Chevys were down-sized in 1978. Chevy truck engineers felt that making
the El Camino Classic Malibu-sized would have compromised its limited
cargo capacity. Instead, the new wheelbase was made about an inch longer than
the old one, although the body was several inches shorter and weight
was reduced by 200-300 pounds. Interior head and legroom grew. The
Conquista and SS options were carried over and joined by a new Royal
Knight package. Full-frame construction was retained. The base engine
was a thrifty V6. Other selling features included a standard front
stabilizer bar, extensive corrosion-resisting treatments, 14 noise-insulating
body mounts (for a quieter ride) and double-panel doors, hood and deck
Caballero debuted in 1978. Gone was the SP package offered on the Sprint.
It was replaced with an exterior treatment called Diablo that was similar
to the El Camino's Conquista option. Caballero Diablos featured a demon
sticker on the hood and Diablo decals on the rocker panels.
Camino and Caballero would stick around until 1987 with mostly minor
updates and some engine changes.
A new 267-cid
V8 was introduced in 1979, though it wasn’t available in California. A
V6 was standard. A new lock-up automatic transmission arrived in 1980. Computer
Command Control was new in 1981. That year a 3.8-liter V6 was standard. Options
included 4.4-liter and 5.0-liter V8s. In California, a 3.8-liter V6 was standard
and a 5.0-liter V8 was optional.
The 1982 El Camino used the Malibu’s new
Caprice-style grille and side-by-side dual rectangular headlamps. The seating
and instrument panel were revised. A “Smart
Switch” was added to the steering column. A 1983 option was a 5.7-liter
Chevrolet dropped the mid-sized Malibu in 1983, but continued making
El Caminos. The 1984 version was a luxurious vehicle with dual, side-by-side,
rectangular headlights on either side of a cross-hatch grille and long,
narrow parking lights directly below the headlights. The bumper was a
simple, straight-across design. A 5.7-liter gas V8 returned and the
5.7-liter diesel V8 remained available. The ’84 El Camino survived
because its sales kept Chevy ahead of Ford as America’s number
one truck maker.
El Camino received a new 4.3-liter V6 and a new instrument panel was
added in 1986, but these changes didn’t improve its sales figures.
By this time sales of Chevrolet's new S-10 compact pickup truck were
taking a toll on the El Camino, as buyers preferred the S-10's wider
range of capabilities.
El Camino catalog promised the utility of a pickup with the beauty
of a Sport Coupe, but this combination was no longer in demand. Only
15,589 were made. After a few hundred more were built in the first
four months of 1988, the El Camino was dropped.
the time the El Camino vanished, the GM-H Ute did, too. Ford, originator
of the Ute, was the only builder of Australian versions, as it continued
to sell its Aussie Falcon. GM knew it goofed and brought back Ute versions
of the Holden Commodore coupe and sedan, but it was too late. The Falcon
Longreach Ute was “king” by
other “modern” coupe-express vehicles that
deserve mention. The Subaru BRAT of 1978-1987 (U.S. market) was developed
directly from the Japanese automaker’s 1600 four-wheel-drive station
wagon and was another Ranchero/El Camino-like vehicle.
in the group include the 1982-1984 Dodge Rampage and 1983-only Plymouth
Scamp. These were based on the Dodge Omni/Plymouth Horizon front-drivers,
but their low-powered 2.2-liter four and front wheel drive configurations
couldn't compete with El Camino’s
truck-engine choices and hauling performance. The last year of Rampage
production saw the offering of a unique Shelby appearance package that
shared components with the 1984 Dodge Shelby Charger. A high performance
Rampage was planned for 1985 but it was killed when Rampage production
Subaru tested the coupe-express market once again with the Baja,
a truck based on the Outback that enthusiasts soon dubbed “Son
of BRAT." Available in crew cab configuration only, Subaru Baja production
ended in 2006.
speculation that GM
might once again offer an El Camino in the not too distant future,
based on GM's new Zeta rear wheel drive platform that underpins Holden
Commodore Utes in Australia. It's the same architecture that will be
used for the return of the Chevrolet Camaro in 2009. It’s
like a revival of the Aussie Ute and the El Camino all in one!