By on March 11, 2016

1974 Chevrolet El Camino in California junkyard, LH front view - ©2016 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

The Chevrolet El Camino reached its largest size in the 1973-1977 fourth-generation version, while engine power decreased at about the same rate as its bumper size increased. Still, these cartrucks are somewhat sought-after today, more so than the later, smaller G-body-based ones.

Since you won’t see many of these vehicles in self-service wrecking yards, I thought this California example was worth including in this series.

1974 Chevrolet El Camino in California junkyard, hood ornament, 1974 Chevrolet El Camino in California junkyard, hood ornament, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

The truckified Chevelle was based on the Malibu Wagon chassis, and this one still has its Chevelle-style hood ornament. The coin-style reeding is extra-classy.

1974 Chevrolet El Camino in California junkyard, engine, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

I didn’t feel like getting dirty and checking casting numbers on this small-block V8, but it’s probably a 350 (a 400 would have been yanked within days of showing up in the yard, and the 350 is both the base engine for 1974 and the most likely size to have been swapped in later).

1974 Chevrolet El Camino in California junkyard, rust, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

Cars don’t rust much in California, but the rainy winters coupled with indifferent GM weatherstripping can make water collect in some areas and cause some rot.

1974 Chevrolet El Camino in California junkyard, Seat, © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars

The vinyl upholstery on the seats and door panels has held up remarkably well in the harsh petrochemical air and thermonuclear rays of coastal California.

800 pound payload! Optional captain’s-chair swivel buckets!

[Images: © 2016 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]

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49 Comments on “Junkyard Find: 1974 Chevrolet El Camino...”


  • avatar
    PeriSoft

    When I was seven or eight I thought these things were *cool*, and to this day I have no idea why. I can still vividly remember the feeling but now it’s attended by profound embarrassment. Ah, childhood…

  • avatar
    JimZ

    why would a 400 be immediately claimed? I thought the SBC 400 was problematic.

    • 0 avatar
      roger628

      Put the crank in a 350 and make a 383 on the cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      NoGoYo

      Nah, you’re probably thinking about the Olds 403. There’s definite durability issues with stock 403s.

      • 0 avatar
        JimZ

        no, I seem to recall the SBC 400 was prone to overheating.

        • 0 avatar
          rpol35

          The 400’s were prone to overheating with their siamese bore block. I saw many in the ’70’s with blown headgaskets and warped heads.

          Also, a Chevy 383 is made from a 350, not a 400. The 383’s are called “strokers” because they retain the 350’s stock 4″ bore but use a 3.8″ “stroker” crank instead of the 350’s traditional 3.48″ crank.

          • 0 avatar
            pbr

            Too lazy to google or do maths, but best of my recollection a “383” is a 4″ bore (302/327/350) block bored .030″ over and a 400 crank (3.75″ stroke).

            Point being you need parts from both a 400 and (typically) a 350 to make a 383.

          • 0 avatar
            rpol35

            “Too lazy to google or do maths, but best of my recollection a “383” is a 4″ bore (302/327/350) block bored .030″ over and a 400 crank (3.75″ stroke).

            Point being you need parts from both a 400 and (typically) a 350 to make a 383.”

            Not the ones that Jegs sells, they are clearly a 4″ bore and a 3.80″ stroke.

          • 0 avatar
            pbr

            >> Not the ones that Jegs sells, they are clearly a 4″ bore and a 3.80″ stroke.

            I’m curious, do you have a JEGS part number for something with a 3.80″ stroke? I see several variatons of these rotating assemblies with 3.750 stroke:

            356-B13404L03053

            Street Performance Rotating Assembly
            Stroke: 3.750
            Disp. @ .030: 383
            Rod Length: 5.700
            Pistons: -12cc Flat Top
            Rings: Standard Gap
            Comp. Ratio 58cc/64cc/76cc: 10.5/9.9/8.8

            but I’m not looking in the right place to see bore & stroke on any of their short- or long-blocks.

