California Dreaming: The 1965 Chevrolet Surfer I

For the 1965 show car season, Chevrolet created this memorable ensemble: a custom El Camino roadster pulling a Gaylord ski boat, with each one sporting a muscular 396 big-block V8. Here’s the story.  



Like many factory show cars, the Chevrolet Surfer I had a short service life. The car and its matching boat were shown just twice, it seems: at the Chicago Auto Show on February 20-28, 1965, and in the General Motors Futurama exhibit at the New York World’s Fair that same year. The purpose of the California-themed rig, reportedly, was to promote the brand-new 396 cubic-inch Turbo-Jet V8, a mid-year introduction for Chevrolet in 1965.


For some reason, we could find only a black-and-white photo of the Surfer I alone, shown here on the styling court at the GM Technical Center in Warren, Michigan. A production ’65 El Camino was relieved of its entire roof and greenhouse, creating an open-air roadster pickup with no apparent provision for a convertible top. The wheels appear to be Corvette items with fabricated center caps.

The rocker panels, tailgate, and inner pickup bed panels are trimmed in mahogany (at least part of it in Di-Noc vinyl wrap, we’re guessing). Note the light-duty bumper hitch at the rear and the crossed-flags 396 emblem on the front fender. The big-block V8 became available in the production El Camino in 1966.


West Coast to the max: The custom ski boat and its matching trailer were manufactured by Gaylord Boats of South Gate, California (the same outfit makes pickup bed covers to this day). The hull is fiberglass with a mahogany deck, while the cockpit features 2+2 seating with backward-facing buckets so rear passengers can view the water-skiing action. The trailer’s four wheels and tires match the rolling stock on the Surfer I tow vehicle.


In typical hot rod ski-boat fashion, the 396 CID big-block V8 is turned around to face the rear of the hull and coupled to a Gaylord V-drive that spins a single propeller. Engine dress includes a marine-style cooling system, a Corvette ignition shield, and a set of wild individual exhaust stacks. A chrome surround bar affords minimal passenger protection.

Surfer I seems like an odd name for a vehicle ensemble with a water-skiing theme, but we’re not here to judge. Do the customized roadster pickup or the matching ski boat and trailer still exist today? Honestly, we have no idea, but we’d like to find out.


2 thoughts on “California Dreaming: The 1965 Chevrolet Surfer I

  1. Neither seems too practical, but their great for the show circuit for which they they were designed. Something must’ve happened to all the promotional literature, cause I would think a ton of color glossies would have been taken of that tow vehicle, alone.

  2. As you say totally impractical, those zoomies would be dangerous for passengers as well as very noisy. More sensible would be the usual watercooled manifolds out through the transom with under water exhausts.
    But one guesses that it is purely looks that GM were after
    After all cutting the roof off a wagon would flex badly as well.

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