of General Motors
The Chevrolet Corvair is a compact automobile produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1960–1969 model years. The Corvair has the distinction of having been the only American-made, mass-produced passenger car to feature a rear-mounted air-cooled engine; The Corvair engine is an aluminum, horizontally opposed six-cylinder that produced 80 hp (60 kW) in 1960, but later versions produced as much as 180 hp (134 kW). Offered in a wide range of body styles, including two-door coupes and convertibles, four-door sedans, and four-door station wagons. The Corvair—like the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant—were entries of a new compact car class. Corvair rebadged prototypes from Oldsmobile and Pontiac were built prior to the Corvair's introduction, but weren't brought to production. The Corvair Monza, a five-passenger coupe with bucket seats was introduced late in the 1960 model year and found a new sporty-car niche. The Monza Spyder and later Corsa models were among the first American cars to offer a turbocharged engine. Corvair derivatives included the Greenbrier passenger van and commercial vehicles including the Corvan 95 panel van and two versions of a two-door pickup truck.
The Corvair was championed by Ed Cole, holding chief engineer and general manager positions at Chevrolet in the 1950s. As the first American response to the growing popularity of small, lightweight imported cars, design began in 1956 with the first vehicles rolling off the assembly line in late 1959 for the 1960 model year. The car was introduced October 2, 1959 initially as a four-door sedan offered in two trim levels. Two Corvairs were tested at the Riverside International Raceway in Riverside, California, for 24 hours. One car rolled over, but the other completed the drive consuming only one quart (0.95 L) of oil. The Corvair name originated for a 1954 Corvette fastback show car.
The Corvair was a relatively successful model for Chevrolet, with annual unit sales exceeding 200,000 for each of its first six model years. Chevrolet deliberately designed it as a radical departure from the conventional Chevrolet. The rear engine design offered enormous packaging and economy advantages, providing the car with a lower silhouette, flat passenger compartment floor, removing the need for power assists, reducing the need for air conditioning (due to the absence of engine heat blowing over the passenger compartment), and offering dramatic improvements in ride quality, traction, and braking balance. The radically different design also attracted customers from other makes, primarily imports. This was an important and often under-emphasized reason of the car's success. The Corvair stood out with engineering significantly different from other American offerings. It was part of GM's innovative Y-body ("Z"-Body from 1965 on) line of cars, with design and engineering that advanced the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout pioneered by cars including the Tucker Torpedo, Porsche 356, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault Dauphine, and NSU Prinz—and employed by the concurrent and short-lived Hino Contessa.The Corvair's powerplant is an aluminum air-cooled 140 in³ (2.3 L) flat-6 (Later enlarged, first to 145 and then to 164 cubic inches). The first Corvair engine produced 80 hp (60 kW). Power peaked with the 1965–66 turbocharged 180 hp (134 kW) Corsa engine option. The first generation model's swing axle rear suspension, invented and patented by engineer Edmund Rumpler] offered a comfortable ride but raised safety concerns associated with the car's handling stability, and was replaced in 1965 with a fully independent rear suspension similar to the Corvette Sting Ray.
The Corvair represented a breakthrough in unibody construction for mass-produced Detroit vehicles, the most successful automobile of this type up to that time, with 1,786,243 cars being produced between 1960 and 1969. The Corvair was built from uniform molds and relied on the shaping of the glass and doors for help with structural integrity. Convertible versions had special supports welded underneath to compensate for the lack of a steel roof.
4-door station wagon
2-door pickup truck
2,296 cc (2.3 L) Flat-6|
2,375 cc (2.4 L) Flat-6 (1961–63)
2,683 cc (2.7 L) (1964)
2-speed Powerglide automatic
First generation (1960–1964)Edit
The 1960 Corvair 500 and 700 series four-door sedans were conceived as economy cars offering few amenities in order to keep the price competitive, with the 500 (base model) selling for under $2,000. Powered by an 80 hp (60 kW) engine and three-speed manual or two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, the Corvair was designed to have comparable acceleration to the six-cylinder full-size Chevrolet Biscayne. Introduced in January 1960, two-door models have a fold-down rear seat for added storage capacity, which was greatly needed as the spare tire was stowed in the forward trunk compartment.
The passenger compartment was heated by a gasoline heater mounted next to the spare tire in the luggage compartment. While it offered immediate hot air, customers complained of what they thought might be decreased gas milage on cold days and through long winters. Chevrolet redesigned the heating system for the 1961 model year, yet left it up to customers to choose the gas heater until the end of the 1964 model year.
The line quickly grew from utilitarian bench seat sedans and coupes to the more plushly appointed bucket seat interiors of the new 900 series Monza. It hit showroom floors in the Spring 1960. Two available options on Monza were a more powerful engine, rated at 95 hp (71 kW) thanks to a more radical camshaft paired with low-restriction exhaust, and the introduction of a fully-synchronized, four-speed transmission. Despite its late introduction, the Monza sold 12,000 units, making it one of the most popular Corvairs.
The Corvair was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1960.
The 1961 Monza was heavily promoted and sometimes referred to as "the poor man's Porsche". The Monza series expanded with a four-door sedan body style in addition to the two-door coupe, and garnered about 144,000 sales.
