Harken back to a time when cars were made in America by Americans, and the Chevy Corvair has to be one of the first cars that comes to mind.
The Corvair is a portmanteau, combining the names of the Corvette and the Bel Air, but it definitely did not reach the same level of stardom as those cars. It is now regarded as a major flop and was deemed unsafe at one point.
The Corvair’s most unique feature was that the engine was in the back of the vehicle, not the front. That definitely made the car drive differently, as the change in weight distribution had the car act different than normal ones with a front engine. It would notoriously spin out because of the torque and weight.
The car had a V-6 engine and had power. What it did not have was great handling. Actually it had awful handling, and that led to its demise.
Consumer advocate Ralph Nader torched the Corvair in his book “Unsafe at Any Speed” where he revealed that General Motors didn’t take the time to do the relatively cheap task of making the swing-axle rear suspension more manageable for drivers. He also revealed that the car’s single-piece steering system could come up and go right through the driver’s abdomen if the car was involved in a collision.
The car was produced for model years 1960-69 and that featured a second edition during that time frame. An impressive 1.78 million were produced in those years and there were four different car designs, a truck design and two van designs as well. It was actually named the Motor Trend “Car of the Year” in 1960, well before the critical studies and books that ended up making it an infamous automobile. And Time Magazine also bought into it, putting GM General Manager Ed Cole on the cover of its magazine along with a Chevy Corvair.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the Corvair in history, the lead-up to the release of the auto was all about excitement and innovation. The Corvair was a groundbreaking small car, as in those days American automobiles were huge and powerful. European imports were coming in more and more, and Americans were showing that they actually liked some of the smaller options available to them.
The car sold well early on, with more than 200,000 being purchased in each of the first six years. Consumers enjoyed the Z-body platform by Fisher Industries and the lack of fins and chrome grilles also were looked upon with intrigue by consumers.
But in the end, it was a simple thing that helped bring down the Corvair. The car called for an 11-pound differential in tire pressure between the front and the rear tires, but that wasn’t honored as often as it should have been. And that contributed to many crashes that helped lead to the car’s demise.