Home Truck Gear Road Testing the 1959 EL Camino and Its 348-inch W-Series Powerhouse

Road Testing the 1959 EL Camino and Its 348-inch W-Series Powerhouse

In December 1958, Ray Brock, HOT ROD’s technical editor, was in Chevy’s all-new 1959 El Camino for a comparison test with the Ford Ranchero. His enthusiasm for the car/truck hybrid (essentially a Brookwood two-door station wagon with an abbreviated roof and a bed floor over the wagon’s floorpan) obviously got the better of him on this mountain road, as you can barely see daylight between the pavement and the El Camino’s rocker panels. As Drew Hardin pointed out, “Maybe he thought he was at Pikes Peak.”

We probably would have done the same in this bomb. While El Caminos could be equipped with any passenger car engine down to the 135hp Stovebolt Six, Brock’s tester had the hottest motor available: a 348-inch W-series engine with 11:1 compression, a performance cam, and triple Rochesters, making a rated 315 hp and 356 lb-ft of torque. Backing that motor was an optional four-speed manual that came straight out of the Corvette parts bin.

That engine and transmission combo turned the El Camino into a “tiger,” Brock wrote in the February 1959 issue. But only “after it was rolling. The 3.36 rear axle ratio coupled with the high ratios of the Corvette transmission (2.20 in first) fail to set any new records at the start, but once underway you quickly realize you are accelerating. The gear ratios are so closely spaced that you only spend a few seconds in each one before jumping up another step in the ladder.” At the Santa Ana dragstrip, the Camino clocked a 16.0-second quarter at 90 mph, though Brock figured that with steeper gears and Positraction the truck could trim two full seconds off the e.t. and add 10 mph.

Now, about that handling. Brock described the truck’s ride as “soft” and “easy” on average roads, though the “soft springing will allow the El Camino to lean in an alarming manner on corners.” But, he pointed out, “after reaching a heeled-over position, the El Camino will get a good grip on the road and go through the corners with good control and feel.”

Brock opted not to choose a winner between the two trucks in his test, since the Ford “was so differently equipped” than the Chevy. Its 352-inch Y-block, Cruise-o-Matic transmission, and 2.69 rearend were no match for the hot rod Chevy. At Santa Ana it was a full second and 6 mph slower through the quarter. The Ford’s stiffer suspension did work in its favor, though, making it “well suited to carry a heavy load and impart a secure feeling to the driver.” It was, however, “far less spectacular in the body lean department.”

And where’s the fun in that?

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