Requiem For A Friend: 1969 Chevrolet El Camino

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If a palm tree falls in southern California and no one hears it, does it make a sound? It does if it lands on a 1969 Chevrolet El Camino. This is a sad tale, a tale of an old car, an everyday driver, and an owner’s enthusiasm for it on one hand and big corporation stupidity and carelessness on the other. To have a cherished vehicle survive for 54 years and then one chowder-headed move evaporates it in the blink of an eye is an unfortunate and needless event. Unfortunately, it’s not unheard of – it’s the stuff of legend and stories. So, sit back, and I’ll tell you about the travails of a Chevy ute that used to call Torrance, California its home.

Chevrolet’s El Camino (’59-’60 and ’64-’87) filled a niche for those that wanted car-like driving dynamics but needed the functionality of a pickup truck. Credit has to go to Ford for developing the concept first, known as the Ranchero and introduced in ’57, but Chevrolet stuck with it longer and it proved to be a popular component of their very commanding 1960s line-up – ’69 El Camino production exceeded 48K units. Based on the A-body intermediate Chevelle and chassis, a 116″ wheelbase station wagon platform to be exact, the El Camino came in three different trim levels that year. First up was the Standard, which aligned with the Chevelle 300/Deluxe and it was followed by the Custom which was the Camino version of the Chevelle Malibu. And of course, being the halcyon year of 1969, there was an SS396 performance variant which was an option package for the Custom trim level. Our unfortunate victim appears to be a Custom version.

I have family members who reside in Torrance and they live on a divided street that has an active rail line that traverses the median. The line is owned by Union Pacific Railroad (whose tagline is “Building America” – they should add “and not wrecking it“) and it’s really just one long lead that serves a single industry located at the very north end. Rail service is infrequent with short trains every other week or so. Every time I’m in Torrance, I marvel at the very existence of the line and wonder how it has managed to survive so long while entertaining such sparse utilization. I spent my professional career in the rail industry and I know more than a few things about rail economics, operations, and federal regulations, so I always suspected that this high maintenance-low utilized line would be on the Asset Department’s hit list for abandonment. Regardless, I’m always happy to see steel wheels still traversing steel rails – a preferred commercial transport method I believe, but I digress.

One of the pleasant things that snags my attention on my many SoCal trips is all of the old cars that are parked on neighborhood streets and serve as everyday drivers. Most are worn and possess various cosmetic blemishes but they generally look sound and are still doing what they were designed to do a half-century plus ago. One of those attention-getters has been this 1969 El Camino, it sits on the street, moves from side to side (street cleaning), is probably used sparingly but still serves a purpose, and is, or was, an obvious source of enjoyment for its owner. It was really nothing super special, just a nice, very presentable old car, likely powered by a 200-gross HP, 307 CI V8 engine coupled to an automatic transmission. Anyway, on every trip, I eyeball this old girl just to see how she’s holding up. Yeah, I’m a Camino fan but I’ve never owned one though I have considered the possibility many times. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that it’s going to happen at this stage of my life.

So, I get a text earlier in the week about palm trees near Union Pacific’s right-of-way being removed. My family member asks if  I think it’s likely that the City of Torrance is behind the palm eradication exercise or if the railroad is pulling the strings. I know from my deep south railroad days, where everything grows non-stop (Kudzu is a real menace, among other things), we were always trimming and removing the perpetually encroaching trackside vegetation. It’s the sort of thing that you want to stay ahead of and it’s an expensive, never-ending maintenance item. Anyway, I’m asked if palms can be dug-up and transplanted and the answer is yes, I’ve done it but it’s a lot of work – not something the buttoned-down U.P. boys from Omaha are likely to entertain. Supposedly there had been neighborhood complaints about downed palm fronds and other tree debris littering the landscape so it seems that the railroad’s answer to the neighborhood angst was to just remove the source of said complaints outright. It’s a lousy solution but I get it.

A short while later, I receive another text that proclaims, “They just crushed the El Camino!“. Now my experience in tree removal is to first, not attempt it in 30 MPH winds. Next, you should always have a spotter and a guide rope attached, up towards the top of the trunk so the tree can be guided and parked right where you want it. These trees were being dug up and pushed over at the ground level base but the spotter and guide rope arrangement should still apply; anything less is negligent.

