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posted: 8/1/2016 6:00 AM

Two vehicles in one, in more than one way

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  • Video: Classic Recollections

  • 1966 Chevy El Camino

    1966 Chevy El Camino
    Photos Courtesy of Matt Avery Media

  • Jim Wershing first repainted the El Camino its original red color in 1978.

    Jim Wershing first repainted the El Camino its original red color in 1978.

  • Most of its heavy use came with Wershing behind the wheel, commuting to work between Bartlett and Bensenville.

    Most of its heavy use came with Wershing behind the wheel, commuting to work between Bartlett and Bensenville.

  • The El Camino is powered by a 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

    The El Camino is powered by a 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine.

 
 

Jim and Judy Wershing were celebrating in 1976 and for good reason; they had just bought a new family home.

The couple settled into their new Bartlett digs and, with having made such a big purchase, realized they needed to watch their spending. They also needed to update their house. One of the major renovations desired was finishing the basement.

Two years later, in 1978, Jim began the work. He surveyed the basement and knew a whole lot of lumber was going to be required. Still on a tight budget, he went looking for a "cheap truck." He found the perfect hauler: a 1966 Chevy El Camino.

He bought it for $500.

"It served that purpose and a whole lot more," Jim says. In addition to helping with house projects, it gave him an opportunity to hone his auto restoration skills.

Jim & Judy Wershing of Bartlett have gotten a lot of miles out of their 1966 Chevrolet El Camino -- an estimated 350,000 or so.
Jim & Judy Wershing of Bartlett have gotten a lot of miles out of their 1966 Chevrolet El Camino -- an estimated 350,000 or so. -

That summer he did all the necessary bodywork on the dinged up mover and repainted it the original red color. Sadly, that winter an unfortunate accident with a drunken driver left the el Camino totaled. Bummed out but not burned out, Jim decided to keep on trucking.

"I really enjoyed the El Camino," with its 327-cubic-inch V-8 and 3-speed stick, Jim said. "I had to have another one!"

Within a few weeks, he purchased a second '66 from a local salvage yard. He bought it in March of 1980. As he clearly remembers, it was more of a "shell than a whole car." Beggars can't be choosers and the $200 price tag was just right. The "good stuff" from the totaled Chevy was pulled and swapped into the new acquisition. Such things as the engine, drivetrain and rear window were installed to make it a complete and usable vehicle.

After his first El Camino was totaled, Wershing salvaged the engine, drivetrain and other parts to rebuild it on the chassis of a second model.
After his first El Camino was totaled, Wershing salvaged the engine, drivetrain and other parts to rebuild it on the chassis of a second model. -

Aided by his son, Jim Jr., the pair feverishly worked to complete it. By spring it was back on the road. Now, 36 years later, Jim still has and uses the unique machine.

Over the decades he has done quite a bit more to the classic. It's been repainted multiple times but always in the same 1975 Corvette Medium Metallic Blue color that Jim loves so much. The seats have been reupholstered twice and the bulletproof 327 V-8 engine has been rebuilt once. To date, the El Camino has been driven more than 375,000 miles.

Half truck and half car, the El Camino is loved by many auto enthusiasts.
Half truck and half car, the El Camino is loved by many auto enthusiasts. -

Many miles were accumulated during Jim's working years when he commuted from Bartlett to Bensenville. Interestingly, the longest trips have been just up to the Wisconsin Dells for family vacations.

The biggest rebuilds have been thanks to our Midwest winters. They're brutal on vintage car frames and the El Camino wasn't spared. Jim has replaced his Chevy's frame twice -- once in the 1990s and again in the early 2000s. Still, the Chevy is in tiptop shape and Jim and Judy still aren't afraid to put it to through its paces.

"I've hauled gravel, car parts and, back in the day, our kids when they were small," Jim says. "It's not a car but not a truck -- a great combination of both."

• Share your car's story with Matt at auto@dailyherald.com.