Monogram 1/24 1978 El Camino Camper (OOB)

If it’s one thing we’ve been told a lot in recent times, it’s that you can’t easily label something. I mean, it used to be that many things were of one type or another, and that many apparently simple things were just that: black and white. Of course, that’s not how it is anymore. Now, there’s a whole range of labels you can hang on things, and this can make things confusing. A good example is automotive classifications. You used to have trucks and cars. Simple. It’s one or the other, not both. Now, there are so many crossovers, hybrids, car-based SUVs and truck-based passenger vehicles that you really can’t tell them all without a program.  Does the automotive world reflect society? It’s hard to say.

However, it’s not hard to find a point where things started to get a bit murky, and that was when Ford introduced the Ranchero. It was a weird mix of a standard Ford sedan/wagon with a pick up bed on the back of it. It was essentially the flipside of the coin to the Chevy Cameo, which aimed to add car-like refinement to a pickup. Here, Ford was adding Pickup-like hauling ability to a car. Chevy picked up on it for 1959, and introduced one of the more storied and long-running names in automotive history: the El Camino.

The problem is how do you label something like that? Is it a car-truck (what I call them)? Is it a Pic-car (that’s weird)? Is it a Sedan-up? Is it a Sedan-Utility-Vehicle? Well, it depends on who you ask. The Australians are very smart – they call this class of vehicle a “Ute”; this word describes any car-based vehicle with a pickup bed, like the Subaru BRAT. Personally, I’ve never really understood the fascination with this type of vehicle. It has all the drawbacks of a light pickup (exposed cargo area, limited passenger seating, weird weight distribution and only moderate load-carrying ability) with all the drawbacks of a sedan (generally lower ground clearance, weaker construction, lower-torque engines including no diesels). Not only that, but unlike a pickup where you can rip off the bed and build your own back end, many of these car-trucks have faired-in beds, meaning they’re unmodifiable for some jobs, making them more useless.

However, not everyone saw it my way, and the El Camino has long been a very popular model with collectors. It is often seen as a combination of the street-cred of a muscle car with the manly outdoorsiness of a pickup. In other words, it’s kind of like what you’d expect an Urban Cowboy to drive, and indeed, that does seem to have been a large part of the target market. This was never more true than in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and this was also when the Ranchero packed up its bags and headed into the sunset, leaving the El Camino (and its GMC stablemate, the Caballero) as the only game(s) in town.

The El Camino was, for a long time, based on the Chevelle platform, but when Chevy created the newly downsized Malibu in 1978, they moved the El Camino over to that body line. Thus, the 1978 ElCos were the first of a new breed. Despite using a unique frame, they used a lot of Malibu sheet metal, and the impression was that they were a combination of pickup and Malibu wagon. This new ElCo would, essentially, see the name to its retirement in 1987; although there would be styling changes, much would remain the same.

Given the popularity of the El Camino, it’s not a surprise that model makers were all over the various years of Chevy’s popular, label-defying creation. Indeed, there were Monograms and MPCs of the early fifth generation (1978-1987) in 1/24 and 1/25 respectively, and of course as time went on, the newer versions were made from these original moulds. It should come as no surprise, either, that these kits never really go out of style, and the Monogram 1/24 has been issued in a number of different formats, including a Black Knight version, a customized camper version and more recently in an odd lowrider version. In fact, the kit has proven so evergreen that it was just re-released by Revell with everything from all three incarnations in one box!

While I do love me some reissue action, this is one case where we can go a ways farther back. At the 2016 London Scale Model Show, I was able to get my hands on one of the older reissues of the Monogram kit; the “El Camino Camper”. Putting a truck-like topper on the ElCo seems like a good idea, essentially creating a latter-day Nomad by making what is effectively a two-door wagon out of a car-based pickup. The Monogram camper was actually the second issue of this kit, a year after the 1978 issue in “Black Knight” trim (which my brother has).

So, put on your cowboy boots, GWG Jeans and loose-fitting paisley cowboy shirt (and a leather vest if you’ve got one), and let’s check out a true piece of modelling history!

The Box:

If there’s one thing that Monogram kits usually suck at, it’s box art. (Of course, they also generally suck at “bottle melt”, but that’s another story…) The Monogram kits of this era are no exception. You get a white background with a picture of the completed model and some blocky, black text telling you what it is. That’s it. Generally, they’re not even as dynamic as MPC’s most boring boxes, and they just don’t really want to make you pick up the kit. That is, of course, unless you want the kit they’re selling.

