Throwback: Chevrolet El Camino

Chevrolet introduced the El Camino in 1959. It was Chevy’s response to the Ford Ranchero, which had been selling well as the lone representative of the big three American manufacturers in the ute niche. The El Camino would go on to dominate the niche, even with increasing competition. It would eventually be named the clear winner of the ute category in the United States. 

What is a ute?

A ute is a car platform that has a bed integrated with the cabin. Think of it as a car/truck. It has a car platform and front end. Then, in the back, it has a place for cargo to be carried that looks like a pickup truck bed. The ute niche has been around since the 1930s in Australia.

1964 Chevy El Camino | GM
1964 Chevy El Camino | GM

Utes in the United States

In the United States, Ford was the first to launch the ute category. The Ranchero was introduced in 1957. It took two model years before Chevrolet would have a competitor ready in 1959. That competitor was the El Camino. It immediately outsold the Ford Ranchero. 

The competitors

In the United States, over time, there would be challenges by competitors that would come and go. 

  • Chevy El Camino/ GMC Caballero
    • Produced: 1959-1960 then 1964-1987
  • Dodge Rampage/ Plymouth Scamp
    • Produced: 1982-1984
  • Ford Ranchero
    • Produced: 1957-1979
  • Subaru Brat
    • Produced: 1978-1987
  • Subaru Baja
    • Produced: 2003-2006
  • Volkswagen Rabbit Sportruck
    • Produced: 1978-1984

By 1987, the small pickup truck category was increasing in influence. This affected sales of the ute category as a whole. The El Camino and the Subaru Brat were the only ones left. Although the El Camino outsold the Brat, both would be end production that year. There would be a small attempt by Subaru in 2003, to produce at a ute, this time called the Baja. But, it would be shortlived, as the ute category never regained popularity as it did before. 

The Victor

Ultimately, the El Camino would have the longest history of model year production, spanning five generations of iterations. To this day, the El Camino is loved by its fans. Its resale value has been climbing in recent times due to the fans and the demand. Recent media exposure to the departed marque has also helped. Richard Rawlings, from the Discovery Channel show, Fast-N-Lound, documented for his show how his team built a Ranchero and sold it at auction for $50,000. Danny Koker, from the History Channel show, Counting Cars, also documented building an El Camino. And, Chip Foose, from the hit show, Overhaulin, also built one. 

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The revival that died

Just before the financial crisis of 2007-2008, General Motors was considering reviving the El Camino. Rumors were floated that GM was going to build it atop of the Pontiac G8 platform. Rumors also indicated that testing was being carried out in Australia under the Holden brand. But, as the financial crisis worsened, GM was forced to shutter brands and pull back on development funds of future products for a time. So, even if the El Camino was considered, the financial crisis the subsequent government bailout, put an end to many plans GM might have had in the works as far out as 2010. Although utes continued in Australia, fans here have been left longing for the winner of the ute wars to return.