I think that for many car enthusiasts, there’s at least one specific make and model that he or she identifies with personally – a car that is the automotive embodiment of traits that he or she possesses. For me, one of those cars is the second-generation Chevrolet Corvair. We personify the cars we own, aspire to own, or simply admire, and we often give them names based on their “temperaments” – how well they function and how reliable (or not) they are. A car model’s heritage, history of public acceptance, and ultimate legacy can also play as a metaphor into our own, personal life stories.
More than a few things come to mind when I think about things I have in common with this car. The Corvair didn’t really catch on and find its true purpose in life until well after its launch, with the introduction of the sporty, bucket-seat Monza coupe and convertible for mid-year 1960. And while the first Corvairs were good-looking cars, the second-gen cars really brought the goods in terms of aesthetics. Many of us have our own tales of foundering, say, after high school or college, and I’m no exception. Photography, for example, was something I dabbled in and enjoyed as a teenager, but it wasn’t something I seriously got back into until two decades later. I can also say that in my early 40’s, I’m probably in the best physical shape of my life.
The Corvair never really ran with the big guys, or stated another way, never seemed to make any pretense of having any innate badassery. The limitations of its rear-engine configuration meant that aside from the Yenko-modded Stinger and semi-custom V8 jobs, it was never going to pose any serious threat to the Ford Mustang or other performance-oriented midsizers – not even in its turbocharged Corsa guise. Like the ‘Vair, I’m in decent physical shape now, but I was never going to be an athlete. If you want to see something awkward, try to find VHS footage of me attempting any sport – especially tennis or basketball… and I’m completely fine with that. (Thankfully, there were no camera phones in the late 1980’s.)
It has also occurred to me the second-generation Corvair Monza was kind of like the “Ford Probe” of Chevy dealerships of its day once the Camaro had made its debut. Much like the second-generation, ’93 Probe had arrived in dealerships just in time to be steamrolled in power, performance and popularity the very next year by the newly redesigned ’94 Mustang, it seems the rebooted ’65 Corvair had a remarkably narrow window in which to really shine before Chevy trotted out the Camaro for ’67 as a true Mustang competitor. Granted, a dude named Ralph Nader and a little book named “Unsafe At Any Speed” had something to do with how that whole thing played out, but that doesn’t make it seem any less of a shame – especially considering how the Corvair’s handling bugs had been worked out by then.
Like the Corvair had no direct replacement, I have no offspring nor plans for any. And that’s that. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. My life has its share of fulfillment and priorities, and from what I hear from my siblings, I’m kind of killing it in the Uncle Department. I look at it this way: my siblings were more viable candidates to pass along the Dennis family name and DNA, much like the Chevy II / Nova was better than the Corvair at being an economical compact, and also how the first Camaros were capable of going faster than the ‘Vair. In my opinion and in the Corvair’s defense, neither the Chevy II / Nova nor the Camaro in their late-60’s iterations looked as good as the second Corvair, and neither possessed but a fraction of its mystique. Who made that? What’s its country of origin? Keep ’em guessing, I always say.
Maybe it’s the enduring popularity of the first-generation Camaro and corresponding market prices that make the Corvair seem like a more rational choice for a classic car purchase in 2016. Corvairs in good shape seem inexpensive relative to other classics of the 1960s, with a convertible like our featured car going for about $16,000 in excellent condition, according to the good folks at Hagerty. Given the ’65 Monza convertible’s base price of roughly $2,500 (almost $19,000 / adjusted), this is a car that has…well, just shrugged at depreciation, I guess. Much like I would, I suppose.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, August 20, 2016.