1971-87 GMC Sprint and Caballero : The El Camino Alternatives

In 1971, GMC introduced the Sprint, a vehicle that bore a striking resemblance to the Chevrolet El Camino. Smokey Yunick, a legendary racer and GMC truck dealer, humorously remarked that GMC had two teams of engineers: Chevrolet designed the trucks, and GMC handled the hub caps and ashtrays. While this statement was more satirical than accurate, it highlighted the close similarities between many GMC and Chevrolet models.

The GMC Sprint, essentially an El Camino with GMC branding, mirrored its Chevrolet counterpart in design and mechanical components. It offered a range of engines, from the 250 cubic-inch inline six to the 454 CID big-block V8, paired with manual three- and four-speed transmissions or the Turbo-Hydramatic. Notably, GMC named their V8 engines Invader instead of using the Turbo-Jet or Turbo-Fire designations seen in Chevrolet models.

As the El Camino underwent redesigns in 1973 and updates in 1976, the GMC Sprint followed suit. When the A-body platform was downsized in 1978, both the El Camino and the GMC pickup, now called the Caballero, underwent similar changes.

Although GMC largely mirrored Chevrolet’s offerings, there were subtle differences. GMC’s counterpart to the El Camino SS was the SP, featuring appropriate badging and graphics. Additionally, GMC produced the Diablo, which stood out thanks to flame graphics on the hood, in response to Chevrolet’s 1978 introduction of the upscale Black Knight trim package.

In 1978, with the downsizing of the A-body platform, the Sprint was rebranded as the Caballero. Coincidentally, both the El Camino and Caballero shared Spanish-derived names, with Ford’s competitor, the Ranchero, following the same trend. The branding for all three vehicles embraced a Southwestern flavor. Interestingly, in 1985, production of both the El Camino and Caballero was consolidated at GM’s Ramos Arizpe plant in Mexico.

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While sales of the Sprint/Caballero were modest, peaking at almost 7,000 vehicles in 1979 and hitting a low of 2,126 units in 1983, it provided GMC with a counterpart to the El Camino and expanded the offerings at GMC Truck and GMC-dual franchises. However, as the era of the American coupe pickup came to a close, both the El Camino and Caballero were discontinued in late 1987. GM shifted its focus to compact and full-sized pickups that combined the comfort and features of passenger cars.

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