(first posted 6/4/2014) Chevrolet made a few mistakes with the Corvair, but the biggest was in not seeing its full potential as a sporty coupe right from the beginning. Americans weren’t interested in a stripped Corvair coupe with a cheap and drab gray interior. The 1960.5 Monza version of the coupe was rushed into production as a direct response to auto show attendees who saw a prototype, and went along way to rectify that, but why Chevy didn’t offer a proper hardtop coupe, analog to its Impala/Bel Air coupes, has always been a mystery to me, even back in its day, and it’s one that I’ve long wanted to rectify. Having found a suitable body-builder (CC reader Dan Moran), we’ve teamed up and finally built what Chevy failed to do: a gen1 Monza hardtop coupe. And it’s not the only version we built; just the most beautiful.
You’re probably all familiar with the actual Corvair coupe, whose origin, design wise, was a bit of a mystery to me when I was a kid. Cute, but not really beautiful; a bit too short, in the roof line, making it look a bit like it’s bi-directional. So before we fix it, let’s try to unravel how it came to be.
The 1959 GM cars all shared the same body, and the distinctive “bubble” two-door hardtop coupe roof.
The 1961 GM full size cars had all-new body styling, but the bubble roof was in essence carried over, but with some modifications.
And there subtle variations of it, such as Cadillac’s decidedly squared-off version. But design change was in the air, and shockingly enough, the influence was coming from Dearborn, not GM’s vaunted Design Center.
The 1956 Continental MkII had a formal roof that evoked the closed roof of the classic 1939 Continental Cabriolet. Strictly speaking, the 1955 Thunderbird had it a year earlier, but that’s because the T-Bird stylists stole it from the MKII, and it went into production sooner.
Ford’s formal coupe roof was a huge hit, and Ford used it with little change for ages, including on the ’65 Mustang and the ’68 Mark III. A very prescient roof that predicted the formality of the coming Great Brougham Epoch. And it could not be ignored by GM any longer. And although it may not look like it, the 1960.5 Corvair coupe’s roof was the first acknowledgement of that.
That may not have been evident when it came out in January of 1960, but when the other Y-Body compacts (1961 Pontiac Tempest, Olds F-85, Buick Special) appeared in the fall of 1960, it was more evident. The Corvair shared much of its central basic body structure with these front-engined compacts, and it’s quite obvious that the Corvair coupe was the result of the new, more formal roof of the ’61 Y-Body two-door sedans/coupes. It’s just that Chevrolet used those same doors and basic rear window in a different way, without the large C Pillar. The result was a transitional roof; with elements of the coming formal coupes as well as aspects of the ’61 bubble roof.
Unlike the Monza, the B-O-P compacts also came in hardtop form, although not until mid-year 1961. The Skylark (shown), LeMans and Cutlass took the new coupe styling in a new direction, looking like a closed convertible, and were a preview of the full-sized hardtops that would be seen on GM’s B-Bodies across the line in 1962, and used through 1964.
It would obviously have been very easy for Chevrolet to put a similar formal hardtop on its Corvair, as Dan has done here at my suggestion. The Corvair convertible came out in 1962, so that the requisite frame-less doors and glass had been tooled up. It’s appealing, in a certain way, but just not quite right, in my eyes.
No, the 1961 bubble roof, also carried over on the 1962 Bel Air, would have been the obvious choice for a Monza hardtop.
Which is what Dan used in crafting these. This black one is Dan’s first version, a bit cruder in some details, but gives an alternative color to ponder. The Corvair has along tail, and extending the roof line to end at the more natural (and typical) point that is closer to the rear wheel center line makes a quite substantial difference.
It’s also more like what Pininfarina had in mind, with his 1963 Corvair Monza hardtop coupe.
In 1965, GM led the formal-roof counter-revolution, with its semi-fastbacks, although now with wide C-Pillars. Everyone soon jumped on that bandwagon too, including Ford. But the formal coupe roof soon came back, with a vengeance, to crown so many vinyl-topped roofs of the Brougham Epoch.
What’s really surprising about the new 1965 Corvair is that it essentially used the then-obsolete bubble hardtop roof. It proved there was life in it yet, especially when it was a harmonious part of such a successful design. Ironically, the 1965 Corvair roof is an echo of 1961, when it used the rear window line of the new formal coupe roof, minus the the wide C Pillar; but now it was swept back, and a genuine hardtop.
Well, I’m smitten. I’ve always admired the gen2 Corvair hardtop, and despite its better rear suspension, I’m a gen1 one lover, undoubtedly due to my early experiences in one, as well as because of how unique it was in the early 60s. Now I just need to find a beater convertible and a junk-yard bubble roof, and find me someone who can build me this in steel and glass, not pixels. How hard can it be? Anyone want to bid on the job? I seriously want to own the only 1961-1964 Monza hardtop coupe.
Thanks, Dan, for realizing my dream, if only digitally for now.