A station wagon body-style, the Lakewood was added to the lineup in 1961 which has the flat-6 engine under the cargo floor. It contains a total of 68 ft³ (1.9 m³) of cargo room—58 in the main passenger compartment, and another 10 in the "trunk" under the hood. For 1961 an optional four-speed manual transmission was added. The Corvair engine received its first size increase to 145 in³ courtesy of a slight increase in bore size. The base engine was still rated at 80 hp (60 kW) when paired with the manual transmissions and 84 hp (63 kW) when mated to the optional automatic transmission in Monza models. The high-performance engine was rated at 98 hp (73 kW). To increase luggage capacity in the front the spare tire was relocated to the engine compartment in cars not ordered with All Weather air conditioning and the gasoline heater was replaced by a system of ducts that redirected warmed air from the cylinder heads to the passenger compartment. The gasoline heater remained available as an option through 1964. Corvair was the first of the compacts to offer factory air conditioning, as a mid-1961 option introduction. The large condenser lay flat atop the horizontal engine fan. A large, green painted reverse rotation version of the standard GM Frigidaire air conditioning compressor was used, and an evaporator housing was added under the dash with integrated outlets surrounding the radio housing. All Weather Air Conditioning was not available on wagons, Greenbrier/Corvair 95, or the turbocharged models introduced later due to space conflicts in those models. Chevrolet also introduced the Corvair 95 line of light-duty trucks, which used the Corvair driveline and are forward-control, with the driver sitting over the front wheels, as in the Volkswagen Type 2.
The Greenbrier Sportswagon uses the same body as the "Corvan 95" panel van with the side windows option, but was marketed as a station wagon and was available with trim and paint options similar to the passenger cars, arguably making it the first American minivan. The "Corvan 95" model was also built in pickup versions; the Loadside was a fairly typical pickup of the era, except for the rear engine, forward controls, and a pit in the middle of the bed. The popular Rampside, which, as its name implies, has a large fold-down ramp on the side of the pickup bed. Rampsides were used by the Bell System because of the ease with which cable reels could be rolled in and out of the bed.
In 1962 Chevrolet introduced the 150 hp (112 kW) turbocharged Monza Spyder option for Monza coupes and convertibles mid year, making the Corvair one of the first two production automobiles to come with a turbocharger as a factory option, with the Oldsmobile F-85 Turbo Jetfire of the same year. The 500 station wagon was dropped in favor of the Monza wagon at introduction, however all station wagons were discontinued mid year in favor the new Corvair Convertible and Chevy II (built at the same assembly plant). Self adjusting brakes were new for 1962. Metallic brake linings and a heavy duty suspension consisting of a front anti roll bar, rear axle limit straps, revised spring rates and recalibrated shock absorbers were introduced as optional equipment. The Monza Spyder features a multi-gauge instrument cluster which includes a tachometer, cylinder head temperature and intake manifold pressure gauges, Spyder fender script and Turbo logo deck emblems in addition to the high performance engine.
The Monza Coupe was the most popular model with 151,738 produced out of 292,531 total Corvair passenger car production for 1962.
The 1963 model year saw the availability of a long 3.08 gear for improved fuel economy, but the Corvair otherwise remained largely carryover with minor trim and engineering changes. The Loadside pickup was discontinued at the end of the model year.
For 1964 significant engineering and safety changes occurred, while the model lineup remained relatively unchanged. The engine displacement was increased from 145 to 164 in³ (2.3 to 2.7 L) due to an increase in stroke; the base engine power increased from 80 to 95 hp (60 to 70 kW), and the high performance engine increased from 95 to 110 hp (70 to 80 kW). The Spyder engine rating remained at 150 hp (112 kW) despite the displacement increase of the engine. 1964 saw an improvement in the car's swing axle rear suspension; a transverse leaf spring was added in an effort to diminish rear roll stiffness and foster more neutral handling attributes in addition to supporting a high proportion of the engine weight. Spring rates could now be softer at both ends of the car compared to previous models. The heavy duty suspension was no longer optional, although all models now had a front anti-roll bar as standard. Brakes were improved with finned rear drums. The remaining pickup, the Rampside, was discontinued at the end of the model year.
4-door hardtop (1965–67)
6-door van (1965)
|Engine(s)||2,683 cc (2.7 L) Flat-6|
2-speed Powerglide automatic
Second generation (1965–1969)Edit
A dramatic redesign of the Corvair came in 1965. The new body showed influence from the Corvette Stingray and the 1963 Buick Riviera. The mild coke bottle styling set the trend for GM cars for the next fifteen years, foreshadowing the 1967 Camaro. For the first time, none of the passenger cars had a "B" pillar, making all closed models true hardtops. The second generation's styling was rated timeless when new, and considered contemporary today in comparison to the first generation. A new fully independent suspension, similar in design to the Corvette, replaced the original swing axle rear suspension.
Car and Driver magazine's David E. Davis Jr. showed enthusiasm for the 1965 Corvair in their October 1964 issue:
"And it is here too, that we have to go on record and say that the Corvair is — in our opinion — the most important new car of the entire crop of '65 models, and the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II." "When the pictures of the '65 Corvair arrived in our offices, the man who opened the envelope actually let out a great shout of delight and amazement on first seeing the car, and in thirty seconds the whole staff was charging around, each wanting to be the first to show somebody else, each wanting the vicarious kick of hearing that characteristic war-whoop from the first-time viewer." "Our ardor had cooled a little by the time we got to drive the cars — then we went nuts all over again. The new rear suspension, the new softer spring rates in front, the bigger brakes, the addition of some more power, all these factors had us driving around like idiots — zooming around the handling loop dragging with each other, standing on the brakes — until we had to reluctantly turn the car over to some other impatient journalist ... The '65 Corvair is an outstanding car. It doesn't go fast enough, but we love it."
The base 95 hp (71 kW) and optional 110 hp (82 kW) engines were carried forward from 1964. The previous 150 hp (112 kW) Spyder engine was replaced by the normally aspirated 140 hp (104 kW) for the new Corsa. The engine was unusual in offering four single-throat carburetors, to which were added larger valves and a dual exhaust system; The 180 hp (134 kW) turbocharged engine was optional on the Corsa, which offered either standard three-speed or optional (US$92) four-speed manual transmissions. The 140 hp (104 kW) engine was optional on 500 and Monza models with manual or Powerglide transmissions.
