Category Archives: Corvair

Radical revelation: first generation Corvair.. later for Nader

Top down at sundown

Top down at sundown

Around dusk the other evening we were fortunate to encounter a truly nifty looking ’63 Corvair convertible at speed heading towards the heart of LA’s too groovy Korea Town. K-Town is where  kimchi connoisseurs congregate, the soundtrack is K-pop and Roy Choi sets the culinary agenda so you know this is one hip car.  The cool driver of this first generation top-drop ‘Vair was clearly delighted to be behind the wheel.

Chet Baker, your car is ready

Chet Baker, your car is ready

The picture perfect bane of Ralph Nader’s existence (and Al Gore’s) is finished in Ember Red and sports full wheel covers. Like the bulk of Corvairs (80%) sold that year, it’s a sporty Monza model.  Chevy stylists emphasized and embraced the horizontal, reflecting the  “populuxe” design aesthetic of the mid century in a measured, restrained way. More than fifty years later we think the design has aged exceedingly well.

The way it was

Outtasite!

While this one is not a top-of-the line turbocharged Spyder, it showed that it still has plenty of “get,”  rocketing out of sight after pleasantries were exchanged. Everything about the little roadster speaks of optimism, the jaunty runabout spawned during America’s shining, yet painfully brief, Camelot era.

Lemon squeezer

Lemon squeezer

Everything came crashing down after JFK’s death and the Corvair was thrown to the dogs, primarily as the result of a conservative public more comfortable with less radical, more traditional, compact offerings from Ford (Falcon, Comet), Chrysler (Valiant, Dart) and American Motors (Rambler American).  Even GM hedged its bet and fielded the very uncontroversial Chevy II and let the Buick, Pontiac and Oldsmobile divisions get into the compact car fray.  Only Corvair was powered by an air cooled aluminum, horizontally opposed motor coupled to a transaxle with four wheel independent suspension and unit body construction. Corvair had more in common with Porsche, Volkswagen, Tatra and even Tucker than it did with an Impala or Bel Air.  It was “too hip for the room,” in many respects.

Business end

Business end

We dig the “dog dish” hubcaps on this less than pristine ’63, finished in Adobe Beige. The crossed flags on the rear deck lid indicates it’s powered by a 2.3 liter motor which sounds a lot smaller when expressed as 145 cubic inches.  That little pepper grinder developed just north of 100 horsepower but the car only weighed 2600 pounds so it’s comparatively quick.

It was extremely maneuverable, perhaps to a fault as Ralph Nader reminded.  One person’s definition of nimble is, perhaps, another person’s definition of deathtrap. Nimble Deathtrap = great band name!

Euroshtick

Euroshtick

Dog dish detail

Dog dish detail

To some extent Corvair got a bum rap.  It was only dangerous if you didn’t know how to skillfully drive it to get the most out of its, shall we say, idiosyncrasies. Fun for some but perilous for others.

Corvair is gone but hardly forgotten.  Corvair people  are a loyal lot and one of the biggest owners groups, among all vintage car clubs, is CORSA — Corvair Owners Society of America.  Why not join them by acquiring one of your own?  We kind of love this 4-speed ’64 teal convertible in nearby Springfield, OH, offered at just under $18K.  It’s half the price of what you’d pay for a Porsche but almost all the fun plus it has an actual back seat!  Don’t let this one pass you by!

Michael Landon, Bonanza’s “Little Joe Cartwright,” hosts this punchy commercial for the high performance Monza Spyder. Did we mention that Chevy was Bonanza’s sponsor?

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‘Vairs so rare and, yes, we care

 

Drought resistant

Drought resistant ’65

This discovery of a beautiful 1965 (second generation) Corvair Corsa got us to thinking what might have been if things hadn’t gone so terribly wrong .  Chevy’s Corvair seemed like the car to beat back when GM, Ford and Chrysler all introduced their respective compact cars in 1960. Ford’s Falcon was a scaled-down big Ford, strictly dullsville and there was nothing innovative about it.  MoPar’s Valiant wasn’t even designated a Plymouth, its tag line was “nobody’s kid brother,” perhaps, because the radical Virgil Exner styling was ‘challenging’ to mainstream consumers.  Corvair, like the wildly successful Volkswagen, was powered by a rear-mounted air-cooled motor.  The Chevy back burner was a 2.3 six  vs. VW’s 1.2 liter four.   What could possibly go wrong?

