In the world of cars, especially in the "super niche" of Chevrolet musclecars, sometimes an automobile pops up that is just too good to believe. Some of these cars have been featured in Super Chevy recently-notably the '62 Zintsmaster Impala in February 2007, and the L79 Chevelles in the following issue. These are the phantoms that haunt musclecar lovers their entire life, cars that are only thought to exist in urban legend.
Add Jon Woodhouse's 1966 L79 El Camino to that list of specters. Woodhouse rode in a brand new '66 El Camino just months after the model hit the showroom floors. From then on, he knew he would own one, that it was just a matter of time. Fast-forward 30 years, when Jon was driving around rural North Carolina, not exactly searching for a car, but not driving blind either. He found an El Camino tucked up under a lean-to garage, signs of oxidation showing heavily through the Roman Red paint job. The family in possession of the car wasn't quite ready to part ways with vehicle, but as Woodhouse says, "We told them that everything has a price."
A short time later, Woodhouse put some air into the tires, and drove the car up on his trailer to be transported home. He finally had his El Camino after years of searching. What he didn't know at the time of the purchase was just how rare this Elky is. In fact, some would openly question its authenticity.
In today's modern musclecar era, the 327ci/350hp combination sounds like something that you would find in just about any full-size SUV or pickup truck. However, back in the mid-1960s, 350 was pretty close to the top of the horsepower mountain-and it usually took a lot more than 327 cubes to get it. Think 400hp, LS2-powered Chevy Equinox and you might have the equivalent modern-day product. Woodhouse's find is even less common as you start to peel back the onion, so to speak.
If you were to research the '64-67 Elky heritage, you wouldn't find a '66 offered with the L79 small-block V-8-a powerplant that was found in its cousin, the Chevelle, the lightweight Corvette, or the flyweight Chevy II. The motor was offered in the Elky in 1965 and 1967, however, so when Woodhouse looked under the hood, he was quite perplexed. Jon actually called on the help of various Chevrolet historians who claim his newly purchased El Camino was one of about 60 or so that were offered with the L79 motor. The car also came equipped with other features such as bucket seats and a Muncie M22 "Rock Crusher" four-speed transmission-considered unobtainium behind a small-block in '66.
The restoration process would take eight long years-Woodhouse had other projects going at the same time, but the biggest time consumer was the undercarriage of the El Camino, a trouble spot for many of the A-bodies. Bucky and Clay Ziegler at Gulf Marine Machine Shop in Gainesville, Florida, reworked the 327, and all the internals are OEM-spec Chevy pieces, with the exception of a Comp Magnum cam. A period-correct Holley 4160 600-cfm four barrel takes care of carburetion. Just about everything else on the car is stock, right down to the claimed horsepower number of 350 from the 327ci motor. The El Camino rides on the GM stock 15-inch wheels and Firestone Red Line rubber.
While it was impressive to see this car up close to witness its owner's unbelievable attention to detail, even more striking is the fact that Jon actually drives the car. After all, most would do nothing more than trailer such a valuable piece. But isn't that the purpose of an automobile, for it to be driven?
"I mean I started looking at the car, and I thought that someone must have put in those bucket seats, and someone must have put the Muncie in," Woodhouse said. "It just wasn't the case. This car is just so rare it's unbelievable."
Jon may have a hard timing convincing the naysayers that the car is legitimate, but he's satisfied that it's the real McCoy. If it is-well, that might make it one of the most valuable El Caminos in existence.