Choo-Choo Edition: 1986 Chevrolet El Camino SS

If you were asked to assemble a list of 20 domestic vehicles that more than a few enthusiasts socked away in the 1980s in hopes of a payday after a few decades of sporadic use, the Chevrolet El Camino SS “Choo Choo” edition might make its way onto more than a few lists. While pace cars of every stripe, the Grand National, and the C4 Corvette would dominate car bingo boards, it seems the Choo Choo designation made many El Camino caretakers see potential dollars signs down the road. This 1986 model year example has under 30,000 miles and is listed here on craigslist for $24, 500.

The El Camino by itself may have been perceived as a collector car just owing to the novelty of its packaging. The ‘ol business in the front, party in the back routine. There’s certainly a lot of appeal in the “ute” bodystyle that still holds true today, even though the segment didn’t exactly take off in the U.S. Australia, on the other hand, has embraced the half car, half truck configuration and even produced some serious hot rods in this segment. To some extent, the El Camino may be seen as our best attempt at making the ute a reality in the states, even though it didn’t survive long-term. The Choo Choo treatment only added to the allure, giving it visual enhancements to take advantage of its muscular looks. As you can see inside, this El Camino has been looked after, with a spotless interior and original details throughout – right down to the factory radio.

The “SS” badging was a bit of a misnomer, as the Choo Choo team didn’t add any real horsepower beyond the perceived type. That is, the looks were meant to convey that this was a mean street machine, but reality told a different story. The El Camino could be had with a 4.3L V6 or a 5.0L V8, and in both cases, the horsepower rating was far lower than you might expect for engines with those displacements. This was still the malaise era, so the outputs hadn’t rebounded to respectable levels yet. The seller doesn’t disclose which engine his El Camino came with, but here’s hoping Choo Choo wouldn’t slap the SS decals on a V6 model. The color-matched tonneau cover is a nice touch.

The seller is asking a fair chunk of change for an El Camino, even a nice one. While some 80s domestic models have enjoyed a rebirth with younger collectors, such as the various estate wagons produced by GM and of course, the likes of the Fox body Mustang, the El Camino hasn’t moved into prime time just yet. I believe there’s still an opportunity for these ute-bodied machines to move up in the pecking order of 80s classics, especially given the international love of utes. The seller is a few years ahead of this newfound appreciation, in my opinion, but I suspect we’ll someday see more interest in the El Camino and the Choo Choo conversion.


  1. Howard A Member

    “Pardon me boys, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo”? ( 2 points if you know who did that song) Unless I missed it, the author missed a key explanation as to why its called “Choo-Choo”. These were customized by an outfit in Chattanooga that specialized in custom vans. If you had any connection to the CB radio, Chattanooga was known as the “Choo-Choo”. ( Milwaukee=Beer City, Chicago=Windy City, NYC= Big Apple and so on).
    Customized is kind of a relative term, these had a different front, hoaky graphics, perhaps that rear cover, but no performance mods. I can’t find a cost new, but surely added a lot to a basic El Camino. As a down size, the El Camino was very popular, I just don’t ever recall seeing a “Choo-Choo”, or one that went for 5 figures.

    Like 16
    • Todd W. Maynor

      Glenn Miller! I live here in good old Chattanooga TN.

      Like 3
      • Emel

        Poor Glenn…went down in a plane while entertaining the troops in Europe during WW2 over the English Channel. They never found his body.
        He and his band were the best selling band, record wise in America for several years. Back when EVERYONE listened to real and good music.
        Think I grew up in the wrong era, music wise at least.

        Like 5
      • Dann

        I’m sorry.

      • Howard A Member

        Ding, ding, ding, we have a winner. Glenn Miller was the equivalent to our Beatles, and his disappearance has baffled historians. Personally, it was wartime, and I don’t think he was even on that plane, and was spotted working in a Howard Johnsons in Savannah GA. years later,,,,kidding, of course, my grandparents loved him, my parents, not so much, I don’t recall them liking ANY music, and a particular hatred for MY rock and roll.
        The “Choo-Choo” is a cool place, at the end of that God forsaken I-24, once making it down “Monteagle Hill”,,I’ve had some tense rides on I-24.

        Like 1
    • James Mulcare

      There was a story a few years ago about an US airman claiming that his bomber returning to England from a night mission in Germany was dumping unused ordinance in the Channel before landing. He claimed that there was a small plane heading the other way that got caught up in dropping bombs and went down. It was right about the time that Miller’s flight was heading to France and he always thought that they got him

      Like 1
    • Walter

      The Choo Choo was aptly named for the company that did the unfit called Choo Choo Customs in (you guessed it) Chattanooga TN. They did a variety of GM vehicles with appearance packages and were sold thru GM dealers. They also sold a number of components if you wanted to add your own. Whey went out of biz but if memory serves were purchased eventually by the Coker Tire/Honest Charlie Speed Shop folks.

