All car crafters lust after a fully equipped shop where they can work on their latest projects, store spare parts, and bench-race with buddies. While all of that is possible even in a one-car garage, the space is often shared with gardening tools, old bicycles, and grandma's hand-me-down quilting kit. It takes resources to set up a truly useful shop, and most of us just don't have that kind of dough to toss around. It's a predicament that The El Caminos Club of Bakersfield, California, is solving through teamwork and camaraderie.
The club was founded in September 2000 by three friends in a garage. They built a '74 El Camino from a piece of junk into a nice platform that could eventually become a show-quality car. Now, just over six years later, the membership has grown to 54, all of whom own at least one El Camino. Through a system of membership tiers-each with a distinct dues structure and club benefits-they have developed their own car shows, offer discounts from area sponsors, and, yes, have obtained a 3,000-square-foot shop that is exclusive to club members.
As far as they know, the ECCB is currently the only club in California that is exclusive to the Chevrolet car-based small pickup that rolled off the assembly lines from 1959 until the '87 model-year. The group's slogan is "Everybody has an El Camino story."
The ECCB is at least partly the brainchild of founder and president Richard Lopez. "When I was a freshman in high school in Santa Paula, California, the school football jock had a '68 royal-blue El Camino, and he was dating the head cheerleader," Lopez recalls. "That got me hooked. I soon found an El Camino that had an exhaust leak, so I got it for $200. I fixed the leak and drove it home. It just took Second Place in Pro Stock class at the '06 Chevy's Limited car show."
Lopez also presides over the Bakersfield Car Club Council, which represents all of the more than 40 car clubs in Kern County, California, and he is a regional director of the El Camino Owners Association (elcaminocentral.com), a Web-based organization with several thousand members throughout the nation.
Betty Paulk, chatting with fellow club member Ruben Gonzalez, owns a white '68 SS 396 El Camino with blue SS stripes. In 1990, Betty's husband, Roger, bought a 450hp, 454ci LS7 crate motor from the local GM Performance outlet and mated the big-block to a Muncie four-speed transmission. He added a set of Summit ladder bars and a Detroit locker for the 3.73-geared rearend. Betty loves the handling and the performance of the engine, noting that it's not at all squirrelly even with all that power.