The El Camino has slimmed down in for the fifth generation and the “Classic “ is demoted to the entry trim level, then the Black Knight(1978 only), the Conquista, and the Super Sport as the top offer. The “Black Knight” takes the moniker of “Royal Knight” from ’79 to ’83. The V8 power in '79 is available as a 305 cu in small block with a choice of the 150 hp or the 165 hp version but fuel conservation is the order of the day making the 90 degree V6 and the Buick V6 the basic power options.
The 1979 El Camino is slimmer but on the longer wheel base of 117 inches (2,972 mm)and now on its own unique platform dissimilar from any other Chevy product. However the sheet metal is Malibu sedan in front, Malibu wagon bumper and tailgate in the rear, with Monte Carlo doors. The basic engine offer is the 200 cu in (3.3 L) V6 developing 95 hp (71 kW) in most U.S, states but the base California engine is the Buick 231 cu in power plant. There are two V8 offers in ’78 – a 305 cu in with 145 hp (108 kW) and exclusive offer for the El Camino and the wagon is a 350 cu in with a four barrel developing 170 hp (130 kW). The transmission offers are a three speed automatic or the four speed standard.
Minimal changes for the 1979 El Camino on the outside with a different divided grill is the only noticeable change and, on the inside, any transmission you choose is now floor mounted. The newly developed V8 engine is a small block 267 cu in (4.4 L) with 125 hp (93 kW) as an alternate power choice for ’79 although the 350 with the four barrel is still offered for big power.
The new decade brings change for the 1980 El Camino and horse power ratings starting to rise on some of the engine offers with the basic new 229 cu in V6 is putting out 115 hp now while both the V8 engine offers took a slight drop in horse power . The transmission offer is a three speed standard as basic equipment but the optional three speed automatic was the biggest seller in 1980.
El Camino in 1981 has a newly designed horizontally oriented tubular grill and is the biggest exterior change. However the mandate for this year and the next few is to conserve fuel without reducing the power; with the first step to achieving this goal is to add GM’s “Computer Command Control” emissions system to all the El Camino engines. The horse power rating did take a modest drop on the base 229 and the California base 231 engines and the three speed automatic transmission now has a lock-up torque converter to increase highway mileage.
The rectangular quad headlights are mounted outside the crosshatch design grill from 1982 until the final ‘87 model El Camino. Also in ’82 Chevy introduces the higher priced 350 cu in (5.7 L) Diesel powered V8 which delivers 105 horse power; this expensive engine does conserve fuel but has frequent and frequently high repair bills.. The other engine options stayed the same although the base 229 engine is now sold in California as well.
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.