Musclebound Centaur: Chris Decker’s Big Bad 1967 El Camino

At first blush, connecting an ancient mythical beast with a Chevrolet El Camino (or a Ford Ranchero or Aussie ute, for that matter) might seem a bit odd. But, nonetheless, after you get acquainted with the centaur, a creature from Greek mythology, you might never look at an El Camino the same again.

If the definition of a centaur is not in your household lexicon, here’s a brief cheat sheet. A centaur is a creature from Greek mythology with the upper body of a human and the lower body and legs of a horse. An El Camino is the automotive equivalent of that mythical beast, blending a passenger car body with a truck bed. So with that analogy out of the way, we bring you Chris Decker’s LS-powered 1967 El Camino, the coolest centaur car on record.

Photos by: Brian Havins

Chris is an engineer, hailing from San Mateo, California, and he purchased this old Elco when he was just 16 years old. The El Camino bug bit Chris after seeing a first-generation model. Chris recounts, “A family friend had a beautiful 1960 El Camino when I was a kid, and I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since. It was lacquer black and straight as an arrow. I always liked owning something a little different and not blending in with the crowd. A lot of my friends were buying Camaros, Novas, Chevelles, and Mustangs, but I didn’t want to have the same thing as everyone else.”

It wasn’t long before Chris was bitten again, this time by drag racing, and he was dazzled watching cars roar down the dragstrip at an NHRA event in Sonoma, California. Soon, he was involved in amateur drag racing and an SCCA pit crew member. Chris says, “I think I was born with gasoline in my blood. I have always loved the sound of a V8 engine for as long as I can remember.”

Chris isn’t timid about getting his hands dirty, either. Over the next 23 years, this old Elco has morphed many times, mainly with drivetrain transplants, but as we all know, a project car is in a constant state of flux and incremental adjustments.

The current version of the car is stuffed with some of the best gear in the aftermarket industry. Chris started with a stock frame boxed for stiffness and strength. Next, he added Global West tubular control arms, QA1 coil-overs, and a big 1-1/4-inch Global West sway bar. Underpinning the rear, Chris uses a Hotchkis setup, with another pair of QA1 double-adjustable coil-overs and a 1-1/8-inch sway bar.

This beast rolls on a set of Weld Wheels, 18×8.5 up front and 18×10.5 at the rear, wrapped in Nitto 555s, 245-40/18, and 555R 305-45/18s, respectively. The party comes to a stop via 12.19-inch drilled/slotted Wilwood DynaPro six-piston calipers at the front and 12.19-inch drilled/slotted DynaPro four-piston calipers at the rear.

Over the years, the car has received many makeovers when it comes to horsepower. Chris tells us, “During the last 23 years, the car has constantly changed. It started as a 350 cubic-inch small-block with a TH350 automatic pumping out 450 horsepower (before a 100-horsepower shot of nitrous was added two years later). All that stink was delivered to a 10-bolt rear end, posi, and exhaled through dual exhaust.

Chris elaborates further, “That iteration got old after a while, so I sold the engine and trans and bought a 427 cubic-inch big-block putting out approximately 600 horsepower and then swapped in a 12-bolt, custom-built rearend for the car. Then, I realized I needed a roll cage and had to figure out how that was going to happen. Subsequently, my research led me to Chris Alston, and I purchased a really nice cage setup that extends into the bed and ties into the frame.”

“My friend’s dad had a TIG welder, so when he went out of town for a couple of weeks, I brought the car over to his house and we began to cut, fit, and weld the roll cage in the back yard. Of course, we were ambitious and thought we would have the car caged and reassembled before he got back. Boy, were we wrong. Thankfully my buddy’s dad was used to us working on a project and graciously let me spend the next two weeks or so wrapping up the cage and reassembling the car.”

When it comes to horsepower, more is more, and the car evolved again. 

“I wanted to go faster, so I had Steve Schmidt build a 523 cubic-inch big-block Chevy with 900 horsepower at the crank, and I hired Coan Racing to beef up the TH400.” Chris continued, “The best e.t. in ¼-mile I achieved was 10.01 at 137 mph. Life changed after several years, and I was now a dad and wanted to enjoy my car with my son. So I sold the drivetrain, suspension, brakes, and cooling system.”

By 2015, the LS swap phenomenon was in full bloom, and Chris was keen on joining the modern small-block bandwagon. 

“After months of research on LS swapping a General Motors A-body, I decided to buy a 376 cubic-inch GM Performance crate LS3 motor with 525 horsepower and a TREMEC T56. First, I had to raise the transmission tunnel 2-inches to fit the T56 into the car. After that, I moved my attention to brakes and suspension and upgraded to their current state. Finally, it was time to ditch the original bench seat for a set of Distinctive Industries pro-touring seats and, finally, replace the headliner since it was removed in order to cage the car in the early 2000s.”

Yet something seemed unfinished, and Chris dove into more upgrades. 

“After driving the car for a while, the need to change things up became necessary. I swapped out the cam for a Texas Speed Stage 3 cam and worked with FiTech EFI to run a multiport EFI system with a single plane intake. The car made 538 horsepower to the tire on FiTech’s dyno in June 2020.”

But wait, Chris wasn’t done yet! In late 2020, he wanted more power and was able to get his hands on Whipple’s new 3.0L Gen 5 supercharger, and that set into motion a total rebuild of the LS3, with the help of Chris Chandler Concepts, who helped assemble the current engine with considerable skills. 

