Right around Thanksgiving 2007, I was on a Corvair kick, and managed to scoop up this Ralph Nader Special for three grand. A four-speed 60s convertible for three grand? I thought I’d gotten a pretty good deal. Unfortunately, I soon found out that I was an idiot.
That’s because Corvairs are (monetarily) pretty worthless compared to their 1960s contemporaries. That’s a good thing for a guy like me. I own five cars 1965 and older, and do much of my own mechanical and body work. I buy low, dump a bunch of money into them, and then never sell anything. I thought, however, I was a pretty good judge of a car’s worth.
Unfortunately, I did little specific research at all on Corvairs, their typical maladies, and their values; therefore, I was the proud owner of a $2000 car at best. It had visible rust holes (no big deal in Michigan), but it ran and drove, so at least I had that going for me. I did have a few valid questions about the car, post-purchase, of course. “Do I hear a couple of ticking lifters?” “Why is this thing smoking from the back end like it’s on fire?” “Why is there no gear oil in the transaxle?”
Needless to say, I got to practice my skilled trades pretty much immediately.
I’ve done a billion things to this car in the six years I’ve owned it, and it’s still probably only worth six or seven grand. I’m over that, but it remains a painful truth. Among the first MAJOR projects I tackled was the valvetrain. My vacuum gauge was flapping all around like a bird in a birdbath at idle, but it was as steady as a winter west wind when revved. Valve guides. And exhaust valves, as it turns out. And lifters. And a replacement for a slightly bent pushrod. And new pushrod tube o-rings. Oh well, I had never worked on a Corvair’s engine before, so it was a learning experience. The new seals kept it from smoking at the McDonalds drive thru (oil was dripping right onto the exhaust manifolds from hardened o-rings). At least that embarrassment was behind me (no pun intended).
The engine isn’t original to the car (that isn’t a big concern among Corvair enthusiasts); it’s a nice low-compression 95 horsepower version from a 1968 model. These are nice engines because they run on low octane gasoline without pinging, and just run well on the street. They are not, however, very powerful, but there are four-carburetor 140s and Turbos out there for those who want to go a little faster.
After I had the Corvair running decently, I decided to change its “proud owner has a mullet” appearance. I started in 2010 by fixing the gaping holes in the quarter panels. I blended in the paint in my garage, and it looks pretty good. My cars are all just nice drivers, and a couple of imperfections here and there are par for the course. Besides, I have an excuse…I’m an English teacher, not a professional painter. As an aside, my Hobart Handler 140 with gas hookup is pretty much the best tool humanity has devised. I love that thing.
In the winter of 2010-11, I decided to do something about the chattering clutch and the gnarled transaxle gears (thanks to the no oil condition in the transaxle when I bought this orphan, an incessant howling was my constant companion). I dropped the whole powerpack in two hours and rebuilt the differential and transmission. Actually, I rebuilt a couple of spares I bought from a local Corvair parts hoarder before I pulled the powerteam; the originals were just too toasted. Even my new/used 4-speed needed a new third gear and a couple of countershaft needle bearings, but I managed to get that whole thing back together and on the road for the spring, just in time to decide that the rocker panels (the frame of a convertible Corvair) needed some work.
It turns out, the rocker panels in a Corvair are of the delightful “flush and dry” variety, which means that the cowl empties water right into them and “washes them out!” That works great until you get every leaf and pine needle in the neighborhood soaking up water like a greedy sponge. The right front of the rocker was toasted, but the left wasn’t too bad. I welded in 12 gauge patches from my favorite parts place, Clark’s Corvairs in Massachusetts.
While I was at it, I repaired the lower fender and a-pillars, along with some wheelwell rust. Measure twice, cut once, for sure! Above are some before and after shots; as you can imagine, the middle was a bare-knuckle barroom brawl. Once this was complete, the Corvair was starting to look and feel more like a car. I love driving it, and summer with the top down is better than just about anything in the world. But I still wasn’t done. The floors were a bit creepy. So, in 2012, I welded new floors in and did some general patching. I also installed a new carpet.
