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Monday, June 18, 2007

Corvairs


I was down at an art festival yesterday that also had an old car show associated with it. I guess the organizers figured that old cars were also art. I would agree (see my earlier post below). Anyway, there were a couple of old Corvairs among the Mustangs, GTOs, Corvettes, and a potpourri of other pieces of aging (but lovingly restored) metal. The reason the Corvairs caught my eye is that we used to own one. Well, two actually.

When my I met my wife to be, she was driving a 1965 Corvair 500 sedan that her father had given her to take to college in Ann Arbor. For her, this car spelled "freedom". She even named it Jude...What else would you name something at the height of the Beatles mania? This car was a sort of a dowry that came with our marriage. Not long after, it started to show its Michigan heritage as the floorboards disappeared to the ravages of salt-induced rust. So did this sour us on Corvairs? Of course not! We got another one, same age but this one was a Monza coupe. My logic was that the first one would provide parts for the second. I eventually pulled the engine out of Jude (sort of a heart transplant) and sent the dead body to Rest in Peace in a junkyard. The Monza purred along for another couple of years before we sold it to another suck..err, owner.

I bring all of this up because the Corvair was a great example of a car that was ahead of its time. The car was full of engineering innovations including a six-cylinder air-cooled rear engine, four-wheel fully independent suspension, unibody construction, and a body design that rivaled the best in Italy. It still looks relatively modern even today.

The Corvair had a relatively short life span. Most people think it was done in by Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed. In fact, it was actually killed by the Ford Mustang. The Corvair was initially designed in the late 1050s as an economy car to compete with the Rambler and the Lark but its innovative design put off many American buyers. It found a niche market with people that liked its small, sporty handling. It was sort of an affordable sports car. It did quite well in the market for a while. Ford saw the light and cobbled together the Mustang out of parts it had lying around the factory. The Mustang, introduced in 1965, was a smash hit. GM responded by shutting down the design of the next generation Corvair and moved the design team to work on the Camaro which was introduced in 1967.

The Corvair saw life only from 1960 to 1969 but its design legacy found root in the rear engine Porsches and the boxy styling of BMWs. In many ways, it was a better fit in the European market than the American market.

I still love the old Corvairs. Who knows? Maybe I'll succumb to the temptation and find myself a little beauty on eBay. And then again, maybe I will just remember the car fondly and leave it in that little compartment of my memory entitled "The Good Old Days".

Photo from Wikipedia

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