60,000-Mile 1970 Chevrolet El Camino LS6 Found Behind Trees

“We had to cut down trees for two hours before we could get it out,” Chris Starnes says. The LS6, a 1970 model El Camino, was exposed to the weather, but did have a roof “over its head,” he adds. “I couldn’t believe it. It was just one of the coolest things you’ll ever see in your life.”

Visible in a square opening in the bottom of a cinder-block garage was one of the rarest and most desirable muscle cars ever built, a real LS6.

“All they did was take this block building and put two-by-sixes up on the side, then try to fix old chipboard to keep some of the weather off. But [the car] was exposed.”

The LS6 El Camino had been parked in the bottom of this cinder-block garage from 1990 to September 2018. That’s when Chris Starnes saw the El Camino for the first time in more than 30 years.

After cutting through trees like Daniel Boone, Starnes, his friend Jeff, and the original owner, John Fleenor, pulled off wood panels to roll out the El Camino. Starnes took photos with his cellphone. The front of the El Camino was visible. The hood, roof, and pickup bed were covered with blankets.

Starnes could not believe the events that had unfolded over 30 years that brought him to purchase and extract this rare muscle car, parked here since 1990. Fate certainly played a big role.

“What happened is the man that owned the car was my Little League umpire. When I turned 16—and this was in Kingsport, Tennessee—I wanted to learn how to umpire. I could make more money doing that than bagging groceries for $4 an hour.”

John Fleenor posed for this photo before they freed the El Camino he’d bought brand new in 1970.

John Fleenor became a mentor to teach Starnes how to umpire, and later to referee basketball.

“When I was about 16 years old, I remember telling him, ‘Man, I love that black El Camino you got. That thing is awesome.’”

At that age, Starnes didn’t even know it was an LS6. He just liked the looks. John Fleenor would drive the El Camino to the ball field “once or twice a year.”

“I told him, ‘Mr. Fleenor, if you ever decide to sell it to me, I’d love to have it.’”

The car had been draped with several blankets, which might have promoted some surface rust on the body.

Starnes was raised a car enthusiast by his father, who had numerous big-block Chevelles and hot Camaros, such as a 1968 RS and a “split-bumper” 1970 model. So he was always on the lookout for muscle Chevys.

In June 2018, Starnes was on the Hot Rod Power Tour with his two sons, Devin, age 12, and Reese, age 10. They were delayed from Raleigh to Charlotte, and had stopped at a Wendy’s in Ashville, North Carolina. While standing in line, Starnes was surprised to see a Facebook message from Fleenor. The message read, “Please call me when you get time.”

“I called him, and he said, ‘Man, I’m watching you on Facebook on that Power Tour with all those pictures of your boys.’”

Starnes says, “I was just in awe. I took one of my buddies with me that has a car restoration/parts business here, and we just couldn’t believe it. It’s just one of the coolest things you’ll ever see in your life.”

“I said, ‘Yes sir, I’m having a ball, the most fun I’ve ever had in a car.’

“And he said, ‘Well, it’s time.’

“I said, ‘It’s time for what?’

“He said, ‘I want you to have my El Camino.’”

As they talked, Fleenor brought up the fact that this El Camino was an LS6, which Starnes didn’t know. He did know an LS6 was a very valuable muscle car.

Under the hood was the old Monte Carlo 454, vintage 1973.

Fleenor tells us, “I wanted it to go somewhere where I knew who had it and I didn’t have to worry about it, and I like Chris. He’s been a good friend of mine, like I say, most of his life, and we’re both in the same area, about 10 miles apart.”

Starnes told his old friend he could not afford an LS6 El Camino at the time.

Fleenor replied, “I just told you I want you to have it. I didn’t price it to you.”

Three months later, in September 2018, Fleenor sent him a text message: “Come get it.”

With the deal came the original, matching-numbers 454, fitted with the closed-chamber, aluminum 454 heads that Fleenor had gotten from NASCAR driver James Hilton.

“He told me what price it was going to take to buy it,” says Starnes, “which was very fair. I guess it was beyond fair. I took him the money and picked it up. It was the first it had seen daylight in 28 years.”

This purchase led Starnes to the cinder-block garage adjacent to trees that had to be cut down to remove the El Camino.

Fleenor, 72 today, would have been 24 in 1970. He said he specifically wanted an El Camino with an LS6, which he couldn’t order until January 1, 1970. Even then, he had to wait seven to eight weeks for the truck to arrive at Looney Chevrolet in Kingsport, Tennessee.

This photo of the engine pad on the original block reveals the matching numbers: the 162254 are the last six digits of the El Camino’s VIN. At the start of that number sequence, 1 stands for Chevrolet, 0 for the 1970 model year, and K for the Kansas City assembly plant. Upside-down is the engine code, T01266CRR. The CRR is the code for an LS6 with TH400 automatic, T is for the Tonawanda engine assembly plant, and 0126 was the build date of January 26, 1970 (01 being the month and 26 the day).

His order included the 450hp LS6, Turbo 400 automatic, and 4.11 Positraction gears. When the El Camino arrived, Fleenor already had a set of wheels and tires—F60-15s to replace the stock F70-14s.

“It was bad,” Fleenor says with a laugh, but apparently not bad enough. His brother-in-law was a friend of a friend of NASCAR driver James Hilton.

“We went over to his shop one day, I think in Erma, South Carolina, and spent a whole day with him. The last engines they ran in 1969, in Riverside, California, were the big-blocks. They changed to small-blocks, so they had all this big-block stuff left over.”

Fleenor ordered the truck in black with white stripes and cowl induction.

Fleenor rounded up hot Chevy big-block parts, including aluminum heads that created “the wickedest-sounding engine that would idle about 2,000 rpm and still sound like it was going to die.”

The El Camino gained a reputation in the tri-city area (Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol). Fleenor says, “I’d just wipe ’em out, whether it was a Hemi or a 429 Mustang, just everything around, I was on top of them.”

He says that when the oil embargo hit, “You couldn’t get gas, much less good gas.” That prompted installing a lower-compression 454 out of James Hilton’s new 1973 Monte Carlo. This was the engine under the hood when Starnes bought the El Camino, but the matching-numbers big-block, minus the original heads, was on the engine stand.

Fleenor ordered his LS6 on January 2, 1970, and waited “seven to eight weeks” for delivery. This makes sense given the engine’s assembly date of January 26, 1970.
The odometer has not quite turned over to 60,000.
Overall, the El Camino is “in very good condition,” Starnes says. However, he does plan to get some N.O.S. front fenders.
The interior features bucket seats and a console with the horseshoe shifter. In the 1970s, Fleenor inserted an AM/FM cassette radio, but he found the original AM radio in his garage.
This original sales invoice reveals the “450 turbojet v8” cost $269 extra. Fleenor was bound and determined to get this engine, which the salesman told him was a midyear option.