That took care of most of the rust. There are still a couple small bubbles on the doors, but for a summer “beater,” it’s all OK. Unfortunately, I’m not done tinkering on it yet. The clutch is chattering again (probably my fault, I didn’t seal the flywheel bolts correctly the first time, and oil and clutches don’t go together). I need to recover the seats this summer (it has 1970s-style super cheesy seat covers on non-matching black seats). The thing I’m proudest of is that I did much of this work while my family heirloom ’65 Mustang was down to a bare shell in the garage next to it (it’s now looking good, too). Maybe “I never learn” is not something to be proud of.
I think the message here is simple…before you buy your dream Corvair, be a smarter man than I am. Lest I sound disparaging, I’m not trying to talk anyone out of owning one, because they’re really fun cars to drive, they look great, and there are plenty of parts available. Like with anything else, unless you are a consummate tinkerer who loves time out in the garage, buy the best one you can afford–it’s cheaper!
Karma will smile on you for having the care and courage to save one of these beauties. And look at the bright side: You spent your time on something somewhat rare and beautiful, not just another damned muscle car or brougham.
Job well done AARON , your car is fantastic , a car like yours is worth more than 10 grands right now , I am sure you will never sell ,
The rocker panel replacement that you went through is equivalent of open heart surgery on a a Corvair body.
I sold out my 1965 Convertable because I had not necessary sheet metal skills to do the same repair as you did.
Again bravo AARON, enjoy the car that you brought back to life.
You are a better man then me…. Looks great!
That’s a beautiful car. Well done!
Aside from the low-power motor; who cares? It’s a convertible – you enjoy it for the top-down experience, not its speed. It’s a cruiser – perfect for Wifey and me!
I am just getting started on my 1962 Sedan . Decided to replace the floor pans first. don’t know if it runs or not. Rewiring next
Very nicely done.
I’m jealous of your welding skills. I keep telling myself I’m going to buy a mig and go to town, but then I chicken out.
I highly respect your approach to fixing this car up. Much more so than the guy who writes a big check to have it done by a professional.
Congrats on a job well done. It looks great, and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you did it yourself. I love using a MIG welder too.
> Like with anything else, unless you are a consummate tinkerer who loves time out in the garage, buy the best one you can afford–it’s cheaper!
I agree completely. For the Chrysler I am working on right now, I would have been money ahead to buy another one with a better bodyshell and use mine as a parts donor.
This also shows why the value of most old cars drops off rapidly, and deservedly so, the further their condition is from showroom pristine. I laugh at ads for cars with some ridiculous price which the seller tries to justify with “Will be worth $60k once restored!” or something similar. It’s the “Barrett Jackson effect”. Some people don’t realize the hundreds of hours that can be required to restore a vehicle to reasonable, much less concours, condition.
Yes, its the Auction House Reality Displacement Field. Here in Reno every July and August Craigs clogs up with people trying to get BJ prices for their sat for 20yrs junk. With many professional restorations you’re luck to get back $.60-80 on the $1 when you sell.
You should be proud of the welding you did. It’s top notch work. When I welded on new metal panels I would drill holes in the metal and then spot weld in the holes because it would save me from grinding down welds and I was not so good at welding beads. Would you consider the Hobart Handler 140 to be superior to pricey Lincoln welders? What do you think of the cheapie Harbor Freight ones?
Hobarts are made with Miller parts, but are cheaper. I also have access to a cheap Harbor Freight flux core. It works OK, but flux core wire isn’t as nice on sheetmetal. I do use it when I will be welding metal that I can’t get 100% clean.
Cheap welders tend to have a shorter duty cycle and overheat go for the best duty cycle you can afford.
