Is it a car? Is it a truck? As Jack Williams, owner of a truly cherry 1977 Chevrolet El Camino in Cochise County (Arizona) puts it, “It never was either a really good car or a really good truck, but….”
Our conversation had started when I spotted the classic Chevy parked two slots over from my 1996 GMC Sierra half ton pickup at a local gas station and convenience store. The owner of the El Camino was heading for his vehicle just as I was heading for mine. With an instant grin, I called out, “I always wanted one of those!”
My unrequited love affair with the El Camino (I’ve never owned one) started at the District High School Rodeo in Ronan, Montana, circa 1959. That was my first year as a rodeo contestant and also the El Camino’s first year in production. It was truly love–or at least lust–at first sight. Not that there weren’t other happenings to keep my attention occupied, such as the fellow contestant who was sound asleep in his sleeping bag on the ground beside his vehicle, behind the bucking chutes, when a hard-partying cowboy pulled in after a night on the town…and ran over the sleeping cowboy’s legs.
Fortunately, many of us had bones made of rubber at that age, but the bruising was severe enough to keep the victim from competing that weekend. It was not enough to keep me from noticing Chevy’s shiny new half-car, half-truck, though.
Back to the Williams El Camino. When Jack told me the 1977 vehicle had just 77,000 miles on it–on a twenty-nine year old truck, mind you–I was impressed. He’d acquired it from the previous owner, who obviously hadn’t driven it much.
“About the only thing you had to deal with was the carbon,” I observed. Any old gearhead knows a “softly driven” vehicle that never gets to really stretch its legs is going to have a lot of carbon buildup in the engine.
“I took care of the carbon right away,” he observed. “It runs really well. I took it to Missouri and back not long ago.”
Missouri and back. And still just 77,000 miles? This I had to see. Jack obligingly opened the driver’s side door so I could snap a photograph of the speedometer so our readers could see, too.
We talked about our first cars. Mine had been a 1952 Chevy. Jack’s had been a 1950 Chevy. Basically the same car, those, two, except for minor body design changes.
“Only ongoing problem I had with that ’52,” I told him, “was the clutch linkage. It would hang up every now and then, and I’d end up having to stand on my head, stacking BB’s with my ears, to get it freed up.”
He’d had the same problem with his ’50, but he’d come up with the perfect solution. “Took a beer can, cut it open, and wrapped a shim around that loose rod,” he explained.
I busted out laughing. “Shame on me! I should have thought of that. Certainly had enough beer cans to experiment with, back in the day!” True, I quit drinking a long time ago, but in my teens I was a veritable alcohol sponge on quite a few weekends.
In closing, I found it interesting that Jack and I both started out with Chevies…and many decades later, we’re still fans, though both driving truck versions. Okay, so his is a half-car, half-truck El Camino, and mine’s technically a GMC, but close enough for company work.