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Chevrolet Corvair

The Chevrolet Corvair was a compact automobile produced by the Chevrolet division of General Motors for the 1960–1969 model years. It was the only American-made, mass-produced passenger car to feature a rear-mounted air-cooled engine.

The Corvair range included two-door coupe and convertible, four-door sedan, and four-door station wagon configurations, included the more powerful Monza model, and included a passenger van, commercial van, and pickup derivatives. The range competed with imported cars such as the original Volkswagen Beetle, as well as the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant, new entries in a market segment that was established in the U.S. by the Nash and Rambler American.

The Corvair's legacy was affected by controversy surrounding its handling, which led to its inclusion in Ralph Nader's Unsafe at Any Speed. Nonetheless a subsequent National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) study concluded that the car's handling was as safe as that of its contemporaries.

History

Origin

The Corvair name originated for a 1954 Corvette fastback show car. The car's development was directed by Ed Cole, holding chief engineer and general manager positions at Chevrolet during the 1950s. It was General Motors' response to the growing popularity of small, lightweight imported cars such as the original Volkswagen Beetle, as well as to compete with domestic-built compact cars, the Rambler American and Studebaker Lark. The "compact" term was coined by George W. Romney as a euphemism for small cars with a wheelbase of 110 inches (2,794 mm) or less. The Corvair's design began in 1956 with the first vehicles rolling off the assembly line in late 1959 for the 1960 model year. The car was introduced October 2, 1959 initially as a four-door sedan offered in two trim levels. Two Corvairs were tested at the Riverside International Raceway in California, for 24 hours. One car rolled over, but the other completed the drive consuming only one quart (0.95 L) of oil.

Overview

The Corvair's sales exceeded 200,000 for each of its first six model years. The rear engine design offered packaging and economy advantages, providing the car with a lower silhouette, flat passenger compartment floor, removing the need for power assists, and offering improvements in ride quality, traction, and braking balance. The different design also attracted customers from other makes, primarily imports. The Corvair stood out with engineering significantly different from other American offerings. It was part of GM's Y-body ("Z"-Body from 1965 on) line of cars, with design and engineering that advanced the rear-engine, rear-wheel drive layout pioneered by cars including the Tucker Torpedo, Porsche 356, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault Dauphine, and NSU Prinz—and employed by the concurrent and short-lived Hino Contessa.

The Corvair's powerplant is an aluminum air-cooled 140 cu in (2.3 L) flat-six (Later enlarged, first to 145 and then to 164 cubic inches). The first Corvair engine produced 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS). Power peaked with the 1965–66 turbocharged 180 hp (134 kW; 182 PS) Corsa engine option. The first generation model's swing axle rear suspension, invented and patented by engineer Edmund Rumpler, offered a comfortable ride but raised safety concerns associated with the car's handling stability, and was replaced in 1965 with a fully independent rear suspension similar to the Corvette Sting Ray.

The Corvair represented several breakthroughs in design for mass-produced Detroit vehicles with 1,786,243 cars produced between 1960 and 1969.

First generation (1960–1964)

The 1960 Corvair 500 and 700 series four-door sedans were conceived as economy cars offering few amenities in order to keep the price competitive, with the 500 (base model) selling for under $2,000. Powered by an 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) engine and three-speed manual or optional extra cost two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission, the Corvair was designed to have comparable acceleration to the six-cylinder full-size Chevrolet Biscayne. Corvairs unique design included the "Quadri-Flex" independent suspension. Similar to designs of European cars such as Porsche, Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and others it used coil springs at all four wheels with independent rear suspension arms incorporated at the rear. Specially designed tires mounted on 13 inch wheels with 5.5 in. width were standard equipment. Available options included the Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission ($146) Gasoline Heater ($74) AM tube radio ($54) and a rear folding seat ($32) In January 1960, two-door coupe models of the 500 and 700 series were introduced. Sales figures for the quarter revealed to Chevrolet management that the Corvair was much more of a specialty car than a competitor to the conventional design Ford Falcon or Chrysler's Valiant. They quickly began the design program that resulted in the new conventional economy car - the Chevy II for the 1962 model year. The line quickly grew from utilitarian bench seat sedans and coupes to the more plushly appointed bucket seat interiors of the new 900 series Monza. It hit showroom floors in the Spring 1960. Two available options on Monza were a more powerful engine, rated at 95 hp (71 kW; 96 PS) thanks to a more radical camshaft paired with low-restriction exhaust, and the introduction of a fully synchronized, four-speed transmission. Despite its late introduction, the Monza sold 12,000 units, making it one of the most popular Corvairs.

