Wednesday, December 21, 2011
The car that started it all (at least for me). History of the Chevrolet Corvair
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote an article on the history of the Volkswagen Beetle. What you may not realize is that Chevrolet built a car to compete head-to-head with the popular German compact. And while you might not think about it in the same way as the Beetle, Chevrolet’s Corvair was one of the most innovative, advanced cars of its time.
Compared to other frumpy little compacts, including the Beetle, the Corvair was like something out of the future. The 80-hp, 140-c.i., air-cooled flat-six mounted in the trunk provided adequate power, but it was interior space, fuel mileage, ride, and handling that attracted the buyers.
When the Corvair first came out, it was only available as a four-door sedan or coupe. In 1961, a wagon, called the Lakewood, was added. Surprisingly, the rear-mounted engine was low and flat enough that it didn’t intrude much on cargo space. The wagon didn’t last long, however, because the assembly plant that built it converted its lines to produce the new convertible in 1962.
One of the areas on which Chevrolet concentrated their improvements was the suspension. That swing-axle in the back was proven technology, but it required a driving technique that most people weren’t accustomed to in panic situations. It could also get a little dicey if the tires were underinflated. But like anything else, if it was well-maintained and driven properly, it was no better or worse than anything else.
Ironically, as an environmentalist, Nader’s attack on the Corvair may have set progress back on another issue that he holds dear. The Corvair was a compact car, and it was a good one. It featured out-of-the-box thinking by a company that was at its core fairly conservative. And for their efforts, General Motors was burned badly. This kind of negative publicity didn’t hover over traditional, full-sized cars. Who knows where U.S. small car efforts may have gone if it hadn’t been for the Corvair debacle. The current Chevrolet Volt may well be the most radical departure from standard practices since the Corvair left the scene, and it took 42 years to get there.
Believe it or not, my mom still claims that Corvair was her favorite car of all time.
And so, I leave you with a slideshow of the car that brought my parents together, and ultimately, culminated in my very existence. The first part of the slideshow includes pictures of Corvairs that I shot at car shows all over town. And if you’re able to stick with it, you’ll also see some neat Corvair promotional photos and advertisements. I’m also including a geat Corvair promotional video after the slideshow.