Buy a convertible cheaply in the fall or winter, and enjoy it in the spring and summer. This formula for open-air classic motoring for less has been around for a long time, and worthwhile opportunities to achieve it actually emerge on occasion. When they do, though, you have to be ready, as I learned the hard way when a prime opportunity to acquire a car that I had wanted for over 30 years emerged. The car was a first generation Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible, the time was September of last year, and the opportunity slipped through my fingers.
The Corvair has received its share of praise here over the years, and although I have never owned, driven, or even been a passenger in one, I can understand the love for this contrarian domestic car. When I first became interested in cars before the age of 10 during the 1970s, Corvairs in rough condition still occasionally appeared in the streets, looking different from anything else. The first books that I read about cars in the local public library, which further spurred my interest in cars, were 1970s books that made many references to the Corvair’s uniqueness, its reputation for oversteer, and Ralph Nader’s campaign against it. As a result, interest in having a Corvair convertible definitely existed in my head almost 40 years ago, and it never really went away.
Call me odd, but several years of owning a Porsche 911 Targa during the previous decade actually revived my interest in the Corvair. I enjoyed the sound of the air-cooled flat six and running through the gears with the wind in my hair, but not the speed camera tickets that came with increasingly frequency as those revenue collection devices proliferated where I live. It occurred to me that a similar experience at lower speeds in a Corvair convertible would be a good idea.
So when I spotted a Corvair on a lift while jogging past a service station in Washington, DC in September, I had to stop for a look, and what I saw looked too good to be true. It was a 1964 Corvair Monza convertible with no visible rust, even under the car. It was clearly a well preserved example of a first generation Corvair convertible. A chat with the garage’s mechanics revealed that the car was indeed for sale by its long-term owner.
This Corvair was not a Monza Spyder with the 150 horsepower turbocharged engine, but rather a regular Monza with the Turbo-Air 110 horsepower naturally aspirated flat six. It was capable of 0-60 mph in 13.8 seconds with a 3 speed manual or in 13.3 seconds with a 4 speed manual, with a top speed of 96 mph — hardly tire-smoking performance, but more than adequate for summer cruising. It was one of 31,045 Monza convertibles and 4,761 Monza Spyder convertibles made in 1964.
Making this Corvair even more compelling was the 4-speed manual and new-looking interior, which included an original optional pushbutton radio complete with Chevy bowtie. The only significant option that it appeared to lack was an air conditioner, whose vents would have been mounted under the radio, but in a car intended only for top-down driving on sunny days, an air conditioner would receive hardly any use anyway.
All of this Corvair convertible goodness was available for a surprisingly low asking price that I could have easily paid, with the long-time owner wanting to sell it before the winter, in part to avoid the effort and cost of storing it for the winter. Alas, I had to pass on it, because I had no place to store it. Having just sold a 1976 Toyota Land Cruiser that had been occupying my garage, I had already resolved to park my daily driver in the garage instead of outside in the summer heat and winter snow, and a family member with an extra garage space had just downsized into a new house with no garage.
There is no way that I would park a 1960s convertible without modern rustproofing outside in my area’s rain and snow, so I had to pass on this fine and affordable example of a car that I had wanted for many years. The moral of the story is that summer classic convertible cruising for less is sometimes possible, and if you are prepared when the opportunity emerges, you can make it a reality. If you are interested in preparing for next year, good hunting this fall!