The Corvair was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1960.

The 1961 Monza was heavily promoted and referred to as "the poor man's Porsche" in various car magazines. The Monza series expanded with a four-door sedan body style in addition to the two-door coupe, and garnered about 144,000 sales.

A station wagon body-style, marketed as the Lakewood joined the lineup in 1961 with its engine located under the cargo floor and offering 68 ft³ (1.9 m³) of cargo room; 58 ft³ in the main passenger compartment, and another 10 ft³ in the front trunk. The Corvair engine received its first size increase to 145 cu in (2.4 L) via a slight increase in bore size. The base engine was still rated at 80 hp (60 kW; 81 PS) when paired with the manual transmissions and 84 hp (63 kW; 85 PS) when mated to the optional automatic transmission in Monza models. The engine was rated at 98 hp (73 kW; 99 PS). To increase luggage capacity in the front trunk, the spare tire was relocated to the engine compartment (in cars not ordered with air-conditioning) and new "direct air" heater directed warmed air from the cylinders and heads to the passenger compartment. The gasoline heater remained available as an option through 1963. Factory air conditioning was offered as a mid-1961 option introduction. The condenser lay flat atop the horizontal engine fan. A large, green-painted reverse rotation version of the standard GM Frigidaire air conditioning compressor was used, and an evaporator housing was added under the dash with integrated outlets surrounding the radio housing. Air conditioning was not available on wagons, Greenbrier/Corvair 95, or the turbocharged models introduced later due to space conflicts in those models. Chevrolet also introduced the Corvair 95 line of light-duty trucks, which used the Corvair Powerpack and are forward-control, with the driver sitting over the front wheels, as in the Volkswagen Type 2.

The Greenbrier Sportswagon used the same body as the "Corvan 95" panel van with the side windows option, but was marketed as a station wagon and was available with trim and paint options similar to the passenger cars. The "Corvan 95" model was also built in pickup versions; the Loadside was a fairly typical pickup of the era, except for the rear engine, forward controls, and a pit in the middle of the bed. The more popular Rampside, which had a unique large fold-down ramp on the side of the pickup bed making it easy to load wheeled items.

In 1962 Chevrolet introduced the Corvairs with few changes at the beginning of the year. The bottom line 500 series station wagon was dropped and the 700 became the base station wagon. The "Lakewood" name was dropped. The ever popular Monza line then took on a wagon model to round out the top of the line. In Spring of 1962 Chevrolet really committed itself to the sporty image they had created for the Corvair by finally introducing a Convertible version and then offering a high performance 150 hp (112 kW; 152 PS) turbocharged "Spyder" option for Monza coupes and convertibles, making the Corvair the first production automobile to come with a turbocharger as a factory option, with the Oldsmobile F-85 Turbo Jetfire a few weeks later in 1962. Corvair station wagons were discontinued at that point in favor the new Corvair Convertible and Chevy II (built at the same assembly plant). The slow selling Loadside pickup was discontinued at the end of the model year. The rest of the Corvair 95 line of Forward Control vehicles continued on. Optional equipment included Metallic brake linings and a heavy duty suspension consisting of a front anti-roll bar, rear axle limit straps, revised spring rates and recalibrated shock absorbers. The Turbochared Spyder equipment group featured a multi-gauge instrument cluster which included a tachometer, cylinder head temperature and intake manifold pressure gauges, Spyder fender script and Turbo logo deck emblems in addition to the high performance engine.

The Monza Coupe was the most popular model with 151,738 produced out of 292,531 total Corvair passenger car production for 1962. The Corvair was fast becoming the darling of the sporty car crowd. Many aftermarket companies offered a vast array of accessories for the Corvair, everything from imitation front grilles to serious performance upgrades such as additional carburetors, superchargers and performance exhaust and suspension upgrades. One of America's most successful race drivers, John Fitch chose the Corvair as the basis for his "Sprint" models. They were created at his shop in Connecticut by adding various performance improvements along with unique styling touches. Individual components were also available through his mail-order business. Several Chevrolet dealers became authorized Sprint dealers able to install his conversions as well.

