A Chevrolet prototype of the El Camino had been in the planning stages since 1952. When Ford introduced the successful Ranchero in ’57 the plans were revived and put into production for the 1959 model year. For this first year the car was well received and initially outsold the competitions Ranchero.
Chevrolet El Camino entered the market on a 119” wheel base as a utility coupe with one trim level available only. This first production run is on a modified version of the two door Brookwood station wagon platform. The chassis is the “Safety Girder” X frame design mounted on full coil suspension; with a load capacity of 650 lbs to 1,150 lbs. depending on the stiffness of the suspension and drive chain chosen. For this first year a rarely seen, possibly problematic option for the uninformed, is the “Level Air suspension system” for the El Camino but only on the 1959 model-the option is dropped from the Chevy lineup at the end of its second year run. The box is lined with corrugated steel sheet metal rather than the wood deck traditionally offered on the pick-ups. The exterior trim is the same as offered on the somewhat upscale Bel-Air but the interior is more along the lines of the more basic Biscayne but any of the power train options available for any full size Chevy product could be chosen. When the model first hit the market place there was controversy regarding the excessively large tail fins, with some people complaining about the cars aerodynamics; the rear end seemed to “float” at high speeds.
.Among the performance engines offered in ‘were a 283-cid Turbo-jet V8 with two- or four-barrel carburetion, as well as the same engine equipped with “Ramjet” fuel injected version producing 290 bhp.. The largest engine is the “Turbo-Thrust” with two versions of this 348 cu in engine available; one mounted with a four barrel, and the hottest power train from the factory in 1959, is the 348 cu in V8 equipped with solid lifters and a triple carb set up developing 315 bhp (235 kW; 319 PS). Bolted to a four speed this version of this El Camino will do 0-60 in 7.0 seconds and can turn in a time of 14 seconds in the quarter mile achieving a top speed of 100 mph when equipped with a drag racing rear axle. The top speed of the ’59 El Camino is 130 mph (210 km/h)
The 1960 models have similar lines to ’59 but the most noticeable difference is the rear fins are not so obvious giving this model a less flamboyant; a more conservative look if compared to the 1959 versions. The exterior trim remains along the lines of the Bel-Air while the interior is still the Biscayne with cloth/vinyl seats giving a color scheme choice of gray, blue, or green hues with a black vinyl floor covering included. The same power options are on the market but without any fuel injected choices and the entry level V8 has a small drop in horsepower output but with improved gas mileage. The El Camino could not keep up the projected sales in ’60 with the Fords new smaller Falcon Ranchero the most popular by far; the car model was discontinued from Chevy lineup while the engineers revised their plans.