Thursday, February 26, 2015

Chevrolet Corvair: The First Generation Sedan and Coupe

Good intentions often get rewarded in negative ways.  Consider Chevrolet's radical (for the American market) Corvair.  It was one of three "compact" cars introduced by Ford (the Falcon), Chrysler (Plymouth Valiant) and General Motors for the 1960 model year in reaction to strengthening sales of small, imported cars, especially the Volkswagen Beetle.

Besides being smaller than standard American cars, the Corvair had an air-cooled opposed-cylinder engine (conceptually similar to the Beetle's) mounted in the rear (also à la Beetle).  For nearly 50 years, the standard for American cars was a water-cooled motor placed at the front of the car driving the rear wheels, so the Corvair concept was indeed bold.  But that engine layout was flawed because it creates a weight bias towards the rear of the car that usually causes handling problems under certain conditions.

So it was that lawyer Ralph Nader wrote an exposé of the Corvair that benefitted his career and destroyed the Corvair brand.  That and other Corvair information is reported here.

As for styling, the first Corvair series (1960-1964 model years) can be classified as "functional," but not at all beautiful.


I include this photo because the people give a sense of the Corvair's size.

Some makers of rear-engine cars placed a fake grille at the front to give their cars a "normal" appearance.  GM stylists were in a functionalist mode when the Corvair was designed, so gave it a plain, solid front.  An important style feature is the shoulder line chrome trim that is at the same level all the way around the car save for a small drop at the front.

Side view showing how plain (devoid of ornamentation) early Corvairs were.  The little kink at the base of the A-pillar was found on many GM cars starting in 1961.

Rear 3/4 view of a Corvair apparently taken at the Paris auto show.  Note the wraparound backlight (window) and how it relates to the flat roof and C-pillars.

That same design appeared on 1959 four-door pillarless sedans of all GM brands.  This is a Chevrolet Impala Sport Sedan.

First-series Corvairs eventually were available as station wagons, convertibles and coupes.  Shown here in a 1962 Corvair Monza.  It was somewhat sportier than the sedans, but had a cramped back seat.

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