The 1963 model year saw the optional availability of a long 3.08 gear for improved fuel economy, but the Corvair otherwise remained largely carryover with minor trim and engineering changes. Self-adjusting brakes were new for 1963. The Monza line was really proving its worth. Of all the Corvairs sold in 1963 fully 80% were Monzas! The Convertible model counted for over 20% of all the Monzas sold. Sporty image means big profits!

For 1964 significant engineering changes occurred, while the model lineup and styling remained relatively unchanged. The engine displacement was increased from 145 to 164 cu in (2.3 to 2.7 L) due to an increase in stroke; the base engine power increased from 80 to 95 hp (60 to 70 kW), and the high performance engine increased from 95 to 110 hp (70 to 80 kW). The Spyder engine rating remained at 150 hp (112 kW) despite the displacement increase of the engine. 1964 saw an improvement in the car's swing axle rear suspension with the addition of a transverse leaf spring along with softer rear coil springs designed to diminish rear roll stiffness and foster more neutral handling attributes. Spring rates could now be softer at both ends of the car compared to previous models. The heavy duty suspension was no longer optional, although all models now had a front anti-roll bar as standard. Brakes were improved with finned rear drums. The remaining pickup, the Rampside, was discontinued at the end of the model year.

Second generation (1965–1969)

A dramatic redesign of the Corvair came in 1965. The new body showed influence from the Corvette Stingray and the 1963 Buick Riviera. The mild coke bottle styling set the trend for GM cars for the next fifteen years, foreshadowing the 1967 Camaro. For the first time, none of the passenger cars had a "B" pillar, making all closed models true hardtops. The second generation's styling was rated timeless when new, and considered contemporary today in comparison to the first generation. A new fully independent suspension, similar in design to the Corvette, replaced the original swing axle rear suspension. However, the Corvair used coil springs at each wheel instead of the 'Vette's single transverse leaf spring unit.

Car and Driver magazine's David E. Davis Jr. showed enthusiasm for the 1965 Corvair in their October 1964 issue:

"And it is here too, that we have to go on record and say that the Corvair is — in our opinion — the most important new car of the entire crop of '65 models, and the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II." "When the pictures of the '65 Corvair arrived in our offices, the man who opened the envelope actually let out a great shout of delight and amazement on first seeing the car, and in thirty seconds the whole staff was charging around, each wanting to be the first to show somebody else, each wanting the vicarious kick of hearing that characteristic war-whoop from the first-time viewer." "Our ardor had cooled a little by the time we got to drive the cars — then we went nuts all over again. The new rear suspension, the new softer spring rates in front, the bigger brakes, the addition of some more power, all these factors had us driving around like idiots — zooming around the handling loop dragging with each other, standing on the brakes — until we had to reluctantly turn the car over to some other impatient journalist ... The '65 Corvair is an outstanding car. It doesn't go fast enough, but we love it."

The base 95 hp (71 kW) and optional 110 hp (82 kW) engines were carried forward from 1964. The previous 150 hp (112 kW) Spyder engine was replaced by the normally aspirated 140 hp (104 kW) for the new Corsa. The engine was unusual in offering four single-throat carburetors, to which were added larger valves and a dual exhaust system; The 180 hp (134 kW) turbocharged engine was optional on the Corsa, which offered either standard three-speed or optional (US$92) four-speed manual transmissions. The 140 hp (104 kW) engine was optional on 500 and Monza models with manual or Powerglide transmissions.

Many new refinements appeared on the beautiful new 1965 redesign. The Corsa came standard with an instrument panel featuring a 140 mph (230 km/h) speedometer with resettable trip odometer, a 6,000 rpm tachometer, cylinder head temperature gauge, analog clock with a sweeping second hand, a manifold vacuum/pressure gauge and fuel gauge. A much better heater system, larger brakes borrowed from the Chevelle, a stronger differential ring gear, a Delcotron alternator (replacing the generator), and significant chassis refinements were made. AM/FM stereo radio, in-dash All Weather Air Conditioning, telescopically adjustable steering column, and a Special Purpose Chassis Equipment ("Z17") handling package, consisting of a special performance suspension and quick ratio steering box, were significant new options for 1965.