Many new refinements appeared on the beautiful new 1965 redesign. The Corsa came standard with an instrument panel featuring a 140 mph (230 km/h) speedometer with resettable trip odometer, a 6,000 rpm tachometer, cylinder head temperature gauge, analog clock with a sweeping second hand, a manifold vacuum/pressure gauge and fuel gauge. A much better heater system, larger brakes borrowed from the Chevelle, a stronger differential ring gear, a Delcotron alternator (replacing the generator), and significant chassis refinements were made. AM/FM stereo radio, in-dash All Weather Air Conditioning, telescopically adjustable steering column, and a Special Purpose Chassis Equipment ("Z17") handling package, consisting of a special performance suspension and quick ratio steering box, were significant new options for 1965.
By this time, the station wagon, panel van, and pickup body styles had all been dropped and 1965 was the last year for the Greenbrier window van, which was retained mainly for fleet orders, with 1528 being built. In all, 235,528 Corvairs were built in 1965. Chevrolet replaced the Corvair-based vans with the Chevrolet Sportvan/GMC Handi-Van, which used a traditional front engine/rear drive axle borrowed from the Chevy II.
The 1966 lineup remained essentially unchanged from 1965. One change of note was a more robust 4-speed synchromesh transmission using the standard Saginaw gear set with 3.11:1 first gear ratio used by other GM 6-cylinder vehicles. A plastic air dam was installed below the front valence panel to conceal the front suspension and underbody, and lessen crosswind sensitivity. In front, The "lock door" emblem (covering the lockset for the trunk lock) was changed from red to blue and featured a shorter bar. The Corvair script nameplate was moved from atop the trunk lid to a position next to the driver's side headlight bezel. Sales began a decline as a result of Nader's book and the new Mustang that offered V8s up to 271 hp (202 kW) compared to Corvair's 180 hp (130 kW) top powertrain. and rumors of the upcoming "Panther'-the code name for the forthcoming Camaro, slated as a direct competitor for the Mustang. A decision was made to discontinue further development of the Corvair. Production for the model year was down to 103,743.
In 1967, the Corvair line was trimmed to the 500 and Monza Hardtop Coupes and Hardtop Sedans, and the Monza Convertible. This model year was the first with a collapsible steering column. A dual circuit master cylinder with warning light, nylon reinforced brake hoses, stronger steel (instead of aluminum) door hinges, "mushroomed" instrument panel knobs and a vinyl-edged day/night mirror were all made standard equipment. Chevrolet introduced a 50,000 mi (80,000 km) engine warranty on all Chevrolet models including the Corvair. Chevrolet was still actively marketing the Corvair in 1967, including color print ads and an "I Love My Corvair" bumper sticker campaign by dealers, but production and sales continued to fall off drastically. Only 27,253 copies were built.
In 1968, the four-door hardtop was discontinued, leaving three models—the 500 and Monza Hardtop Coupes and the Monza Convertible. All Weather air conditioning was dropped as an option, due to concerns about thermal loading added by the now-standard Air Injection Reactor ("smog pump") which probably hurt sales as factory air became more popular generally in automobiles. The GM multiplex stereo system was also discontinued when new units changed wiring adapters; the Corvair's 9-pin connector would no longer fit the new units. Additional safety features, including side marker lights, and shoulder belts for closed models, were fitted per the federal government's requirements. All advertising was virtually stopped and sales were down to 15,400.
The final model-year 1969 Corvairs were assembled with the Nova in Willow Run, Michigan, the same facility Corvairs had been built from the beginning. 6000 Corvairs were produced of which only 521 were Monza Convertibles. Demand for Novas was high and a decision was made in November 1968 to move Corvair assembly to a special off-line area in the plant, dubbed the "Corvair Room", making Corvairs produced between that time and May 14, 1969 essentially hand-built by a dedicated Corvair team. Assembled bodies arrived from Fisher Body and awaited assembly in the off-line area. A number of collectors and GM executives expressed interest in purchasing the last Corvair, number 6000, but GM management decided that the Olympic Gold Monza hardtop would not be sold. Representatives from the press, along with corporate execs were present at the small ceremony when car number 6000 got its final fittings and drove off the line to the railroad cars with Novas (and a few Corvairs) ready for dealer shipment. It was not loaded on to a railroad car, however. Some accounts state the car was driven to the roof of the facility parked with a few other Corvairs reserved for testing and later scrapped; some claim it went to a GM executive; the car has never surfaced. Reaction to the death of the Corvair was mixed, from sadness and regret such a fine car could not survive in the marketplace, to sharp criticism of Chevrolet's decision they had continued building the car. GM's policy has always been to forbid non-employees from photographing in their assembly plants. The Corvair was the exception, as CBS TV did a short story on the last models, with reporter Mike Pappas on-site at Willow Run when car number 6000 was driven off the final assembly line.
Stillborn third generationEdit
Chevrolet had a proposed a third generation (1970-on) Corvair, essentially a re-skin of the 1965–69 model resembling the 1973 GM A Body intermediates, particularly the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am, retaining Corvair proportions. Having passed the point of full scale clay models, Chevrolet stopped developing the model in early 1968. Unlike the Turbo Hydramatic 400, the Turbo Hydramatic 350 transmission, introduced in the 1968 Camaro and later adopted by most Chevrolet models had been configured for use in the third generation Corvair.
