Happy Fourth of July, fellow Americans! And, everyone else, have a beer and a hot dog on me! By me, I mean the United States government, who I’m sure will reimburse you promptly. Today I’d like to celebrate an under-appreciated American hero, that least-American-seeming of American cars: the Chevrolet Corvair. Specifically, I want to remind the world how incredibly influential the design of the Corvair was.
For most people, the Corvair is remembered as the Unsafe at Any Speed car, but that’s an unfair reduction; the Corvair was a pretty radical car, especially for America, which at the time—remember, the Corvair was developed in the late 1950s—was producing, almost exclusively, front-engine, rear-wheel drive, body-on-frame cars with massive fins and pounds and pounds of chrome.
The Corvair, whose design was headed by the legendary Bill Mitchell, was a masterpiece in crisp, handsome, clean design. For a car developed in the late 1950s, it was remarkably fresh and unadorned, with a light, airy greenhouse, a simple, upright stance, and a distinctive beltline that ran around the entire car.
It was likely the most globally influential single-model American car ever made.
Don’t believe me? Maybe you’ll believe this full-color chart I made showing some of the most notable (but I don’t think all) cars across the world that were directly influenced by the Corvair design—some of which you could argue were simply the actual Corvair design, just shrunken down a bit.
It’s impressive! All those cars have design element directly taken from the Corvair, especially that distinctive beltline. While many went on to be design icons on their own (BMW 2002 and Ro80, for example), you gotta give credit to a car that, while it may have been unsafe at any speed, looked great the whole time.