Turning Chevrolet El Caminos into interdivisional phantom machines is as old as the Elkys themselves. Pontiac even considered bringing one to market on at least three different occasions, including a prototype built from a 1959 Catalina, the Grand Am (a proposal that John Sawruk worked on from 1978 to 1980), and of course, the Holden-built G8 pickup that we were so cruelly teased with before GM pulled the plug on Pontiac altogether in 2009.
Enthusiasts have done much the same thing, offering up tantalizing visions of what could have been. On the 1968-72 El Caminos in particular, we have seen Pontiac GTO, Buick GSX, and Hurst Olds and 442 noses, drivetrains, and interiors grafted and/or installed. Some are better executed than others, but the end result is usually quite attractive. After all, they were all great cars, and the visual impact can be very dramatic, particularly if an unusual version is perfectly carried off.
For this version of the A-Body mash-bash, we head north of the border for a wild, Pontiac-flavored interpretation of the El Camino makeover. Rather than relying on a GTO or LeMans to base our Poncho pickup on, we instead chose a 1969 Beaumont Sport Deluxe. Why? It is an interesting twist on the idea that is rarely, if ever, seen in the U.S.A. We have no doubt that some enterprising Canadian enthusiasts have tried this one before, but it will look new and fresh to those of us residing south of the border. Plus, we have a second twist on the idea that we will get into later.
First a little history on the Beaumont. Since the 1930s, Pontiacs built in Canada have generally been a little different than their siblings in the USA. The reason was a trade tariff (or tariffs) that made it financially unfeasible to import American Pontiacs into Canada. Also, the limited volume of the Canadian market precluded the building of any new Pontiac-specific assembly plants within the country.
GM devised a compromise that helped bring Pontiacs to the Great White North. Since Chevrolet assembly plants were already in place churning out American-spec Bow Ties and those plants had some excess capacity to fill, special Canadian-spec Pontiacs were built there.
The full-sized versions use modified Pontiac bodies with shorter rear quarters, Chevy frames and drivelines, and American-spec Pontiac front sheetmetal. The interiors were a mix of Chevy and Pontiac components; aside from the lack of Wide Track, they looked pretty close to their American counterparts. Instead of names like Catalina, Ventura, Star Chief, and Bonneville, these Canadian Pontiacs had alternate names like Strato Chief, Laurentian, Parisienne, and Grand Parisienne.
The intermediates were even more Chevy-oriented. The Acadian debuted for 1962 as a Pontiac compact, and initially offered a variant of the new Chevy II. Later, the Beaumont debuted as a badge-engineered Chevelle with a Pontiac-like split grille, slotted taillamps, specific trim, and an interior that used a LeMans dash with Chevelle consoles, door panels, and seat upholstery. The Beaumont continued production through 1969.
After 1970, the loosening of import tariffs made the business case for specific Canadian-spec Pontiacs a moot point, though Chevy engines continued to be used in some Pontiacs built in Canada, mostly for availability issues.
For our Pontiac pickup, we raided Pontiac parts bins on both sides of the border. Starting with a Beaumont Sport Deluxe grille grafted on the El Camino nose, we added a Sport Deluxe hood, which is very similar to the Chevelle SS hood. To that, we added a Pontiac hood tach and Pontiac Rally II wheels with redline tires. Inside, the Beaumont pickup uses a Pontiac GTO dash with Rally Gauge Cluster, GTO bucket seats, door panels, and console.
If the color scheme looks somewhat familiar, consider yourself observant. It is a takeoff on the 1969 Firebird Comanche featured in our May 2010 issue. The Firebird Comanche was a limited-edition Firebird developed and marketed by Grant Hamilton Pontiac/Buick in Montreal, and also sold at dealerships in Toronto and Ottawa. We also envisioned Mr. Hamilton's extension of the Comanche line to the Beaumont Sport Deluxe pickup, to which Comanche nameplates are added to the hood bulges and rear quarters. Like the Firebirds that Hamilton converted, this Comanche pickup also has leather seating.
A combination of an Espresso Brown-colored main body is accented with off-white skunk stripes on the hood, the roof of the cab, the bed, and the tops of the quarters. Your author is not a huge fan of earth tones on cars, but in this case, it makes for a very attractive combination that really sets off the late-1960s vibe.
Speaking of setting off the vibe, we envisioned an early and late-year situation under the hood, which started off with the 375-horse 396 Chevy being the top option. Later in the year, however, the Pontiac Ram Air III and Ram Air IV 400 engines became available, giving our little Canadian pickup some real Pontiac thunder. Combined with a 3.90 Safe-T-Track rearend, this one would really haul the lumber!
As with most of our "What If" Pontiacs, we would love to see such a treatment to an El Camino. We are sure that some have already been built, but doing one up as a Comanche would make this potent Pontiac pickup even more appealing.
Please send your ideas for What If? to firstname.lastname@example.org