End of the CorvairEdit
According to noted GM historian Dave Newell, Chevrolet had planned on ceasing Corvair production after the 1966 model year. Development and engineering changes were halted in 1966 on the year-old, redesigned second-generation cars with mainly federally mandated emissions and safety changes made thereafter. A variety of factors contributed to Corvair's plummeting sales in 1966. Ralph Nader, attorney and consumer advocate highlighted the Corvair's handling↓ in his book Unsafe At Any Speed published in November 1965. A chapter in the book alleged the 1960–63 Corvair's swing axle design rear suspension contributed to a greater tendency of loss of driver control, spin-out and roll-over. 1966 Corvair sales subsequently fell to half from the sales of 1965.
The Corvair had faced increasing competition from the Ford Mustang, Chevy's own Camaro, and other pony cars in—ironically, a market pioneered by the Corvair Monza. The car had been costly to produce, yet was not offered at a premium price; not a high profit earner for Chevrolet as was the Corvette for example. An increasing lack of interest from the company, especially from Chevrolet's General Manager John DeLorean, and a complete absence of Corvair advertising after 1967 reflected the company's priorities, including promotion of three redesigned models for 1968—the Corvette, Chevelle and Chevy II Nova.
The Corvair was referred to as "the phantom" by Car Life magazine in their 1968 Monza road test, and by 1969 Chevrolet's Corvair four-page brochure was "by request only". An indication of the Corvair's imminent demise was when the 1969 models were introduced: GM equipped all of its 1969 models one year ahead of government requirements with a steering column-mounted, anti-theft ignition switch and a new, square-shaped ignition key. All except the Corvair. It got the new key but was the only GM car to retain the dashboard ignition switch. That final year, only 6000 cars were produced. Cars from November 1968 through May 1969 were virtually hand-built by a dedicated Corvair team in an off-line area of the assembly plant in order to ramp up Nova production (built at the same plant) to keep up with its increasing demand.
Time featured Ed Cole and the 1960 Corvair on its cover for the Corvair introduction in 1959 and said: "its fresh engineering is hailed as the forerunner of a new age of innovation in Detroit." Time reported in 1960: Chevrolet sold 26,000 Corvairs its first two days on the market, taking over 35% of Chevy's two-day total of 75,000. Chevrolet had intended to sell one Corvair for every five Chevrolets. By March 1960, the Corvair comprised 13% of Chevrolet's sales. Shortly after its introduction, the Corvair faced competition from the Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet and was plagued by problems—though according to a 1960 Time report, "many were the minor bugs that often afflict a completely new car." Problems included a slipping fan belt, carburetor icing and poor fuel mileage "which sometimes runs well under 20 m.p.g." The 1960 model gasoline heater was cited as a problem, which itself could consume up to a quart of gas an hour—with Chevrolet engineers quickly modifying the Corvair's carburetors to improve economy.
Motor Trend awarded the Corvair its "Car of the Year" award for 1960.
Car and Driver reported upon introduction of Corvair's revised second generation – Editor David E. Davis said: "We have to go on record and say that the Corvair is – in our opinion – the most important new car of the entire crop of '65 models, and the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II."
In 2007 Time along with Pulitzer Prize winning automotive journalist Dan Neil named the Corvair one of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time, citing the controversy surrounding its rear-suspension and saying it "It leaked oil like a derelict tanker. Its heating system tended to pump noxious fumes into the cabin. It was offered for a while with a gasoline-burner heater located in the front "trunk", a common but dangerously dumb accessory at the time."
Alleged dangerous handlingEdit
The 1960–1963 Corvair handling characteristics↓ became the subject of the first chapter of Ralph Nader's 1965 investigative book, Unsafe at Any Speed. GM had over 100 lawsuits pending in connection with accidents involving the Corvair, which subsequently became the initial material for Nader's investigations. The book highlighted accidents related to the Corvair's suspension and identified the Chevrolet suspension mechanic who had fought management for removing (for cost reasons) the front anti-sway bar installed on later models. Nader's book cited a promotional film created by Ford Motor Company, in which a Ford test driver purposely turned the Corvair in a way to make it appear unstable, as evidence against the Corvair. Nader said during subsequent Congressional hearings, the Corvair is "the leading candidate for the un-safest-car title." Subsequently, Corvair sales fell from 220,000 in 1965 to 109,880 in 1966. By 1968 production fell to 14,800. Public response to the book played a role in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966.
A 1972 safety commission report conducted by Texas A&M University concluded that the 1960–1963 Corvair possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporaries in extreme situations. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a press release dated August 12, 1972, setting out the findings of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing from the previous year — after the Corvair had been out of production for more than three years. NHTSA had conducted a series of comparative tests in 1971 studying the handling of the 1963 Corvair and four contemporary cars, a Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault Dauphine—along with a second generation Corvair (with its completely redesigned, independent rear suspension). The subsequent 143-page report (PB 211-015, available from National Technical Information Service (NTIS)) reviewed NHTSA's extreme-condition handling tests, national accident data for the cars in the test as well as General Motors/Chevrolet internal documentation regarding the Corvair's handling. NHTSA went on to contract an independent advisory panel of engineers to review the tests. This review panel issued their own 24 page report (PB 211-014, available from NTIS)—which concluded that "the 1960–63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests...the handling and stability performance of the 1960–63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." Former GM executive John DeLorean asserted in On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors (1979) that Nader's criticisms were valid.
Car and Driver magazine criticized Nader for ignoring the need of drivers to cope with changes in driving style when operating the Corvair, not least keeping the rear tires properly inflated. None of the issues Nader raised were problems among owners of the Porsche 911, which had the same layout and similar suspension, nor with the less powerful Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle.
Journalist David E. Davis, in a 2009 article in Automobile Magazine, noted that despite Nader's claim that swing-axle rear suspension were dangerous, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen all used similar swing-axle concepts during that era.
