1978 Chevrolet El Camino SS
8-cyl. 350cid/160hp 4bbl
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The Chevrolet El Camino was GM’s response to the success of the 1957 Ford Ranchero. The idea of a car-based light duty pickup or coupe utility had been played around with prior to World War II but it seemed to have been forgotten until the 1950s when the success of the “gentleman” pickups like the Chevy Cameo indicated that the market was ready for an even more car-like pickup truck.
The idea lasted well into the 1980s with the final down-sized Malibu-based generation that bowed in 1978. It was a trim and handsome vehicle, although it lacked the classic status of the earlier Chevelle-based El Caminos. Like nearly everything else built during the malaise-era, the choice of powertrains was a bit uninspiring. Nonetheless, payload was still a hefty 800 pounds, which made the car a flexible and practical choice.
Obviously, the big block options were long gone. The most powerful engine available was a 350-c.i. V-8 that made 170 hp. The base engine was a V-6 that started at 200 cubic inches and was later enlarged to 229 – a welcome change as the 200 made only 95 hp whereas the larger 229 made 115 hp. A 267-c.i. and 305-c.i. V-8 came and went in the mix as well with the 267 making more torque but little more power than the V-6. Both three-speed and four-speed floor-shift manual transmissions were available.
Perhaps the oddest engine choice available was the ill-fated Oldsmobile diesel. While efficiency was great, warranty claims were through the roof and the engine was quickly consigned to history after effectively killing the market for diesels in the U.S.
The 1982-87 El Camino sported the same quad headlight front end as the corresponding Malibu sedan. Perhaps the most collectible El Camino of this era is the 1984-87 SS, which had a NASCAR inspired aerodynamic front end, upfitted by ChooChoo Customs. Other notable variants include the decal-laden Black Knight and Royal Knight SS models, and the two-tone Conquista trim.
Fifth generation El Caminos are an inexpensive way to buy a collectible that is both practical and a certain attention-getter.