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Chevy’s First Compact Car: The Corvair



Cleveland, OH — Throughout the 1950s, the leadership at General Motors watched as the new “Compact Car” segment attracted new customers. Eager to cash-in on the lucrative market, they challenged engineers over at Chevrolet to start a new design from the ground up.

The end result was one of the most innovative (and infamous) cars General Motors had ever put on the road: the Corvair.

From the engine to the chassis, there was nothing ordinary about the design. First, there was an all-new air-cooled horizontally opposed (boxer) six-cylinder engine. Then, the engine was put in the back.

The Corvair delivered its power to the rear wheels through a transaxle. A swing arm suspension was used in the back to absorb road bumps and vibrations.

We won’t delve into the myriad factors that led to the Corvair’s demise, but we will share some pictures of one we found at the recent Summit Racing Equipment Piston-Powered Auto-Rama.

With a Ralph Nader cutout planted firmly in the driver’s window, it was hard to miss this spotless, original 1962 Chevy Corvair.

We chatted with Dan, its owner, to get some of the car’s history. Turns out, this is the fourth Corvair Dan (a native of nearby Fairview Park, OH) has owned.

“My wife and I wanted a small convertible to cruise around in,” Dan said, “and it had to be a four-speed.”

An original California car, a friend of Dan’s found it in Detroit, MI. When he saw it, Dan knew it was going to be his.

Dan’s the second owner, and he’s found the car to be mostly original. The Corvair was repainted sometime in 2008, and Dan had to replace the convertible top, master cylinder, and pushrod tube seals.

Making about 80 horsepower, the 2.3L “boxer” six won’t be winning any stoplight drags. “It won’t get out of its own way,” Dan reports. “But the four-speed helps.”

History is becoming kinder to the Corvair, and more folks are starting to appreciate the innovation behind the unique vehicle. Seeing more gorgeous Corvairs like Dan’s ’62 at big car shows will surely help.


Frunk? (Image/OnAllCylinders)


This is considered a first-generation (1960-64) Corvair. The second generation (1965-69) had sculpted lines akin to a mini-Camaro. (Image/OnAllCylinders)


The four-speed adds some fun factor the Corvair’s 80 hp. (Image/OnAllCylinders)


The car got a repaint in 2008, and it wears the new red shade well. (Image/OnAllCylinders)


Mechanics unfamiliar with the unique characteristics of an air-cooled flat-six often lead to frustrating maintenance visits. (Image/OnAllCylinders)

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