Hobarts aren’t “cheap;” they’re just cheaper than Millers. Even the Harbor Freight variety is OK for sheetmetal work though. Duty cycle isn’t going to apply here for the most part, because you are tacking rather than laying a constant bead (since you obviously don’t want to warp the metal). That’s my experience anyway. If you were doing heavy frame work, it might be a different story, but then you’re on to the 220V welders anyway. I like the 110 because you can dial everything down to not blow through the thinner sheetmetal, and I always use .023 wire (just works better).
Wow, what an attractive car. I envy you for having the skills to accomplish that all yourself.
Terrific job. You are correct that it is very easy to pour too many resources into a car, however, as BOC said, you have the satisfaction of having done it yourself. That is worth more than money at times.
By the way, that shade of blue is my favorite color for a Corvair – they just seem made for each other.
I’ve learned that if you simply look at the numbers, every old car is a money pit.
I have a thing for Corvairs being a Volkswagen guy, it’s that whole flat aircooled engine thing and I have to tell you that you have a beautiful car. 2nd gen Corvairs are one of my favorite designs period and yours is simply beautiful.
The 95 horse engine ain’t that big a deal since the handling and braking were so much better than other cars of its day. It’s a fun car to drive. You probably won’t want to spend much time driving your Mustang once you get it back on the road.
Oh, I’ve been driving the Corvair while I fix it up. I do about 2 or 3 weeks of work on it a year. Next summer, I’ll recover the seats and probably put another clutch in it.
The Mustang’s not so bad, however. It’s been back on the road since 2010. Last summer, I rebuilt its original 289, and added 351W heads, a 204/214 cam, Tri-Y headers, and a Weiand Intake manifold. Years ago, I already added GT level suspension (stiffer springs and shocks) and a 1″ front sway bar. It’s pretty fun to drive, in a different way.
I don’t think you are an idiot. I think you have a wonderful hobby. And your choice of a Corvair confirms that you are in it for good reasons-love of the task, love of the vehicle itself, and of the enjoyment you get from using it for the purpose for which it was intended. Corvair owners don’t buy and maintain their cars as a monetary investment; Corvair owners buy and maintain their cars for the love of the vehicle. As yours has taught you. Happy Christmas!
Thank you! Even if I were rich, I’d still largely drive the same stuff.
Happy Christmas to you, too!
Thanks to all for the nice comments!
Congratulations on such a fine car and on all the craftsmanship that went into it. Thanks for sharing; it’s good for the less-skilled dreamers like me to have it pointed out just exactly what it takes to bring back a rusty and tired car to nice shape.
I’ve never welded, but my truck sure needs some new floor panels… plywood? I know how to work with wood 🙂
Buy a mig and have a play Paul its easy enough if you take your time.
I truly admire you for your skills.
The ’65 Corvair convertible has always been the most beautiful car my eyes ever have seen. Definitely worth the rehab work you’re doing.
I congratulate you.
You’re in Michigan? Did I see your car at the Corvair meet at the Gilmore last summer?
I didn’t attend that show; I think I went to another one that day. Gilmore’s about 3 hours away from where I live, but it has to be one of the greatest car museums in the world. I usually go down once a year for something.
“I didn’t attend that show; I think I went to another one that day.”
I had to skip the Gilmore’s German and Brit shows as they conflicted with the Motor Muster at Greenfield Village, and I had an annual membership to the Henry Ford.
When I was at the Corvair show, I asked if the Gilmore has an annual membership. It does, the clerk in the gift shop handed me an application. So the plan is to skip the Henry Ford membership for next year, and hit everything at the Gilmore. in spite of the distance…I live between Ann Arbor and Detroit.
When I was there for the Corvair show, they had started construction on another building, though I forget if it’s the Lincoln gallery or the Cadillac gallery. Saw some renderings of the Cadillac gallery: patterned after a late 40s Cad dealership, just as the Model A gallery is patterned after a late 20s Ford dealership.
Count me as another envious of your metalworking skills. For years, I have threatened to sign up for a welding class at a community college, but have been too busy. Maybe someday.
And nice Corvair!
