Engine Choices for '59 El Camino



What are good suggestions for re-powering my ancient '59 El Camino. I?m rebuilding the car as a daily driver. it was built with a 283 but has been running a 350 for a long time. my father’s '59 Chevy got 20mpg all the time with its 235 straight 6. I?m eager to give up the ungodly rush of that 350 with its 2 speed power glide for a more economical 6 cyl and a 5 speed manual. a new crated 6 with computer, fuel injection, etc would be great. any comments or suggestions for me?


Since fuel injection is desired and originality is not a requirement then why not use an LT-1, which is a fuel injected 350?

Pull the Powerglide out and drop in a 700R4, which is an overdrive version of a TH350 transmission.

What you should have then is an El Camino that should get in the mid 20s on mileage, and possibly more depending on the rear axle ratio. With an overdrive trans and 2:56 or 3:08 gears in the rear it may be possible to get in the upper 20s with the mileage.

That’s the way I would do it and it’s unlikely the 6 cylinder would attain this. The V-8 has that all important torque to move the vehicle a bit easier.


I think it’s fantastic that you’re willing to buck the trend of ever-larger and more powerful engines being stuffed into older vehicles. I’m sure a 6 with a manual transmission will be more than powerful enough for this vehicle, with the bonus of increased gas mileage. It will probably run on regular, too.

Go for it!


ya know…i?m a 60 year old guy and i dont wanna have that much horsepower and toque available to me…the old reaction times arent up to bat-out-of-hell acceleration and trans-sonic top end speeds i can get from the 350/powerglide, but tell me honestly that the new LT-1 and 350 would give an average of 20gpm and i might have to change my mind.

the Elkie is ?only? 3200 lbs and my ?90 Toyota pick up truck is 2800 lbs. i?d be happy with the same speed and acceleration of my pick up in the Elkie. after all…i was thrilled with the performance of my fathers 235 Chevy when i learned to drive it in the deserts of Arizona when i was a kid.


hey…thanks for the encouragement! i was always in awe of the power of that 350! but the smaller 6 does seem to be a workable solution.


Honestly, those 350 cars will easily get 20 MPG and much more with a bit of tweaking.

They will do exactly what the EPA says they will do.

Compare to some of the 6 cylinder figures.

The car my son uses as a daily driver is an '88 Camaro. It has 280k miles on it, has the 305 V-8 (not the LT-1) with the 700R4 OD transmission and still gets 27-28 MPG on the highway.


you know something like a 305or somewhere around there, had plenty of gas mileage and power.


A V-8 does not automatically mean bad gas mileage.
There are 400-500 HP muscle cars now that reel off 30 MPG.

One of my first cars was a 59 Chevy Impala 2 DR but I don’t remember much about mileage on it, but do rememeber I loved those fins and tear drop taillights.
I did have a 59 Corvette 283 that would get 21 MPG steady as a clock at a 70 MPH cruise; and that was with 4:11 gears in it.

If I had that car in today’s world it would probably get modified to some more highway friendly 3:08s and no doubt in my mind it would get 25 MPG or better, even without computer controlled fuel injection.


Why not a 4.2L V-6 mated to the 700R4 tranny? The 4.2 is basically the same block as the 265,283, 327, 350,400 SBC with 2 cylinders cut off. This should greatly simplify the installation and they are available in large numbers. This powertrain should provide you with the best mileage possible with a gasoline engine…


the only thing is that, this car can be hotrodded out with a 305, if you put a v6 in it, then itll never sound truly like a hot rod


plus, i just like v8s


I’d go with a Buick 3.8. I’ve seen the 4000 LB+ LeSaber pull better than 30mpg, and has plenty of power. They are also very durable. You will need to change the rear gear ratio as one reason it gets the mileage it gets is because it turns about 1800 rpm at 60 mph. You might also want to look into 15 or 16" rims and modern tires to go with it.

BTW, I had a 60 El Camino once. 348 and 3 speed, red, mag rims, fill set of SW gauges, wood paneled interior and Buick Riveria bucket seats.


In many cases a V8 will give you as good or better gas mileage then a 6 cylinder. But usually with a heavier vehicle. A light vehicle the V8 will be used for performance and NOT yield as good gas mileage then a properly fitted 6. With a good 6 cylinder and a decent 5-speed auto should yield very good gas mileage…I seriously doubt that any V8 will yield as good a gas mileage for this vehicle.


hey all…thanks for the great info and viewpoints. its all giving me much to think about and persue.


Or, even better (or worse) than the Buick 3.8 would be the 2.8L TBI motor like they used in the late-80’s Camaros and S10s. That thing would be slower than heck, but I bet it would get great mileage.


A V-8 is not necessarily bad on gas in regards to heavy vehicles and city driving.

My Lincoln Mark has the 4.6 V-8, weighs in at about 4200 pounds (without me in it), and gets 18 MPG in town. Highway is 27, with the AC on, and at times when the moon and stars were aligned right - has gotten 30.


I have a 305 with TBI (L03) and a 700R4 in my 93 Caprice with a 2.56 rear. Not a lot of HP (170), but with enough torque (255) that the car never feels underpowered. I get about 21 mpg local driving and about 25 - 26 highway. The car weighs 4000 lbs, but has the lowest rolling resistance of any car I’ve ever owned. I’m guessing this is the same motor in OK4550’s son’s Camaro. By the way, the 350 version is the L05.

The TBI motor is inexpensive to maintain and reliable. Iron heads and an iron manifold, so the famous GM intake gasket leak is not an issue.

Ed B.


The 3.8 was available with a 5 speed in the later Camaros. If you could find a salvageable wreck, you could get the rear end also


Gotta go back to that 283, man. Why not drop an aftermarket fuel injection solution on the 283? Honestly, if you had a little 3 speed manual, and a 3.10 or 3.27 gear set in the rear, and a well-tuned 283, you could get 20 and still have some of that classic feel. If you’re going to put a fuelie V6 in it, you might as well trade it in for an Accord. (Okay, so I don’t feel that strongly about it, no one should have to drive a boring old Accord, but still…)


you gotta be kidding! there’s never been an accord yet with fins!