Well, nitwits prevailed, and here’s the result – it just kills me. The dummies could have dropped the tree on a Hyundai, a Kia, or a Camry but noooo, they had to wack the one classic car on the block. I worked for a Chevrolet dealership body shop back in the day, so I have an idea about how this vintage Chevy is put together but admittedly, it was a long time ago so I’m probably fuzzy on the specifics now. My guess is that this fine old El Camino is probably beyond repair and it’s time for the administration of Last Rites. But that said, I could be wrong, hope always springs eternal in this hobby. What’s your thought, fixable or not?

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Comments

  1. HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

    Anyone else hear taps playing? This post brings up several issues. 1st, who has a train track running through their front yard? 2nd, UP has deep pockets, the most profitable RR in the country, posted a profit last year of $21billion. ( Half of what Shell Oil posted, btw) The railroads, like any other entity, are strapped with employment issues. I read, the UP facility in N. Platte has hiring events all the time, but like most, can’t find competent workers. #1 reason? Applicants can’t pass the drug test. So they have to hire sub par workers that can, and this is the result. Parking a classic on the street THESE days, is risky business anyways. With the usual California car chases we see, someone bound to plow into your classic. Off street, if possible, is always best. On the plus side, I think it could still be driven,,,

    Like 23
    • Fred H

      this an old LA Pacific Electric streetcar byway leftover most likely from the 1920s-40s, repurposed into a rail track. Not Mexico, not in anyone’s ‘front yard’. The post laments the loss of this poor guy’s El Camino – simple as that. Not really a platform for your wanker dissertation on the Decline of America.

      Like 53
      • Mountainwoodie

        That’ s a little harsh, Fred.

        As for the car. looks to be a clear case of negligence on the part of the contractors and the city or whoever hired them, unless there were posted signs stating no cars on that side of the street due to tree trimming,

        Hopefully the owner had the car insured to the limits on a vintage vehicle policy. If not theres always the courthouse.

        Now about the decline of America……………….

        Like 6
    • Grant

      Been a lot of rail tragedies in recent memory, this being among them. You would think with a profit like that, you could hire enough capable workers. Next question, chicken or egg scenario… What comes first? Profit or workers?

      As far as the El goes, no problem, it will buff out.

      Like 15
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor

      https://last10k.com/sec-filings/unp#:~:text=%E2%80%93%20Union%20Pacific%20Corporation%20%28NYSE%3A%20UNP%29%20today%20reported,was%20%247.0%20billion%2C%20or%20%2411.21%20per%20diluted%20share.

      UPRR’s 2022 10-K filing. Their net income for the year was $7.0 B (not $21 B) on $23 B in total revenue. Sure, it’s still a lot of earnings but numbers matter and stating the results at three times what they actually are can be a bit misleading.

      JO

      Like 20
    • MTBorst

      Well, it’s coming down to.. take the half witted workers that don’t smoke pot, take the good workers that do with sturn warnings of not smoking before or during work. Or there’s still a few guys like me, that don’t do drugs, are great workers, have a very high mechanical aptitude but are retirement age but would coincide a few more years of work for a decent wage. As for the car , really sad to see this but I’m guessing it’s been painted several times maybe by a brush n roller. Time to make it a convertible !

      Like 5
  2. KC JohnMember

    Wow, Howard A, negative much? Some folks live near train tracks. Welcome to America.
    Back to the sadness. I think she’s savable. A pillars look straight to naked eye. Roof donors are out there. Quarters are available. Of course I am a big fan of el camino and ranchero so might be a wee bit optimistic. Lol.
    Howard A , no disrespect intended. I have too many cars ( maybe) and some sit outside. On the street. It happens. Bummer for the guy who loved this one

    Like 37
    • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

      Hi John, again, none taken, that was kind of a joke, and yes, in the SE, it’s not unusual for a train to go down Main St. I have a dry sense of humor, and invented negativity,,no wait, it was my old man, and a tough nut to crack. I have to disagree, if your “collection” spills out into the street, perhaps a better solution to storage than “out on the street” should be found. Peace.