By this time, the station wagon, panel van, and pickup body styles had all been dropped and 1965 was the last year for the Greenbrier window van, which was retained mainly for fleet orders, with 1528 being built. In all, 235,528 Corvairs were built in 1965. Chevrolet replaced the Corvair-based vans with the Chevrolet Sportvan/GMC Handi-Van, which used a traditional front engine/rear drive axle borrowed from the Chevy II.

The 1966 lineup remained essentially unchanged from 1965. One change of note was a more robust 4-speed synchromesh transmission using the standard Saginaw gear set with 3.11:1 first gear ratio used by other GM 6-cylinder vehicles. The steering column was changed to a two-piece design with universal joint, lessening the danger of intrusion during a front end collision. A plastic air dam was installed below the front valence panel to conceal the front suspension and underbody, and lessen crosswind sensitivity. In front, The "lock door" emblem (covering the lockset for the trunk lock) was changed from red to blue and featured a shorter bar. Air conditioned cars received a new condenser that was mounted in front of the engine, eliminating previous efficient but huge, awkward condenser that was mounted atop the engine, requiring its removal out of the way for most underhood servicing. The Corvair script nameplate was moved from atop the trunk lid to a position next to the driver's side headlight bezel. Sales began a decline as a result of Nader's book and the new Mustang that offered V8s up to 271 hp (202 kW) compared to Corvair's 180 hp (130 kW) top powertrain and rumors of the upcoming "Panther'-the code name for the forthcoming Camaro, slated as a direct competitor for the Mustang. A decision was made to discontinue further development of the Corvair. Production for the model year was down to 103,743.

In 1967, the Corvair line was trimmed to the 500 and Monza Hardtop Coupes and Hardtop Sedans, and the Monza Convertible. This model year was the first with a collapsible steering column. A dual circuit master cylinder with warning light, nylon reinforced brake hoses, stronger steel (instead of aluminum) door hinges, "mushroomed" instrument panel knobs and a vinyl-edged day/night mirror were all made standard equipment. Chevrolet introduced a 50,000 mi (80,000 km) engine warranty on all Chevrolet models including the Corvair. Chevrolet was still actively marketing the Corvair in 1967, including color print ads and an "I Love My Corvair" bumper sticker campaign by dealers, but production and sales continued to fall off drastically. Only 27,253 copies were built.

In 1968, the four-door hardtop was discontinued, leaving three models—the 500 and Monza Hardtop Coupes and the Monza Convertible. All Weather air conditioning was dropped as an option, due to concerns about thermal loading added by the now-standard Air Injection Reactor ("smog pump") which probably hurt sales as factory air became more popular generally in automobiles. The GM multiplex stereo system was also discontinued when new units changed wiring adapters; the Corvair's 9-pin connector would no longer fit the new units. Additional safety features, including side marker lights, and shoulder belts for closed models, were fitted per the federal government's requirements. All advertising was virtually stopped and sales were down to 15,400.

The final model-year 1969 Corvairs were assembled with the Nova in Willow Run, Michigan, the same facility Corvairs had been built from the beginning. A total of 6,000 Corvairs were produced of which only 521 were Monza Convertibles. There are a number of unique features which can be found in the 1969 models. Corvair was the only 1969 GM car that did not get a locking steering column. Demand for Novas was high and a decision was made in November 1968 to move Corvair assembly to a special off-line area in the plant, dubbed the "Corvair Room", making Corvairs produced between that time and May 14, 1969 essentially hand-built by a dedicated Corvair team. Assembled bodies arrived from Fisher Body and awaited assembly in the off-line area.

Stillborn third generation

Chevrolet had a proposed a third generation (1970-on) Corvair, essentially a re-skin of the 1965–69 model resembling the 1973 GM A Body intermediates, particularly the 1973 Pontiac Grand Am, retaining Corvair proportions. Having passed the point of full scale clay models, Chevrolet stopped developing the model in early 1968. Unlike the Turbo Hydramatic 400, the Turbo Hydramatic 350 transmission, introduced in the 1968 Camaro and later adopted by most Chevrolet models had been configured for use in the third generation Corvair.

End of production

According to noted GM historian Dave Newell, Chevrolet had planned on ending Corvair production after the 1966 model year. Development and engineering changes were halted in 1966 on the year-old, redesigned second-generation cars with mainly federally mandated emissions and safety changes made thereafter.

