It’s Corvair Week at CC. The controversial rear-engined Corvair is right up there in the competition as the most-written about car ever. There’s no way we can do the whole story in one day, or even in one week for that matter. So we’re going to focus on certain versions and aspects of the most unique and compelling car ever built on a mass scale in the US. And we’re going to stick to the gen 1 Corvairs, this time around.
The Corvair was infinitely fascinating to me as a kid, and I pored over them in the dealers, and the brochures in the privacy of my bedroom. All the pictures are so familiar, including this one from the 1963 brochure. Why couldn’t that have been me back there, instead of cooped up in the back seat of a hot and crowded black Fairlane sedan? Ah yes, the pre seat-belt era. Don’t take that curve too fast, Daddy! And don’t hit the brakes in the curve if you do! Otherwise Ralph will have a few more statistics to add to his growing list.
I eventually got my Corvair, but it wasn’t a Spyder or convertible. But then it was free, so who’s to complain (write-up coming later this week). I only wish I’d stashed it in a barn for forty years. So it’s time to let our imaginations run rampant, and indulge in a little MMing: which gen1 Corvair for you?
Me: a 1964 Spyder coupe, white with “Antique Saddle” interior. Or maybe black interior. Or a silver Fitch Sprint (above). Or maybe the convertible after all. Or maybe…
1) A 1964 Monza Convertible, at least a 110hp 164 with the 4 speed. Yellow with the “fawn” interior (although I like the jewel like inserts on the 1962-63 buckets).
2) 1962 Monza Lakewood, 102hp, Powergilde in Silver with the red interior
3) 1964 Monza Sedan, White on Black, kelsey hayes wires ( I think they were a factory option on Corvairs at some point) Powergilde, A/C, 110hp 164
4) An original 1960 Monza Coupe, just cause.
Corvairs, just can’t have one……
…And what did Ralph say about that ad?
I owned a black ’61 Monza coupe when I was 14. Red interior…rusted-out floorboards…it had an electrical short somewhere and I never got it running. I paid $25 for it IIRC and got maybe $10 when I sold it, by which time someone had given me a ’56 Chevy 210 4-door wagon to play with so I’d moved on.
That black w/red was striking and I preferred the ’61 trim to other Gen-1’s. So I’ll take a ’61 Monza, 4-speed and rear suspension modified to ’64 specs, please.
I find the second gen 1965-69 Corvairs much more attractive, so I’ll reserve my opinions until the piece about them appears.
Me too, my next toy will be 2nd gen.
I always liked the Gen 1 Corvairs as the attractive Nerds. The Gen 2 ones were the Nerd gone to college, who became cool, a man of distinction. I like the Nerd Corvair and the 007 International flair of the 2nd generation equally.
Meanwhile the Jocks stayed in their hometown, married their high school sweethearts and got fat, lazy and developed heart problems. You can say this is actually what happened to the Mustang from 1967-73… Just got fat, ugly and lazy.
Likewise. The first gen looked like bathtubs.
Ill have a ragtop why not? These werent available new over here as far as I know but there are a few about Ill have a no roof and to hell with it just make sure it has the suspension up grades so it wont do a VW on corners, Black please
Hard to decide between those early 4-door hardtops with the glass “aero roof” and a monza coupe or convertible…
I think maybe the 4-door. So dorky it’s gorgeous. 🙂
No thank you, I’ll pass. The Corvair was a dud – such a pity they put the motor in the wrong end when the styling department had done such a fantastic job. Strange that several of the European copies also had the motor in the wrong place ( I’m thinking Hillman Imp and NSU )
Rear engines were considered advanced engineering for decades, thanks to the advantages of putting the whole drive train in one package. Conventional wisdom held that it was a big part of VW’s success, so GM thought they were building a VW for Americans. Same layout, flat air-cooled engine, etc. (Too bad they didn’t notice VW quality.)