      Like 12
    • $ where mouth is

      H.A. has a way of inserting himself and sounding like he works here, a guy who has to write ‘(since 14)’ as though that makes him a share holder or something. Ya, for years ive read and commented on him making plenty of negative, arrogant, judgemental, short sighted, and self righteous comments. Sometimes multiples on same car he started by saying he doest like or find value.
      However, he has shared pleasantries and informative stuff too.
      But ya, .. sigh ;)
      We all make this a fun place to dream and treasure hunt.

      Train tracks in a neighborhood is common sight for me, even in affluent neighborhoods in SoCal a train runs through it.

      The owner of this Camino got fu@ked and i hope is is respectfully compensated, regardless of what motor or trans, a 69 anything in this condition is the result of years of care and stewartship and deserves to be valued as such. A sad sight indeed, that according to the cause could have easily avoided; ya, drop the tree on a kia or toyota but to risk letting it fall on this ,, sue em !

      Like 11
  3. Moparman MoparmanMember

    Of course the standard thought is “it would cost way more than the vehicle is worth to fix it”; however, a lawsuit against UP for negligence in this case would be advisable. Hopefully, the result would be an amount comensurate for restoration/or the purchase of one in similar condition. I’d love to know the final outcome! :-)

    Like 24
  4. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    Insurance? DUH. That car is totaled, so have UP buy you an even nicer Elco.

    Like 16
  5. John.M.Stecz

    I think I would have moved the classic car ,to prevent this stupidity !

    Like 8
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor

      I believe the owner was out of town and had no forewarning of a tree removal undertaking.

      JO

      Like 13
  6. DavidH

    UP now owns a wrecked ElCamino. If the insurance company doesn’t total it UP can try and fix what they negligently destroyed. A simple cost affective alternative would have been to hire an insured, competent, tree service to take the tree down with a bucket truck.

    Like 18
  7. drew

    My mom lived in Torrance for many years and I was perplexed by the rail lines I saw which ran through the middle of the streets, crisscrossed with streets and appeared to go nowhere. It is a traditional working class area with a lot of classic cars to be spotted.

    Like 7
    • drew

      Meant to add that this is a shame what happened to this classic. Torrance is a automotive town with Honda HQ and Toyota used to have a big presence before they moved out of the state.

      Like 5
  8. Alexander

    Could I politely point out that–if your photos are any accurate indication–it was a tree/landscaping company hired by the railroad that did the felling, NOT the Union Pacific Railroad itself?????

    Your entire rant is therefore rendered almost moot–as a tree contractor should have had far more expertise and experience in the specific matter than a railroad, and it would be THEIR insurance doing the payout, not the railroad’s!!!!

    Like 18
    • Troy

      Unless the railroad was to cheap to hire a professional company and just told their track maintenance people to handle it

      Like 11
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor

      It is a tree contractor and not the railroad. It’s done both ways depending on the nature of the job, sometimes the railroad’s Vegetation Management department handles the job and sometimes it’s a contractor.

      There’s absolutely no rant on my part and I don’t know how you came up with that, and it is hardly a moot point. I stated that some very careless people destroyed a classic car and they’ll need to make the owner whole.

      And, considering the poor work performed, perhaps UPRR should give better consideration to the contractors that they hire. Read the inscription on the door of the service truck, it states, “Arevalo Landscaping Service – Specializing in Railroad Right-Of-Way Cleaning“. I would expect much better service from a company that is supposed to specialize in such undertakings. The results of a contractor’s work will ultimately reflect on UP and it will prove to be their liability if the contractor tries to wiggle out of their responsibility, feigns ignorance, etc.

      JO

      Like 20
      • Ryan

        I thought this was a beautiful write up. I didn’t expect to be feeling so introspective about the dwindling number the classic cars that are victims of negligence or apathy, my own mortality, the human condition, etc. Haha.

        Like 4
    • DavidH

      The tree company if they were competent would have used a different means to remove the tree other than tipping it over full length into a narrow street lined with automobiles. That is what bucket trucks are made for.

      Like 5
      • ACZ

        You assume that the “tree company” is something more than a day laborer that someone handed a chain saw to. I don’t.

