California Black Plate: 1971 Chevrolet El Camino

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I have had a thing lately for Chevrolet El Caminos hand I have been searching out different models and years so when I saw the listing for this fine-looking 1971 example, I had to take a closer look. It is located in Riverside, California and is available, here on craigslist for $11,500. Thanks to Pat L. for this tip!

Of the five El Camino production series (1959-1987), I think I like generation-three (1968-1972), like this example, the best. The flow of the B-pillar into the extended quarter panels is a design element that adds some notable styling to what would otherwise be considered a utility vehicle. Obviously, SS versions with their big engines and four-speed manual transmissions were intended to be a bit more than workaday, light pickup trucks, so this generation possesses a nice mix of performance, appearance, and function.

The seller’s description right off the bat starts with a claim of “matching numbers” with this Chevy’s 130 net 200 gross HP, 307 CI V8 engine. It’s doubtful that matching numbers matter much in this instance other than to maybe provide some assurance that this Camino has been maintained and not abused. Curiously, the 307 engine has been painted blue, a shade that Chevrolet did not employ on its engines until the ’77 model year. And something’s up with the coolant recovery tank, it looks like it has just been tossed under the hood and is unattached. There is no mileage listed but the seller claims, “Runs Great!!!” There is an automatic transmission in place but it could be either a two-speed Powerglide or a three-speed Turbo-Hydramatic.

The interior still shows quite well other than the ripped bench seat with its cellophane patch and the deteriorated driver’s door armrest – two minor matters. The carpet, door panels, headliner, and what can be seen of the dash/instrument panel are all in good nick. The bench seat arrangement may lack the sportiness vibe of bucket seats and a center console but it does offer the ability to squeeze in one more rider. The seller mentions that the A/C does work – good to know!

The exterior presents itself well. The two-tone #53 Placer Gold with silver rocker panels arrangement is a matter of taste but it was a popular look in ’71. The seller states that this Camino is wearing an older repaint – it still looks good as does the chrome and trim. There could be something starting in the lower leg of the passenger fender, the image is too distanced to tell and the seller makes no reference to rust or corrosion. Rounding out the exterior is the second version of Chevrolet’s everywhere rally wheels and then a cap-off with a beige/white vinyl roof covering. Unfortunately, there are no images of the cargo bed.

This is not exactly the type of El Camino that has been on my radar screen but I imagine that this example will have sales appeal for a certain type of buyer. My initial thought was that the price seemed a bit outsized but these third-gen versions tend to sell well at a premium price, so maybe not. My question is, why wouldn’t a two-door, light truck/ute like an El Camino sell today? Pontiac tried to revive the concept in 2009 but it was all for naught when Pontiac hit the list of car companies that would ultimately need reviving. What do you think, is an El Camino a viable design today or have things with regulations, fuel mileage, functionality, and trends just changed too much to ever see another?

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  1. alphasudMember

    I agree with you Jim this generation of the El Camino is my favorite as well. Just give me a 70 SS with the big block. Go large or go home!

    Like 13
  2. Fahrvergnugen FahrvergnugenMember

    While I prefer the ’69 version, I could certainly enjoy the modest looks of this ’71 and be happy, without a BBC or even a third pedal. Not every car needs to be able to burn rubber. Competence over competition.

    Like 13
  3. Ken White

    Blue plates were introduced in California in June of 1970.

    Like 4
    • Steve R

      Actually 1969. Passenger cars and trucks (commercial vehicles) had different sequences. Individual DMV offices issued the black they had in stock, once their supply was depleted they started issueing blue plates. Offices in urban areas ran out of black plates well before offices in rural areas. Black passenger car plates ran out much earlier than commercial vehicles too. I had a 1970 Ranchero that wore original black plates, it’s not inconceivable that an early production 1971 El Camino would have them, especially if it was sold new in a rural part of the state.

      Steve R

      Like 7
      • Ron

        These are the brand new black plates that ANY Californian may now order, not vintage black plates!

        Like 4
      • Steve R

        Ron, no they aren’t. The new black plates look different and have a different sequencing. These are original California black plates.

        Steve R

        Like 2
      • Eddie Bolt

        That makes sense. Cars outsold trucks back then. I always wondered why you saw blue plates on cars before the trucks. I track these commercial plates and from what I have seen the plates ending with “K” began the blue plates. “J” were the last of the black plates

        Like 1
  4. Tim

    It’s a three speed, so says the indicator.

