Heritage Center Classic: 1969 Corvair Monza Convertible

GM Heritage Center 2011 011

This polarizing conveyance is one of the last of its kind: the rarely seen and seldom heralded 1969 Corvair. Chevrolet’s full-line advertisements made little mention of the Corvair by 1969, because it was simply (to them) an embarrassing afterthought in Chevrolet’s hierarchy by that time.  Today, it proudly sits at GM’s Heritage Center in Sterling Heights, MI.


Even today, a Corvair owner can barely back his car out of the driveway without someone barking a Ralph Nader comment at him, and most people who are cognizant of American cultural history have at least heard of Unsafe at Any Speed.  In reality, however, Nader wasn’t responsible for the Corvair’s death at all; in fact, he inadvertently gave it a stay of execution.

Furthermore, the Corvair pictured in this article was not even the subject of Nader’s enmity–the 1960-1963 models were singled out for being unstable.  The Corvair, however, made up only one chapter of the book; many other cars were scrutinized as well.  Later Corvairs were among the best handling cars on the road at the time, with their Corvette-like rear suspension design.  The real reason for the Corvair’s demise can be seen serenely gliding down the freeway at the left of the above picture.

Lake Michigan 2010 012

The Mustang, of course, was the real reason that the Corvair eventually failed in the marketplace.  For the same price, a consumer could buy a completely traditional sporty car with a traditional heater and effortless V-8 acceleration.  Any technician in any town in America could fix it.  For the same reasons the 1960 Falcon outsold the 1960 Corvair, the 1965 Mustang outsold the 1965 Corvair.


And after that, there was no way that General Motors was going to pour more development funds into the Corvair–the Camaro was the inevitable answer to the Mustang, and Chevrolet didn’t need two sporty cars that cast the same sized shadow.  GM originally planned to discontinue the Corvair after the 1966 model year, making room for the Camaro; but the embarrassment over the Ralph Nader fiasco must have led them to continue to produce the Corvair, even though it made no financial sense to do so.  Basically, GM said “na na na na boo boo” to Nader, and made the car anyway, all the way through the 1969 model year.

GM Heritage Center 2011 010

And that’s where our feature car comes in.  It is one of only 6,000 Corvairs made in 1969, and they were all produced at the Willow Run plant, which is now being demolished.  Corvairs of this vintage were basically built on a separate line, almost by hand, as Willow Run had moved on to the production of the popular Nova.  By some accounts, ’69 Corvairs were not that well-built, and buyers actually received a coupon for another Chevrolet model in the future, almost as an apology.

This ’69 Monza convertible has 40 miles on the odometer, and looks all original.

GM Heritage Center 2011 009

The interior’s where you’ll find most of the differences between the ’65 and ’69 model Corvairs.  ’69s had high backed bucket seats, a more thickly padded instrument panel, camera case black dash inserts, and a three-spoke steering wheel.  Doors and hinges are not interchangeable with earlier models either.  One could order a Corvair with three engine choices: 95, 110, or 140 horsepower.  This Corvair sports the Saginaw 4-speed manual, so it likely carries a 110 or a 140, which was the 4-carburetor option.

GM Heritage Center 2011 008

This ’69 wears a super-’60s color combination: Fathom Green exterior and Medium Green interior.  The only real external differences between a ’65 and a ’69 Corvair are the side-marker lights, taillights, and a few emblems. ’69s are considered special by Corvair enthusiasts, but that doesn’t make them much more valuable.  ’69s are more of an interesting and uncommon oddity.


 photo credit: hemmings.com

The exception would be the last Corvair made–#6000.  Nobody knows what happened to this car, or nobody’s talking about it anyway.  A common rumor is that GM crushed 6000 because it didn’t want anybody to own the last Corvair.  They were that embarrassed by it.

Of course, the Corvair is a perfectly delightful collector car today.  They’re beautiful, fun to drive, reasonably fuel efficient, and easy to find parts for.  They’re also inexpensive and fairly uncommon, two things that a first-generation Camaro cannot claim.  And after all these years, one trip to GM’s Heritage Center may convince you that they’ve finally accepted their compact experiment.