Ralph Nader, attorney and consumer advocate highlighted the Corvair's handling in his 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed. 1966 Corvair sales subsequently fell to half from the sales of 1965.

The Corvair faced competition from the Ford Mustang, Chevy's own Camaro, and other pony cars. The car had been costly to produce, yet was not offered at a premium price; not a high profit earner for Chevrolet as was the Corvette for example. An increasing lack of interest from the company, especially from Chevrolet's General Manager John DeLorean, and a complete absence of Corvair advertising after 1967 reflected the company's priorities, including promotion of three redesigned models for 1968—the Corvette, Chevelle and Chevy II Nova.

The Corvair was referred to as "the phantom" by Car Life magazine in their 1968 Monza road test, and by 1969 Chevrolet's Corvair four-page brochure was "by request only". During its final year of production, 6000 cars were produced.

Handling controversy

First-generation (1960–1963) Corvair handling characteristics became the subject of controversy when Ralph Nader addressed them in his 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed. GM had over 100 lawsuits pending in connection with crashes involving the Corvair, which subsequently became the initial material for Nader's investigations. The book highlighted crashes related to the Corvair's suspension and identified the Chevrolet suspension engineer who had fought management's decision to remove—for cost reasons—the front anti-sway bar installed on later models. Nader said during subsequent Congressional hearings, the Corvair is "the leading candidate for the un-safest-car title." Subsequently, Corvair sales fell from 220,000 in 1965 to 109,880 in 1966. By 1968 production fell to 14,800. Public response to the book played a role in the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act in 1966.

A 1972 safety commission report conducted by Texas A&M University concluded that the 1960–1963 Corvair possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporary competitors in extreme situations. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a press release in 1972 describing the findings of NHTSA testing from the previous year. NHTSA had conducted a series of comparative tests in 1971 studying the handling of the 1963 Corvair and four contemporary cars—a Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, Volkswagen Beetle, and Renault Dauphine—along with a second-generation Corvair (with its completely redesigned, independent rear suspension). The 143-page report reviewed NHTSA's extreme-condition handling tests, national crash-involvement data for the cars in the test as well as General Motors' internal documentation regarding the Corvair's handling. NHTSA went on to contract an independent advisory panel of engineers to review the tests. This review panel concluded that "the 1960–63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests...the handling and stability performance of the 1960–63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." Former GM executive John DeLorean asserted in his 1979 book On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors that Nader's criticisms were valid.

Car and Driver magazine criticized Nader for ignoring drivers' failure to adapt their driving and vehicle-maintenance practices to the characteristics and requirements of the Corvair. None of the issues Nader raised were problems among owners of the Porsche 911, which had the same layout and similar suspension, nor with the less powerful Volkswagen Type 1 Beetle.

Journalist David E. Davis, in a 2009 article in Automobile Magazine, noted that despite Nader's claim that swing-axle rear suspension were dangerous, Porsche, Mercedes-Benz, and Volkswagen all used similar swing-axle concepts during that era.

Handling characteristics

The first-generation Corvair featured a rear swing axle design similar to that of the Renault Dauphine and Volkswagen Beetle – a design which eliminates universal joints at the wheels and wherein the rear wheels are always perpendicular to the driveshafts. The design can allow rear tires to undergo large camber angle changes during fast cornering, leading to oversteer—a dynamically unstable condition where a vehicle can lose control and spin — and in extreme cases produce lift-off oversteer.

Design options to ameliorate Swing-Axle handling:

  • Anti-roll bar: As a production option, engineers had advocated but management rejected the inclusion of a front anti-roll bar on the original 1960 Corvair, which would have ameliorated the car's handling – shifting weight transfer to the front outboard tire, considerably reducing rear slip angles—thereby avoiding potential oversteer.
  • Tire pressure differential: As with the Renault Dauphine and pre-1968 Volkswagen Beetle, Corvair engineers relied on a cost-free tire pressure differential to eliminate oversteer characteristics – low front and high rear tire pressure–a strategy which induced understeer (increasing front slip angles faster than the rear). Nonetheless, the strategy offered a significant disadvantage: owners and mechanics could inadvertently but easily re-introduce oversteer characteristics by over-inflating the front tires (e.g., to typical pressures for other cars with other, more prevalent suspension systems).