Thanks for a well written, interesting commentary on your enviable hobby illustrated by this beautiful Corvair. I would guess that most of us who follow this site wish we had the skills and circumstances to do what you are doing. I hope you will write up your other cars. My father had both a 63 Monza and a 65 Monza both of which had lifter problems early on but we still loved driving those cars. The 65 was quite a bit peppier than the 63.
I like this a lot Aaron,well done.
Those second-generation Corvairs are such great-looking cars. I admire your craftsmanship, but not as much as I admire your gumption (for lack of a better word).
Its tough to be rightside up on a Corvair restoration, I killed a really rusty NY 65 Monza convertible for its 140, which I swapped into my 110hp Corsa which was missing it’s own 140 4-carb heart from many years ago. The Monza was a NY car that had been sitting since 1980, I talked the owner out of restoring it, by telling him the truth, that he would be able to buy 5 nice convertibles for what it would cost to fix that rust bucket.
The cowl/A-pillar was so bad the drivers door would drop 4 inches when you would open it. I took everything that was worth taking for the Monza, and scrapped the rest. I just finished the 140 swap about a month ago. While the 140 was out, I did all the O-rings, gaskets, oil pump, repaired the thermeister, etc,etc,.
My Corvair was a FL car, so the body is pretty nice, except for the left rear quarter under the battery, I can wrench, but I’ve never welded, but I do have the patch panel for the rear quarter ready to go, from Clarks of course.
Corvairs are fantastic driving little cars, I liked mine with the 2 carb 110, but now with the 4 carb 140, which has better heads, its a blast.
Here she is taking in the sun on Miami Beach.
Where the heck did you find whitewall tires that appear to be close to the right size? Are they radials or bias?
Radials, they are the Tire Kingdom cheapie whitewalls, the brand on the side is “Tempest”, I have a big 235 set on my Buick wagon too.
Yeah, the A-pillar rusts out with the front of the rockers because that’s where all the junk hangs up. Those Clark’s patch panels fit great! Love your Corsa…
Thanks, yeah the A-pillar were shot on that parts car, you could see through them. They guy was still convinced that the car could be “restored”, I had to explain the economics of it to him a few times before he agreed to cut bait.
Hey nice car and you do good panel work Ive rebuilt several cars from that condition and still have one of them, one rule though you cant weld rust no matter the equipment I dont bother with gas or flux core wire and just arc weld using my Mig I have a CIGweld 135 100% duty cycle bought at Bunnings in Hobart Tassie.
You have nice driving classic I’d do up a Corvair Paul has convinced me Ralph was full of it and they were ok cars but there are very few out here and no parts so I’ll stick to my Minx for now.
Fantastic! I really like your car and the work you’ve done to keep it alive.
“I buy low, dump a bunch of money into them, and then never sell anything.” I think it helps partially balance out all the hoarders letting once good cars rot away in a field. Keep up the great work, I envy your skills and gumption! (great word choice, pfsm)
Such a classy car! Sleek and sexy without being boisterous or obnoxious in the least.
If you have a spouse, I’m sure they love looking at and riding in this beauty, especially since you did all that work yourself.
As someone born years after these were made, I always think of The Outsiders when I see one. I think I’ll have to watch that this week…
Yeah, these are before my time, too. My wife actually doesn’t really dig the Corvair that much. I drove it around for years with an interior that was pretty gross, and I think it left a bad impression on her. It’s her least favorite of my cars. She also spent about two hours in the driveway on a 45 degree day resewing the rear window into the top by hand (it had separated). Her hands were just about blue by the time she was done. I married very well.
I’m sure she prefers your tinkering in the garage/driveway versus carousing around! Believe you me! I don’t keep up too much here, but clicked your name and read one of your other articles (Cavalier); it sounds like you’re a great husband, I’m sure she’s thankful this year! I liked reading your writings, no unnecessary ranting or raving, a clear piece without B.S.
Beautiful car! You should be proud of your efforts and I admire your stewardship of this vehicle!
