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Cruisin': The Chevy Corvair
In Jan. 17 Issue
Russell County News
By Ron Cowell, Columnist

If we look back in history in the 50's most American car manufacturers made only large cars. The only small cars that were crusin around in the United States were the imports from Europe like the Volkswagen, Renault and Fiat. This showed the American car companies that there was a market for a smaller car in the United States. In 1959 and 1960, all the major auto makers made plans to introduce a compact brand.

Most of the designs that came out were just scaled down versions of the standard American car. Instead of the V-8 with full size bodies, they were using 4 cylinder engine with bodies scaled down about 20 %. An exception to this was the Chevy Corvair. It was powered by an air cooled, horizontal 6 cylinder engine made almost entirely out of aluminum. The engine was mounted in the rear of the car. It had independent suspension for all four wheels and there was no conventional frame. It was the first Unibody built by Fisher Body. The tires were completely new with a wide, low profile design. The styling was completely different for Detroit. It was compact and elegant with no fancy tail fins or flashy chrome grill.  The Corvair was named the car of the year for 1960.

Even with all it's critical acclaim Corvair did not dominate the market place like was expected. It turned out to be very expensive to produce because of it's unusual design and was not as economical to operate as it's competitors. This turned out to be a major weakness for the compact car.  It's design at first was as a sedan and a coupe, with modest engine power and just the right amount of trim. The destiny of the Corvair was discovered when the Monza show car went into production. The Monza was a sporty car with bucket seats and a floor shifter. It was so popular they put it into production right away.

Then in 1961 the Corvair line expanded with the Monza Sedan, station wagons, more engine horsepower and a four speed manual transmission. Also new in 61 Corvair produced family vans, commercial panel vans and pick up trucks. These vehicles offered an inexpensive choice in the truck Market. But the Ford Falcon and other compacts were still outselling the Corvair due to their economical simplicity.

In 1962 Chevy came out with the Chevy II as their economical compact car and produced the Corvair as sporty. The new Corvairs for 62 were the Monza convertible and the Corvair Spider that sported a turbocharged engine. 1962 was the peak of the Corvair's development and sales.  About that time General motors could see that the trend was now heading in anew direction with bigger and faster cars going back to the powerful V-8.

In 1963 the Chevy stopped production of the Corvair station wagon. Yet the Corvair still remained popular and Corvair owners remained loyal and started many clubs and driving events.

In 1964 the Corvairs suspension was improved, the engine was a little larger and a little more powerful. But in 1964 Ford came out with the Mustang and sold over a million and a half cars over the next two years.

In 1965 Corvair came out with a new Body style that was once again outstanding. The rear suspension was designed to make the car more stable. The sale of the Corvair improved but could not keep up with the Ford Mustang.

In 1965 Ralph Nader published "Unsafe at any Speed". Only the first chapter was about the Corvair but it seemed like that was all the reviewers and the critics read. The complaint Nader had was about the 1960 through 63 rear suspension design that had already been discontinued but the damage to the Corvair had already been done. GM's mishandling of it's response to Nader just made things a lot worse.

The Corvairs sales for 1966 were down by more than 50% and Chevy decided to stop all further development. Production on the vehicle and sales of the car continued for three more years but Chevy was now selling the Camaro as well as the compact Nova and mid size Chevelle. The Corvairs sales fell dramatically in the last years. The model was reduced down to just two, the coups and convertibles. After 10 years the production was stopped. The very last Corvair was built May 14th of 1969.

On another note is it ever to early to get started as a car lover? Well I think the answer to that question is no! As I've told you in earlier articles car lovers come from all walks of life. They are all ages, and they love to go cruisin. It dose not matter if it's a new car, an old classic car or in a lot of cases your first car.

A lot of young people are getting started this year with that special Christmas gift they got. My Grandson is no exception. As you can see in this picture he is very proud of his Ford pick up that he will be driving around the yard this spring. Don't you wish we had toys like that when were a kid? I remember a old door we mounted roller skates on, but that's another whole story we will get into later.

Until next time... Keep Cruisin !

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