With today’s current SUV craze, four doors are the price of admission into the white-hot segment. Standard-cab trucks are chopped liver compared to their four-door counterparts as well. Back in the early ’60s, it was the exact opposite. The Chevrolet El Camino and arch-enemy, Ford Ranchero, were only sold as two-doors, and both these car/truck hybrids never saw the addition of a crew cab model or four-wheel drive.
Who knows if the addition of a four-door would have resulted in a sales victory for either Chevy or Ford. The two-door, two-wheel-drive versions were ubiquitous in American suburbs back in the day. These two rivals really paved the way for the truck boom we see today that combines the utility of a truck with the luxury of a car.
The El Camino was all party up front and business in the back. It was the perfect rig for a general contractor to take to the job site and then give the keys to the wife to pick up mulch and geraniums at the local nursery on the weekend.
What we have for you here, is the closest realization you will ever see to a factory appearing, four-door 1965 El Camino. At first blush, it might seem like an ungainly proposition, but as you can see, Dean Toso’s El Camino, dubbed “Mordor” is sleek, smooth, and now, take the whole gang along for the ride. Dean and his wife Cyndy have three kids, Erik, Dylan, and Colin, and they hail from Fountain Valley, California. Dean was an oilman who worked for Chevron in El Segundo for years but is now retired.
The El Camino Sheds Humble Beginnings
He bought the El Camino in 2002. It was a stalled project and the owner had lost interest. The old Elco had already been transformed into a four-door when Dean took ownership. It was in black primer with a set of semi-hoopty, aftermarket IROC wheels.
Although the car was drivable and the shape looks like it does today, there was still a ton of work needed to get the rig into the condition you see here. The previous owner had blended the front half of a wagon, at the middle of the rear doors, to half of El Camino, at the A-pillars. The Elco even came with a rendering from famed automotive designer Steve Stanford.
Dean and his friend Jeff Beck, a skilled body man who owned a frame alignment shop, decided to become co-owners of the rig and in 2007, the project began to move ahead at full speed.
The body was divorced from the frame and the guys got down to business. Dean wanted reliable power, so he went with an essentially stock 5.3-liter LQ4 Chevy V8 with 330 hp. The pair backed that up with a 4L60E automatic transmission. The engine was dropped into a 1965 Chevelle frame with 24 inches grafted into the middle section. A MagnaFlow exhaust system was modified to fit the new, longer chassis.
A Solid Foundation
From there, a bushel of the best aftermarket products was used for the suspension and brakes. The front suspension employs Detroit Speed coilovers, Classic Performance Products (CPP) lower control arms, and a bigger sway bar. CPP coils and a 10-bolt rearend with 3.73 gears hold down the fort at the stern. CPP disc brakes all the way around deliver sure stops when the anchor is dropped. A two-piece driveshaft with a support brace fabricated mid-chassis delivers power to the tarmac. The rig rolls on a set of Rushforth wheels, 18×8 front and 18×9.5 out back, wrapped in Toyo Proxes tires, 234/40 and 255/45 respectively.
The body was sandblasted and the rotted front fenders were replaced with units from Original Parts Group (OPG). Jeff completed most of the bodywork with the exception of the roof seam, which had buckled and warped after multiple attempts to tame a stubborn hump that refused to be tamped down. Metal fixer John Bingham was called in and he cut a new piece of metal, cut out the old, welded in the new tin, and solved the problem in roughly three hours. Crisis averted.
Around 2008, Jeff relinquished his stake in the build. However, he continued to contribute his talents to “Mordor.” While the body was off the frame, Jeff primered the Elco, and then big-cheese painter, Pete Santini, was brought in to spray the car a Ford hue dubbed Smokestone, a one-year-only color. With color applied, the body was lowered back on the frame, Dynamat was placed everywhere, and the doors were rehung.
However, in Dean’s eyes, the car was lacking something. To remedy that, he decided to add another color above the beltline. The added hue is a House of Kolor Candy Apple red. Not only is the aforementioned Steve Stanford a brilliant artist, but he is an accomplished striper too. In fact, he striped and put the finishing touches on Jeff’s glittery gold-leaf work that separates the two colors.
Inside, Dean now had a passenger compartment that was twice as big to finish up. He put Jesse from California Auto Upholstery on the job. Dean sewed up a set of beautiful, black seats and door cards with a tailored OEM look. He also added a dose of custom details. Dean did the rest of the work, including the headliner. In keeping with the OEM vibe, A 1965 Impala console and a Budnik banjo steering wheel add some subtle but effective touches.
It took a month or so to straighten out the kinks. But since then, Dean is now just driving and enjoying the car. He loves the attention the car gets. He even has a couple of tweaks in mind that he will implement in the future.
Amazingly, “Mordor” was completed in 2009 and garnered a lot of attention at a Goodguys Pleasanton event around that time, but, it has never graced the pages of a car mag. However, Power Automedia christened Dean’s El Camino as ChevyHardcore.com’s Editor’s Pick at the 2021 Greater Ontario Convention Center’s Route 66 Crusin’ Reunion in Ontario, California last summer. If you’ve never been to this show, put it on your bucket list. Who knows, you might see “Mordor” holding court on the shady streets of historic downtown Ontario, California.