        Like 2
      • HoA Howard A ( since 2014)Member

        You get what you pay for. If it’s any consolation, that “tree” company president is now selling timeshares in Mexico.

        Like 1
    • Neal Jacobsen

      Alexander, you are entirely correct on this point. Whoever is liable, which indeed looks like a tree service is involved. What idiot drops a tree when a vehicle is close? It could have been a new car or antique. Doesn’t matter. This is complete stupidity in it’s purest form. I believe it is fixable but that would be for sentimental valu. Certainly not financially.

      Like 6
  9. Mike

    I’m looking at the top picture and wouldn’t be surprised if the police saw that and issued a ticket for an unsecured load.

    Like 11
  10. ACZ

    I really hate to see this. I’ve owned Elkys for years. A 66, then a 69, then a new 75, then another 75 (8 years later), and now an 85SS that I bought in 1991 and still have. Of all, the 69 was my favorite. Great ride quality and handling and with a 300 horse 350, a TH350 and a 3.31 posi, a great performing ride.

    Like 8
  11. Big C

    I get it. A garage in Kalifornia probably would set you back $500k for a two car. But, I hear the weathers perfect.

    Like 5
    • MTBorst

      If they are getting that much, I’m losing up materials from Michigan and coming out to build 4 this year ! Maybe 8. Then I’ll retire.

      Like 2
  12. RANDOM DUDE

    poor truck…

    Like 4
  13. Carlos Rodrigo Macchiavello

    Realmente una pena, pero es reparable, hay gente que trabaja el metal y restaurar autos en peores condiciones… 💪🏁

    (Really a shame, but it is repairable, there are people who work the metal and restore cars in worse conditions …)

    Like 10
    • John E. Klintz

      De acuerdo Carlos; gracias!

      (According to Carlos; Thank you!)

      Like 3
  14. mike

    That is so sad….hopefully you can fix her or ins get’s you another one.

    Like 2
  15. Bill W.

    Not sure replacement quarters are available, I know they aren’t for a 66. I had a friend with a wrecking yard here in AZ about 15 years ago sold a roof from an El Camino. I imagine it was for a similar problem. I hope the owner had classic insurance and an appraisal. That, and a good attorney, and he can probably come out ok……….but the sentimental value stuff…….I don’t know.
    And it’s California. You can have a million dollar house and not have a garage and have to park on the street.

    Like 5
  16. Connecticut mark

    It says I thought they are digging these out not cutting them down. So not tree company, would be landscaping company

    Like 1
  17. John Vizzusi

    How about a lawsuit against the Home Owners Association for not trimming out the palms to prevent high wind damage! I live in Florida and surrounded by tall huge 🌴 palms. Every 6 – 8 months we top them to prevent toppling. jv – smash palace

    Like 2
  18. Steveo

    Odd that the whole area was not marked for ‘no parking’ and everything potentially in the way was not towed.

    Like 1
    • Bruce

      too expensive. so they’ll tell you. its always about the bottom line. for them not for others.

      Like 0
  19. Bruce

    i had a ‘70 version, it is sad to see them go like i did back in the day, but i lived in the north east, rust did most cars in. Cannot believe all the negative bs from the car world in some of these commentaries.

    Like 2
  20. Lee

    It’ll buff out!

    Like 1
    • "Edsel" Al leonardMember

      Ha Ha….good answer!!!

      Like 1
      • jwaltb

        Actually moronic, but to each one’s own.

        Like 0
  21. Dean Miller

    Here’s an idea…
    Replace the 1/4, reinforce the rear of the cab, cut the roof off and ‘ta-da’…a convertable…fiberglass lift off top ? Or sorce a company that can make a folding top !!! It would be a first I’m sure !?!?

    Like 2
  22. Troy

    How old or new is this story because a quick search the car is not showing up at insurance auction websites Copart and IAAI well at least it wasn’t there yesterday

    Like 1
    • Jim ODonnellAuthor

      The damage happened on Wednesday, Feb. 22nd. The owner was still out of town as of Saturday the 25th.

      JO

      Like 3
  23. Comet

    Howard, that cutting edge wit. Such a gift.