            Anyway, I think “383” is a traditional shorthand term for “a 400 crank in a 350 block” more than a precise specification of displacement. For example,

            4.030 x 3.750:
            http://www.hotrod.com/how-to/engine/hrdp-0503-chevy-383-engine/

            4.030 x 3.750:
            http://www.hotrod.com/how-to/engine/383ci-chevy-small-block-build/

    • 0 avatar
      Scoutdude

      Yes the 400 had issues due to the saimise bore and the steam holes that were supposed to provide cooling between the cylinders.

      However they used to be in demand because their crank, rods, flex plate and harmonic balancer used to be popular to sick in a .030 over 350 block to create a 383. You also need spacers because of the smaller main journals. Now of course thanks to cheap metal parts from China you just order up a stroker crank that has the 400’s stroke but the 350 journal size.

      • 0 avatar
        pbr

        Um, weren’t the 400cid crank main bearing journals (2.650″) larger than 350cid ones (2.450″)? Meaning you’d have to have the 400 crank turned down to fit in the 350 block, not add spacers.

  • avatar

    I was 15 when these hit the streets.

    It took me DECADES to develop anything approaching appreciation for any 1973-77 Chevelle.

    But a neighbor up the road has a black ’73 SS – those were rare as hens’ teeth even when new – and in the parking garage of the Pittsburgh Convention Center a couple years back, I spotted a ’73 Elco SS that appeared to be a cared-for original, right down to the twin stripes, unique to the El Camino.

    It took me aback, but then I started to see these a little differently.

    And it’s true that with GM placing more attention on handling, these full-size mid-sizers drove better than expected.

    Nowadays I’m happy to see people taking an interest in the vehicles we boomers overlooked when new. And I have to admit, Bill Mitchell and co. did a good job of toning down the “cowcatcher” bumpers of the non-S3 models.

  • avatar
    Vulpine

    I’ve seen worse examples on the road, but clearly that one’s a project car if it doesn’t get crushed first.

  • avatar
    mfgreen40

    In 1967 I bought a new red SS 396 ci 325 hp El Camino. I have only good memories of that vehicle. The small block 400 did have head gasket problems but are still sought after.

  • avatar
    eggsalad

    Is this gen the biggest? Bigger than the 59-60 full-size El Camino?

    • 0 avatar
      NOSLucasWiringSmoke

      Probably pretty close. “Standard size” cars grew pretty steadily from the late 50s to the early 70s. To reduce it to one dimension, the first intermediates in the early ’60s were about the same length as a “regular” Chevy/Ford-class car in 1955, which was about a foot shorter than the early 60s version. Then when standard cars got bigger again, the intermediates and compacts beneath them grew too.

      When GM downsized the B-body for 1977, it came about at about the same overall size and lighter in weight than the carryover A-body.

    • 0 avatar

      these are 209″ long, the 78-87 models are 210″ long. They are wider than the other generations though.

  • avatar
    rpol35

    Interesting find, a few thoughts…in 1974 there were technically three V8 engines available, 350-2 barrel, 400-2 barrel and 454-4 barrel, unless you lived in California where the line-up was 350-4 barrel, 400-4 barrel or 454. This appears to be a California model as it is a small block with an obvious 4 barrel Quadrajet carb – unless it was later swapped which is possible in 42 years of life.

    1974 was also the last year for the 4 speed manual, though only available with the 454 motor. I worked for a Chevy dealer in 1974 and we always had a “2001 Fourth of July Sale” (whatever that means) and the owner would order a batch of these with the 454 and 4-speed combination for the sale. Those were still fun to drive and the Camino still sold reasonably well.

    Another poster asked about size, this vintage was the second largest, riding on a 116″ wheelbase. The ’59-’60’s were longer, riding on a 119″ wheelbase; the difference in weight wasn’t so great however. This vintage still had a perimeter frame but was also saddled with the new, massive (in their case) 5 MPH, Federally mandated bumpers.

  • avatar
    pbr

    My college-era GF’s dad had one of these, light blue, 3-on-the-tree, 6-cyl inline engine. It drove OK for the time, except when the shift linkage fell into never-never land and you had to crawl under it to rattle the arms back into position. Dad was a lovable nut, bought his daughter a Maverick Grabber and his other car was a SOHC/IRS Tempest that someone had grafted tailfins onto. Wish I had pics of that one. Better yet, NOW I wish I had the car. The El Cam was utterly forgettable unless you were a broke kid who needed to move out of a dorm room.

