With its rear-mounted engine, no post-war car is more atypically American than the Chevy Corvair. Today's turbocharged Nice Price or Crack Pipe Corsa coupe is a prime example of the Corvair's wakadoodleness, but will its price prove equally unconventional?
Unlike the Corvair, which situates its engine at the extreme ass-end of the car, yesterday's VW Quantum Syncro wagon had its 5-cylinder power plant bolted all the way up in the orchestra pit. Put the two of them together and you'd have a great physics demonstration of vehicle dynamics. Putting the Quantum together with a new owner was given a thumbs up by a narrow 51% of you, the rest worrying about ‘80s VW build quality and driving around in an old car. You're probably likewise concerned about getting enough fiber in your diet, and keeping those damn kids off your lawn.
Seen frequently on front lawns - up on blocks - was Chevy's Corvair, so devalued had they become over the decades. Part of that had something to do with Unsafe at Any Speed the expose of the American auto industry which focused heavily on the rear-engined Chevy's unique handling properties. Written by the preternaturally morose Ralph Nader, the book was more injurious to the Corvair than an entire front boot full of snapped fan belts or an unappreciative nation filled with car buyers who don't vive la différence. Full disclosure, I'm a former Corvair owner, and I vive. You better believe I vive.
Originally intended as an answer to the market encroachment made by foreign makes, and Chevy's response to the demand for smaller, more frugal transportation, the Corvair was the General at its most radical. While Ford and Chrysler's entries were little more than full-sized cars to which a shrink ray had been applied, the Corvair represented the antithesis to convention. It did have a six cylinder engine, although it was an air cooled pancake with alloy cylinders and sat in the back of the car, just like the increasingly popular Volkswagen. Also, due to its lack of need for a central tunnel, the Corvair was significantly lower than the competition, and unlike almost every other product touched by the UAW, it offered independent suspension at all four corners.
It was that IRS that got the car in trouble with fun spoiler Nader, as it was designed for cost savings and durability as a swing axle design. At the time, VW, Mercedes Benz, and other vaunted brands employed this design, so why would Chevy have thought it anything that could have been deemed litigation worthy? Unfortunately, the swing axle, which tends to hike up under semi-hard cornering like the dress of a drunken prom date, had its proclivity for sudden traction loss exacerbated by the extreme pendulum action engendered by also having the engine stuck waay out there over the rear wheels. It seems that Americans like their oversteer just like their evolution - in theory only.
By the time this second generation Corvair coupe arrived much of what had made Nader piss on Chevy's barbecue had been exorcised, although not without causalities. The first generation Corvair had model choices like Catholics have kids, and that something-for-everyone concept included both a wagon and a mini-van so suck it contemporary car makers! Chevy also offered a Corvair pickup truck with a side ramp, causing gardeners across the nation to stain their dichondra wards with salty tears of gratitude. Even the base four-door sedan featured a wicked cool turtle top with a wrap-around rear window - just like the big boys.
The second - and final - generation was made available in pillar-less sedan, convertible, and, like today's car, airy and svelte coupe. That version, as exemplified here by its optional Corsa package, was Chevy's first attempt to stem the tsunami of Mustang buyers which left Chevy dealers little to do by play mumbley-peg at their desks and wonder how their children would like eating last year's brochures. One of the final nails in the Corvair's ass-heavy coffin was the introduction of the Camaro - a car that more closely approximated the Mustang's formula for success - and did so much more cost-effectively being based on the common as a cold, Nova.
But before then, it was the Corsa that did battle, and while the Mustang was armed with a hot 289, the Corvair's peculiar layout prevented such an option. Instead, Chevy chose to fit a turbo to the 2.7-litre flat six, which boosted horsepower to 180 and made the engine bay one of the most eclectic of any sixties American product. Representative of the admonition given to neophyte fellatists, this turbo sucks rather than blows through its single barrel carb. That design introduces airflow constraints to the system, but negates the need for a pop-off valve hence making it simpler and cheaper. The carb in this case is claimed to have been rebuilt - a good thing considering that dearth of practitioners of that art these days.
The rest of the engine bay appears complete - the chrome on the intake pipe and aircleaner being factory stock. A couple of other things to note while under its hood is the fact that the spare tire also contributes to the car's extreme rear weight bias, and that the engine has one of the most tortuous fan belt paths ever devised.
Ahead of the six is a Saginaw four-speed with a cueball-topped chrome shift lever that looks like it came from a surgical suite. The Corsa dash has full instrumentation, and this one comes with gorgeous red vinyl upholstery and matching wall to wall carpet. Amidst that the two-spoke, faux wood-rimmed steering wheel is so sixties it probably comes with a burned draft card.
The exterior is equally nice, the paint being claimed fresh back when Clinton was getting Lewinsky'd. The Corvair coupe is arguably one of the prettiest cars GM has ever produced, and the thin pillared top and shark's prow nose have aged extremely well. Compare this to the somewhat awkward nose of the first generation Mustang and I think you will agree.
What you may not agree upon is whether this Corsa is worth the $7,900 the seller demands to sign over the title. Sure, that's a small price to pay to prove you're not a conformist, but is it too much fare for this particular ‘Vair?
H/T to the prolific Rollogrande for the hookup!
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