Awesome job, and nice to see one restored. I want that generation body style for my next toy.
I swear every time one of these shows up here I go trolling craigslist for one, these are such a cool little car that is even actually affordable.
What a great car and you have done great work on it.
But….speaking from experience, you are financially much better off, in fact ENORMOUSLY better off financially, buying a car that is a completely restored, perfect example, especially of a Corvair. You’ll never make money restoring a car like this. But you can have a lot of fun doing it, and if that’s your thing, then it’s truly worth it.
I just turned low landscape trailer into a stock/anything trailer with my old Lincoln stick welder that I mounted on a lawnmower. I’m self taught and I have been feeling pretty proud of my welding. You just ruined that.
Really good job and I really like your tenacity. I have had my antique car forever and welding a couple spots is probably next. You just gave me a much higher mark to shoot for.
I’m giving you an A+ on everything, including citizenship. I’m especially impressed by the way you fixed the ravages caused by Rust and Rot rocker panels.
Those 2nd-generation Corvairs, are just plain beautiful. They’re right up there with Jaguar E-Types in the category of Beautiful Cars
Beautiful work, man! You’ve taken a total rust heap and made a nice enjoyable cruiser. The 2nd gen ‘vair is a sweet little ride, in my opinion its a MAJOR upgrade in both style, and handling over the original. This car works VERY well as a ragtop too. Ive always thought that open top cars are best either as small 2 seat roadsters, or huge boats. Midsizer ragtops always came off as girls’ cars but not the corvair for some reason.
Either way, its not a waste of money and effort if you love the car.
Such a pretty car, I wonder if they ever experimented with a flat air cooled 8 in these?
Man, do I want one of these.
Somehow I missed this article when it came out! I’ve just read it now, and really enjoyed it. I’m in awe of folks who can work on such a variety of aspects of a car – oil and filters and minor wiring is my limit! Great job! 🙂
wow you just lived my life I bought a 65 corsa convertible almost word for word the problems I ran into.. your clutch chatter most likely your flywheel is falling apart I thought the chatter was the throw out bearing but we are talking corvair here rebuilt the 140 runs like a new car in garage took her out for her maiden voyage today made 2 blocks FAIL ! I have had many nice cars do my own work but never seen anything like this beast I call it the angry little car because it is always pissed off
I actually rebolted my flywheel when it was last out, so at least that’s unlikely. I do think the flywheel has some pretty deep hot spots or my pressure plate is warped. I had them both machined when things were apart, but it only chatters when everything’s hot, and almost exclusively in reverse.
Having five old cars, I’m lucky to hit 1000 miles or so a year on each, so I’ve decided to wait until I can’t stand it any more. Doing a clutch on one of these isn’t a huge time expenditure, but it’s a bit of a pain.
Our company works in the UP a lot, and you are a model UP’r. In a way, residents there proudly show their independent French heritage even as the generations pass – and even if they are not french. Bon Vivant!
I had a ’62 Corvair 700 wagon, and we share identical experiences. I sold it after it exhausted me. As summer draws to a close, I have been thinking of getting a convert. My wife loves the lines of the second gen ‘vair, but I just don’t think I can do it all again.
I read your ’65 Skylark story and clicked here. I had to bump the old thread to congratulate you. Well done.
Thanks…sorry to disappoint, but I’m a downstater! I feel like I’m a pretty independent dude though… 🙂
Geez Aaron, you’re really pushing me to do a COAL on my ’66 Corsa. After 30+ years I still love the thing.
When I started school in the late ’60’s, the librarian at my school had a Corvair coupe of that vintage in the identical shade of blue. I’ve always liked the styling of the second generation Corvair, and though I have yet to ride in one, it’s good to see people taking the time to keep these classics on the road.
Nice work. I am starting on 65 Convertible. many little rust spots. Question, are the counter weights necessary ? It would save weight and improve gas mileage a bit? Hoping you or some one can shed a little light here.