Part Car, Part Truck. Todo El Camino

yellow 59 El CaminoWe had never seen anything like it. It looked like a car, but instead of a back seat or a trunk, it had abed like a pick-up truck. Car-crazy kids could not take their eyes off of it. The fascination was compounded by the cats eye taillights and horizontal fins. They were the same as on the Chevrolet sedan but new for 1959.

Names like Impala, Biscayne, Fairlane, Imperial, Valiant, Bel Air, Starfire, Electra, Galaxie, Crown Vic, Monterey, Ninety-Eight, Fury, Belvedere, Savoy, Bonneville, Catalina, Commander, New Yorker, and Fleetwood rolled easily off our tongues. But El Camino was different. For one thing it was Spanish and we didn’t hear much Spanish in those days except in high school language lab. It was exotic sounding and unique looking. Would we have found it as appealing if we stopped to think that it meant “the road” and that it was just a sedan without a backseat? Doubtful. But at the time, the El Camino was the epitome of cool. It allowed us to grow out of cowboy heroes and take the next step to machine love.

To us, it was still an automobile for a Western hero. You could put your saddle in the back (never mind that we did not own horses) and wander from town to town, making your way west to the Golden State. It was somewhat ironic to learn much later that El Camino Real was the 600-mile Royal Road or King’s Highway that connected the missions and pueblos that stretched from San Diego to Sonoma.

Thinking back, it may have been as much about the TV show, Route 66, where two guys wander from town to town in a ’59 Corvette. It was just one more show in a long line of books and rusty 59 El Caminomovies that I call the Buddies on the Road genre (another Spanish influence, Don Quixote, certainly helped to get this ball rolling). If you were going to hit the road and have a new adventure every week, the El Camino seemed to be the perfect choice. Ideal for loners (remember, no back seat), uncommon, and memorable (it had the “who was that masked man” effect).

The real test of a teenage obsession is whether you still think about it from time to time. The answer is yes, every time I see one rusting away in a farmer’s field or up on blocks down in the barrios. Just once I would like to drive off into the sunset in a classic El Camino.


Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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