As we now know, GM cheaped out on the  suspension, neglecting to install an anti roll bar, the result being that, in less than capable hands, first generation Corvairs were prone to oversteer, a condition where the back end seems to be trying to catch up to the front.  This game of catch-up could cause the car to loose traction and spin out of control. That boring Falcon and wacky looking Valiant started to seem like better choices and GM, faced with lawsuits, put in a fix a few years later.  Ultimately, GM redesigned the suspension as on our lovely Corsa  but when Ralph Nader jumped in with his Unsafe At Any Speed bestseller consumer confidence ran into a virtual ditch.

The business end

The business end

Corvairs today do have their adherents and we’ve found a few examples on the road that are most noteworthy.  The top-of-the-line Corsa was turbo-charged and really had more in common with Porsche than VW but Ford’s Mustang, really a Falcon adaptation, had taken the spotlight by this time so only the cognoscenti were hip to its enthusiast bona fides.

More air

More air

Corsa represented the sporting side of Corvair and the Corvair 95 line of vans and trucks were about utility.  We found a seldom seen Rampside pick up the other day and just love the “work around” necessitated by the fact the motor housing intrudes into the load bed.  Instead of a tailgate in the back, Chevy installed a side ramp so you could roll your lawnmower right up from the sidewalk.  Necessity is, truly, a mother.

Corvair ramps up

Corvair ramps up

Patina to spare

We think the wooden railings are a nice folk art touch that compliment the patina, don’t you?

Early Corvairs, such as this ’62 Monza coupe, captured by Feral Cars fan Peter Andrews, present an attitude of hope and promise.  America had met the compact car challenge head on with its own rear engined, air-cooled, compact car head on which, as it happened, was the kind of collision you might face if you had the misfortune to loose control when the rear end decided to do its swing thing.  Feel free to insert JFK analogies here.

Spinthrift

Spinthrift

We do want to offer a shot of the earliest Corvair we could find.  It’s a 1960 four door sedan that proudly wears an oversize winged Chevy emblem on its (front) trunk.  It’s a car used for everyday transportation in Cuba.  Feel free to insert Fidel Castro analogies here.

Suddenly, it's 1960!

Suddenly, it’s 1960!

When the redesigned ’65 Corvair was launched it seemed that GM did harbor some hope of a comeback as evidenced by this commercial heralding it as “the new international beauty.”  The comely blonde seen admiring the car on the sand hammered home the point in a shapely way.

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Monza mia! Vintage ‘Vair gets some back..

Cool Corvair custom cutie

Kinda nice ’63 Corvair Monza finished in Riverside Red  BUT.. yeah, but somebody made head rest nacelles a la Thunderbird Roadster of that era out of plywood.  No foolin’, either plywood or re-purposed particle board, wrapped in some kind of upholstrey-like vinyl covering (or is it high end contact paper?) constitutes the “Speed Racer” aspect of this one-off custom.  ’63s, like ’61s, ’62s and ’64s were each just minimal update of the original 1960 model year Corvair. Initially thought of as a VW deterrent, Corvair’s niche turned out to be more akin to Karman-Ghia’s or, even, low end British sports car (MG, Triumph, Sunbeam).  Then along came the Mustang and Ralph Nader and that was that.  Bonanza star Michael Landon sets it out on a suspension-busting cross country jaunt in one of these.

Ultra Vans — they made about 360 of them — were Corvair-based ‘miniwinnebagos.’ Self-powered (though agonizingly slow) you could drive, sleep, eat and — you know — in these thanks to both onboard  fresh and black water systems.  Yeah, you really want to be driving a Corvair-powered marshmallow around the county with a tank full of black water.  Amazing that Nader had nothing to say about this rolling bio hazard site.Screen Shot 2013-09-13 at 10.08.18 PM

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