My First Car: 1973 Chevrolet El Camino


I bought my first car for $850 in 1980—a gas guzzling 1973 Chevy El Camino in that recognizable stock GM green that adorned so many vehicles of the era. The El Camino, based on the Malibu chassis but with the rear half of the body converted to a pick-up bed, had swooping lines and was a cool first car because it was different, only had a front seat and hauled around pretty good powered by the carbureted Chevy small block 350 of the day.

For awhile I didn’t have the cash to register and insure the car, so I’d “borrow” the front plate of my dad’s car and take some cruises. As stupid teenagers will do, I even made a run with two buddies from Lexington, MA all the way to Sunapee, NH to “see about a girl,” stealing a line from Goodwill Hunting. While I was off on my date, my comrades managed to consume some beer and get into a disagreement with the purveyors of a fast food stand in Sunapee, resulting in interaction with the local law enforcement agency. Not the best scenario considering the borrowed plates. Somehow we were allowed to vacate the sleepy town and move on to create mayhem elsewhere.

The El Camino was a solid cruiser, fairly utilitarian but suffered from having nearly zero weight over the drive wheels (rear). Racing anyone off the line wasn’t going to happen simply because the torque of the 350 just spun the tires in place due to the lack of mass in the empty bed. This imbalance also required error-free cornering lest the tail shoot out and wander aimlessly through exit ramps and other New England roadways. Wet or snowy pavement was treacherous.

I remember the overall quality of the interior parts to be quite subpar compared to other cars from 1973 like the BMW 2002. Plastic parts didn’t really fit, windows and window gaskets were sloppy, and the large doors rattled when slammed shut.

But the 1973 El Camino for all its faults was indeed my first. One always remembers their first…and as an audio guy I remember that I had really limited space to put loudspeakers unless I put 6X9s in boxes and tucked them into the storage “cave” behind the rear seat. This was way before I had honed my skills as a car audio installer and as far as the sound system was concerned, I wasn’t up to the challenge that this car presented back in 1980.

Then there was the issue of having had the car stolen…I arranged to store the car in an extra garage bay at the home of a friend for the winter one year, and some punk kid who had been living with the friend’s family made off with the car and left it broken down and unattended at a private school. Of course I rescued and repaired the car and my good friends get all the credit for talking me out of any form of violent revenge. The misadventures of a teenage car owner…!!!

All in all, the 1973 El Camino was a good first vehicle. I didn’t hit anything, I mastered the art of navigating and parking a big car and despite the limited funds of my teen years, the car didn’t cost me too much—it just ran like every other 70s era Chevy and transported me from one adventure to the next.