In this case, the El Camino Camper writing on the box is only telling some of the story. If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a closer look at the completed model really tells a different story. The car on the box is an orange ElCo with a white camper top. To be honest, I couldn’t care less, even at that point. In fact, I bought this kit just after I found a (rather expensive) copy of MPC’s “Branding Iron” (to be covered later). I don’t like ElCos enough to buy two of what is really the same subject. So, you’re asking, why did I actually buy this then?

Well, look more closely at the model. Not only is it an orange ElCo with a camper top, it’s also an awesome ‘70s custom! It’s got some awesome 5-spoke mags with tough-looking lettered tires. You know I love lettered tires. Then, check out those stripes! Orange with yellow and mauve stripes? What the heck? It’s so tacky it’s already awesome! Add to the fact that the stripes continue in a completely ridiculously random way onto the camper top and my attention was securely gotten.

More than just another car-truck, the El Camino Camper has some Street Van flair going on. Gotta love those stripes, too! Wait… what does it say on there?

Not only that, though! You can just make out that there are crazy stripes on the hood, too. This thing is getting into mini-street van territory, now! When I saw the gaping maw of the decidedly off-centre and non-standard hood scoop, I knew that this was likely going to be something I had to get. It was even crazier than MPC’s usual silliness. Still waffling a bit, I saw the writing in the decal. I saw the “El” and the “o” at the end, and thought it said the obvious. Then I took a second look, and noticed it was not “El Camino” but “El Macho”. Even the plate said “Macho”!!

This thing is basically an urban cowboy in a leisure suit with all his gold chains and chest hair sticking out. It is literally screaming at you how macho it is, that it can’t be anything else! I saw that and stared to laugh, and when I asked how much he wanted, and we dickered, I came away with one of the more entertaining bits of self-promoting automotive manliness I am likely to ever find. I don’t even know what would possess the folks at Monogram to issue a camper ElCo proclaiming such machismo, but kudos to them, because it’s an instant classic, at least in graphic design! This thing is drowning in disco-era zeitgeist, and is almost a caricature of itself. However, when it was made, it was serious. That makes it even better!

Now, the side of the box isn’t much to look at; you get an upper, rear three-quarters view that shows more of the hood decal, and how awkwardly the “Macho Stripe” has to go over the camper top. There’s also an under-hood shot, showing… wait, what is that? That, my friends, is the turbocharged engine that came with this issue of the ElCo. It’s in the “Lowrider” version in the newest reissue, as you can tell by the crazy hood scoop. As usual, the underhood on a Monogram kit is not that much to look at, and there’s all kinds of “bottle melt” to be seen. This is nothing new, as can be seen from the reissue LUV and the old 1987 GTA.

(Note: Bottle Melt is the term I used to describe moulded-in accessories, such as batteries, fluid bottles and even master cylinders, that seem to “melt” into the inner fenders. Instead of being separate pieces, they’re just extrusions. It looks cheap and amateurish, and it’s an SOB to handle properly. Monogram is famous for it…)

From behind, it’s kinda like a Malibu-based Nomad. Check out that turbo engine, and that bottle melt! Hell’s yeah! Now we’re into some serious Monogram cost-cutting!

As usual for Monograms of this age, the other side of the box has a side view of the car, and a writeup on the kit. I do like the write up; it’s very excited, and is definitely doing all it can to make sure that you know this is a camper. Thing is, I’d hate to camp in something like this; the room inside would be very poor; sitting up would split your skull on the topper, I’m sure.

The other side is not as pic-happy. Look at the butt-drag on that Camper, though! Wait… what’s with that modern Chevy logo on there? This kit was issued in ’79 wasn’t it?

If you’re observant, you’ll notice that the box has a very modern logo for Chevy on it. This wasn’t in use, to my knowledge, in the late ‘70s, so what’s going on? Well, take another look at the two-picture side. It says “Copyright 1979” on one end, but “1996” on the other. What gives? I don’t know, but I have a few Monograms that are from this time period, but in retro boxes. I can only conclude that even as far back as the mid-to-late ‘90s there was an attempt to tap into the “retro modelling” market. It seems odd, since the difference in time was less than 20 years. Still, I’m glad they did it, since it allowed me to beat the price down a bit!

The Kit:

For anyone interested in the new 3-in-1 kit that was recently released, this kit comprises about 3/5 of that model. It has the custom hood, turbo engine and mag wheels. It doesn’t have the stock hood, engine or wheels, nor does it have the tonneau cover. This is not a “stock or custom” kit. It’s custom only, and if you’re not as macho as the titular “El Macho”, then you need to step aside. Like Man-o’-War says: “Wimps and posers… leave the hall!”

The ElMa (short for El Macho, since ElCo is short for El Camino… I’m sure you got that, though) is moulded in red. It’s typical Monogram brittle lurid red, which is, to be honest, not good. Red is a terrible colour to mould things in, because I’ve found it bleeds into even largely inert primers, and painting this thing anything other than red or something close to it might prove troublesome. That white camper top… that’s gonna be a problem. Still, if you like your campers red, then carry on, because your wishes are being heard!

There are three red sprues, a bodyshell and a chrome rack. There’s also a glass rack for the cabin and the camper top, and four tires. The wheels are separate, and don’t appear to be the ones that are supposed to be with the kit. The box shows mags. These are… well, not mags. They’re some kind of ribbed plate thingy. Not sure what to think about that… The original owner at least made sure they fit in the tires, but they aren’t the right wheels. I don’t mind them, I guess, but you can see on the chrome rack where the original wheels would have been. That’s a risk with any used car, real or scale; someone might swap wheels on you for another project!

Here’s what you get! The 2020 reissue will have more, but these are the basics! Check those decals! Also, check those non-standard wheels!

The kit is pretty simple, and is typical of a Monogram of this era. The chassis has moulded-in exhaust detail and gas tank, so painting all this up is going to be a challenge. Now, it IS a custom, so you can cheat there, but I don’t think I will. Maybe. The engine, too, is no MPC motor! It has no separate accessories, like starter or oil filter, and only the alternator is given as an accessory. There’s also no texture on the block or tranny. The turbo setup is fairly non-detailed too, but you can tell what it is. It will benefit from some nice metallizing work, as will the carb setup it sits on.

The chassis is simple, but painting the exhaust system won’t be so. Nice flash, too!
The glass is nice, and there are even clear headlight lenses!

We already know that under the hood is a disaster, but the interior looks no large amount better. There is good carpeting texture on the interior bucket, although there is only very faint detail on the side door panels. I can see I’m going to have to be careful on this aspect. I assume the current reissue will have the same problem, unless they fixed it. The dashboard almost looks carpeted too, it’s so textured. That does give me an idea, though – maybe I’ll do it all in orange/red shag. Damn… a shag dashboard inside a car called “El Macho”??? How can I NOT do that?! Of course, unless you are going to steal my idea (Shame on you! Think for yourself!), then I am a bit concerned that the dash is TOO textured. The dials are raised, which is really weird. The radio is iffy at best, and by and large, the dash is pretty much there to take up the allotted space.

There’s good carpet texturing, but that’s about it. The door panels are super-weak, and there’s not much else going on in the interior. Those arm rests look like trash, by the way…
Why does the dash look like the carpet? Why are the instruments raised? Are those centre things vents? Even the glove box wants to hide, this dash is so poor…

The seats are crap. Straight up. They have no backs, nor even sides. Monogram… go sit in the hall with Tamiya and think about what you’ve done. Seriously? I know they butt up against the back of the passenger cabin, and it’ll be hard to see when the kit is together, but that’s no excuse. So, if you’re into the reissue, be ready for that. One thing it does have, is either a CB or an 8 Track, under the dash. Actually, it might be a radar detector. I can’t tell. I’m sure it’s super angry-macho, in keeping with the ragey-chili-hot motif of the car.

One interesting thing, such as it is, is that the tailgate opens. This is not like the MPC. I can’t say I’m glad about it, though. Twenty bucks says it either fits like a Sherman tank in a Wal-Mart cart corral, or it’s loose as all-get-out and won’t stay closed. Likely best to glue this one in place, UNLESS you want to do some work on the interior of the cargo bed. There’s not much room, but you could throw in some carpet and maybe some fancy paint work, and show it off. If only they made 1/24 Chili Lights….

The chrome is equally as thick and shiny as it is blobby and obscuring of detail. The bade at the top of the grille is a blob, and the light texture on the tail lights is barely discernable. There’s no texture on the exhaust manifolds, either, which is going to hurt the already feeble engine. The tires, though… those are okay. They have a weird, generic pattern to the tread, and will need a gut-tonne of sanding, but they are lettered, and the letters are nicely raised.

The tires are okay – I do like that they are legitimately lettered!
These are the wheels I got. This is not what orignally came with the kit. What ARE they?
This is the chrome rack. Overall, not the worst but not the best I’ve seen.

