The El Camino is downright one of my favorite cars to ever touch the planet, it’s such a wicked car all around. Or coupe utility vehicle, if you’re one of those people. I’d rather go with car, or ute. You see, I’ll defend the merits of a ‘Cuda until the sun goes down, or the value of Ford stumbling through the seventies keeping the Mustang alive, or how something like the El Camino should and needs to exist. Today, there’s no worldwide version of what is the quintessential muscle car with a pick-up for an ass.
Holden, the last one to do ute’s with big-ass engines stopped producing new cars entirely as of October 2017, and as of writing Holden is still merely a importer of elsewhere built cars, predominantly Opels from German and Canadian plants. So even though the Australians have been the inventors and now the last to have enjoyed the rough and tumble big-block car-truck/pickup/coupe ute, they still could effectively buy a new ’17 HSV Maloo GTSR R8 with the Chevrolet 6.8L LS3 V8 that would churn out 570HP from a dealership today.
As for the rest of the world, we gotta make due with effectively the last of the El Caminos that date back to the 1980s, 1987 to exact or the equally extinct Ford Ranchero, which got ol’ Yeller’d in 1979. Since then, for the Americans and Europeans it was to either import a sweet chunk of Mad Max-ian deliciousness or take in a… well shit, might as well get it out of the way; through-out the decades it would’ve come down to a Ford Courier, Dodge Rampage, Plymouth Scamp, VW Rabbit/Caddy Pick Up, Fiat Strada, Subaru BRAT or something to that extend. And all of those are small, compact little pickups with the front end of one of their more popular cars, small engine and sustainable(unless it’s the Dodge or Plymouth, those rusted away in a few months time), but not anything that would make you wanna go “Fuck yeah, I’d take that over a Camaro!“.
There’s no more of them unfortunately, and granted, it was always a niche market. Who in their right mind shears off the ass end of a car, hollows it out like a deranged coroner and puts in a solid floorboard, add a foot or so to the back of it and there you go; car-pickup hybrid. Though while the concept sounds odd in marketing terms, it actually had a very solid market base for most of the sixties. They might’ve been aimed at the reed chewing farmer of the middle of the 20th century(fun fact, the origin of this type of car lies with an Australian farmer who wanted a car that could both handle farmyard work and be used as a car to go to church with on sunday), with ads showing dudes in Levis shoving hay bales or those old milk churns in the back of what would translate to Chevrolet “The Roads” or Ford “Ranchers”, but in reality the farmer of those days had the Chevy C-series or the Ford F-series parked dutifully on base, while the El Camino and Ranchero found more love on the paved roads.
Why? Well in the United States especially at least, it just was timed incredibly poorly. The El Camino and Ranchero were briefly very popular in the mid to late 50s, but then it just kind of collapsed in on itself. They had three massive hurdles to overcome, one was that it was meant to do work all the while looking like a gorgeous car and it had trouble doing so. Two was a simple problem that other cars had to deal with too, take the Camaro – it had to co-exist with a more convenient, more powerful and in some ways more attractive Corvette, the El Camino and Ranchero had to exist alongside the very cars they were based off from 1960 onwards. The third? Well, they were appalling for the exact task they were designed, they were meant to be half pick-up, half car and in most cases it wasn’t even close to being a fifth as useful. Why spend 3800$ of your fresh 1970 dollars on a El Camino if you could get a fully equipped C/K 2500 for the same money that did everything the El Camino could, but better. Well, that’s kind of where these type of cars grew into their own; they gained a following for what they were. A utility built Chevelle with the same insurance quote destroying 454SS in the front? Hell to the yes, man!
I mean, that right there is glossing over the point so thickly it should win an award for doing so, but in general that’s just about the gist of it. It worked though, the type of car grew into its own being and they lasted in the States for a reasonable while for the kind of fad they were, with like I said the El Camino lasting through 1987, it’s GMC counterpart, the much rarer and less liked GMC Sprint/Caballero and the Ranchero going on ’til 1979. Then there have been smaller editions as mentioned before, the ’82 Dodge Rampage/Plymouth Scamp took the throne as nippy pick-up and eventually even they died off to. At that point, it was just back to old fashioned pick up truck or car, nothing in between in the States and Europe. That being said, through-out its thirty year endeavor, there have been plenty of those weird editions that make you wonder what the hell the idea was.
You got the very much pretty Chevelle based stripes on the El Camino throughout the sixties, the Torino GT stripes on the Ranchero, the twin-stripe SS get-up on the seventies El Caminos, the Scamp GT and Rampage both having just overblown either totally black or super colorful stripe packages, the VW Caddy/Rabbit “Sportstruck”, whatever the hell that might’ve been and so forth on the US side of the story. And that right there was eight paragraphs of me rambling on about a car with a pick up for a booty and how it’s no longer part of our world as we know it and ho-boy does it suck.
Luckily, there’s Revell, Monogram, MPC and AMT to keep us happy campers with the offerings of the aforementioned pick-up-car-things in kit form to keep some semblance of them in the world. Wait, what’s that? There’s only like nine kits as a whole in 1/25th and 1/24th scale? Well, Goddammit. Okay quick gander through the list; there’s Revell’s 1966 El Camino, Revell-Monogram’s 1978 El Camino, the ’57 Ranchero by them as well. AMT offers the ’59 through ’61 Rancheros and the ’59, ’63, ’64, ’65 and ’68 El Caminos respectively, while MPC dove deeper into the El Camino through the seventies offering the ’78 through ’86 El Camino’s as well as a one time why-the-hell-not run of the GMC Caballero. There have been plenty of cases where evidence got presented that any of the previously mentioned big two/three/four(depending on what decade you’re discussing) kit makers were planning on doing all sorts of these, the mid-seventies Ranchero, the ’73 El Camino, hell the ’70 El Camino was announced in print on multiple occasions and just… never happened.