Handling (1960–1963 models)Edit
The first generation Corvair featured a rear swing axle design similar to that of the Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle—a design which eliminates universal joints at the wheels and where the rear wheels are always perpendicular to the driveshafts. Unless ameliorated by any of several options, the design can allow rear tires to undergo large camber angle changes during fast cornering, leading to oversteer—a dynamically unstable condition where a vehicle can lose control and spin — and in extreme cases produce lift-off oversteer. As a design option, Chevrolet had considered but rejected the inclusion of a front anti-roll bar on the original 1960 Corvair, which would have ameliorated the car's handling—shifting weight transfer to the front outboard tire, considerably reducing rear slip angles—thereby avoiding potential oversteer.
Instead, Chevrolet relied on tire pressure differential to eliminate oversteer characteristics—low front and high rear tire pressure—a strategy (used on the Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle) which induced understeer (increasing front slip angles faster than the rear). Nonetheless, the tire pressure differential strategy offered a significant disadvantage: owners and mechanics could inadvertently but easily re-introduce oversteer characteristics by over-inflating the front tires (e.g., to typical pressures for other cars with other suspension systems).
While the Corvair offered competent handling, "the average buyer more accustomed to front-engined cars, did not take [into] account the car's different handling characteristics." Chevrolet made a succession of improvements to the first generation Corvair suspension. For the 1962 model year, the front anti–roll bar became available as an option. For the 1964 model year, the front anti-roll bar became standard equipment and the rear suspension was modified to include a camber compensating, transverse-mounted leaf spring extending between the rear wheels to limit rear wheel camber change, and carrying much of the rear weight combined with softer coil springs.
For the 1965 model year, the Corvair received a fully independent rear suspension closely resembling that of the contemporary Corvette. The redesigned suspension reduced the rear roll center to half its previous height, using fully articulated half-axles that offered constant camber on the rear tires in all driving situations. The 1965 Corvair was referred to by Motor Trend as "the first American production automobile on the road with fully independent rear suspension." (the Corvette was considered limited production).
The Corvair engine, unique for an American car, presented a different set of requirements for mechanics. A common problem in the earlier years was oil leakage caused by the higher operating temperatures of the engine as compared to a typical water cooled engine. The higher temperatures led to shorter gasket and seal life. The other cause of the oil leaks was the material used to manufacture the O-rings at the ends of the pushrod tubes. They were incapable of withstanding the Corvair's engine operating temperatures. If the engine reached elevated temperatures during operation, the O-rings became hard and failed to seal, allowing the leaks from the pushrod tubes. When the tubes leaked, the oil would drip onto the hot exhaust manifolds under the heads causing a burning oil smell and in extreme cases, oil smoke could be seen drafting from the rear of the car.
The fix for this, which most Corvair owners now enjoy, is the replacement of the G.M. specified o-ring material with o-rings made from Viton®. Viton®, a fluorocarbon elastomer which can withstand temperatures up to 500°F was first introduced in the mid 1950's but it was expensive and not well proven in the automotive arena and thus was not used by G.M. during the production of the Corvair.
The problem of fumes and gases entering the passenger area via the heater system was endemic to air-cooled engines that used heat conducted from the engine to heat air for the passenger compartment. Carbon monoxide and other noxious gases could enter the passenger areas if exhaust system gaskets failed. The gaskets were inside the heater box air exits and air for engine cooling was used for passenger–compartment heating when the heater was on (or leaking). The 1960 model Corvair used a GM Harrison division gasoline heater located in the front trunk area as its standard heater, similar to the Eberspächer heater offered as an auxiliary heater by Volkswagen as a dealer-installed option. This feature became optional in 1961 and was dropped in 1965 due to weak consumer demand. The Volkswagen Type I Beetle, another automobile with an air-cooled engine, had a heater system which better isolated fresh air from engine cooling air fumes, and was only susceptible to carbon monoxide contamination from the two heat exchanger to muffler seals at the rear of the engine, as opposed to the eight exhaust joints in the Corvair system.
The interior air would also be contaminated if the voltage regulator allowed an over-voltage condition and the original battery vent hoses were not attached. The battery, which was mounted in the engine compartment, could emit hydrogen if overcharged. Chevrolet installed special battery caps and hoses that vented the battery to air outside the engine compartment, but these were often discarded by owners during the car's life. This air contamination problem is illustrated by the fact that many American cities' taxi regulations had prohibited air-cooled engine cars from being used as taxicabs when they derived their heated air from engine exhaust heat, decades before the Corvair and VW Beetle entered the market.
The Corvair engine's cooling fan was on top of the engine. The fan and generator were operated by a belt on the rear of the crankshaft. The criticism was the belt had to turn around two 90° pulleys, each twisting it sideways. While this belt configuration may be uncommon for an automobile, it is common and well proven in other machinery. 1960 and 1961 models with a stick shift transmissions experienced a high occurrence of the fan belt coming off during high RPM, quick gear changes. The problem was due to a number of factors, including improper fan belt tension, an incorrect type of fan belt being used and the high mass of the steel cooling fan. This issue was addressed by a simple addition of two belt guides, one around the idler pulley and one near the fan pulley. The 1964 to 1969 engines used a magnesium cooling fan with much less mass than the steel fan. This, along with the other noted changes, resulted in an very reliable belt drive system.