    Like 3
  24. steviealx

    Roadkill

    Like 2
  25. George Birth

    As the former owner and High climber for a tree trimming / removal company, 1. you must have insurance in case of an unforseen event.IE tree branch heavier than realized taking out a fence/car etc. 2. You need to look at the tree from all angles, determine which way it may be leaning, is it rotten in the core? I learned a saying years ago in another trade, Be a professional CYA! Know how to to cut the tree to fall where you want it to land!! Take your time, don’t rush discuss, that way you and your crew know what actions to take. These guys didn’t!!!Example, last week a local tree removal Co. took out a section of my fence.

    Like 7
  26. RIP

    If that was my Camino I’d make it into a convertable posslibly with a retractable hardtop…..

    Like 2
  27. philthyphil

    as a retired bodyman….yes thats fixable and as a rust free car,should be,done a few rollovers in my time,not hard and rusted northern cars have good tops,the quarter is the hard part but if its solid its doable…. but at $100 an hour labour will ad up quick

    Like 5
  28. Rob

    Replace the bed , rebuild the cab including windshield frame , roof and door pillars!

    Like 0
  29. S

    This is just ridiculously dumb!

    Like 1
    • Rob

      Just depends how skilled you are!!!

      Like 1
  30. Rob

    Or just get a donor cab from another el Camino

    Like 0
  31. Barry

    Repairable we have done worse barry

    Like 1
  32. Rich in Erie

    First yes it’s fixable….all it takes is time and more time….and $$$ if it was at a sale near me I’d definitely consider it, is it a total loss? Definitely yes, parts are readily available I’m sure there’s a nice roof to section in somewhere

    Like 3
  33. icyrust

    Cut off the bent stuff and you will soon see its fixable.

    Like 2
  34. Owner of classic's

    Hopefully that person had Classic Car Insurance. I have it on all mine (Hagerty) my vehicles are worth 4-5 of what they cost new. Does not know who or why they are hurt. I also have the right to keep it even after I get my guaranteed value. If it can’t be fixed then there are many parts that can be sold. So if that person had the right insurance then they could get $19,000. To $34,000. Dollars

    Like 1
  35. FOG

    Wow, I just got to this part after reading all the comments posted. Learned there’s a lot of mixed feelings being displayed and displaced for a ’69 El Camino/Torrance/Union Pacific/Tall Shubbery/Etc. Taking my meds and going to sleep 🛌.

    Like 0
  36. Maggy

    It sux the car was ruined.Just thankful nobody was hurt or killed.

    Like 0
  37. Darren Lyons

    I’ll fix it if I can get it for 20 bucks or preferably free.

    Like 0
  38. Bill Schopf

    Absolutely not a question that it is repairable. Ausley’s out of North Carolina carries every part needed to fix. In my garage is a ’68 and next to it an ’84 El Camino. On the driveway is a ’72 that I am going back under to replace the modulator so it shifts correctly for my neighbor. Not getting into the insurance b.s. Live in Florida. We are in cancell culture regarding insurance. Cut my trees myself.

    Like 0
  39. Jay McCarthy

    I feel horrible for the owner of this car. With all the new technologies in body repair there must be some type of platform with hydraulic jacks, rams and cables that can pull and push in different angles and pressures. Or you could find a roached out field find and slice the roof section

    Like 1
    • MTBorst

      You would think with today’s technology there would be a way. Set- up would be very time consuming.
      You are correct about pushing the roof back up. A body shop owner friend of mine said that would actually be the first thing to be done before cutting the roof off. You want the pillars as close to straight as possible before hand. Same with the rear quarter.

      Like 2
  40. Pete

    Domini Patri Afili Espiritu Santi RIP. I’d like to buy the front end of that car for my 69 Convertible.

    Like 0
  41. John D

    Rust free 69 Elcamino yes I would tackle that job for sure, if only it was closer to NY I would have it in my garage already.

    Like 2
  42. Rob

    It ALL DEPENDS ON YOUR MECHANICAL ABILITIES, BEING RESOURCEFUL, find donor car parts , remove from the frame, used bed and cab area, and a lot of your time! THIS CAR IS IN DEMAND AND A CLASSIC! Just takes a few bucks LOL

    Like 0

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