The Corvair is sadly best known for the chapter dedicated to it in Ralph Nader’s pearl-clutching automotive safety tome Unsafe At Any Speed. Nader criticized the rear-wheel drive compact harshly, calling it a “one-car accident.” So, Hagerty’s Larry Webster set out to try to roll one on its roof—and lived.
Prior to all the controversy, the Corvair was America’s lone attempt at a rear-engined, aircooled car, smaller like its European rivals and aimed squarely at conquering the compact car market. Nader’s harsh critique dropped sales in half the year after Nader maligned the car before Congress.
So, what better way to prove Nader wrong than in a Corvair Nader himself owned? Hagerty didn’t just seek out the Corvair’s story and General Motors’ defense of its design from engineers who worked on it and enthusiasts who love them, but they drove it. One of those enthusiasts had a perfectly maintained example of the Corvair for just the job.
Did he die? Nope. It even looks like Hagerty host Larry Webster had fun.
I’m sure there are ways he could have rolled it if he really wanted to, like wedging a Miata under the rear bumper like a spatula or launching it incorrectly off some sweet jumps. But if you know what to expect when you drive a rear-engined car, you’re pretty safe on your own out on normal roads using the Corvair for its intended grocery-getting purposes.
Former GM engineer and fifteen-Corvair owner Peter Koehler nailed it: Nader wrote about the Corvair in a way that sold books and got attention. While many of Nader’s other criticisms led to safer, cleaner cars, it’s a pity that GM’s good, cheap small car was tossed aside even after Chevy ditched its rear swing axle.