Real Wheels: It’s a car? A truck? An El Camino

BELLEFONTAINE – Clyde Prater took his time.

He was in no hurry to restore his 1984 Chevrolet El Camino – a vehicle that’s long been part of a national debate: Is it a car or a truck?

“I waited until I was 60 years old to start it,” the Bellefontaine man said. “I had done some restoration in my younger days, but family comes first.”

So does finding a place to do the work. The answer there was his son’s garage, although that needed a restoration of its own.

“It was 20 by 30. We added an extra 20 feet on the back end,” Prater said.

That done, it was a matter of using parts from a beat-up El Camino that Prater already owned and combining them with a 1984 El Camino he found for sale in the classified ads.

“I started it in March of 2015 and finished it in August 2020. It was completely rebuilt,” Prater said. He had the end product of his work on display at the Charity Car Show in Lima earlier this year.

Prater’s 1984 El Camino is part of the fifth generation of the vehicle. Chevrolet first came out with the vehicle in 1959 in answer to Ford’s Ranchero. The El Camino bombed though and was discontinued after two years.

Chevrolet didn’t give up on the El Camino, however. It was simply a matter of going back to the drawing board.

In 1964 the El Camino made a comeback. It would be part of Chevrolet’s lineup until 1987.

Two things would drive the nails into its coffin for a final time.

One saw General Motors CEO Roger Smith alienating many potential U.S. car buyers when he moved the production of the El Camino to Mexico in 1985, taking jobs out of the U.S. and alienating many U.S. car buyers.

The other involved the growing popularity of Chevrolet’s subcompact S10 pickup. It was wildly popular when it came out in 1981, showing sales growth each year.

Prater likes the fact that his El Camino represents those made in 1984, the final year of El Caminos made in America.

As for the question of whether the El Camino is a car that thinks it is a truck, or a truck that maintains it’s a car:

Fact: The El Camino was unlike a standard pickup truck. It was adapted from the standard two-door Chevrolet station wagon platform and integrated the cab and cargo bed into the body.

Perspective: Hot Rod magazine looked at it this way: “The El Camino is a true multi-purpose vehicle. Good looks plus sedan styling let it be driven anywhere you’d take a regular passenger car. You never feel out of place – even the ladies should be at ease with it.”


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