Steering column (1960–1965 models)Edit
A criticism in Ralph Nader's 1965 book concerned the steering column design. Like most cars of its era, the Corvair's steering column was rigid and could impale the driver in a front-end collision. While the Corvair's steering box was mounted ahead of the front cross-member, it was well behind the frame horns, in what would later be called a "crumple zone", and could, in a severe front-end collision, push the steering column and steering wheel toward the driver. In practice, most driver chest injuries were sustained due to the lack of a shoulder belt, rather than steering column intrusion. Any increase in risk of injury due to steering column intrusion in a front-end collision was, however, more than offset by the absence of an incompressible engine and transmission in the front of the vehicle, which commonly intruded into passenger compartments on vehicles of the era. Chevrolet, aware of Nader's criticism, changed the steering shaft to a two-part design with a frangible joint late in the 1965 model year, and a collapsible steering column was provided in 1967, towards the end of the model's life span. The shoulder belt issue was addressed by the Federal government requiring them in all passenger cars (including Corvairs) for both front seat outboard passengers starting in January, 1968 (anchors for shoulder belts were fitted since 1967, however).
|1960||253,268||US$1,984–2,238||500 and 700 4-door sedan are only models available at introduction; 500 and 700 Club Coupe become available January 1960, Monza Club Coupe introduced spring 1960 with 95 hp (71 kW) "Super Turbo Air" high performance engine option, and 4-speed transmission, gas heater optional, spare tire mounted in luggage compartment, central automatic choke. Sales impeded by U.S. Steel strike shortly after introduction, causing a shortage of new 1960 models. Monza is the first Chevrolet model with 'narrow' 1 in (25 mm) stripe whitewall tire.|
|1961||337,371||US$1,920–2,331||Lakewood station wagon, Greenbrier, Corvan, and Loadside and Rampside pickups added; 145 in³ engine and optional three-speed manual; spare tire now rear-mounted on models not equipped with mid 1961 All Weather Air Conditioning option. Manual choke. First full year of Monza production demonstrates its sales success, pushes Ford to develop Falcon Sprint and eventually Mustang to exploit the small sporty car market uncovered by Corvair Monza.|
|1962||336,005||US$1,992–2,846||Monza Convertible and Turbocharged Monza Spyder added mid-1962, heavy duty suspension optional with front anti roll bar, rear axle limit straps, positraction differential, new Monza full wheel covers, Kelsey Hayes knock off wire wheels added to options, Monza wagon becomes available, 500 wagon dropped- wagons lose 'Lakewood' designation. Station wagons discontinued mid-1962 to provide capacity for other Corvair and Chevy II models.|
|1963||288,419||US$1,982–2,798||Self adjusting brakes and small engine improvements (belt guides, improved oil cooler), new Monza rocker moldings, Loadside pickup discontinued.|
|1964||214,483||US$2,000–2,811||Larger 164 CID engine, improved rear suspension with added transverse leaf spring and revised coil springs, front stabilizer bar added as standard, finned rear brake drums, new optional full wheel covers-std. for Monza with specific centers, new Monza chrome rocker and wheel opening moldings, last year for Rampside pickup.|
|1965||247,092||US$2,066–2,665||Major redesign of the Corvair- all new Fisher Z body, hardtop styling for all models, 700 series discontinued, Corsa series replaces Monza Spyder series as 11th hour change; Greenbrier discontinued mid-year after 1528 built; revised front and redesigned fully independent rear suspension, improved heater and air conditioning systems, numerous small engine and chassis refinements. Mid year introduction of Z17 'steering and suspension" option includes special springs with rates increased approximately 25%, special shock absorbers, a 16:1 steering box and special steering arms. New options include 140 hp (100 kW) engine, telescopic steering column, AM/FM, FM stereo, heavy duty oil bath air cleaner precleaner system with engine shrouding for dust control. Front Chevy emblem painted red.|
|1966||109,880||US$2,083–2,682||Improved 3 and 4-speed synchromesh manual transmissions; last year of Corsa model, Last year of Canadian production at Oshawa. Late 1965 modification to steering shaft adds a U-joint and floor reinforcement to reduce risks of column intrusion in collisions. Tire size upgraded to 7.00–13 from 6.50–13, with narrower .625 in (15.9 mm) whitewall. New "spoke" style wheel covers for all models with specific model centers. Front Chevy emblem now blue (remaining this color until the end of production). New optional equipment includes headrests, shoulder harnesses, 4-speaker Delco FM Stereo Multiplex, power rear antenna, 'Mag Style' (N96) wheelcovers.|
|1967||27,253||US$2,128–2,540||Last year for the four-door hardtop sedan, GM Energy Absorbing steering column, dual circuit brake system, stronger door hinges introduced. New safety three-spoke steering wheel standard. Four-way hazard flashers, lane-change turn signal control, additional padding on instrument panel cover, safety control knobs introduced. 110 hp (82 kW) engine is only optional engine at introduction; eventually 140 hp (100 kW) becomes available as Central Office Production Order in limited production as COPO 9551"B". New "safety" Powerglide shift knob, shoulder belt mount points added. New style standard hub caps for 500. Chrome ring inside taillight lenses widened. New options included Speed Warning, Delco Stereo Tape system. New thin-shell "Astro-bucket" front seats with new vinyl pattern standard on Monzas.|
|1968||15,399||US$2,243–2,626||Air Injection Reactor standard in all markets, 140 hp (100 kW) engine reintroduced as a regular production option, optional All Weather Air Conditioning discontinued, multiplex stereo option discontinued; fuel vapour return line and Ignition Key Warning buzzer new standard features. Front shoulder harnesses become standard after Jan 1, 1968, rear shoulder harnesses are optional all models. Side marker lights (clear in front with amber bulbs, red in rear) added to fenders on all models. New padding around central section of dash; thicker padding on top of dash, steering wheel spokes on Monzas now brushed aluminum (instead of chrome).|
|1969||6,000||US$2,528–2,641||Last year—production through May 1969; 521 Monza Convertibles of 6000 Corvairs produced; minor changes; improved clutch cable design on manual transmission cars, wider bucket seats with new head restraints, wider interior mirror, refined front brake hose design, Front side markers now feature amber lenses and clear bulbs (opposite from '68). 140 hp (100 kW) engine, F41 'special purpose suspension', N44 'quick ratio steering box' Positraction and telescopic steering column remain available. Interior window handles featured clear-colored knobs. Deluxe steering wheel option discontinued. New style ignition, door and trunk keys introduced. The last few months of production cars were hand-built on a special off-line area of the Willow Run plant.|
The Chevrolet Corvair Monza GT coupe toured together with the Monza SS (Spyder) in early 1963, making a further public appearance at the New York Auto Show. Although both cars were based on the Corvair drive train, each represented a futuristic development of the adaptable Corvair design. In the SS convertible, the engine (with a four-carburetor setup) was left in its stock location behind the transaxle, allowing a shorter (88 in (2,200 mm)) wheelbase. Although the SS came very close to production, both cars remained concepts only. The Monza GT is housed at the GM's Heritage Center in Detroit.
