On October 16, 1958, Chevrolet begins to sell a car-truck hybrid that it calls the El Camino. Inspired by the Ford Ranchero, which had already been on the market for two years, the El Camino was a combination sedan-pickup truck built on the Impala body, with the same “cat’s eye” taillights and dramatic rear fins. 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.”
Ford’s Ranchero was the first “car-truck” sold in the United States, but it was not a new idea. Since the 1930s, Australian farmers had been driving what they called “utes”—short for “coupé utility”—all around the outback. Legend has it that a farmer’s wife from rural Victoria had written a letter to Ford Australia, asking the company to build a car that could carry her to church on Sundays and her husband’s pigs to market on Mondays. In response, Ford engineer Lewis Brandt designed a low-slung sedan-based vehicle that was a ritzy passenger car in the front, with wind-up windows and comfortable 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 United States, however, ute-type vehicles were slower to catch on. Though the Ranchero was a steady seller, the first incarnation of the El Camino was not and Chevy discontinued it after just two years. In 1964, the company introduced a new version, this one built on the brawnier Chevelle platform. In 1968, the more powerful SS engine made the El Camino into one of the iconic muscle cars of the late 1960s and 1970s.
In 1987, Chevrolet dropped the 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 the 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.