Thursday, August 6, 2015

Project 1985 Chevrolet El Camino: Part 1 – Why?

I bought my first El Camino and I’m not a grandpa. Winning!

 “Why did you buy an El Camino?”
 Because... El Camino. It’s business in the front, party in the back. I’m the proud owner of Chevrolet’s very light-duty truck built on a car platform. I can’t explain the attraction. Always wanted one, didn’t matter what year. Who says they ever went out of fashion? Chevy bolted close to 1 million of them together during production (1959-1960, 1964-1987). I like them all, and I’m not a grandpa, nor do fit into any of the most-used stereotypes, that people spit out whenever I mention my latest purchase. An El Camino has style, utility, and can be equipped with muscle car performance. Plus, they are budget-friendly – a Junkyard Life fundamental.
  “What’s not to like?”
My son, Joe, straps the Chevy El Camino down onto the tow dolly.

Story begins with a convertible
  I bought the 1985 Chevy El Camino after meeting the seller of a barn find 1972 MG. I checked out the MG, (read about it here), but resisted buying the red roadster. During my deliberations, another car caught my eye. A two-tone, medium gray and silver Elky was sitting beside a tiny lake house in Pell City, Alabama. Parked for several months and looking grandpa-fresh, because the former owner was indeed a grandpa. 
  This El Camino needed a new home, a new battery, and a new radiator. I made an offer. One month later the deal was sealed. My son and I hauled the El Camino home in a rain storm. We stopped, got some sandwiches, and admired the rain-soaked El Camino from our seats inside the restaurant. Good times.  

The 1985 El Camino is hauled away from the former owner’s lakeside home in Pell City, Alabama.

Project time with my son
  My 12-year-old son, Joe, says he wants to drive the El Camino to school one day. I decided that he could earn some future seat time by working on the fixer-upper. The first project we tackled, after getting it running and adding a new radiator, was tightening the sloppy tilt steering column.
  GM’s 1980s-era tilt steering columns are notorious for working loose after decades of use. This tilt-equipped Elky was no different. In order to crank the car, the column had to be lifted and the key jiggled. The not-so-simple task of removing every moving and non-moving part on and within the steering wheel and column is necessary to access the bolts that hold the tilt mechanisms in place.

Tilt steering column was severly loose. Disassembly was required to tighten the bolts deep inside the column.
My 12-year-old son, Joe, makes quick work of the steering column tear down.

Every part has a place
  More parts, more problems. My son is a wiz, at putting things together, plus another set of eyeballs is always good when tearing into a complex project. Joe was eager to learn. We dissected the steering wheel and column’s guts on a hot summer afternoon. Reassembling it five times, for good measure, before all was buttoned-up tight and in the correct order. (I documented some of the project in a video, to be added soon.)
  The steering wheel is straight, tight, and the wheels correspond to the direction you hold the wheel. Sounds easy, right? Next time, we will get it right by the second or third try.

The padding in the gray cloth, split bench seat has 148,000 miles of drive time. Some new padding and carpet are a must.
One project done, next up? 
  The El Camino is solid but needs attention throughout. Wear parts and rubber need replacement all around. The body has one parking lot ding on the quarter panel and a tree limb compromised the top edge of the tailgate. The paint appears to be the original spray of two-tone, silver and gray. Red primer patina is peering out of worn spots on the hood and driver’s side door. 
  Those hard-earned age spots tell everyone this Elky has outlived plenty of them “foreign jobs” built in the 1990s. Wait a minute! In 1985 GM moved production of the Chevy El Camino and GMC Caballero twins to Ramos Arizpe, Mexico. Today, they continue to build Cadillacs and Chevys there.

Red oxide primer is visible where the silver paint has worn thin. They don’t make cars with good flat spots to sit on nowadays.

To do list (basics):
  • Shocks/springs
  • Door hinges (sagging)
  • Weather strip on doors
  • Carpet
  • Paint wheels
  • Add trim rings
  • Brakes
  • Exhaust
  • A/C compressor (locked up)

Junkyard Life Project: 1985 Chevy El Camino 
  Follow along as we keep you updated on the El Camino project. Our wish list includes: A modern suspension and drive train. Wider wheels with more meat, better seats, the addition of a tachometer, along with a sportier gauge cluster. While we’re dreaming, a modern stereo should top things off.  

Sponsors welcome
  Got a connection to a parts supplier? We are digging for deals and working overtime for parts. Junkyard Life will happily provide a test bed for parts on the Chevy El Camino and give your product(s) exposure. Send us the goodies! Contact Junkyard Life.

Jody Potter
— Junkyard Life

Conquista was an option package on the base 5th generation Chevrolet El Camino (1978-1988).

Manual windows, manual locks. Tell me this isn’t a truck.

Long doors on the El Camino make for worn hinges. Both doors sag.

Beneath the hoses, and vacuum lines a 305-cu. inch V8 engine powers the Chevy El Camino with 150 hp.

Style points for the forward rake on the El Camino’s side glass.

GM equipped millions of cars with eye candy, in the form of hood ornaments, well into the 1980s.
Hood emblems were still in fashion on GM vehicles in the mid-1980s.

Pinstripe and patina on the ’85 El Camino.

A new radiator solved the continuous coolant puddle problem.

An empty window in the gauge cluster could have been filled with a clock or tachometer, if so equipped.
An empty window in the right half of gauge cluster could have been filled with a clock or tachometer, if so equipped. During the 1980s, GM reminded customers they opted for the cheapo package every time they scanned the gauges.

The El Camino suffered a ding above the sexy Conquista decal on the tail gate.

A worn silver and gray El Camino found a buyer.
GM continued to build the G-Body Chevy El Camino and GMC Caballero until 1987 (745 unsold ’87 models were retitled as ’88 models and sold). GM ceased production of the G-Body Malibu (coupe/sedan) after the 1983 model year.

Finally, bringing one of the 1,015,865 Chevy El Caminos/GMC Sprint-Caballeros built to my driveway.

This 1985 model shows off it’s 4-eyed headlights, which continued from 1982-1988.
This 1985 Elky model shows off the wide, 4-eyed headlight design, which continued from 1982-1988.

Very little changed on the sides and rear of the Chevy El Camino and GMC trucklet twins between 1978-1988.

Curved rear glass and solid bed floor, without storage access, are signatures of the fifth and final generation of El Caminos/Caballeros.

Ready to hit the road to home with the El Camino project. This is before the rain storm hit.

Column shift Chevy El Caminos allow 3 passengers (including driver) to ride in elbow-rubbing comfort.

El Camino storage area and spare tire reside in compartment behind seat and under floor of truck bed on 5th gen models.

The El Camino was a low rider, mini truck before low rider, mini trucks existed.

Got the El Camino steering wheel off, now what?

Chevy El Camino tilt steering project underway, and in the hands of my 12-year-old son.

Check back for more updates on the El Camino project.

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