A 1966 concept vehicle, the Electrovair II, was a 1966 Monza modified with a 532 volt 115-horsepower electric motor replacing the gasoline engine — following a 1964 version known as Electrovair I. With the 1966 model, silver-zinc batteries were used and placed in the trunk and engine compartment, and the body was slightly modified to accept the conversion. The car was handicapped by the high cost of the batteries ($160,000), a limited driving range (40–80 miles), and short battery life.
Racing and modified CorvairsEdit
From the debut of the Corvair, a selection of high-performance equipment and modifications became available.
Don Yenko, who had been racing Corvettes, could not compete successfully against the Carroll Shelby Mustangs after they arrived on the scene; he therefore decided to race modified Corvairs, beginning with the 1966 model. As the stock Corvair did not fit into any of the SCCA categories, Yenko had to modify four-carburetor Corsas into "sports cars" by removing the back seat; in the process he introduced various performance improvements. As the SCCA required 100 cars to be manufactured to homologate the model for production racing, Yenko completed 100 Stingers in one month in 1965. Although all were white, as the SCCA required for American cars at the time, there was a great deal of variety between individual cars; some had exterior modifications including fiberglass engine covers with spoilers, some did not; some received engine upgrades developing 160, 190, 220, or 240 hp (119, 142, 164, or 179 kW). All were equipped by the Chevrolet factory with heavy duty suspension, four speed transmission, quicker steering ratio, positraction differentials (50 with 3.89 gears, and 50 with 3.55 when Chevrolet dropped the 3.89) and dual brake master cylinders (the first application of this by Chevrolet, to become stock equipment the next year).
The Stingers competed in Class D Production, which was dominated by the Triumph TR4, which was very quick in racing trim; however in its first race in January 1966, the Stinger was able to come in second by only one second. By the end of the 1966 season, Jerry Thompson had won the Central Division Championship and placed fifth in the 1966 Nationals, Dick Thompson, a highly successful Corvette race driver, had won the Northeast Division Championship, and Jim Spencer had won the Central Division Championship, with Dino Milani taking second place. The next year, however, Chevrolet dropped the Corsa line, and the Monza line was not initially available stock with the four carburetor engine; the engine was eventually offered as a special performance option, however, along with the 3.89 differential. The Monza instrumentation did not have a tachometer or head temperature gauges, which had to be separately installed. The SCCA, on the other hand, had relaxed its ruling regarding color, and the cars were available in red or blue. It is believed that only fourteen 1967 Stingers were built, but Dana Chevrolet, who distributed Stingers on the U.S. West Coast, ordered an additional three similar cars to be built to Stinger specifications, but with the AIR injection system to meet California emissions laws, with Yenko's permission. A total of 185 Stingers are believed to have been built, the last being YS-9700 built for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as a tire test vehicle in 1969–1970. Comedian, television star, and car enthusiast Tim Allen owned and raced Yenko Stinger #YS-043 until he sold it around June, 2009.
Longtime roadracer John Fitch was particularly interested in the Corvair as the basis for a spirited road and track oriented car, due to its handling. The basic Sprint received only minor modifications to the engine, bringing it to 155 hp (116 kW), but upgrades to the shock absorbers and springs, adjustments to the wheel alignment, quicker steering ratio, alloy wheels, metallic brake linings, the obligatory wood-rimmed steering wheel (leather available for an additional $9.95) and other such minor alterations made it extremely competitive with European sports cars costing much more. Body options such as spoilers were available, but the most visually remarkable option was the "Ventop", a fiberglass overlay for the C-pillars and rear of the roof that gave the car a "flying buttress" profile.
Fitch went on to design and build a prototype of the Fitch Phoenix, a Corvair-based two-seat sports car, superficially resembling a smaller version of the Mako Shark based Corvette. With a total weight of 1,950 pounds (885 kg), even with a steel body, and with the Corvair engine modified with Weber carburetors to deliver 175 hp (130 kW), the car delivered spirited performance for $8,760. Unfortunately, the Traffic Safety Act of 1966 placed restrictions on the ability to produce automobiles on a small scale; this was followed by Chevrolet's decision to terminate production of the Corvair, which confirmed the end of Fitch's plan. He still retains the prototype however, and occasionally exhibits it at car shows. The car may be glimpsed briefly in the documentary film Gullwing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch.
The ultimate Corvair modification was replacement of the engine with a V8. As daunting as this might seem, two things made it possible:
- The Corvair engine rotated in the opposite direction from most other engines, so that if a V8 was placed in the rear seat area (the added weight of a V8 in the original location of the Corvair engine would be abominable to drive without proper suspension modifications) and coupled to the front of the transmission via a supplied custom made clutch gear and input shaft, this would drive the car in the proper direction with four speeds forward and one reverse.
- The switch in 1966 to using standard Chevrolet Saginaw gear sets in the manual transmission could handle the torque of a V8.