  • avatar

    Swivel bucket chairs would be great for our increasingly aging and obese population. I’m surprised nobody has brought them back.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      It’s possible, but you’d need some mechanism to lock the seats forward when the car is moving, and run the wiring harness through the pinion.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        The swivel buckets did lock forward. I had a 77 Monte Carlo with swivel buckets which had levers on the outside of each bucket that you would press down to swivel the seat to the side. There was also a lever on the front of each seat to manually move the seat forward or backward. When you swivel the seat forward it would click and that locked the seat. The swivel seats were safe and I never heard of any safety problems. The only disadvantage is the seats would not recline, but then most American cars in the 70’s did not have reclining seats. Reclining seats were another advantage that most Japanese cars offered.

        As for running electric through them that would not be a problem except it would be harder and more expensive to make a swivel bucket seat which reclined and with the bottom of the seat that went up and down. You could wire them to be heated and cooled. Reclining and adjustable seats are more desirable to most people than swivel buckets.

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    Ugh! It’s a ‘colonnade’ body, and it’s an El Camino. How much sadness can you put in one car? And yet, somebody drove this home from a dealership with a huge smile and eyes on a bright future.

  • avatar
    dal20402

    All the disadvantages of a truck with very few of the advantages. What’s not to love?

    • 0 avatar
      CoreyDL

      I wonder if any customers of the El Camino went right over to Subaru for a BRAT a couple years later.

      Your statement also applies to:
      Ranchero
      BRAT
      Baja
      Blackwood
      SSR
      H3T
      Explorer SportTrak

      • 0 avatar
        MRF 95 T-Bird

        There is a difference between utes that are truck based vs car based. The the H3T is truck based, it uses the Colorado/Canyon platform and the Explorer SportTrak is based on the Ranger. I would think that their buyers fit into the the mid-sized truck buyer demographic.

        • 0 avatar
          Drzhivago138

          The first gen Explorer Sport Trac (no K) was essentially a Ranger crew cab–same 126″ WB, same powertrain options, definitely a compact pickup. The second gen (just Sport Trac, no “Explorer” prefix) was more a lengthened mid-size Explorer with IRS and available V8.

          • 0 avatar
            NoGoYo

            I saw an Adrenalin Edition Sport Trac recently. The only one I’ve ever seen, and possibly the only one I ever will see.

            Wonder what makes it so Adrenalin-y.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        H3T is just as useful as any other midsize pickup.

    • 0 avatar
      thattruthguy

      These were much, much more comfortable and drivable than standard pickups. I knew plumbers and electricians who liked them. Most of them switched to Japanese minitrucks, which had the same capabilities but were cheaper to own and operate.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    What did the El Camino and the Ranchero in was the influx of cheap Japanese pickups. The Japanese trucks were smaller, more fuel efficient, and more reliable, and cheaper. Also the Japanese trucks offered 8 foot beds. GM, Ford, and Chrysler imported rebadged Japanese trucks to remain competitive and to give them enough time to develop their own domestically made small trucks.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Ok so a 7.5 bed. Which is more of a significant change in size a 6 to a 7.5 foot bed or a 7.5 to an 8 foot bed? Is 6 inches going to mean a great deal of difference compared to 18 inches? The real difference in the Dakota versus other smaller trucks at the time was the bed was wide enough to lay a sheet of plywood flat and that you could get a V-8 with it, which is much more significant than an 8 foot bed versus a 7.5 foot bed. Also it was the first real midsize truck. Those are much more significant facts than an 8 foot bed.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      The HQ series of 1971 was a completely new design, introducing larger capacity 173-cubic-inch (2.8 L) and 202-cubic-inch (3.3 L) six-cylinder engines, with the continued availability of 253-cubic-inch (4.1 L), 308-cubic-inch (5.0 L) Holden and 350-cubic-inch (5.7 L) Chev V8 engines.