FWD is a single-package layout too, but back then it cost too much to make the driving wheels steer. (With American-sized power and torque anyway…what made it affordable later?)
It took a generation for Alec Issigonis’ transverse front-drive layout to catch on over here. Interesting that the first Mini and the first Corvair came out within months of each other in 1959-60.
VW quality pure urban myth those things blew engines just for fun
Only for those who didn’t know how to maintain them. Properly cared for, few cars are more reliable and durable. Monthly valve adjustments and oil changes served me well back in my air-cooled days, but many owners disregarded that advice and paid the price with burnt valves. Some kept driving afterward and killed their engines altogether. Then they badmouth the VWs, when in fact it was their own fault. The maintenance schedule was not optional.
Some where I have the auto industry magazine liftout detailing the new Rootes factory at Linwood dedicated to Imp production its an original logistics disaster
I can’t speak about the Corvair, but as an American NSU driver for 10 years, I ‘ll maintain that its motor was in exactly the right place. Over the rear wheels, not behind. The all-alloy four-banger was placed transversely, just a few inches behind the back seat. At one liter, it weighed less than 200 lbs, so it achieved roughly 50/50 balance by adding a driver and passenger up front. Unlike its flat-engined cousins, the NSU had virtually no overhung weight beyond the wheels. My little Prinz was very stable at speed but nimble in turns. There was a precision and directness to the steering that I miss to this day. I’d love to find a modern car with the same kind of feel!
There was a time on a snowy curve when I discovered the meaning of extreme trailing-throttle oversteer, but I learned from the experience.
I’d love to see a practical, reasonably priced rear-engined car on the market again.
How about a Lakewood wagon with some Fitch Sprint upgrades? Sounds delicious.
And, Uncle Mellow, the engine is most certainly in the right place, as God, Ed Cole, and Prof. Porsche all intended. 🙂
When I was home for Christmas my freshman year of college in 1962, my dad sent me down to the local Chevy dealer with our 56 Ford Ranch Wagon to make a deal on a new Corvair Monza. I don’t recall if we agreed on the color scheme ahead of time or not but I ordered a 4 dr Monza with fawn beige exterior and red vinyl interior with the coveted bucket seats and 4 on the floor. We lived on top of a small mountain in western Pennsylvania so the Corvair turned out to be just what we needed for climbing the mountain quickly in the summer with the 4 speed tranny and in winter it couldn’t be beat with the engine in the rear. Traction was superb. I always thought the car looked a bit like a bathtub but I really enjoyed driving it. The engine had a throaty roar and the transmission was nothing but slick. My parents liked it so much they later traded it for a new 65 Monza. I never did find out why they did that because my dad would usually keep cars for 7 years. More on the 65 later.
I’m usually a coupe man but with the first generation Corvair that is my least favorite body style. I do like the four door the best style wise. Perhaps the Lakewood wagon right behind. Convertibles are almost always fun as the roof comes down and the van and truck variants are definitely interesting. I’d probably have to say a four door sedan with some good fast goodies and a four speed manual gearbox.
Naturally my gen 1 choice would be the nearly unheard-of 1964 Electrovair:
But I’ll wait for the better-known and better-developed gen 2 version.
I remember an article in popular Mechanics about the electrovair many moons ago,another idea that went nowhere.
1964 Corvair Lakewood station wagon please. I know they’re very rare but in the great tradition of Detroit, the last year of that body style had the best up grades of that generation. Although being the hot rodder I am I’d likely try to put the larger more powerful engine from a 2nd gen Corvair in there.
There’s something decidedly “rat roddish” about the 500 seires stripped down wagon.
Dan, I love that idea of the 500 wagon, with a four-carb motor. And I don’t think I ever saw one. I’d love to know how many of those were built. You win, even though it’s not really a contest.
Cool car Dan I didnt realise they made a wagon, Theres a Greenbriar ?van 4 sale on Trademe at pres that would be ok with a grunty motor on board
i had no idea that they ever built a wagon… incredible!