A radiator occupies the former trunk, in the front of the vehicle. However, the former engine compartment in the rear now is available as luggage space. A complete kit to adapt a Chevrolet small-block V8 to a Corvair was manufactured by a company named Crown Manufacturing, for $600. The resulting vehicle weighed only 2,750 pounds (1250 kg), compared to 3,700 pounds (1680 kg) for a small block Corvette, and possessed independent rear suspension of almost the same design. Crown's prototype with a 350 hp (261 kW) Corvette engine recorded a quarter mile (402 m) elapsed time of 12.22 seconds and 105 mph (169 km/h). An advantage of this modification is that the mid-engine design provides optimal handling characteristics for the road, as well as excellent drag strip traction without the need for slick or "cheater slick" tires as seen in front engine cars, let alone modifying the wheelbase as on the FX funny cars of the time. Although a few Corvairs have been modified to accept the Chevrolet big-block engine, the added size of the engine makes the work significantly more difficult, and the result, although a great performer, tends to be unreliable. Yenko Corvair YS99 was one of the 300 or so CORV8 conversions made. It is also possible to install a reverse rotation small block chevy in place of the flat six with many modifications.
Eshelman Golden EagleEdit
The first Eshelman Golden Eagle was an ordinary mid-1960s Chevrolet Corvair retrimmed with special emblems and other ornamentation and marketed through used-car dealers by Eshelman Motors Corporation of Baltimore, Maryland.
By 1967, the model was called the Eshelman Golden Eagle Safety Car and was based on the contemporary Chevrolet line, but now each Golden Eagle had a patented standard 15 mph (24 km/h) impact-resistant "crash absorber" fashioned by incorporating each car's spare tire into the front bumper. Advertising claimed the cars were "Designed for the owner who has a special value for his life and the lives of his loved ones." Known Golden Eagle dealerships included the former Kislack Kar Sales in Houtzdale, Pennsylvania and Plaza Motors in Niagara Falls, New York, but exact sales numbers are not known.
Dune buggies and aircraftEdit
Corvair flat-six engines were a popular alternative to Volkswagen engines in dune buggy applications, and off-road racing. Some Corvair engines have also been used to power light aircraft.
The first Corvair to VW adapter plate and kit was manufactured by Harry Shorman and Richard Lukes both journeyman Machinists with help of pattern maker Larry Fields in Albany CA and installed in a Karmen Ghia for a local Porsche enthusiast, Bud Hopkins in or around 1961
- ↑ The Corvair Decade
- ↑ Wallen, Dick. Riverside Raceway: Palace of Speed. Glendale, Arizona: Dick Wallen Productions, 2000.
- ↑ Corvair Manufacture Accessories
- ↑ Corvair Unibody Manufacture Reference
- ↑ Corvair Production Totals
- ↑ Chevrolet Corvair: Photo History, by Monty Montgomery, ISBN 978-1-58388-118-7, (2004)
- ↑ "Motor Trend Car of the Year Complete Winners List". Retrieved on 2008-09-21.
- ↑ Flory, p. 353.
- ↑ "Car and Driver". Corvaircorsa.com. Retrieved on 2010-11-30.
- ↑ Flory, p.355.
- ↑ Flory, p. 430.
- ↑ Flory, p. 432.
- ↑ Flory, p.506.
- ↑ Nader, Ralph. Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile. New York: Grossman, (revised edition) 1972. ISBN 0-670-74159-0.
- ↑ 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Autos: The Last Corvair", Time Magazine, May 23, 1969 (May 23, 1969).
- ↑ "STATE OF BUSINESS: Rush in the Showrooms", Time Magazine, Oct 19, 1959 (October 19, 1959).
- ↑ "Business: Compact's Impact", Time Magazine, March 21, 1960 (March 21, 1960).
- ↑ 18.0 18.1 18.2 18.3 18.4 "Business: The People's Choice", Time Magazine, Feb 8, 1960 (February 8, 1960).
- ↑ "A Brief History of the Corvair". Corvair Society of America.
- ↑ "The 50 Worst Cars of All Time", Time Magazine (September 7, 2007).
- ↑ Diana T. Kurylko. "Nader Damned Chevy's Corvair and Sparked a Safety Revolution." Automotive News (v.70, 1996).
- ↑ Nader, Unsafe at any Speed, 1965
- ↑ 23.0 23.1 Brent Fisse and John Braithwaite, The Impact of Publicity on Corporate Offenders. State University of New York Press, 1983. p. 30 ISBN 0-87395-733-4
- ↑ PB 211-015: Evaluation of the 1960–1963 Corvair Handling and Stability, National Technical Information Service. July 1972.
- ↑ David E. Davis, Jr.. "American Driver: The Late Ralph Nader". Automobile Magazine, April, 2009.
- ↑ Flory, J. "Kelly", Jr. American Cars 1960–1972 (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Coy, 2004), p. 428.
- ↑ "GM's long road back to electric cars". CNN Money.com, April 07, 2009.
- ↑ Motor Trend January 2011
- ↑ Gullwing
- Cheetham, Craig. The World's Worst Cars: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2005. ISBN 0-7607-6743-2.
- Shattuck, Dennis, ed. Corvair – A complete Guide (A Car Life Special Edition). Chicago: Bond Publishing Company, 1963.
- Assassination of the Corvair and Birth of a Classic
- Filmstrip Advertisement for the Corvair from the Prelinger Archives at archive.org
- CORSA home page – Corvair Society of America
- A Forum for Corvair Enthusiasts, by Corvair Enthusiasts
- Online Corvair Information & Resource Portal
- Corvair Club Germany
- Corvair Autocross and Racing pages by Bryan Blackwell
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