Innovation requires sacrifice. This principle has long stood true. To really be an innovator, one must sacrifice what is commonly accepted in favor of something new, sometimes bizarre, and always risky.
Car makers, however, are just awful at this. Instead of sacrificing the norm in favor of things like better fuel efficiency and the ability to fly, they continue to assume that what must be sacrificed is sanity.
And we end up with things like this:
The El Camino was the vehicle for people who just couldn’t decide whether they were a car person or a truck person, and therefore wanted to like an idiot. It was supposed to combine the practicality of a car with the carrying capabilities of a truck. This sounds fine, except for the fact that such a thing as “small trucks” already existed.
The finished product was a truck with a pituitary problem. Sure, the miniature bed could maybe hold a chair or something, but not enough for a huge load. And the front end looked casual enough, but it didn’t keep any car-related practicality. There is no backseat. Really, the El Camino was just a really low truck.
Business in the back, party in the front. It was the bizarro-mullet of cars. Or better yet, it was the McRib of vehicles.
Think about the McRib: it’s a readily available, inexpensive rib sandwich. ON PAPER it should be awesome. In reality? It’s an example of just how corrupt and awful the human soul is.
That’s what the El Camino was: a solid idea on paper, then you look at it, and you’re reminded that human beings are responsible for things like the electric chair and the atomic bomb.
So why did it even exist? Simple: because Australians are ridiculous.
Believe it or not, the El Camino was actually Chevrolet’s ANSWER to another vehicle. That’s right, another company made a “coupe utility” that was somehow popular enough that Chevy felt the need to answer.
Again, car developers don’t just defy sanity, they sacrifice it.
What’s beautiful is that the original concept, the Ford Ranchero, was developed by Ford Australia because of a fan letter they received. A farmer in Victoria, Australia, asked for “a vehicle to go to church in on a Sunday and which can carry our pigs to market on Mondays”, and since farmers are the movers and shakers in life, Ford listened to him.
Thus, the couple utility was born in 1957, killing all of the beautiful development momentum cars in the 50’s had.
But Chevy wasn’t the only company to build an awful looking machine that was somehow popular. In England, Reliant made a plastic 3-wheeled car called the Robin in what was probably just some science experiment to prove that English people are awful.
The “Plastic Pig”, as it was commonly referred as, was light, compact, and easily affordable. Really, the only downside to it (besides the look) was the fact that it would flip over at just about any point in time.
So whatever happened to the El Camino? Well somehow, someway, it enjoyed a great deal of success and was produced until 1987, a year that people started coming to their sense about a lot of things (rest in peace, parachute pants).
But that doesn’t mean the El Camino disappeared. For some reason, muscle car enthusiasts and douchebags adopted the El Camino and welcomed it into their fold, making sure that repaired and modified El Camino’s still wander our streets.
More than that, the idea of a coupe utility hasn’t fully gone away. Car designers are still trying to find a way to blend carrying ability with small size without realizing that those two things don’t go together whatsoever. Just two short years ago (2010, for those of you keeping track at home), Pontiac was set to release the Pontiac G8 ST, the first coupe utility in North America since ’87.
Amazingly, Pontiac canceled this decision, though, showing a rare level of wisdom for the company who gave us the Aztek.
And with the death of the G8 ST, car makers fully shifted their focus to making full-sized trucks with actual carrying ability, and hybrids that didn’t suck out of control.
It took many, many years, but developers have discovered that they DON’T need to give up sanity for the sake of innovation.