For car enthusiasts, it’s hard to imagine that it has been 60 years since the very first Chevrolet Corvair came rolling off the production line on October 2, 1959. It would be the start of a 10-year reign as one of the most innovative and controversial cars to ever hit the road.
In 1950s and 1960s America, the population was asking for more compact and affordable car designs. Up until the rollout of the Corvair, family cars were designed to be big and roomy but not all that affordable or practical. The Corvair is still affordable today as a collectible antique, but even if you don’t plan on taking it out on the road, make sure you have the right coverage for classic car protection from a dealer like Allstate insurance.
Over 2 million Corvairs were manufactured between 1960-1969. The line was originally dreamt up by Chevrolet General Manager Ed Cole who was an integral part of the design team for all Corvair models. The line included a sporty 2-door coupe, a 4-door sedan for families, a station wagon, pick-up truck, and a series of passenger vans.
The most unique thing about the Corvair was the rear-mounted air-cooled engine. In the tradition of the Corvette, this model took advantage of the rear motor placement to provide power and unique design to the average consumer. It was such a hit when it first came out that the Corvair won the 1960 Car of The Year Award given out by Motor Trend Magazine.
This was the first mass-produced rear engine family car to be sold at large to the public, and they loved it. It held the first factory-built turbocharged engine that gave it the nickname of the “Poor Man’s Porsche” as it was generally affordable for the average American.
If you find a Corsair today, they are still an affordable purchase for any collector. There are car clubs filled with enthusiasts including the nationally recognized CORSA group that is ready to help new collectors with restoration and maintenance.
The Corvair came rolling into the hearts of Americans everywhere with a new and modern look never before seen in a family sedan. Gone where the huge fins and extensive grilles of the generation before. The Corvair was built on a unibody frame instead of a classic chassis, giving it a very sleek and modern look and feel.
The horizontally rear-mounted 140 cubic inches, 2.3L V6 turbocharged engine could put out a whopping 180HP that gave drivers a thrill behind the wheel. The original design incorporated a swing axle rear suspension that would eventually be changed in 1965 to an independent suspension due to controversy over safety.
In 1965, consumer protection activist Ralph Nader wrote a book detailing the danger of driving the Corsair called “Unsafe At Any Speed”. This call to manufacturers and warnings to consumers caused irreparable damage to the reputation and the sales of the Corsair.
Nader claimed that because of the rear engine design and the swing axle suspension that there were serious issues with handling ability. It didn’t help that there were already over 100 lawsuits against Chevrolet at the time from drivers who had crashed their Corvairs after losing control.
After numerous damage control attempts by the manufacturers and changes to the design, the National Highway Traffic And Safety Administration declared in 1972 the Corsair to have no greater risk of a loss of control over the vehicle than any other comparable models of the time. Unfortunately, by 1972 it was too late to save the Corvair. Production and design had ended for good in 1969.
Even more than half a century after the introduction of the Corvair series, these cars are still an auto show and collector favorites. The innovative design has gone on to inspire countless models that are on the roads today.