While the Corvair offered competent handling, "the average buyer more accustomed to front-engined cars, did not take [into] account the car's different handling characteristics." Chevrolet made a succession of improvements to the first-generation Corvair suspension. For the 1962 model year, the front anti–roll bar became available as an option. For the 1964 model year, the front anti-roll bar became standard equipment and the rear suspension was modified to include a camber compensating, transverse-mounted leaf spring extending between the rear wheels to limit rear wheel camber change, and carrying much of the rear weight combined with softer coil springs.

For the 1965 model year, the Corvair received a fully independent rear suspension closely resembling that of the contemporary Corvette. The redesigned suspension reduced the rear roll center to half its previous height, using fully articulated half-axles that offered constant camber on the rear tires in all driving situations.

Reception

Time (magazine) featured Ed Cole and the 1960 Corvair on its cover for the Corvair introduction in 1959 and said: "its fresh engineering is hailed as the forerunner of a new age of innovation in Detroit." Time reported in 1960: Chevrolet sold 26,000 Corvairs its first two days on the market, taking over 35% of Chevy's two-day total of 75,000. Chevrolet had intended to sell one Corvair for every five Chevrolets. By March 1960, the Corvair comprised 13% of Chevrolet's sales. Shortly after its introduction, the Corvair faced competition from the Ford Falcon and Mercury Comet and was plagued by problems—though according to a 1960 Time report, "many were the minor bugs that often afflict a completely new car." Problems included a slipping fan belt, carburetor icing and poor fuel mileage "which sometimes runs well under 20 m.p.g." The 1960 model gasoline heater was cited as a problem, which itself could consume up to a quart of gas an hour—with Chevrolet engineers quickly modifying the Corvair's carburetors to improve economy.

Motor Trend awarded the Corvair its "Car of the Year" award for 1960.

Car and Driver reported upon introduction of Corvair's revised second generation – editor David E. Davis said: "We have to go on record and say that the Corvair is – in our opinion – the most important new car of the entire crop of '65 models, and the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II."

In 2007 Time (magazine) named the Corvair one of the 50 Worst Cars of All Time, citing the controversy surrounding its rear-suspension and saying it "It leaked oil like a derelict tanker. Its heating system tended to pump noxious fumes into the cabin. It was offered for a while with a gasoline-burner heater located in the front "trunk", a common but dangerously dumb accessory at the time."

Greenbrier Sportswagon

The Corvair also came in a van form, besides a wagon and coupe form. It had a van version, and a pickup version. (Both rear loader and side loader.)

Concept cars

The Corvair spawned a number of innovative concept vehicles including the Corvair SS, Monza GT, Monza SS, Astro I, and even two Carrozzeria Pininfarina "Corvair Speciale" show cars and the Testudo, designed by Carrozeria Bertone.

The Chevrolet Corvair Monza GT coupe toured together with the Monza SS (Spyder) in early 1963, making a further public appearance at the New York Auto Show. Although both cars were based on the Corvair drive train, each represented a futuristic development of the adaptable Corvair design. In the SS convertible, the engine (with a four-carburetor setup) was left in its stock location behind the transaxle, allowing a shorter (88 in (2,200 mm)) wheelbase. Although the SS came very close to production, both cars remained concepts only. The Monza GT is housed at the GM's Heritage Center in Detroit.

A 1966 concept vehicle, the Electrovair II, was a 1966 Monza 4-door hardtop modified with a 532 volt 115-horsepower electric motor replacing the gasoline engine — following a 1964 version known as Electrovair I. With the 1966 model, silver-zinc batteries were used and placed in the trunk and engine compartment, and the body was slightly modified to accept the conversion. The car was handicapped by the high cost of the batteries ($160,000), a limited driving range (40–80 miles), and short battery life.