Not in NZ we werent considered worthy of Corvairs, The wagon I like lots Ill have one instead of the ragtop
The Lakewood was only manufactured 1961-62. However, I have heard of people making a “1964” Lakewood in all but the VIN by transplanting a complete 1964 drivetrain and front suspension.
Gotta be the four-door sedan for me, I’m a fan of the GM “flattop” roofline in all its’ forms. A ’64 to get the best-developed firstgen chassis, the 700 cloth bench seats are nicer than the Monza vinyl buckets to me and make it a four-speed.
In Artesian Turquoise with matching interior 🙂
can’t believe i’m the first to go for the rampside pickup!
Argh, you beat me to it! Good Job! 🙂
I’ll take mine with the go-fast goodies mentioned above and the later rear axle for stability.
I bought my 110 horse, 4-speed 1964 Monza Spyder, black-on-black-on-black for $100 in 1969. My school was just down the street from JC Whitney where I purchased Eelco quick steering arms and dual glass packs. Even with glass packs it was so quiet that I had to run the car on Lower Wacker drive in Chicago, which was a tunnel, to hear it. Sweet!
When I graduated, I faced a conundrum-get rid of the Corvair or my 1960 Plymouth Fury, tow car for my 1968 Bultaco Matador. The Plymouth won out. While on a test drive to sell the car the right rear wheel/tire assembly came adrift due to a failed wheel bearing. The prospective buyer declined to proceed.
I had the wheel bearing replaced, along with an axel, and eventually sold the car, recouping all my costs for repairs and upgrades.
A friend of mine recently asked me what collectible car I would like to have. My response was either a Corvair or mid-sixties Corvette, the only cars of that era that remotely resemble the cars we drive today. I loved my Corvair, but my roommate’s 1965 was a much better car in every respect. I would love to have a ’65 or 66′ Spyder.
I’ve always thought that GM missed a huge market by making the 1961 CorVan too truck like. If they had made the handling more female friendly , “softened” the interior and turned the interior stylists loose , they might have uncovered a real winner. The demographics of those years (baby boom children needing to be schlepped pillar to post) would have been gigantic.
Chevy even alluded to this in a Venture commercial later on:
Make mine the Corvan.
Cool ad the Corvan definitely the best on it what a shame it wasnt exported I wouldnt have bought a VW Kombi.
While the Greenbrier seems pretty bare bones today, its level of creature comforts wasn’t really any different from a Corvair sedan, and better than the VW van. The marketing was geared to “outdoorsy” types; families were depicted using their Greenbrier to go camping or fishing. No one saw the need to turn them into mass-market mom-mobiles because there were already plenty of very profitable cars in the lineup aimed at that market. In the 1961-64 time frame, buyers could choose from at least two, and occasionally three, different sizes of station wagons from four GM divisions, Ford, Mercury, Plymouth, Dodge and AMC.
Definitely ’64 all the way. I just got a ’64 Monza coupe a few months ago (the photo is from the moment it arrived). Had GM introduced the car with the ’64 type suspension from the git-go, Nader wouldn’t have had a leg to stand on. Also, in ’64 the engine displacement was upped to 164 cubes from 145, so that even the base engine performs decently.
I’ll just agree with you. ’64 Spyder, 4-speed, red on red would be my fave. I drove a ’60 sedan once that a friend had; despite its plainness and the Powerglide transmission it drove pretty nicely. Then I test-drove a ’63 Spyder 4-speed, and thought it seemed like a slightly bigger VW in the way it handled.
A Rampside pickup would be a great vehicle for loading in and out of craft shows.
The Greenbriar 4 sale in NZ the vendor is asking 16k plus it belonged to billie joe from greenday sounds expensive to me much nicer things 4 sale for that money rare or not if it dont sell it going back stateside.
The only thing I have to say about the Corvair vans and trucks was, like the VW van, in a collision, the first line of defense was your knees.
