1970 Chevrolet El Camino SS 396: Toxic Masculinity 

John L. Stein

The streets where the El Camino SS ground to a stop in 1976 were impossibly steep, an upshot of So-Cal developers wringing max profits from barely buildable hillsides. Although the Chevy was dead in its tracks, at least the owner had safely chocked its tires against the curb beneath a towering, shady oleander. Unfortunately, the pretty Mediterranean shrub is toxic, and as it turned out, so was the battered Chevy.

But the SS 396 badge had me hooked. For $800, the El Camino started, shook and grumbled, and then chuffed on six cylinders to a friend’s house, whose parents, for some reason, tolerated our hulks in the driveway. It was a safe house, if you will, for ambitious youths and their pie-in-the-sky cars. 

I didn’t know what made the El Camino SS 396 special, other than its big 396-cid (402-cid, actually) V-8 could kick ass—but that was good enough for me. The Chevelle-based pickup was Champagne Gold with a white vinyl roof; inside, the Saddle bench seat and thick-pile carpeting smelled dangerously of mildew, PVC, and plasticizers. One quarter panel was dented, and its heavy steel front California black plate, highly prized nowadays, was literally ripped in half.

1970 Chevy El Camino SS 396 driveway
The El Camino finds refuge in a friend’s driveway.John L. Stein

Bartering a Yamaha Enduro crank seal repair with a Chevron gas station owner got the misfire sorted out. He discovered two reversed plug wires, after which the SS 396 regained full strength. Or maybe it was half strength, because either its worn camshaft or the lifters weren’t opening the valves fully. Lacking a shop manual, I was only as smart as rumor and conjecture allowed, but I’d heard that tightening the rocker nuts could improve matters. It didn’t whatsoever. The valvetrain sure made a mess, though, chattering away and flinging oil across the engine bay.

Despite this, the SS 396 had enough muscle to haul my Suzuki RM250 motocross bike to the track, though it sucked gas ravenously. After discovering the “air booster” shocks, I gleefully inflated them to rake out my ride. Too much, apparently. The jacked-up look lasted one trip before the airbags blew, demoting the ride height to stock.

Moving away to college forced the El Camino’s sale, and seeing a nice one today genuinely makes me wistful. Would I ever freak out to discover a gold ’70 with a torn black plate for sale. After buying it, I would immediately rattle-can that vinyl top black. Naturally, in the safe-house driveway.


Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: BMW Skytop Concept could be Road-Ready in a Year


    I loved my 1972 GMC Sprint SP. The more rare SS GMC brother.

    It. Looked cool and it was a very clean Brentwood TN truck.

    Black buckets and stir up shifter along with a 402 big block.

    MPG was not great and I was in collage snd working part time. It was worse than the duel quad on my Chevelle.

    The only real work it needed was shocks and control arm bushings the bad shocks beat out. I also took a set of trans am Splitters and put the on the exhaust after properly cutting the tail pipes.

    It also would work. I recall hauling a 428 Pontiac for a buddy. It fell over and dumped oil and water all over my truck and the road. Not a good day. But it hauled well with a big block up front and the Pontiac in back.

    Only a few hundred were made and the ones in the condition mine was in are trading $35k-40K.

    I would love to find another someday.

    If the trim tag paint code read 58/58 it most certainly would be Autumn Gold Metallic. I currently have this same {minus the vinyl top) EC in my garage in #2 condition(according to Hagerty)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *