Cars

El Camino stays in family

BEL AIRE — The Kealey family El Camino has faithfully served three generations of drivers so far. And a fourth generation is waiting in the wings for the Mountain Green 1967 light-duty hauler.

"My dad bought it brand-new," said Steve Kealey, who dated his wife in the El Camino. It was a close call, though, he said, as his father, Gerald "Pappy" Kealey was seriously considering a Chevy Greenbriar van at a local California dealership instead.

"I said, 'Come on, Paps,' " Steve Kealey recalled, and his father relented and went for the more stylish car/pickup. "One of the big spots for us to go was Knotts Berry Farm," he recalled. "I would leave the house and then air up the air shocks and ride around with the rear end up in the air."

The El Camino logged plenty of miles in its original incarnation. "It was a work car," said Steve Kealey, who said his father often hauled heavy loads of firewood in it.

"It was a trash truck for Grandpa," remembers Aaron Kealey. Although he and his brother, Darrell, weren't old enough to drive at the time, they were always excited to slide across the long bench seat with their grandfather at the wheel. "We're going to the dump, we're going to the dump," they would chant.

Time took its toll, though. "Dad had a $29.95 Earl Scheib green paint job sprayed on it," Steve Kealey said.

His father passed away shortly before Steve and his family moved to Kansas in 1980 and his mother handed the trusty El Camino down to him.

"My first job was milking cows and I drove it to work for a while," said Aaron, who eventually opted for another car that had better gas mileage.

When he enrolled in an auto vo-tech program at Salina, it only made sense to pull the El Camino out of storage and learn body and paint work on it. "But there were all kinds of projects to work on, so I ended up working on it after vo-tech," he said.

The body was in pretty good condition, but that faded, glaring green cheapie paint job had to go. There was a dent in the left rear quarter panel and Grandpa Kealey had unceremoniously screwed four hold-down hooks into the skin of the bed to anchor straps for oversized loads.

"There was only a little rust... it was a California car," said Aaron, who decided to remove the chrome trim from the sides of the El Camino while he was prepping it for a fresh Mountain Green single-stage paint job. To accent the body lines, he added a black and gray tape pinstripe down the side.

But as often happens, the truck took another sabbatical. "I stopped messing with it for probably 10 years while I went to college and got married," Aaron said.

In the meantime, dad Steve found himself another hobby vehicle, a slick, low-mileage 1986 Corvette. An aunt willed him the car after her husband died.

"This is the only Corvette I ever even sat in," Steve said. "We weren't ever race car people. I never had any money to spend on a car like this," he said.

The 'Vette has a little more than 34,000 miles on it today. Steve Kealey put new tires on it, fixed the retractable antenna and rewired the ignition after the electronic key (and the car's title) were lost in a house fire.

Both father and son prefer to keep their vintage vehicles pretty much stock, instead of making a lot of modifications.

So the El Camino still runs the original 327 V-8 engine with double-hump heads, although an Edelbrock intake manifold and carburetor have been added. The engine has been overhauled and the factory 2-speed Powerglide transmission.

Cast iron manifolds remain in place, although a Super Sport-style exhaust has been added to produce a better sound out the back end. The El Camino rides on a set of vintage Ultra aluminum wheels, which mount BF Goodrich 215x65x15 radials.

At some point a set of Trans Am bucket seats had been installed, but Aaron, remembering those rides with Grandpa, chose to reinstall the original split-back bench seat. Morgan-Bulleigh recently reupholstered it to match the black door panels and headliner.

He has plans to eventually do a body-off restoration of the frame and to repaint the El Camino in the correct factory hue.

"Aaron is really just the caretaker for now... he's got a big enough garage for it," Steve Kealey said. "I can come over and drive it if I want to," he added.

"It will definitely stay in our family," he said, noting that Aaron's son, Alec, 11, already is talking about when he will be old enough to drive the family El Camino.

Related stories from Wichita Eagle

  Comments