    Like 1
  5. J_PaulMember

    I’m curious — where did the 130hp number come from? While I know that there’s a gap between gross and net hp, a 70hp downgrade (the engine should have made 200hp gross, as per my similarly-equipped ’71 Camaro) seems rather excessive.

    Like 2
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor


      You’re right! 130 net is the ’72 rating. Fixed!



      Like 2
  6. Mr.BZ

    ….and, its gone.

    Like 1
  7. Mark

    I like it. But I had a gold 1970 ElCamino when I was in high school.

    307 Powerglide. Warranty papers indicated original owner was Del Monte in Texas

    Like 1
  8. Charli Moore

    I think the horse power gap is because of the 307 ,they didn’t breathe very well and to be honest were a dog…a 350 would be more appropriate but that is one nice looking Elcamino, well worth the asking price…

    Like 3
    • Tman

      The 307 was a very slight upgrade from the 283 in 1968. 5 hp and a tad bit more torque. I will take a 327(discontinued in 69) a or 350 from the era any day over the 307.

      Like 3
    • JoeBob396

      I bought a used 70 ElCam in 1989 with a 307, Qjet and TH350 w/ shift kit and 12 bolt posi. It ran good. It was my daily driver for 13 years. On my way to work one day, in rush hour, the thermostat froze. I saw the anit-freeze cloud blast out the back. In short order giving it any throttle produced spark knock. I drove it about two or three miles like that, waited until it cooled off, fixed the thermostat, refilled the coolant and drove it another six or seven years. That 307 took a lot of abuse from me and never complained. It was one of the best and most dependable vehicles I ever owned.

      Like 3
  9. Ray

    130 hp 307 this is far worse engine ever I drove one before had nothing but problems dropping value on piston it took 15 sec to 60 ridiculously embarrassing

    Like 4
  10. Joe

    Car is awesome as is. Why you need to drop a big block i to it.. appreciate the original

    Like 3
  11. Steve

    Reminds me of my first car, also a 71 el camino in 1984. It was lemans blue with silver at the bottom. Full hubcaps on 14” steel wheels and a monstrous Gem Top camper shell (which i sold for $200!). Black bench interior. Non running 350 due to stripped plastic timing gear. I did yard work and odd jobs in exchange for the title at age 13. Brothers and dad ahowed me how to install a new crane blueprint 300hp cam and lifters, double roller timing chain and cast off cast iron 4 barrel intake and 69 q jet in place of the stock 2 barrel. Swapped an ss hood magnum wheels and tach dash out of a wrecked 70 chevelle ss my older brother parted out. (Never got around to swapping the 12 bolt due to it having 4.11 gears bs my 10 bolt with 3.08’s. (Imagine what the difference acceleration would have been!) Deleted the lower tim and painted it solid lemans blue with black ss stripes but no ss emblems. Swapped to 15” 71/72 SS style steel wheels off an mid 70’s z28. Drove it a few years and built a 355 with flat top pistons hei distributor, performer intake comp 268H cam and blackjack headers. Kept the q jet. Swapped it in and it Ran even better. Sold it around 1994 for $3k and thought i made out like a bandit, considering rust kept popping out from behind the rear tires, even though we had cut it out and welded in new pieces twice! I Sure wish i still had it, even the rust.

    Like 1
    • Steve

      At the same time I owned my 71, I bought a $100 69 EC for its nice bed trim tailgate and tailgate trim. No drivetrain silver green color with decent dark green interior. Body was clean with no rust or dents nut floors were completely gone. Stripped it all off and still sold it for $100! LOL

      Like 0
  12. gbvette62

    This looks like a nice little El Camino. The silver paint on the rockers indicates that this is an El Camino Custom. Besides the silver rockers and stainless lower trim, the Custom also included wheel opening moldings, stainless trim around the door glass & drip rail, and stainless tailgate moldings with wood grain insert. On the inside the Custom had carpet instead of the rubber mat found in the base model, and Malibu level seat covers and door panels.

    This El Camino is a lot like mine, that I’ve owned since new. It’s also a 71 Custom, but with the 350 4bbl and TurboHydro, in Burnt Orange with a black vinyl top and a black interior. When new it had the same rally’s, but has had American mags on it for many years now.

