This car was already a rare breed right off the showroom floor. The multitude of factory options made for an atypical—and expensive—model

Patterned after the all-new 1959 passenger cars, the El Camino pickup earned immediate popularity as a versatile workhorse. Power windows, a power seat, air conditioning, and power steering put this good-looking and loaded Crown Sapphire version squarely in the luxury category, with a Tri-Power 348-ci V8, automatic transmission and full instrumentation adding a performance edge.

SCM Analysis


Vehicle:1959 Chevrolet El Camino
Years Produced:1959-1960
Number Produced:36,409
Original List Price:$2,352
SCM Valuation:$35,000-$65,000 (as equipped here)
Tune Up Cost:$300
Chassis Number Location:Left front door hinge pillar
Engine Number Location:On block in front of right cylinder head
Club Info:National El Camino Owners Association
Alternatives:1957-1960 Ford Ranchero, 1955 Chevrolet Cameo Carrier, 1957 Dodge D100 Sweptside

This car, Lot S23, sold for $56,100, including buyer’s premium, at the Mecum Bob McDorman Collection sale in Canal Winchester, Ohio, on November 6, 2010.

In the late 1950s, Chevrolet and Ford were battling to get the upper hand in the marketplace. Chevrolet had introduced some very stylish and forward-thinking automobiles. However, in 1957, Ford introduced the Ranchero, the very first “car-based” hybrid of a passenger wagon with an open pickup truck bed. This newly designed vehicle concept was well received and sold moderately well. After all, if you liked it, the Ranchero was your only choice.

The Chevrolet brass of the day, not to be trumped by Ford, decided to jump in with the all-new 1959 Chevrolet El Camino. It would be based on the very popular Impala line and offered buyers a wide assortment of creature comforts and engine options from the utilitarian inline 6, a 283-ci V8 and the muscular 280 horsepower 348-ci V8. With its rear batwing styling and cats-eye rear taillights—coupled with the various trim levels—the 1959 El Camino hit the road with a determination to dispel any notion that you could call this quasi “truck” a pickup.

The first generation of El Caminos sold well enough, with 22,246 delivered in 1959, the first year of the model. In 1960, sales slumped to a paltry 14,163 units and as such, Chevrolet killed the model even though the 1960 models included extensive styling updates. The second-generation El Camino would be reintroduced in 1964, and it would be based on the new Chevelle platform, with production continuing until 1987.

All the cars on offer at this sale were sold at no reserve, which, arguably, can produce better results than an all-reserve format (we can leave that occasionally heated discussion to Publisher Martin and your letters in the You Write column). That said, let’s take a closer look at the result.

What does the market say?

Within the SCM database, we see that the highest-detailed 1959 El Camino result was posted in 2006 at $29,150 (SCM # 43061) for a 283-ci example in #3 condition. While this was during a more exuberant time, it was nevertheless a strong result for a ’59 El Camino with apparent needs.

Digging deeper, a similarly equipped 1959 El Camino sold at RM Auctions’ Wayne Davis Collection sale in 2008 (Lot #274) for the tidy sum of $68,750. This El Camino, a current restoration finished in resale red, included the rare 348-ci Tri-Power V8 as well. It was also offered at no reserve and was fresh out of a well-presented collection. Although the car did sport a few non-original items, it was nevertheless a worthy example and serves well as a close comparison.

What’s more, a third pedal was on the driver’s side floor of the RM El Camino, and a four-speed transmission can easily add 10%-25% to the hammer price—which puts us spot-on for the sale price of our subject car.

While $56,100 in our current market initially sounds like a triumphant win for the seller, we need to break down the sale a little more carefully.

With more than 22,000 produced in 1959, this El Camino was not part of a particularly low production run, but it was perhaps one of only a handful built as equipped, especially considering the optional 348-ci “Super Turbo-Thrust” Tri-Power V8 under the hood. This fact, as well as a variety of other options, such as factory air conditioning, power steering, brakes, seat and windows made this example a very well-appointed—and tire-smoking—“Cowboy Cadillac.”

Further, these cars, as is typical of many cars of the era, quickly succumbed to rust or other maladies deemed not worth fixing, so the survival rate for the 22,246 built in 1959 is most likely very low. If you factor in that many El Caminos were rode hard and put away wet, that number might be small indeed.

Hold on, El Camino owners

Now, for all you guys who own a first-generation El Camino—and are now firing up your old Texas Instruments calculator to refigure your net worth—hang on for a second.

When I was a kid, I worked in Florida’s sweltering hot orange groves, planting trees, watering, fertilizing and such. While every tree produced a nice crop of seemingly identical oranges, not all oranges were created equal.

At the processing plant, freshly picked oranges made the journey down a conveyor belt as sorters handpicked the very best oranges. These oranges were the ones deemed to be the “best of the best” and would find their way to exclusive mail-order gift boxes and grocers. Only about one percent made the cut. My point is that our particular El Camino is one of those juicy, plump, tasty “hand-selected” Florida oranges.

By all means, when this car was sold new in 1959 it was already a rare breed right off the showroom floor. The desirable multitude of factory options, coupled with a great color combination, made for an atypical—and expensive—El Camino.

Fast forward to 2010, and the fact that a notable collector put his seal of approval on the machine adds to the provenance and desirability. All of the automobiles on offer out of the McDorman collection had something special about them. Perhaps each car had a very low production number, serial number or unique history. Or, as in the case of Lot S23, they were incredibly well-equipped, which is an anomaly for this make and model.

The only concern is that no mention of documentation or history for the car was included in the brief catalog description. Although all appears to be upright and correct, airtight documentation would be an additional insurance policy for the valuation, as the buyer would be sure that it was a “born with” example and not the product of an exuberant restoration.

I am certain there was a gasp of air so powerful the room nearly lost oxygen when the hammer dropped on this sale. In a hasty analysis, one could argue that this El Camino was very well sold, based on apparent past sales and current price guides (including SCM’s). But, when we go deeper, and take into consideration that this may be one of only a handful of examples with this equipment package, we might conclude otherwise.

We now have two rock-solid El Camino 348-ci Tri-Power examples: the aforementioned Lot 274—with that magical third pedal on the floor—from the RM Wayne Davis sale and our subject car, Lot S23 from Mecum’s Bob McDorman Collection sale. Both are handsome cars, however; the latter is a more pure and correct example. Should another equally prepared and equipped example come to the market, I would call it a safe bet the sale comes within striking distance of the money paid here.

I’d call this sale market correct—and both the buyer and seller should be pleased with the result. Happy trails.

Comments are closed.