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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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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