I don’t think I’ll make a series out of it but this is the second time this summer that I spotted a car in a car show parking lot that wasn’t what it first appeared to be. When you go to an American Motors Owners meet, you expect to see some uncommon cars, so I wasn’t surprised to see what I at first thought was a mid 1980s Chevy El Camino parked off to the side. When I got close enough to read the trucklet’s badging I realized that it was even more uncommon. It had a Spanish name like the El Camino but it came from different GM division than Chevrolet.
For the most part, GMC dealers got there own versions of Chevy trucks but it wasn’t until 1971 that GMC got a version of the El Camino, which had been a part of Chevy’s lineup since the late 1950s (except for ’61-’64). At first the GMC ute was called the Sprint but for the 1978 model year the car was renamed Caballero, Spanish for horseman, cowboy or gentleman depending on context and locale. Like the El Camino, the Caballero is essentially a Chevelle/Malibu with a load bed instead of a back seat and a trunk. To make that bed a practical size, the GM utes were built on the Chevelle station wagon’s 117″ wheelbase, 9″ longer than the sedan’s.
This ’86 is an Amarillo model, a mid level trim line equivalent to the El Camino’s Conquista package, which mostly consisted of two tone paint and a badge above the glove box. All that Spanish is appropriate for this vehicle, which was made in Mexico. GM switched production for the El Camino & Caballero to south of the border for the 1985 model year, where they were made until the model was discontinued after the ’87 MY. This is a fairly rare car, at least compared to its Chevy cousins. Only 2,795 GMC Caballeros were made for the ’86 model year, compared to 21,508 El Caminos. Because the exposed bed is integral to the rest of the body, utes tend to rust quicker than comparable sedans. After more than 25 years, those 2,795 Caballeros have to have had their numbers significantly reduced by the tin worm. It’s not as rare as the SD396 Beaumont (think Canadian SS396 Chevelle with a Pontiac nose and a GTO dashboard) that I saw a few weeks earlier at a concours, but still rare enough to collect and treasure, and the current owner and his family certainly treasure the car.
As you can see from the stuff inside the car, it’s still being used regularly. During the summer the owner uses it as a daily driver, saying that the 4.3 L V6 powered Caballero gets acceptable mileage and that the bed still comes in handy.
It’s not in perfect condition, there are some chips and scratches, but it’s a solid original car (the wheels are stock Chevrolet, but they came from a Monte Carlo) that I’m pretty sure will get passed on to the kids who accompanied their dad to the AMC show. His grade school daughter told me that she’ll drive it when she’s old enough. Dad beamed.
An oddball car at an oddball car show. The other day I asked if young people will embrace the car collecting hobby. What do you think the chances are that a kid who gets driven to an American Motors car show in a GMC Caballero will end up driving something as boring as a Camry?
More photos at Cars In Depth.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can dig deeper at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS