BY: STEFAN DE KOKER/PICS: CHAD LUCKHOFF
El Camino – the name conjures images of the 1970s – big streamlined bakkies with the front end of a muscle car grafted on. It doesn’t matter who you are, at one point it’s something we all wanted, even as a kid I remember building a model of one. Not many of us know that the El Camino name and class of vehicle didn’t start in the ‘70s or even the ‘60s but in 1959. When we think of a 1959 pickup we involuntarily think of the Apache Stepside but Chevrolet had another, much sportier, goods carrier available to the buying public. This is the story of one of those first generation El Caminos. The car was imported by Andre of Rally Sport Motors in 2007; it was a stock runner but not in the best condition.
Preservation had begun in America before she was brought over, and the whole car was covered in patches of primer, earning her the nickname of Spotty, a name, I’m sure you will agree, which she has definitely outgrown. In 2010 the decision was made to sell Spotty to a friend of Andre’s, and that is when she became Wynand’s pride and joy. He wanted her to be the best ‘59 in the country and in my opinion, he did just that.
Looking at the car in its flawless turquoise paint I can definitely tell you I have never seen a better one, whether it’s an El Camino, sedan, wagon, stock or custom, this one blows it out of the water. She appears quite stock but the massive custom scoop on the bonnet belies the unbelievable work that has gone into this beauty. The fibreglass scoop was made to house the massive engine; without it the engine would be sticking out of the bonnet – perfect for Tarlton, but not on a classy road car like this.
First up I have to talk about the engine – I’ve seen tons of hot rods with 350 and 383 cubic inch engines – the 454 is a bit scarcer but you see them every now and again. I’ve even seen some 509 cubic inch Cadillac motors in custom cars, but this engine is something I’ve only ever seen on the drag strip. What we have here is an honest- to-goodness 632 cubic inch Chevrolet crate race motor prepared by Scott Shafiroff. Anyone who knows custom motors knows what a scarce beast this is, and on a road car it’s unheard off. Output on this beast is eye-wateringly high – 901 hp and 1175 N·m (that’s more than four new Golf GTIs) helping this lady become a beast and shredding any tyre fitted to her.
Getting enough air into this engine is also a huge undertaking. A normal Holley or even Edelbrock is too small to supply the 10.4 litre V8 with enough air, so another part normally reserved for drag racers was called upon. The carburettor is a 1150 cfm Dominator working together with the racing fuel pump and high pressure lines to supply life to this beast. Supplying fuel was a problem from the start and the fuel pump had to be upgraded a few times before a full drag racing pump was installed. This pump can handle engines of up to 2500 hp, so it should be good for years to come. The fuel lines were also updated with massive 18mm lines to supply the caburettor with enough fuel to keep the motor spinning. Spent gasses are expelled through a custom stainless steel exhaust with polished headers so big you can see them gleaming behind the front tyres. Driving this car is such an involved experience that a manual gearbox would not work, so an auto box was chosen. A normal T350 would disintegrate if it was mated to this engine, so a TCI 6-speed gearbox was sourced and fitted. Sometimes auto is better, even if it sounds like a cruiser, not a bruiser – no clutch and gearlever would be able to stay on top of the massive amounts of torque.
With the motor done the only thing left was finding a way to ensure the motor’s 672kW stays on the tarmac. The chassis was completely remanufactured – a normal ‘59 chassis would twist at the first hint of a burnout – so a new one was designed and manufactured to cope with the masses of power being sent to the rear wheels. The front suspension is a custom rack and pinion set-up that was built especially for this car, as was the rear 5-link suspension. Fitting a normal Ford 9” diff would not have worked as the 1175 N·m would strip it in a week, so another piece of drag racing equipment found its way to the streets in the form of a Moser 35-spline diff. Getting everything to work is one thing, but making it look right is more art than science.
Fitting the beast with 17” Rally wheels was a touch of genius. Most people would have gone for huge modern rims but these look ideal, and the fact that they are shod with 335/40/17 tyres in the back and 245/45/17s in front just makes them perfect. Most modern cars have four wheel nuts per wheel.
The front rims of the ’59 have five studs, but the rear had to be a lot more extreme, and the wheels are fitted to the custom-built hubs with no less than ten studs – that’s more than a truck uses. One thing is sure, these wheels won’t be coming off when you need them most. One of the most striking features of this car is the paint. It’s not red or black or any of those traditional hot rod colours, but an original colour called “sea mist” turquoise. Considering the specs of this car it’s not the colour most people would have chosen, but seeing it in the flesh you realize that no other colour would have looked as good.
The turquoise is given depth with a subtle pearl that was added by mixing pearlized dust into the clear coat, which really brings out the curves of the car. It’s a colour the pages of a magazine can never do justice to – you have to see it yourself. The colour is extended into the cab with a colour-matched dash, carpet and original haircell-grain vinyl seats. The only modern touch is the Dakota digital gauges, while the rest of the cabin is exactly like GM made it way back in 1959 (why mess with perfection?). Even the stock steering wheel was only padded to increase grip, with the overall look being retained.
This is how a hot rod should be built, not by redesigning a car but merely improving on it. Driving down the road in a normal classic is fun; people wave and there is always a smile on your face, but driving this beast is a bit different. The people are forgotten as you concentrate on the road; and the smile … it’s more of a maniacal grin than anything else. This car is so much fun it should be illegal, but luckily for us, it’s not.