1965 El Camino: The Story

Sometimes searching for something leads you down a different street. Such is the case with this ’65 El Camino

By Ed Todd Marietta, GA

Photography by Colin Date

65-elco-frontIt seems that all our old cars have a “Story”, and my ’65 El Camino story really starts back in 1964. Fresh out of high school, I had read in the September ’64 issue of Motor Trend that the Malibu was to be made available with the optional L79 327 Corvette engine, 12 bolt rear end and a 4-speed. I took the plunge, borrowed some money and ordered a Danube Blue ’65 Malibu with those aforementioned options. I had it by Thanksgiving. I had to sell that car a year later for cash to start college and have regretted losing it ever since– even though it was the certainly the right thing to do at the time. If I fast forward through about 40 years, with my understanding wife Karen, two kids Susan and David, grand kids, many jobs, many moves, and many other old cars, the nagging memories of the ’65 Malibu and the urge to find another one still haunted me. Like a lot of other “found” cars, I wasn’t looking for an El Camino when I found this one in Loganville, GA in 2004. But the idea of an Elky grew on me and it was soon towed home to Marietta. It was going to be a total rebuild project as it needed floor pans, door skins, engine, suspension, many patch panels, right inner fender, chrome, paint, interior, engine, and transmission– basically everything was needed!

65-elco-interiorIt was born in the Fremont, CA plant as an El Camino “Custom” with PS, PB, A/C, push button AM radio, Powerglide, 300 HP 327, Ermine White with the Turquoise/Aqua 2 tone interior. However, it was now graced with mustard yellow enamel paint and a horse manure brown full interior – all poorly done, rusty, ancient and with 2 dried rat snake skins in the cowl! I found yellow, blue and maroon paint on top of some of the original Ermine White. The floor pan and hump looked like a practice project for a high school cutting torch class.

65-elco-rearAs I stripped all the paint and parts off, it was obvious that the car had never been hit hard, had an excellent main body and fully-boxed frame, and the original 12 bolt 3.31. It even still had part of the automatic air leveling device standard on the Elkys. The tailgate was a mess and a good replacement had to be found. People had actually used it like a truck– go figure. NOS stainless trim was found for the side bed rails, re-chromed rear window trim surround and a few repro trim pieces were installed. The original grille and front trim were hand-stripped of the anodizing (Easy-Off oven cleaner works great), hand polished, and new repro bumpers were installed. I have a collection of old bumpers left if anyone needs some. The 396 front fender flag trim pieces were the first to go on after the paint was buffed!

65-elco-engineSince the original 327 engine and Powerglide transmission were long gone, I decided to rebuild it mechanically like it should have been optioned in 1965. The first plan was to put a 327 back under the hood, then common sense flew out the basement door one day (too many paint fumes) and the decision was made to create a semi-clone of the ’65 Z16 option in the Elky– like they should have done in ’65. My concept for this car is, “If it bolts on and says GM, it’s stock!” It now has the 396/408 (.060 over) with an L78 intake, Holley and a lumpy hydraulic cam for fun (technically, available in ’65). The front discs are off of a ’70 Cutlass S, all new front and rear suspension parts, the quick steering gearbox from a ’98 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Spicer is a GM Division), 1” front sway bar from the ’70 Cutlass S, rear sway bar from GM Parts, new rear axles and bearings, and the built TH400 is from a ’75 big-block Chevy pick-up. It all bolted right on, so it must be stock! The pop-up smuggler’s box lid was fabricated for more hidden storage area (lawn chairs and the cooler for shows), and just to see if I could.

65-elco-emblem-detailAs an ex (and old) metal shop teacher, the primary goal for this car was to “do-it-all myself”, as much as possible, within reason. And time wasn’t an issue. It is mostly a “did-it-all myself” with the exception of the machine work on the 396 block, the TH400 rebuild, driveshaft resizing, and installation of the windshield. I did ask for some help on smoothing out a few lines after my body work. And after a bad body shop experience, I opted to finish and paint it myself. My 30+ years old spray gun worked great, but I still have white and gray sanding dust and overspray all over my basement. The interior, paint and trim are back to the original codes now.

Many birthday, Christmas, and Father’s Day gifts have been parts for the Elky – thanks to the whole family. Note to car guys: as soon as it was on the road, the home kitchen was gutted and replaced– honey-do’s had waited too long too– payback time.

65-elco-interior-2I am basically satisfied with the end result. It may be nearly finished, but it’s never done. Like most of our old cars, there is always something. It is meant to be driven, improved on and tweaked forever. It was honored with a Class win at the PeachState Chevelle show last May. We love to air it out on nice days and enjoy the ride.

Our son Dave says he gets more thumbs up driving my ’65 Elky than he does with his own ’68 SS– at least he has his own vintage Chevy. We are all just caretakers of these old pieces of nostalgia and we need to bring along more of the next generation every chance we get. We have to keep the interest and hobby alive!