      HQ, HZ, WB, etc one tonners were midsize. They can with up to 350 Chev V8s.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holden_Kingswood

      http://www.bing.com/images/search?q=hq+one+tonner&view=detailv2&&id=28301B94EA17C4D799726D1A9C73BE2A29163948&selectedIndex=4&ccid=7lqwQBOX&simid=608003959412362809&thid=OIP.Mee5ab04013978c8315ffa1637db67944o0&ajaxhist=0

      The Nissan Junior was a series of medium-sized Pickup trucks built from 1956 until 1982.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nissan_Junior

      Body styles included a pickup (two-door, three-seater) and a double-cab pickup (four-door six-seater). The Stout was cancelled in 1989 without a successor,[21] as Toyota’s first full-size pickup, the T100 (as well as the later Tundra) were built mainly for North America, where the Stout had been replaced by the Hilux in 1968.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Stout

      Early FJ Landcruisers also were manufactured as midsize pickups. The same for Nissan Patrols, etc.

      There were plenty of midsize pickups/utes on offer.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    Actually come to think of it my 85 Mitsubishi Mighty Max had an 8 foot bed. It was a single cab with a 4 speed manual and a sliding window. It did have carpeting in it but it was more like mouse fur. I drove that truck for 14 years with 200k miles.

    • 0 avatar
      Vulpine

      The Mitsubishi Sport had that long-bed capability as well, with carpet, a bigger 4-cyl engine and a 5-speed stick. Also with the sliding window and carpet.

      Heater needed some help though. At -35°F it worked its butt off to keep the windshield and side-view mirrors clear–the rest were all frosted over.

      • 0 avatar
        Jeff S

        Vulpine, My 85 Mighty Max had a sliding rear window as well. It’t didn’t have a rear bumper, stereo, or bed liner but I added those. My Max had a 2.0 I-4 and air conditioning. The 2.0 was a good engine but a 5 speed manual would have been better than the 4 speed manual. I got very good service out of it and used the bed a lot.

  • avatar
    JEFFSHADOW

    Ah, so close so many times but not quite yet.

    Lost out on a bid on Copart for a 1977 Buick Regal coupe with 34,000 miles. The rear end was crushed to the back seats while the wheels and frame up front was still perfect. Weld the front half to the remainder half of a 1973 to 1977 Chevrolet El Camino or GMC Sprint and get, with this blend and others:
    El Regalino
    El Supremo
    El Grand Prixo
    Only minor problem is that the Chevrolet had primarily soft curves while the Buick, Oldsmobile and Pontiac went with edgier styling in 1976.
    I spied a 1976 GMC Sprint in Orange, California a few years back. It had the floor shifter and was awaiting restoration even though the owner had not been in contact with the body shop for three years.
    The 1973 to 1977 are my favorite years. The rest are too small, too unsafe (check out the YouTube video of the 1959 Chevy vs 2009 Malibu NHTSA film) or made in Mexico.

    • 0 avatar
      thattruthguy

      Only the 76–77 Cutlass and Buick coupes changed their bodies. Buick and Olds sedans and wagons, and all Pontiacs, kept the same doors and rears. Exc Cutlass/Buick coupes, the new fronts matched the old sedan/wagon doors and bodies.

  • avatar
    SaulTigh

    A kid I worked with at my first job circa 1993 had a 1976 El Camino. White and red with a camper shell! He kept a complete selection of automotive fluids in the back and frequently had the hood up adding them in the parking lot (mostly coolant as I recall). His dad drove a ’78 Firebird that you had to lift the doors to get them to close as they sagged several inches after opening. Mom drove an Astro van. The whole family was a sucker for rolling GM abuse.

  • avatar
    cmholm

    Since relocating to Oz for a spell, in the automotive department I feel like I’ve stepped into an alternative history, where Falcons never went out of style, and car-based utes still grace the showrooms. My understanding is that the current Holden Ute was destined to follow the Monaro/GTO into Pontiac showrooms, until the GFC caused GM to have its come-to-Jesus moment.

    Too bad, because the GM-Holden (and to a lesser degree Ford) utes can be optioned into very sporty, Mustang-eating road warriors.

    There is an outfit in the US that will Federalize one for you, causing pulled necks among the Elkey worshippers wherever you go.


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