Copyright 2014 Chuck Klein

Published: Old Car Weekly, 31 July 2014

My first glimpse of her, of all places, was on a used car lot. Nonetheless, it was love at first sight. But I worried. Had she been abused? Her interior ripped? Have a lot of miles? Rust, dirty oil, and other signs of neglect?  First off, I realize calling a truck “she” might not seem logical. I mean, trucks are supposed to be brawny, tough, rugged and all those other masculine things. El Caminos, however, are all of those, plus they’re sort of like a young, lithe Olympian swimmer in her skin tight suit – muscle and curves most prominent - along with that feminine mystic.

It was fall, 1972 and with both my wife and I working, we were finally in a position to buy a new car. What I had always wanted was an El Camino, but the ’73 models were lame. They had huge doors, no cozy wings, protruding bumpers and, well, they just weren’t cool. The ’72s, on the other hand, were better made and much healthier looking.

On my way home from  picking up a few groceries late on a warm afternoon, I happened to notice a copper with black vinyl roof and silver rockers 1972 conspicuously displayed on a used car lot. I wheeled in and tried to contain my excitement when I saw the odometer at only 4000 miles. The plaid-shirted-striped-tie-white-soxed salesman sensed my want . . . my need for this truck. He told me she was a re-pop and he was going to wholesale it the next day. The price was as much as a new one, but it did have all the right extras: A/C, A/T, rally wheels, air shocks, a bench seat and 350-V8. There were no negotiations as he was firm on the price – somehow knowing I had to have this almost new, last-of-its breed El Camino. I gave him all the cash I had on me, $55, as a down payment. We signed some papers and he said it would take two days to get the title and financing.

As soon as I got home, I checked the weather reports for hurricanes, fires or tornado warnings for the next two days. So, I’m a little paranoid. But, just because one is paranoid, doesn’t mean they aren’t after you or bad stuff won’t happen.

Two days later – to the minute – I arrived at the used car dealer to overhear the sales manager telling someone on the phone that he had a black-over-copper 1972 El Camino that he was offering to sell for $200 more than I had a contract for! I barged into his office and said, “What are you doing?” He put his hand over the mouthpiece saying, “I can get $200 more – do you want to pony up or should I let this guy I’ve got on the phone have it?

I was wearing jeans and a short-sleeve shirt, but as a patrolman with a suburban police department, I always carried my credentials in a badge case. Grabbing it out of my back pocket and flashing the tin on him, I said, in my most authoritative voice, “I’m a police officer . . . and I’ll bet I can fit a crime to what you’re trying to do.”

Looking a little flushed, he put the phone down without saying goodbye to whoever ( if anyone) was on the line.  He stammered that the paperwork wasn’t complete and I’d have to come back the next day. I tossed the keys to my trade-in on his desk and commanded, “Put a dealer tag on the El Camino, I’m taking it now. Call me when the paper work is ready and I’ll bring your plate back.”

I played with this workin’ honey for ten years logging 100K miles. I then gave her to my son when he got his license at age 16. He also drove it ten years and put another 100K miles on her – until some uninsured drunk in his loser-mobile ran a stop sign and T-boned him. My son wasn’t hurt, but the workin’ honey was totaled. In those 200K miles and 20 years we replaced all the hang-on stuff a couple of times, did a re-paint and seat covers, but never put a wrench to the drive train.

Almost twenty-five years later finds me beginning retirement on a farm in southwestern Ohio. Needing transportation in the form of a truck to haul grandkids and supplies, I began a hunt for a fully restored non-SS, pre ’73 El Camino.  From an ad in Old Car News, I found a 1971 model within 500 miles. After some phone negotiations, my son and I drove the trade-in to the classic car dealer, made the test drive and then drove her home. This black beauty has a vinyl roof, factory crate 350–V8, A/C, A/T, air shocks, and most of all, a bench seat. The guy who did the body-off restoration added 15” mag wheels, but I found a set of 14” rally wheels and returned it to stock. I’ve since added the statutorily required amenities – a spotlight and oil/amp/temp gauges to replace the idiot lights. Hey, I used to be a cop and I know the law :)

For what I paid for this second workin’ honey, I could have bought a fully tricked-out F-150 or Silverardo. But, that was eight years ago and those “new” trucks are surely worth significantly less today. As I log only about a thousand miles per year, the ’71 will always be worth at least what I paid for it. Besides, out here on these two-lane county roads, with the cozy wing cranked wide open and my arm on the window sill, I really get a kick out of  kicking down into passing gear to dust off a John Deere pulling a wagon load of hay. See, you really can go home again.

Chuck Klein is the author of CIRCA 1957 and THE WAY IT WAS, Nostalgic Tales of Hot Rods and Romance. He lives on a 125 acre farm near Georgetown, Ohio. Check out his latest columns in Nostalgia Drag World