP the Australian car manufacturing industry

 

Edited by 1939_Buick (see edit history)
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