El Camino!

Today on the excellent cars blog Jalopnik I read a post about the choice for their final entry in their “fantasy garage.” If you’ve ever read Jalopnik, you know they have a thing about the Chevrolet El Camino, a vehicle that was part car, part truck. So it wasn’t much of a surprise that they would choose an El Camino for their fantasy garage. After all, they’ve featured all sorts of cars converted into trucks, including a Porsche 924-amino.

As they put it:

Perhaps more important than the figures and the ridiculousness of this car is what it means. The 454 SS isn’t a car you give to mom to drive to the grocery store. It is the simplest way to turn rubber into smoke. Hoonage personified. This is a car you get into trouble with. It’s a leather-jacketed, chain-smoking, knife-wielding, hard-livin’, “Screw you” to proper society. No other car makes less sense, but is so perfect at doing it.

My dad had an El Camino, and looking back on it, I still admire how truly badass a vehicle it was. He had a 1973 El Camino SS, with a 454 cubic inch (7.4 liters!) engine and a racing cam. It had bucket seats that swiveled and a Hurst shifter. At the time, I knew this was a pretty badass machine, but the entirety of its badassedness escaped me as a 10-year-old.

I sent my dad the Jalopnik link today, and this was his response:

Thinking about it, the El Camino I had was the SS series. It had a factory Chevy 454 Big Block with a 3/4 lobe race cam. The owner before me had a blower on it with a different hood. It had a factory 4 speed BNN transmission with a Hurst shifter. It had factory bucket seats that rotated 90 degrees from the driving position towards the door on both sides. There was a lever on the lower left side that released the seat. It had air shock absorbers and front stabilizing suspension. It had Mickey Thompson headers.

When I was working on the California Aqueduct Project.on the Grape Vine, my co-worker Bobby and I were at the Ranch House Bar in Castaic, Bobby had a brand new 1982 El Camino that had a high performance 350 Chevy engine. It was all tricked out. The Aqueduct Haul Roads were bladed and in perfect shape. Scrapers could go full speed. We decided to race 7 miles from one end of the project to the other. The whole bar and 1/2 the town showed up that evening to watch us.

It was just about dusk on a summer evening. Prior to the start, the owner of the bar gave us each old leather football helmets to wear. Bobby kept introducing me to the ladies that showed up as a distraction to have some of the guys on the crew try to let the air out of my back tires. He did not know I had my oiler put a 6 inch blob of grease in the middle of his seat.

It was show time.

The El Camino’s were side by side in racing positions. We chugged a long neck Bud, shook hands and ran to our cars. My seat was in the perfect position to jump in and swivel into position. Bobby looked like Mr. Clean with a shaved head and dressed like a Cowboy. His huge 6 ft 8 stature was all muscle. He was a rodeo champion and an outstanding large scale heavy equipment operator. He was a legend.

Bobby jumped into his car. My El Camino was right beside his. I looked over and saw Bobby’s big face in the leather football helmet with this huge grimace, half laughter and the other half the look of someone who just had a bad accident on the first date.

I was laughing so hard he got the jump on me. It was dusty when I was trailing behind him. I could hardly see the road. He kept cutting me off. We were all over the haul road. At the 3/4 mark we were head to head entering a curve doing well over 120 miles an hour.

We were both into a brodie on the curve. We both went airborne off the superelevation. I was lucky. Bobby was not. Bobby landed into a rocky part of the dry river bed that was along side the haul road. He kept going. It looked like a Hot Wheels car on a wash board. He said the worst thing was that he was all over the road because he could not stay seated and kept sliding on the seat.

His car was totaled.

I always smile when I see those old clips of the Dukes of Hazzard. When his El Camino hit the ground it broke the headers off of the engine block and broke one of the motor mounts. We yanked it out of the river bed and took it back to the on site mechanics’ shop. We welded the headers directly to the engine. We welded the engine mount as well. His El Camino was never the same.

Bobby had the insurance company buy him a new car. He said that the gas pedal stuck and it was a work related accident.

My Dad was there and talked about that incident for years. Bobby remained a close friend.

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