After World War II, the GIs who had fought in the war, came home, eager to start their lives over. Many went to the car dealerships to buy new cars, only to find that there were no new cars to be found. What a bizarre thought!! In my entire lifetime, I don’t know of a time that new cars weren’t available, but there was a reason for the lack of new cars.
During World War II, the whole United States “kicked in” on the war effort. The automobile industry changed the production in their factories from automobiles to whatever was needed for the war effort. The United States automakers manufactured a wide variety of vehicles, munitions, and more for the government. They made tanks like the Fisher Body Grand Blanc, the Ford M10 Wolverine, and the M18 Hellcat, which were produced by the Buick Motor Car Division of General Motors. Some of the automakers were tasked with producing parts for planes, including the infamous Enola Gay. The 18-foot nose section of the fuselage was built by Chrysler. Chevrolet alone produced 60,000 engines for Pratt and Whitney cargo and bomber planes between 1942 and 1945, along with 500,000 trucks, 8 million artillery shells, and much more. The tire company, Firestone Tire and Rubber Company produced the 40 mm cannon gun mount one of which was placed on the deck of the USS Cod, while another was mounted on the stern of PT-305. Pontiac Motor Car Division built aerial launched torpedoes at its facilities in Pontiac, Michigan.
By the time the World War II ended in 1945, the total value of goods produced by the United States auto industry for the war would exceed $29 million, equal to nearly $400,000,000 today. There had been no new cars built in the United States between early 1942 and late 1945. Once the war was over, automakers were again free to begin manufacturing new cars for the American public. That was all well and good, but it would take time to bring production of automobiles back up to speed. The first car built for civilian sale after World War II, was a Super Deluxe Ford. It rolled off the assembly line on July 3, 1945.
For many people, today might not necessarily mark anything so special, but for my husband, Bob Schulenberg, this is a good day. He was just a little boy of four years and three months, and didn’t know a thing about this at the time, and probably wouldn’t have cared if he had known, but down the road twelve years or so, he would have cared. Even when he did care, he wouldn’t have known the exact date or anything. I know, you wonder what in the world I am talking about. Well, it’s the El Camino. I just found out that the car Bob always wanted was first introduced on this day, October 16, 1958.
For a four year old Bob, that day held no significance, and even now, he doesn’t know that this is the 56th anniversary of the El Camino…but he soon will. I don’t recall just how long we owned our El Camino, but it was a long time, and it was definitely Bob’s vehicle. The seat would not go far enough forward for me to easily drive it, so I only did so when it was absolutely necessary. Needless to say, while it was one of Bob’s favorite cars, it really wasn’t mine. I don’t like to have my driving experience be a lot of work for me.
At the time of its introduction by Chevrolet, the El Camino was considered a car-truck hybrid vehicle. That is rather comical to me. A hybrid!! Really!! It was apparently inspired by the Ford Ranchero which had been on the market for two years at the time of the El Camino’s debut. They said it “rides and handles like a convertible, yet hauls and hustles like the workingest thing on wheels.” It may have been a good hauler, but in my opinion, it was nothing like a convertible, and I’ve had one, so I do know.
The El Camino didn’t really catch on, and the model built on an Impala chassis was discontinued in 1960. It was re-introduced in 1964 on the Chevelle frame, and in 1968 they upgraded to the SS version which made it a sport truck. With these changes, the El Camino became one of the iconic muscle cars of the late 1960s and 1970s. It seems every guy wanted one of the newest models. I guess you had to be a guy to appreciate it so much. The El Camino was dropped permanently in 1987, and while Pontiac thought about re-introducing it in 2008, their financial difficulties cause that to be dropped from the plan in 2009.
I’m glad Bob got to have the car-truck of his dreams, even if it wasn’t my very favorite, but I can’t say that I was sorry when he sold it. It had done its duty, and served its purpose, but it was time for him to have a real truck. I can’t say I like driving his pickup either, but as long as he’s happy with it, I’m happy too. Here’s to the El Camino…1970s muscle car, and the car of a little boy’s dreams.