The Story Behind The Greatest Car/Boat GM Never Made

This one really got me looking at my old El Camino differently, and still sends me to CL looking for a bad idea to execute I don’t have time or skill to do. But man this thing is cool.


Editor’s Note: After discovering a photo (seen above) clearly depicting an El Camino and speedboat we don’t remember ever seeing, we quickly realized that virtually no one else remembers them either. The researchers at GM’s archives were most helpful in tracking down exactly what they were, and in finding more photos. Enjoy.

In 1965, with the muscle car wars in full swing, Chevrolet unveiled its newest weapon in the form of the Mark IV series big block V8. The first salvo was the famed 396 Turbo-Jet, named for its displacement of 396 cubic inches. To highlight its debut, GM made the beauties you see here: the really boss-looking “Surfer I” El Camino roadster and Gaylord ski boat concept.


The Mark IV 396 was never officially used in boating applications, and this was also the first and only appearance of the 396 in an El Camino, making both of these working prototypes purely one of a kind pieces of GM history.


Since Chevrolet was (and still is) a major supplier of boating engines, Surfer I’s primary purpose was to highlight the versatility of the new motor. The seafaring-style El Camino “sport pickup“ and boat sported the same red interior.
The El Camino was made into a convertible, then “chopped” to a scant 32 inches tall. Just for a point of reference, that’s eight full inches shorter than a GT40. Both of the supports for the front windshield sported red and green nautical spotlights, and the bed, tailgate, and lower panels were trimmed in polished Elm to match the ski boat.
Sending the exhaust through a set of “specially engineered” individual stacks must have made a truly lovely sound, unless you happened to be waterskiing behind them.


Even the trailer was custom, with GM’s famous “rally wheels,” matching pearlescent white paint, and padded vinyl step pads. Across the rear, the hot rod style taillights were fitted to a custom elm panel. Sadly, GM only showed these stunners twice: once at the 1965 Chicago Auto Show, and again during the outdoor GM auto exhibit at the 1965 New York World’s fair.

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The odd musings and automotive observations of a guy who willingly calls himself Mental

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