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More than a car...

El Camino stays in the family, gets full-body makeover

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Farion installed a fire-breathing 396 cubic-inch V-8.

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photos by DAVID LIPNOWSKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Alvin Farion and his 1967 El Camino.

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General Motors, Chevrolet Division introduced the El Camino in late 1958 as a new 1959 model. Positioned as a sales competitor against the Ford Ranchero that came to market in 1957, the all-new El Camino offered the same versatility of a car-like ride, styling and the ability to do some light hauling when the occasion arose. In Spanish El Camino means, 'the path'; it was Chevrolet's first coupe pickup since 1941 and a replacement for the super-styled 1955-1957 Cameo half-ton pickup truck. Advertised as, "More than a car... More than a truck," the El Camino had a six-foot box and a respectable load capacity of 1,150-pounds. Based on the Biscayne station wagon, the El Camino could be ordered in everything from 'Plain Jane' to full Bel Air trim levels. The 1960 model would continue more or less the same, but Chevrolet stumbled for four years until the El Camino would resurface again.

Introduced in 1964 as a mid-size model between the Impala and the Chevy II, the new Chevrolet Chevelle was to become the new platform for the El Camino. Restyled in 1966, the Chevelle line grew in both overall size and added new big-block engine options, making it even more attractive from a performance standpoint. For 1968 the Chevelle got a total restyle with a new wedge-shaped body, upgraded chassis and components.

This is where the El Camino really began to shine. It held its own as everything from a commercial light-duty pickup, to a boulevard cruiser able to take on anyone on the street or the dragstrip.

For Alvin Farion of Highland Glen, Man., his recently restored El Camino has a unique place in his family. Purchased in the 1970s by his wife Audrey's brother Gary, the El Camino was daily transportation until Gary passed away in 1983. Driven by brother Rick until 1984, the truck sat for a few years until Alvin purchased it with a full frame-off makeover in mind.

Stripping the car down to the bare shell and frame, Farion had Quick Coatings sandblast the frame and powder-coat the 115-inch wheelbase frame. Getting some new age handling for the car comes from Hotchkis tubular control arms with QA-1 shock absorbers, air bags, adjustable rear suspension and factory sway bar. For the body, corrosion had set in over the years and produced several rusted areas. Removing the rust entailed the installation of new rear quarter panels, door skins, front fenders, super-sport hood and a new box bed. Welding and fabrication was handled by Tyler Scarf at HPI Customs in Beausejour. Once the bodywork was complete, Ralph Summerfeld at Auto Resurrection laid down a flawless black-base/clear-paint finish followed by matte-black stripes by Auto Trim Design of Winnipeg. Bumpers are original equipment that was rechromed by North Star Fairmont Plating.

The new tinted glass and headliner and truck-bed chrome are the work of Arni Burkowski from Birchwood Honda and Otto Szalai from Otto's Custom Upholstery in Beausejour, installed the new interior upholstery supplied by Legendary Auto Interiors. To accommodate room for three, the original bucket seats and centre console were swapped out and replaced with a full bench seat and column shift-steering column. Creature comforts include power steering, power disc brakes, tinted glass and Autometer tachometer, oil, temperature and volt gauges to monitor under-hood issues.

Where the El Camino really stands out is with what's under the hood. An original 307 V-8 car, Farion installed a fire-breathing 396 cubic-inch V-8. Completely rebuilt and fully balanced, it features 11.1:1 compression Keith Black forged pistons, mechanical-roller camshaft, closed-chamber cylinder heads, roller lifters and rocker arms, Edelbrock air-gap, aluminium intake manifold, topped with a 750 cfm double-pumper four-barrel carburetor. Spark duties are left to an MSD distributor and 6AL digital spark box, and the exhaust features 2 1/8-inch Hooker headers leading to a full three-inch Magnaflow, custom dual-exhaust system, from HPI Customs in Beausejour. Keeping the big-block Chevy cool is a high performance three-core aluminium radiator from Champion Radiators.

Producing 505 horsepower on the engine dynometer, the powerplant is backed by a Turbo 400 three-speed automatic transmission with cooler, leading to a 3.31:1 geared, 12-bolt posi-traction rear axle.

Completed in June of 2014, the El Camino has already racked up its share of awards in local car shows, including "Best El Camino" at the Fabulous 50's Ford Club Flashback Weekend held last September at Garden City Shopping Centre. Look for Farion's El Camino next March at the 41st Annual Piston Ring's World of Wheels car show at the RBC Convention Centre Winnipeg.

El Caminos were be built on the Chevelle chassis until 1978, then moving to the new trimmer G-Body. General Motors shifted production to their Ramos Arizpe factory in Mexico in 1985 and production would end in 1987, eight years longer than its Ford Ranchero competitor. For many years General Motors has been rumoured to be giving consideration to bringing the El Camino back to the showroom. It would surely be a hit if they did.

classicdargis@mymts.net

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