Time is Ticking For El Caminos’ Weekend in N.E.

EL CAMINO MIO: Some of last year’s El Camino Night participants show the spit and polish used to preserve their cherished cars.
EL CAMINO MIO: Some of last year’s El Camino Night participants show the spit and polish used to preserve their cherished cars.
BILL GRIFFITH

It’s time to be concerned, but it’s still too early to panic. That said, panic is lurking just on the other side of the firewall of my beloved 1978 GMC Caballero. That’s an El Camino to the rest of the world.

Our annual Northeast Region gathering of El Caminos is this coming Friday and Saturday, but my ride, which goes by the name of The Gray Caballero, has developed a tic, one that’s making me nervous.

When you start it, the noise is a solid tic-tic-tic. Hit the gas, and it becomes a louder TICK-TICK-TICK.

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This is not good.

Especially when the folks at Lee Speedway in Lee, NH, are, for the sixth straight year, inviting all El Camino owners to the track this coming Friday night.

El Caminos [former President Bill Clinton had one in his youth] are the five generations of car-based, pickup-bodied vehicles made by General Motors from1959-1987 and marketed as both Chevrolet El Caminos and GMC Sprints and Caballeros.

Ford built a competing Ranchero during part of that period and later had a SportTrac version of the Explorer SUV with a small pickup box. Subaru introduced the Brat in 1978—a smaller version of the same concept with plastic rear-facing seats in the bed—and also sold the Baja, another variation on the theme, from 2003-2006.

The Gray Caballero made its first appearance at Lee last year and loved the experience. So did Mr. & Mrs. G who were along for the ride.

Lee provided all El Camino owners (and their GMC counterparts) with a special parking-display area.

Later, during a break in the racing action, we got to do some ever-faster laps on the track and finished up with a burnout contest.

One of our member’s El Caminos produced a NASCAR Sprint Cup-level smoke screen and kept that smoke coming until he blew a tire. It was: 1. Something he’d intended; 2. A crowd-pleaser; and 3. Earned him a huge trophy.

Unfortunately, The Gray Caballero started life as a six-cylinder, stripped-down car with very low, cruising differential gears. Even with a 350 cubic inch engine, these days it only will spin a tire when taking a sharp corner on a wet day over a painted crosswalk.

Hopefully, a trip to North Shore Performance will make the Tick go away because The Gray Caballero definitely wants to be part of the weekend festivities.

It definitely does not want to be chauffeured home on the back of an AAA flatbed tow truck.

John Harris, regional director of the National El Camino Owners Assn., figures that if owners are traveling for the Lee Speedway event, they might as well make it a two-day getaway.

On Saturday, the group will be making its third annual Coastal Cruise, starting with a 9 a.m. mini-show and breakfast at Assembly Row Mall in Somerville. This is a bit of a first as it’s the first time the mall owners have had “muscle” cars on display. We have to type that a bit tongue in cheek since we’re somewhat of a Motley Crue. However, The Gray Caballero insists that it would rather be that than a “rapper”—at least in the automotive sense of the word.

Harris then has a surprise destination for the El Caminos—a by-invitation-only guided tour of Deer Island.

Harris, of North Andover, is a retired administrative judge and past national director of the National El Camino Owners Association.

He’s seen local events draw more than 40 El Caminos. The national organization and website—elcaminocentral.com—has more than 22,000 registered members. The site is the source for all things El Camino including forums, parts, restoration advice, performance tips and perhaps most important, encouragement.

When he first proposed the Deer Island stop, one member replied, “What’s next, visits to a dump and then a junkyard?”

Harris insists that the Deer Island trip, like members’ love of El Caminos, is more about finding a diamond in the rough.

“This is going to knock your socks off,” he promises. “The landscaping, technology, and harbor views aren’t to be missed.

“We’ll be able to go to the top of the observation deck, which also happens to be the highest point in Boston Harbor and affords spectacular views. In addition, the tour will show some aspects of the plant that the general public never has seen. I promise you: You’ll be amazed.”

For visitors to Boston, Harris is attempting the nigh-on to impossible—arranging parking for a goodly number of El Caminos at Fort Independence at Castle Island in South Boston on a summer Saturday afternoon.

“I have to arrange not only that but also make sure all our members get to experience true regional dining at Sullivan’s landmark food stand.”

So time is ticking away for El Camino owners to sign up.

And unfortunately my engine is doing the same.