      Like 2
    • FRED D

      I believe it was originally done by Roy Acuff. Yes i’m an old fart.

      Like 1
      • Todd W. Maynor

        Fred. I think you’re thinking of The Wabash Cannonball which was another song about trains. 😊

        Like 1
  2. Cadmanls Member

    Howard, I have seen these on the road in the past. As far as put away as collector cars, thet the author mentioned, not so much. Just some stickers and fiberglass. Nothing special, well maybe that name. The little G body El Camino was on borrowed time. Some crazy number their asking but there is an a#$ for every seat.

    Like 9
  3. Jmulcare

    “Chattanooga Choo Choo was by The Glenn Miller Orchestra, Tex Beneke was the vocalist…I’ll take my 2 points, please…lol
    Seriously, thanks for the explanation

  4. Shuttle Guy

    I truly like these but for $25K? Not so much.

    Like 6
  5. mark

    Located in Phoenix AZ w/ Vermont plates?? If the car came from VT (my home) 30k miles in VT is like100K miles worth of salt and rustrust underneath i AZ.

    Like 5
    • Dave

      Vermont is America’s DMV, I’m surprised you don’t know that, being a resident. You can register ANY car in Vermont, no need to be a resident, no title is no problem, no inspection needed. Google “the Vermont DMV loophole”. They’ll register anything, they just want to collect the taxes and fees.

      Like 2
      • nlpnt

        The Bxx series of truck plates is at least 5 years old. I can’t place it as precisely as the car ones, but the newer truck plates have a 123A456 format.

      • Mark

        Yes I know. S. carolina and PA are up there as well. If you live in another state and title/reg. in VT your NOT saving much on insurance as if you lived in VT. We do have yearly state inspections, and their picky too. Also the wheels are late 80’s z-28 rims not original. For that mileage /money the car should be deadballs mint and original, and I would expect to see some pictures of a very clean rust-free undercarriage.

        Like 2
      • nlpnt

        That’s another point – this truck has a VT inspection sticker (just expired, or maybe 4 years ago). What’s not required is inspection *prior to* registration, in fact the first thing the inspection station checks is your registration and proof of insurance. So, for title-washing purposes that’s the same as not requiring one I guess.

      • mark

        In vt a 1986 car gets a reg no title, 15 years and newer only get a title in vt.

      • Lothar... of the Hill People

        Thanks for sharing that info, Dave. It is one of the many things of which I was unaware.

        Like 1
  6. Skibaron

    Basically a Monte Carlo SS

    Like 2
  7. angliagt angliagt Member

    I really like the earlier versions of this body,but this is
    one of the cheesiest,ugliest looking front ends ever.

    Like 1
  8. Emel

    Is the HP that low….. it was too comical to even put in the article.
    So much so, it’s a shame…..SS was put on it.

    The 1980’s had to be about the worst era for cars after WW2.
    Thank God I drove thru that decade with mostly 70’s cars until
    the very late 80’s.

    • Howard A Member

      In the 70s, I believe, horsepower ratings changed from gross to net. That added confusion as to what our dear old motors put out. Insurance and other factors, led to the demise of “actual” hp ratings. It was nothing new, as for years, we all knew 426 hemis, and R code Fords put out more than the advertised 425 hp ( more like 500) due to some goofy law. I agree, the 80s will go down in history as the most confusing era, something, I feel, we never recovered from.

      Like 1
  9. gaspumpchas

    I liked this style- had a 79 malibu wagon that I put a 300 hp ‘vette mill in. The most reliable and best tow vehicle I ever owned. Wife used to drag race it. Alas, frame rotted in the rear. Since this has vt plates do Check the frame real good especially in the rear. 212k I had to sell it. Warm this one up and ya got a nice cruiser. Good luck and happy motoring.

    Like 3
  10. DN

    This long-defunct company really put out some distasteful products, appealing to the poor taste of the regional demographics. Just one of the reasons they went under while customizers such as Southern Comfort and Regency continued to thrive. The city itself is a cesspool of crime and overinflated housing prices. So thankful that I don’t live in Chattanooga anymore.

    Like 4
  11. George Birth

    Nice looking vehicle. Best of both worlds. Comfortable for road trips, handy haulers for those weekend “Honey Do” projects most married men seem to accumulate.

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