tbm3fan posted some shots of a ’64 Monza convertible that really brings home how low these were, at 51.5 inches (131 cm). The Focus was something of a pioneer of the taller sedan category, at 56.3 inches. It looks even taller, but then looks can be deceiving, and six inches is a considerable difference.
Although the Corvair was one of the lowest production sedans ever, its interior accommodations were quite good, excellent for the times, actually, due to its flat floor and fairly modest ground clearance, 5.4 inches. That’s a bit low, as I found out the hard way once.
The ground clearance to its front-mounted gas tank is given as 6.6″. That was just a bit less than the timber I encountered on the highway in Iowa one day in my ’63 Monza sedan. It was laying the long way, right in the middle of the lane. And presumably I wasn’t paying enough attention or maybe it was on the far side of a curve, but by the time I saw it, I knew there was not enough time to make a drastic maneuver in the Corvair at that speed, and decided to hope for the best, in terms of clearing it.
No such luck; it jammed under the gas tank, which had the effect of raising my front wheels enough that I had no effective control of the car. We sledded straight forward for some distance, which eventually put us on the shoulder in the gentle curve. But the friction of the timber slowed the Corvair down enough so that it came to a stop on the wide gravel shoulder.
The car was stuck on the timber, and the only solution was to get out the jack and raise the car high enough to extricate the timber. I smelled gas under there, and sure enough, once I pulled the timber out, which had actually been a road sign that someone had knocked down (the sign was on the bottom), I saw a slow but steady drip-drip-drip of gasoline.
I picked up some JB Weld on the way home, and it never leaked again.
Back to this sweet ’64 convertible, sporting two accessory bumper overriders. 1964 is of course the best year of the gen1 ‘Vairs, given the larger 164 ci engine and the standard camber compensator spring. Given that it’s a convertible, most likely, it’s got the optional 110 hp “Turbo-Air” engine, which is a somewhat confusing name, since this is not the 150 hp turbocharged Spyder engine. Chevy had a thing about using “turbo” in their engine naming scheme, prior to the turbocharged engine’s arrival in 1962.
It’s a sweet car, but I never desired the convertible, since back then I used my cars for lots of long road trips in all seasons, and the sedan was just more practical and weather-tight.
We’ve got gobs of Corvairs in the archives, but this one on a ’63 Spyder convertible is the most relevant one.
I remember my 63 EH Holden ground clearance listed as 9 inches under the muffler but of course that is with high profile crossply tyres not radials which having just tried to duplicate the rollout with modern radials on my Superminx required a change in rim size to get the gearing close to original
I was going to say that I would have preferred a Corvair wagon until I realized there wasn’t a wagon after 62.
I think this is one of the few instances where I would think that it’s a toss-up : convertible or 4 door sedan. The 2 door of this generation just doesn’t appeal all that strongly to me.
I have seen a couple of wagons with a complete 1964 drivetrain and front suspension components swapped in.
No mistaking the lower, longer, wider mantra of GM styling at the time!
Oh, how true. I’m not unusually tall (6’1”/183cm), and on multiple occasions I’d get out of my ‘63 convertible and hear, “How does he fit in that thing?”
As has been chronicled on this site a number of times, in the 1960s GM went for low seating with the legs and arms stretched forward, most likely to accommodate low rooflines. Too bad it made for terrible space efficiency, especially in the smaller cars.
My ’64 Monza sedan had a fold-down back seat. I think all Monzas did. It gave the car some cargo room.
Driving home at midnight along Governor’s Highway across rural Illinois, I suddenly encountered a large deer carcass that had only minutes earlier, struck. I was driving my beloved 1988 Ford Festiva LX. The car, which is a tall car, struck that 1200 pound animal and we went airborne across the two lane road. The car’s little 12 inch rally sport tires squealed upon landing and the strike pulled the exhaust off the manifold.
I am glad I had not struck it in the Miata, or anything lower like a Corvair.
Over the course of 12 years, my Festiva struck and killed two deer, and encountered this poor thing, already struck. A good two days afterwards, I was back on the road, and the car smelled like rotting garbage as the entire underbelly of it was covered in fur, drying skin and meat and blood. I had to wait that out because no matter how hard I tried to clean up underneath the car, I couldn’t eliminate that stench of death. Whew!
I think GM’s soft and undamped suspensions in those years contributed to underbelly damage, along with the low ground clearance itself. Measured ground clearance is the midpoint of the range. A stiff leaf-spring suspension won’t bottom out nearly as often as a soft coil spring.
A stiff leaf-spring suspension won’t bottom out nearly as often as a soft coil spring.
And a stiff coil-spring suspension won’t bottom out nearly as often as a soft leaf spring.
Those soft suspensions were probably welcomed across the country back then when a good portion of the roads were tar and chip, gravel, and dirt. Even in the cities, the roads could be kind of rough. A driving visit to NYC made it clear that our MDX has a sporty suspension and low profile tires. A floaty suspension would have been nice for that part of the trip.
Spent alot of time in Corvairs. A lot better than their reputation. They did not tolerate ignorant owners well though. (Tire pressures, maintenance, repairs)
Although it also bears mentioning that the Focus was Ford’s first tall compact car, a full 3″ taller than the Escort it replaced. When my sister had one as her first car, I was pleasantly surprised by how similar the seating position was to my Tribute.
In 1966 when I was about to turn 16 my parents decided that with 2 children driving it was time to get a second car. It was going to be my mother’s car so she got to do most of the choosing, but both my parents thought it was important that we learn to drive standard, so we ended up with a ‘66 Corvair 2 door with 110hp engine and a 4 speed in pale yellow. My mother always preferred standard. It is still one of my all time favourite cars.
About the same time my cousin, who is 4 years older, got a ‘64 Corvair convertible. It was also 4 speed and 110 hp. It was brown with a tan top and a wooden steering wheel. I was very envious of her. It was so elegant.
I think the second generation 2 door is the prettiest closed Corvair, but for the convertible I prefer the first generation (and 1964 for the suspension). I have often thought of buying one but so far I have been able to control myself.
The hole in the gas tank story resonated with me.
My first car not made by the Big 3, and my first car with independent front and rear suspension, was a VW Golf. It was news to me at the time that struts eventually go bad, and that this causes the car, especially when loaded, to bounce a bit on bumps. Thus, the car laden with two people and their attendant gear boing-boing-boinged its way across the Canadian prairie.
Some time after returning home (and getting the struts replaced) I noticed the distinctive smell of gasoline, and found that the plastic fuel tank had sustained some deep gashes, likely from a hard boing at some point.
Because of the cost and trouble of proper replacement, various epoxies were squoze into the deepest, and leaking gash, each providing some months of relief until the car was replaced.
Our family’s 1966 Impala 283 2bbl had stickers on the air cleaner and valve covers advertising it as a “Turbo Fire.” Some GM marketing guy likely earned months of three martini lunches from that flash of “brilliance.”
The big block engines were marketed as “TURBO JET”, including the 1966 396ci.
I bunch of us piled into a Chevy II wagon and went off road in the desert east of Riverside one day. Monoleaf spring was not very stiff. Bottomed out on a rock and punctured the tank. Someone remembered an old trick of using soap to patch a leak. No place nearby to buy anything fancy like JB Weld, but nearest 7-11 sold bar soap. Pocket knife carving it into a plug and we made it back to Redondo Beach.