Fortunately, there’s resin casters: Motor City Resin Casters has both the ’72 Ranchero GT and the ’73 El Camino in their repertoire. Jimmy Flintstone with the ’70 and ’72 El Camino bodies(although they’re entirely unchanged ’68 El Caminos with Chevelle front ends). There’s been plenty of coming-and-goers that offered transkit parts for anything from ’57 through ’86 and it looks like we’re never gonna truly run out of ways to whip up a mid sixties or seventies of either El Camino or Ranchero. On top of that, you got C1 Models’ excellent Golf-to-Caddy conversion kit so there’s some cross-continental love too. And I’m sure I’m leaving out a million more, it’s just to give some examples that while kit makers seem to have just forgotten about the American and even the Australian utility coupe, resin casters do their damnest to fill the gap.
Right, to cut to the chase after give or take 1200 words of bullshitting on; this particular article should be about the ’78 El Camino. The Royal Knight El Camino to be specific, which has in fact been kitted before in 1978 by Monogram. It’s such a damn hard to find kit nowadays as while there are three entirely unique kits by Revell/Monogram based on the ’78 El Camino, the hardest one to find is by some definitions stock. In ’78 they released the Royal Knight kit(MPC did both the Royal and Black Knight versions but one could argue that quality wise the MPC kit… drifted behind a tad). Then in ’79 they re-tooled the kit – it now packs a massive turbo-charger and a modified hood to accommodate the gargantuan new air-sucking utensil in the engine bay. Oh also, they for some reason decided to add camper parts. Neat-o! But they did remove the stock engine and hood, bummer.
Then for twenty years, not a Goddamn thing. The first and as of writing last re-release of this kit was in 2000 which was this kit I’m talking about right now, the re-release with newly crafted lowrider parts and decals. Back then, apparently Revell was on a roll bringing back long-dead kits and pumping them full, full of life and doing a stellar and sometimes awkward job of it. The ’81 Chevy Citation is a excellent example; it’s a beautiful re-pop of the old kit, with all the re-release editions crammed into one, a gargantuan new decal sheet that allowed options that weren’t even thought of in the eighties. Same goes for the ’92 Thunderbird, ’96 Impala SS and so on. The El Camino is yet another odd-ball lowrider kit that has all the “optional” parts packed in along with the stock ones and it makes for a much better complete package that despite the weird lowrider addition is quite a nice thing of them to do. Given that these days you’d be lucky to get a kit with extras, having one that is essentially a “greatest hits” of sorts is absolutely nice.
The kit itself on the other hand has aged quite poorly, despite Monogram being way ahead of the competitors on most areas like the sheer detail on the body, grille and all around crispness of the whole kit, it still has those old Monogram quirks. The engine bay is kind of a slab with droopy details(which essentially means, anything that’s a reservoir or a battery “bleeds” into the arches and goes all the way down), the interior is kind of plain with the inner doors having no detail at all and the seats are hilariously oversized. Though one can just grab the seats and dash from a 1/24th scale Monogram Monte Carlo and make due with those as they should fit just fine. Another thing is while Monogram definitely bucked that garbage ass trend of the ’70s with molded in chrome headlights, but they just swapped it around making the rear lights on the rear bumper chrome and not really recessing them enough. And on top of everything else, there’s some severe panel gaps; the bumpers suffer the most of this as you can clearly look into the model from the front and the back.
So it’s not all rainbows and sunshine, but it’s also miles ahead of the curve for this particular era of El Camino kits. The MPC kits weren’t terrible, by now means – they were just incredibly basic. While it has more interior detail, it lacks severely on the body and engine bay, and while the all around model has more variety with the tool(like the ’82 quad-light grille and the Choo-Choo Customs Monte Carlo SS nosed edition), it still very much on the outside comes across like a toy car with tiny wheels and a sunken stance. That being said, I personally would’ve preferred a middle-ground where Monogram did the body and chassis and MPC handled everything else, we’d have one excellent kit to work with – but alas, the best El Camino offering we have and likely will have for the foreseeable future will likely be a shared number one spot with this kit and the MPC/AMT ’86 El Camino SS.
That being said though, I did try to make the most out of this kit as it’s still a very, very nice one to work with. Goes together like a charm, like all those Monogram kits of the eighties it’s simple, yet nicely complex in some areas and it all just… works. I re-designed the entire El Camino Royal Knight decal sheet for this endeavor, though looking back at it I totally screwed up on the body stripes as it’s meant to follow the curve over the door, onto the bed, but y’know how I am, a failure is just half a success, keep working with it. While I’m absolutely in love with how it came out to be, I should’ve gone for a darker paint. I wanted this delightfully suave end seventies Bordeaux red that would look bright, lip-stick red in the sunlight and subdued as hell in the shadows. Unfortunately it’s now semi-bright in the shadows and bright as balls in the sunlight, making the decals hard to spot in any reasonably lit environment. On top of that, the tires are pre-lettered with Goodyear Polysteel Radial, which is nice if you haven’t got decals, but I did and had to use the rougher, undetailed inside of the tire to accommodate the decals.
Ohhh well… Also, first non-mostly decal related post in 3 months, hooray!
’78 Chevrolet El Camino Royal Knight specifications:
Skill Level: 2
Molded in: White