Racing and modified Corvairs

Yenko Stinger

Don Yenko, who had been racing Corvettes, could not compete successfully against the Carroll Shelby Mustangs after they arrived on the scene; he therefore decided to race modified Corvairs, beginning with the 1966 model. As the stock Corvair did not fit into any of the SCCA categories, Yenko had to modify four-carburetor Corsas into "sports cars" by removing the back seat; in the process he introduced various performance improvements. As the SCCA required 100 cars to be manufactured to homologate the model for production racing, Yenko completed 100 Stingers in one month in 1965. Although all were white, as the SCCA required for American cars at the time, there was a great deal of variety between individual cars; some had exterior modifications including fiberglass engine covers with spoilers, some did not; some received engine upgrades developing 160, 190, 220, or 240 hp (119, 142, 164, or 179 kW). All were equipped by the Chevrolet factory with heavy duty suspension, four speed transmission, quicker steering ratio, positraction differentials (50 with 3.89 gears, and 50 with 3.55 when Chevrolet dropped the 3.89) and dual brake master cylinders (the first application of this by Chevrolet, to become stock equipment the next year).

The Stingers competed in Class D Production, which was dominated by the Triumph TR4, which was very quick in racing trim; however in its first race in January 1966, the Stinger was able to come in second by only one second. By the end of the 1966 season, Jerry Thompson had won the Central Division Championship and placed fifth in the 1966 Nationals, Dick Thompson, a highly successful Corvette race driver, had won the Northeast Division Championship, and Jim Spencer had won the Central Division Championship, with Dino Milani taking second place. The next year, however, Chevrolet dropped the Corsa line, and the Monza line was not initially available stock with the four carburetor engine; the engine was eventually offered as a special performance option, however, along with the 3.89 differential. The Monza instrumentation did not have a tachometer or head temperature gauges, which had to be separately installed. The SCCA, on the other hand, had relaxed its ruling regarding color, and the cars were available in red or blue. It is believed that only fourteen 1967 Stingers were built, but Dana Chevrolet, who distributed Stingers on the U.S. West Coast, ordered an additional three similar cars to be built to Stinger specifications, but with the AIR injection system to meet California emissions laws, with Yenko's permission. A total of 185 Stingers are believed to have been built, the last being YS-9700 built for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company as a tire test vehicle in 1969–1970. Comedian, television star, and car enthusiast Tim Allen owned and raced Yenko Stinger #YS-043 until he sold it around June, 2009.

Fitch Sprint

Longtime roadracer John Fitch was particularly interested in the Corvair as the basis for a spirited road and track oriented car, due to its handling. The basic Sprint received only minor modifications to the engine, bringing it to 155 hp (116 kW), but upgrades to the shock absorbers and springs, adjustments to the wheel alignment, quicker steering ratio, alloy wheels, metallic brake linings, the obligatory wood-rimmed steering wheel (leather available for an additional $9.95) and other such minor alterations made it extremely competitive with European sports cars costing much more. Body options such as spoilers were available, but the most visually remarkable option was the "Ventop", a fiberglass overlay for the C-pillars and rear of the roof that gave the car a "flying buttress" profile.

Fitch went on to design and build a prototype of the Fitch Phoenix, a Corvair-based two-seat sports car, superficially resembling a smaller version of the Mako Shark based Corvette. With a total weight of 1,950 pounds (885 kg), even with a steel body, and with the Corvair engine modified with Weber carburetors to deliver 175 hp (130 kW), the car delivered spirited performance for $8,760. Unfortunately, the Traffic Safety Act of 1966 placed restrictions on the ability to produce automobiles on a small scale; this was followed by Chevrolet's decision to terminate production of the Corvair, which confirmed the end of Fitch's plan. He still retains the prototype however, and occasionally exhibits it at car shows. The car may be glimpsed briefly in the documentary film Gullwing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch.

Custom, dune buggies and aircraft

Corvair flat-six engines were a popular alternative to Volkswagen engines in dune buggy applications, and off-road racing. Some Corvair engines have also been used to power light aircraft. Customizer Gene Winfield created the Reactor' aluminum car, using a turbocharged Corvair engine to drive the front wheels, with other drivetrain components, including the chassis, from a Citroën DS. This vehicle appeared in numerous television programs in the 1960s, including Star Trek.

Trans Am

A Corvair was driven by Spurgeon May and Donna Mae Mims in the Trans Am Series in 1966. It was entered by Roger Penske and sponsored by Sunoco, who also sponsored the Penske Camaros.

Trivia

  • A song called Corvair Baby was performed in the sixties by Paul Revere and the Raiders.
  • A band called The Corvairs also existed.
  • GM was planning a Pontiac verson, to be called the Polaris

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