When does the perfect formula fail to perform? In automotive history, I’d reckon its happened more than once. One of my favorite cars, all time, that isn’t a Volkswagen just so happens to be one of these. An almost near perfect fusion of American muscle and European style, a fuel-efficient engine with enough power for the road and the track, and finally the engine in the right place.
It was named Car and Driver’s Car of the Year and once heralded as the “American Porsche.” It also served as a scapegoat for a greedy lawyer to gain political stardom. Remember kids there are only two professions that always tell lies to gain appeal… lawyers and politicians… and this dude was both.
If you are a true gearhead you know what car I’m talking about. If not, it’s the Chevrolet Corvair.
Now here’s the deal. A good number, and I do mean a good number, of people hate the Corvair. This is due, mostly, thanks to the aforementioned lawyer, Ralph Nader. Is it true the Corvair had a quirky rearend that would spin out easier than the typical American front engine, rear drive car? Yes. Just like a classic Beetle, or any rear-engined Porsche a vehicle with the motor in the back has different handling characteristics. Why did they flip… because idiot mechanics and consumers overinflated the front tires, to the then standard 26 psi, instead of following the manufactures suggestion of 15 psi.
GM planned on axing the Corviar after 1967 and the claim that Nader put it out to pasture is false. If anything, he gave use three more years of this beauty. And I do mean beauty. The second generation, with its update exterior and rear suspension, was a downright stunner. If the 1960 Corvair was the near perfect fusion of American muscle and European style, the 1965 Corvair was perfect. It championed the now classic “Coke bottle” shape and brought the amped up turbo charger to the masses.
So why did such a perfect fusion fail? It was way radical for the average American consumer. While they were receptive to oddities like the Beetle and the Porsche, they came from another land. Chevrolet’s gamble was admirable. Over 1,835,000 were sold… 26,700 in the first two days it was available. It all came to an abrupt end when used as a springboard for a “consumer advocate.”
But Nader didn’t just blight the Corvair. He robbed the American public of automotive innovation. His actions put an end to outside the box thinking in Detroit for almost three decades. Thanks Ralph. I’ll take my automotive advice from people who actually know about cars and how to drive, not a lawyer looking for a “cause.”
Ironically the Corvair was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1959 which claimed “its fresh engineering is hailed as the forerunner of a new age of innovation in Detroit.” Why is this ironic? In 2007 the crack team of editors for Time online wrote an article on the “50 Worst Cars of All Time” that included the Corvair.
Here’s a tip Time “so-called” magazine. In 1972 Texas A&M did an independent study that found that the Corvair “possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporary competitors in extreme situations.”