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Classic at any speed
By Kathleen Ostrander

The Corvair was Chevrolet's muscle car that never quite made it big, but it still has quite a following. Mike Hall, a member of the Corvair Society of America, has a couple of Corvairs, including a fairly rare Corvair truck.

His Roman red and white 1965 Corvair Monza Convertible is a sporty little beauty he picked up in late 1999 - although when he got it there was a tree growing through the floor.

"I wanted something for my oldest boy to drive to school, and then we ended up restoring it at (Capital Area Career Center), and both boys got involved. It took us three years, and we needed a lot of new metal," Hall said at his Chatham home.

The work was worth it. Even the convertible top, which was notorious for puckering around the side rivets, sits nicely on Hall's car.

Chevy produced the Corvair from 1959 until 1969, starting with the 1960 model year. It was produced in a wide range of body styles, from four-door sedans to station wagons and vans.

The Corvair concept was introduced in 1954, and it was supposed to be produced as a fastback. General Motors as well as the car-buying public considered the car a marvel when it was initially marketed to the public.

It was first touted as an economy sedan, but the development of a coupe appealed to the sports car enthusiast, and its final design was a foreshadowing of the Camaro. It was considered a sporty compact and was referred to as "the poor man's Porsche" - even the emblems were sporty.

It was a trendsetter on a lot of accounts. It was air-cooled, so it didn't use antifreeze, and the engine is in the rear like the Volkswagens of the era. That innovation proved part of its undoing. It had independent front and rear suspension.

The Corvair was a breakthrough in unibody construction for a mass-produced vehicle. It was built from uniform molds and used the shape of the doors and windows to help maintain structural integrity. The convertible version needed special weld supports underneath, and Hall said he's used some other welds to strengthen the structure of the car.

Corvairs had a bad habit of swinging and then rolling on a curve or turn because the predominant weight was in the rear. Torque would cause the rear to flatten, leading to other occasional steering problems. A minor consequence to the engine in the rear was that the spare tire went on top of the engine, so it became quite warm, Hall said.

Hall's convertible may have a few extra welds as well as wider tires, but it's still true to the body style and spirit of the Corvair.

"You know, I just like this car," Hall said. "There's a lot of us that like this car," though he did admit they aren't good in the snow. Hall hasn't started restoration on his 1962 Corvair truck, but it's an amazing vehicle for those used to engines in the front. The engine is mounted just behind the tailgate.

Although some maintain Ralph Nader led to the death of the Corvair because they were featured in a case study in his book "Unsafe at Any Speed," car aficionados are more inclined to blame the demise of the Corvair on the other muscle cars. For a few hundred dollars more, you could be the proud owner of a Mustang instead of a car that saw few body changes in a 10-year run. 


Story published Friday, January 8, 2010 ( Volume 5, Number 1 )

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