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Chevrolet’s Corvair was straight out of the box a very different proposition than its counterparts in that market segment. In late 1959 you could buy a 1960 model full of innovative thinking for an American car: Air-cooled aluminum engine pushing out a mere 80hp and placed at the very rear of the car behind a transaxle. It was a full monocoque too and the rear wheel suspension consisted of swing axles.

Earlier this month, Anders choose a stylish series 2 Corvair Coupé for the Prime Find of the Week. You can revisit that article here.

The article got me contemplating what could have been. It all seemed so promising, yet the Corvair ended up living a life in search of acceptance and credibility.

The Corvair was a vision of the future – or so it seemed. Prices for the new model were kept down and well within the economy class of American cars. Chevrolet wanted the Americans to learn to love the “compact” car, and managed to be very convincing in their advertising of how MUCH they had achieved with so little. However, reality was that the bean-counters constant optimizing of production costs lead to a car which could have so easily been considerably better. Nonetheless, the new Corvair met the world as it was, and in 1960 the road ahead looked bright, promising and full of success. The first year saw approximately 253,000 Corvairs produced. That number increased to 337,000 Corvairs in the following year, but that’s where production topped out, with rapid declines the following years.

Corvairs biggest issue was – just like all other rear-engined cars – that it could oversteer. For the untrained and unexpecting driver, the dynamics of a car with the engine placed behind the rear axle could, and still can, surprise. Combined with a primitive swing axle and a fatal lack of an anti-roll bar the result could be catastrophic.

Chevrolet suggested that tyre pressures of 15 psi on the front axle and 26 psi on the rear axle would ensure that the Corvair was better balanced, but the advice was rarely followed by owners or garages, which in turn lead to accidents. Ironic really, as the Corvair was meant to change the industry to something better and safer. It obviously didn’t help matters that Ralph Nader published his new book on road safety, and that he focused on the Corvair to demonstrate all that was wrong with the car industry in the USA. At the same time, Chevrolet launched a brand new Corvair, with fresh lines so sharp they could have almost been Italian. Consumers could even choose a turbo-charged version with an impressive 180hp, and the controversial swing axle had even been ditched for a fully independent rear suspension.

But all of Chevrolets efforts couldn’t overcome the slaying from the press. Despite the many technical advances, the Corvair’s reputation was destroyed. The Corvair offered more style, refinement, and argueably more safety than ever before, but it was too late.

Todays video is from 1963 and the period where Chevrolet were still campaigning hard for all of the Corvairs many competencies. In this advert they let a two-door series 1 roll down a hill. As in finally comes to rest after rolling 15 times, miraculously the cabin is still intact and the engine still starts. 

Corvair Rolled Down a Mountain

In order to demonstrate the "ruggedness" of the Chevrolet Corvair in 1963, a two-door example was rolled down a steep hill, tumbling a full 15 times before coming to a rest. Miraculously, the cabin wasn't crushed in, and the engine fired right up. (Credit: Curious Cumulus Productions, Inc. via Getty Images.)

Opslået af Road & Track Magazine på 21. november 2017

2 Responses

  1. yrhmblhst

    The Corvair was actually one of the ‘safest’ cars built at the time ; it was tested in the 70s and passed all ‘federal safety regulations’ with flying colours – without huge bumpers, padded everything and sundry nannyisms.
    The Corvair was, as stated, no different than any other rear engine car, and not as ‘bad’ as some, but nader chose to pick on GM as they had deep pockets and were afraid of the press/govt. Had he gone after VW of Renault, they would have dismissed him as the buffoon he was/is and told him to uh, ‘get stuffed’. But as it was, nader was able to get paid $500 AN HOUR by the US taxpayers to sue GM as ‘a friend of the court’ over absolutely nothing, and make a name and a career for himself.
    Corvairs are really neat cars actually, and , as stated, the second gen coupes are absolutely lovely. Lotta old car ‘bang for the buck.’

  2. Anders Bilidt

    WAUW! At $500 an hour back then, I think it’s safe to say that Mr. Nadar couldn’t have gotten away with your log-in name… ;-)
    Seriously though, I couldn’t possibly agree more. The Corvairs – both first and second generation – are great cars. And as the poor image seems to stick, they’re also great value as classics. In fact we even featured one as Prime Find of the Week back in December. Not least, a second gen. coupé – just to please you Sir…


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