“I worked with Texas Speed to get a full rotating assembly that was balanced and a new cam. At that point, the engine was fully disassembled, machined, and then the assembly of all new goodies went into full-speed-ahead in the garage. The block is now studded with ARP fasteners. I also had to order a clutch to handle the abuse the drivetrain was about to get,” Chris explained.

Inside, the Elco is all business. Black vinyl racing seats, a 14-point roll cage, and a five-point harness keep Chris safe while the stock gauges augmented with Autometer units keep track of the vital statistics. The exterior is wrapped in a satiny black vinyl — a simple but effective application that makes you look twice. Expertly laid down by brothers Elvis and Sanchez of  SVO Industries, the guys even came to Chris’ house and performed all the work there.

This El Camino is driven often, but Chris says, “It doesn’t beat you up, and the car handles very well in the mountains or on a long cruise. The suspension is stiff but not to the point that it’s uncomfortable to drive for more than an hour. I’ve done several drives over six hours in the car. With double-adjustable shocks and easy-to-remove sway bars, the suspension has a lot of adjustable abilities to change to whatever environment that I encounter.” 

While Chris enjoys torturing the tarmac at drag strips and running the car in grudge events, he has yet to do so with the new powerplant. The LS-powered El Camino cranked out 1,000 horsepower on the dyno back in May 2021, and Chris wants to make a few drivetrain upgrades before hitting the strip. 

We had a chance to go for a ride, and what’s surprising is that this combination is exceptionally mild while cruising on the street. However, when Chris hits the loud pedal, it’s time to hang on, because this ride goes from mild to wild quick. About the time the rear tires stop begging for mercy, Chris would grab another gear and repeat the process until it was time to get on the brakes.

If you’re in Vegas for the 2021 SEMA show, be sure and stop by the FiTech booth and see the El Camino in person. It will be on display there and will undoubtedly have a crowd around it. And while people may joke that the Elco is half car and half truck, there’s no denying that this Whipple-powered centaur isn’t 100-percent badass.

Engine

  •  Chevrolet Performance LS3 
  • 4.070 bore / 3.625 stroke
  • Callies Dragonslayer crankshaft
  • CP-Carillo forged pistons 
  • Callies Ultra connecting rods
  • 9.5:1 compression ratio
  • Engine built by Chris Decker and Chris Chandler Concepts
  • Rotating assembly balanced by Texas Speed & Performance. 
  • Honed cylinders walls and cleaning by Cardelli Motorsports
  • Texas Speed & Performance Stage 3 supercharger cam
  • Stock LS3 heads with light clean up on intake and exhaust ports by Chris Decker

AIR and FUEL

  • FiTech ECU
  • Tuned by Jeremy Schmidt
  • 80-pound injectors
  • Two 525 Walbro fuel pumps in a Stainless Steel Ricks tank
  • 102mm FiTech throttle body
  • Port matched intake to heads
  • 6061 Billet CNC throttle body spacer designed by Shannon Gaither and machined by Evans CNC
  • Ultimate Headers 1-7/8” primary 3” collector, stainless steel and Titanium ceramic coated
  • Magnaflow three-inch stainless steel exhaust builder kit with X-pipe
  • Magnaflow mufflers

POWER ADDERS

  • Whipple 3.0-liter Gen-5 supercharger
  • Wegner Automotive accessory drive 
  • 14.8-pounds of boost
  • Whipple Intercooler integrated into supercharger system
  • Whipple 2.25x16x20-inch heat exchanger

TRANSMISSION AND REAREND

  • Tremec T56
  • Mcleod RXT twin-disc clutch and flywheel
  • Hurst Blackjack shifter
  • 3-inch aluminum 6061 driveshaft
  • Quick Time scatter shield
  • 12-bolt built by Performance Fabrication in San Carlos
  • 4.10 gears
  • Mark Williams 33-spline axles
  • Detroit Truetrac posi

CHASSIS

  • Global West tubular front control arms       
  • QA1 double adjustable front and rear coilovers
  • AGR power steering box
  • Global West 1 1/4-inch sway bar
  • Hotchkis rear control arms
  • Hotchkis rear sway bar

WHEELS AND BRAKES

  • Front: Weld S77 18 x 8.5-inch  
  • Rear:  Weld S77 18 x 10.5-inch
  • Tires, front: Nitto 555 245-40/18
  • Tires, rear: Nitto 555R 305-45/18
  • Wilwood 12.19 drilled/slotted DynaPro six-piston calipers
  • Wilwood 12.19 drilled/slotted DynaPro four-piston calipers

BODY AND INTERIOR

  • Satin black
  • Mini tubbed
  • Glasstek fiberglass 2-inch cowl hood
  • Spoilers by Randy chin spoiler
  • Avery Satin Black wrap
  • Paint by SVO Industries
  • Black upholstery
  • 14-point Chromoly roll cage 
  • Simpson five-point harness
  • OEM and Autometer gauges
  • Other interior mods: Raised trans tunnel for T56 transmission

About the author

Dave Cruikshank

Dave Cruikshank is a lifelong car enthusiast and an Editor at Power Automedia. A zealous car geek since birth, he digs lead sleds, curvy fiberglass, kustoms and street rods. He currently owns a '95 Corvette, '76 Cadillac Seville, '99 LS1 Trans Am and big old Ford Van.
Read My Articles

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