    Like 4
    • Steve

      I seem to recall now that mine possibly had “Custom” emblems below the “El Camino” emblems. (?) funny thing was I removed all of the exterior trim related to the “Custom” trim. I did have black carpet!

      Like 0
  13. Steve

    My oldest brother lucked into a 71 EC SS from his wife’s grandpa’s estate when he passed. Gave $400 for it. Grandpa bought it new in Dallas or Ft. Worth. He was a mechanic at an Olds dealer and did side work out of the EC. He had pulled the 454 LS5 and th400 out and installed a smog 350 and th350!when the has crunch hit. It was nowhere to be found in his junk but brother came across a rusted out (bad) 1971 full size wagon with LS5 454/th400 for $600. The EC SS was dark green in and out, bench seat column shift (people think ss automatically meant buckets and console, but not the case. They were optional on top of SS package.) disc brakes, 12 bolt rear, SS gauges F41 suspension. Parted the wagon out and dropped engine and trans in as is after a gasket set clean up and repaint. (I still have the 12 bolt posi out of it!) Ran pretty good! He decided to sell as he was building a new house. I wanted to buy it as it reminded me of my first car, but I was a broke apprentice electrician at the time . Needed paint and interior but was a driver. He for $6k for it.

    Like 0
  14. R Hines

    Sorry not stock engine, should be the 350 with 350 turbo 2 bbl. They just went cheap with the 307, the 350 would be numbers matching way. Nice car though.

    Like 1
  15. Houseofhotrods

    El Camino (and Ranchero) popularity, or lack of it has always been a curiosity to me. Personally I love ‘em and have owned several ranging from ‘59 to ‘87. Put one next to a comparable passenger Impala, or Chevelle and the Camino will bring far less money, when in actuality it’s the same vehicle with a bed, and is actually more useful except for hauling passengers. The price difference makes zero sense. A nice late 60’s big block SS can easily have a 10k plus swing in price difference over a comparable Chevelle/Malibu.
    For whatever reason, Americans just never really embraced “Utes” the way that those ‘down under’ have. It’s likely that the confusion on whether it’s a car acting like a truck or is it a truck trying to be a car blurs the line for us. The light hauling capacity does limit its uses as a true ‘hauler’. And they do tend to be prone to rust, especially in the area under the front of the bed floor – at least up until the mid 70’s – likely for tooling and production cost reasons they used a two door wagon floor pan, with the foot wells for non existent rear seat passengers , and those wells collect water and salt which eventually starts the rotting process. A good and solid one represents a great classic car value, the key is finding a good one. This one may or may not be, the clear tape on seat, unattached coolant reservoir and photos that are good but not close enough to show body issues may warrant further digging. Just my .02.
    A current project of mine is a 1964 factory black 327 4 speed metallic brake 1- owner zero rust OG paint example that has 46k miles. Make mine an El Camino please! :-)

    Like 1
  16. Steve

    As for the unattached coolant reservoir, i would not be concerned. These cars didn’t come equipped with one from the factory, and getting the boxy shaped aftermarket ones to fit in the engine compartment can be challenging. I had one in my 71 EC and recall fabbing up a custom bracket.

    I would be more concerned about the lower panel rust. Been there, dine that and was the reason I sold mine years ago.

    Like 2
  17. princeofprussia

    Nice, but for that price, it should be perfect — no torn seat, etc.

    Like 0
  18. JolietJakeMember

    Good looking El Camino, and appears to be in good shape, and reasonably priced, that’s why it is gone. I bought a ’68 El Camino one year ago (350/350) and really enjoying it. You either love ’em or hate ’em ( IMHO), but an awful lot of people my age (69) have their stories about El Caminos that they have owned, or questions about mine. It’s a time machine, man !

    Like 0
  19. Leadfoot

    My best friend had a 1971 Malibu with the 200 horse 307 when we were in high school. While it couldn’t compete with my 66 SS396, we had a heck of a lot of fun in that car. It did great single track donuts!

    Like 0
  20. JOHNMember

    The 68-72 El Camino’s were not available with the F41 suspension option.

    Like 0
  21. R.Lee

    Good candidate for a drive train upgrade.

    The Chevrolet Blue engine is a TargetMaster replacement.

    Like 1

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