Instructions and Decals:

Because the kit is of low part count, the instructions are not very big. There are 17 steps, but the most involved one is the building of the engine, Step 4. For some reason, this is all done in one step. It seems weird, since other steps are super-simple, like Step 13, which is putting on the hood, or Step 15, which is the rear bumper. The drawings are all clear and simple, and in some cases they even let you know that some things have been omitted for clarity’s sake. Like most Monogram instructions, they shouldn’t present a problem for even beginner modellers, so long as there’s some test fitting done before the glue goes on!

From these instructions, you can see that the kit is pretty simple. While the engine has far more parts than the driveline, it would have been nice to have separate accessories…

On that note, I’ll bet right now that the bumpers are going to be a pain in the patoot. The rear bumper looks like it has two support pins on the chassis. This is a small miracle, and I thank Monogram for thinking that far ahead. The fit might be dodgy, but we’ll have to see. The front bumper, though… that gives me pause. In step 11, they show the under-bumper roll pan which includes the air dam going on and then the bumper going over it. The bumper might be okay; there are slits in the roll pan and tabs on the bumpers. However, there’s nothing obvious holding the roll pan in place. I’m going to have to use some sheet styrene tabs on this one, I’m pretty sure. Again, I doubt the reissue fixes this problem.

See? It’s just as simple as this! I’m worried about that airdam in Step 11, and dont’ put money on a happy ending with that tailgate. I fear that “simple” is hiding pitfalls galore.

By and large, though, the instructions will do the job. Unless the job is positioning the decals, and then they tell you to look on the box. Thanks. Colour callouts are present, but very basic, and unless the reissue has fixed that, then the internet is going to be your friend for looking up the real colours needed. Thankfully, there are enough of these left out there that this shouldn’t pose a problem.

Now, while the kit is a solid meh, with a low-spec engine bay and a frankly cut-rate interior, the decals rule! Yes, I basically bought this for the decals, and I’m cool with that. The decals are a scream! There are giant yellow and purple stripes. The yellow fades to bright pink (not quite manly enough to be magenta, sorry) and over the pinkish parts (on the side stripes) are the blocky black letters screaming “EL MACHO”! It’s so macho that it’s even block capitals, and leaning forwards!  What is odd, though, is that on the box, the “El Macho” writing looks to be metallic, like silver, or printed as to simulate reflection. The decal is just written in black. I can’t help but wonder if that’s because the box is a prototype, or if it was that way in the original kit, but not this mid-‘90s re-release.

One other neat thing is that the stripes on the hood are offset, and meet to go into the offset hood scoop. For some reason, there’s a black patch in front of where the intake is. Is it so the turbo isn’t blinded by glare? You’ll never know from the current (2020) reissue, because it doesn’t come with this awesome set of decals. As a parting shot, even the custom Nevada license plates proclaim the camper as “Macho”. Totally awesome. No shame, no restraint; just full-on disco machismo thrown at you like so much hair gel.

There’s the reason I bought the kit! Nothing says “Macho” more than Easter-coloured decals with yellow fading to PINK. In case it isn’t macho enough, the custom plates drive it home.

Conclusions:

The Monogram El Camino is almost the poster child for what you can expect from a Monogram of this era. It’s quite simple and lacks a lot of fine details, but it also should more-or-less look the part when it’s done. This isn’t a kit for those super-worried about the finer points of the real vehicle. Indeed, from what I’ve seen, it’s largely inferior to the 1/25 MPC kit of the same thing, but that’s to be expected.

This particular reissue seems to be hard to come by, but I can still recommend it as a project for younger or inexperienced modellers. This is largely because the exact same kit, with more extra parts, is available as I write this, and unless you want the decals, this specific issue of the kit offers no distinct advantages over its newer stablemate. If you’re someone obsessed with El Caminos, then this isn’t going to be a kit you’re super-hot on; the inability to be built stock is really a deal-breaker, I’d say.

Still, I love this kit. It doesn’t try to be anything it isn’t, and that’s fine by me. It’s a cheap-and-cheerful customized car-truck, and while I’m sure there will be fit issues galore, it’s not claiming to be the one ElCo model to rule them all. Because I don’t care for El Caminos that much, I can embrace the in-your-face custom touches and outlandish, overblown decal job. While trying to label exactly what the El Camino is may be somewhat difficult, there’s no issue trying to figure out what this kit is. It is EL MACHO; nothing more, nothing less. If that’s okay with you, then grab it if you see it! If you want a stock version, go grab the new reissue. Either way, you get what you want.

%d bloggers like this: