The Ford Motor Company introduced its Ranchero model in 1957. The Ranchero was essentially a car with the bed of a pickup truck, allowing for a true general purpose vehicle that filled the gap between the serious truck user and occasional hauler.
The idea caught General Motors by surprise — it wasn’t until late 1958 that Chevrolet introduced its 1959 El Camino to compete with the Ranchero.
The new El Camino offered the same versatility as the Ranchero — a car-like ride, styling and the ability to do some light hauling.
In Spanish, El Camino means the path. 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. The first generation El Camino was available in both 1959 and 1960. For the model years 1961 through to 1963, Chevrolet did not produce the El Camino, but it resurfaced in 1964 on Chevrolet’s new mid-size Chevelle platform.
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. This is where the El Camino really began to shine. Most optional equipment found on the Chevelle, including Super Sport options, could also be ordered for the El Camino.
For Lorne Greig of Cooks Creek, the 1966 Chevrolet El Camino has long been his reigning favourite.
“Even though this is the fourth one I’ve had, the ’66 is an oddball year and there aren’t many around,” says Greig, who found his El Camino for sale in 2005 just north of Saskatoon.
He arranged to meet the seller at the airport and booked a one-way ticket on a 4 p.m. Friday flight. The car had been tucked away in a Quonset for many years. A deal was struck and Greig washed the dust off, changed the oil and drove it home.
What’s unique about Greig’s 1966 El Camino deluxe model is the optional equipment found on it. It’s a factory big-block car, equipped with the L35, 325 horsepower 396 cubic inch Turbo-Jet V-8 and Muncie four-speed manual transmission.
Added to that are factory black bucket seats with headrests, centre console, clock, knee-knocker tachometer, tinted glass, AM radio, dual side-view mirrors, sports steering wheel, front and rear sway bars, 12-bolt posi-traction rear axle and heavy-duty radiator.
Since purchasing the car, Greig has installed several upgrades. The engine was rebuilt at Winnipeg Engine and Transmission. It now displaces 434 cubic inches, with 10.5:1 compression pistons, L88 aluminium cylinder heads and intake manifold, 750 cfm Holley four-barrel carburetor, MSD distributor and Hedman exhaust headers. Dyno-tuned, it now produces more than 500 horsepower. Also added was a Tremec TKO 600 five-speed manual transmission with Hurst shifter. The extra gear, coupled with the 3.73:1 rear gear ratio, turns the El Camino into a capable highway cruiser. Exhaust flows through a three-inch diameter, custom dual exhaust system, with Magnaflow mufflers installed by Extreme Performance Exhaust.
Brakes have been upgraded to front discs with a Corvette dual chamber brake reservoir. Wheels are 15-inch Corvette Rallys, eight inches wide on the rear with Mickey Thompson ET Street radials and six inches wide up front with Hercules radials. Inside, the radio was converted to an AM/FM unit with an auxiliary feed line.
The biggest change came in the fall of 2015, when the body was completely stripped down and prepped for a fresh coat of Lemonwood Yellow.
It was during the body restoration that the build sheet for the vehicle was found. The build sheet is a factory order form that travels with the vehicle down the assembly line. This order sheet tells the workers which equipment to install.
Generally, they are left in the vehicle under a carpet or stuffed under the seat springs, so finding it after the headliner was removed was a surprise. An even greater surprise was the build sheet confirms all of the optional equipment found on the El Camino was original to the car.
The eight-month restoration was finished in April, 2016, when the El Camino made its debut at the Manitoba Street Rod Association’s (MSRA) Rodarama Car Show.
Greig, a five-year member of the MSRA, enjoys his El Camino throughout the summer, taking in cruise nights at the Tavern United in Transcona and shows in the Winnipeg area.
There were 24,337 Custom Deluxe El Caminos produced in 1966. Of them, only 1,865 came factory equipped with the 325 horsepower 396 Turbo-Jet V-8, making Greig’s El Camino both rare and fast.