The only thing I have to say regarding those old advertising illustrations is the utter fantasy land the artists predict, as if they had no concept of the most basic safety precautions! There was an illustration of an early auto-train concept, where it showed the family car atop an open double-decker auto carrier with the family standing alongside the car behind a small railing as the train was moving at speed through the desert southwest in the 1950’s, blissfully ignorant of just how deadly actually trying to do that could have been!
No different than the front-engined first generation vans, Econoline, Dodge A series and GMC Handivan. They were all “forward control” like a large passenger bus, to maximize space.
Is this a trick question? It seems like another way of asking us to choose between lima beans, broccoli and kale. 🙂
LOL! I too will pass if offered a helping of 1st gen Corvair.
Lima beans with butter. Monza sedan – 1963 or ’64.
I’m not a huge Corvair fan, but my wife is. Sometime during her childhood, her father switched from driving VW Beetles to a Corvair as the family truckster. She has fond memories of them and would actually like to own one someday.
However, I wouldn’t mind one of the Monzas or Monza Spyders. I think those are pretty OK.
Can’t say that I’m a huge Corvair fan, although I do admire the styling of both generations. I remember riding in a relative’s first-generation coupe in the late 1960s, when I wasn’t even 10 years old, and thinking it was awfully cramped and noisy!
While returning from Toronto two weeks ago, we passed a first-generation coupe on the Queen Elizabeth highway…it was amazing how small and delicate that car looks today, surrounded by modern traffic.
My Uncle bought a 1963 4-speed coupe back in the mid 60’s for $150.00
even then I thought that was a deal @ my young age. That car and another uncle’s 1963 Corvette 4-speed Stringray [new] in ’63, has been burned in my psyche ever since. Since Im now a ‘vette nut all is need is a ‘vair, and I can die happy. It’s amazing how things influence you @ a young age end up being an obsession almost, cars never fail to excite me in some way, love them.
Big fan of the coupes. I will take a 64 Monza Spyder, Lagoon (dark) Aqua with black interior. As you can see by my avatar I am a bigger fan of the 65-69 gen…
I bought maroon 13-year-old ’63, 4-speed coupe with black interior with 36k on the clock for $500 around the time of my hs graduation. It looked like it had been garaged its whole life. Even had the owners manual in the glove box. I picked it up and taught myself how to drive a 4-speed on the way home. Beautiful car. But it had issues, I was soon to discover, like oil leaks and an occasional loss of compression that limited how fast it could go on the highway during a fit.
The heavy rear end sticking out the back caused me to roll the thing down a 60-foot embankment later that year, when I took a curve a little too sharply. I walked away, but the thing was totaled.
For me, personally, a ’63 and ’64 Monza four-door. No early Corvair production quriks – well equippped – a looker – and, like most vintage Chevies, I’ll gladly take the four-door Corvair because everyone and their brothers’ have snatched-up the coupes and driven prices through the f&^%$! roof!
Of course, Dinah Shore was enamoured of her ’61 Lakewood Wagon on a Chevy-show preview of the ’61 Detroit Auto Show at Cobo Hall (brought to you in living color on NBC!)
Take the chin spoiler off of this one http://sfbay.craigslist.org/nby/cto/2544222798.html and I’d be set.
1960 Sedan. Blue. Without optional back-up lights, leaving a cheap aluminum cover. ‘Cause I had a Corgi Toy of it. Still do. (not so sure whether the Corgi had the optional back-up lights, if truth be told).
Paul’s next post (Aug 15) has the car perfect. Save the Monzas for the 2nd Gen.
I realize this is 1st gen Corvair week, but please promise me Paul you will spotlight the Yenko Corvairs in due time
Also Ernie Kovacks was killed in a single car accident in his Lakewood wagon, in ’61 I think
I was travelling in mid-August and totally missed Corvair week. That is literally my silver Fitch Sprint pictured above. Purchased from the original owner in 2007.
You’re a lucky man! And I see it has a nice Corvair-inspired companion!