Corvair wasn't the turkey many remember
Among my earliest memories of riding in a car was riding in the rear seat of my grandmother's Chevrolet Corvair coupe — white with a red vinyl interior. I don't have any other memories of the car, be they good or bad. I was a mere toddler. On the other hand, my grandmother did.
But before I get to that, for those of you unfamiliar with the Corvair, a brief primer.
The car was initiated in 1956 by Chevrolet's chief engineer Edward Cole, the man behind the small-block Chevy V-8. He wanted an American response to the increasingly popular Volkswagen Beetle and other foreign economy cars gaining a foothold in the U.S. auto market.
So, like the Beetle, the Corvair had an air-cooled engine placed in the rear of the car. The engine used an aluminum block to save weight, yet still ended up 78 pounds heavier than anticipated. Ordinarily, this wouldn't have been much of an issue. But remember, the engine was in the rear.
Now consider that General Motors accountants, in an effort to save $4 a car, eliminated the rear anti-sway bar — which was needed given the car's overweight engine. This exacerbated the car's tendency to over-steer, a condition where the car's rear swings wide through corners.
Was it dangerous? Not if you kept the tires inflated to their proper pressure — 15 psi front, 26 rear. There's only one problem: Few drivers keep their tires properly inflated today, let alone in 1960.
GM changed the rear suspension design for 1964, but by then, lawyer Ralph Nader was making headlines with his book, “Unsafe at Any Speed.”
Nader may have demonized the car, but my grandmother loved it. After all, she lived in the hilly environs of Pittsburgh and my grandfather, a doctor, drove large, rear-drive Lincolns. Despite their alleged road-hugging weight, a popularly cited advantage of large cars back then, they weren't great for driving in the snow.
By contrast, the Corvair, with its engine over the drive wheels — just like a front-wheel-drive car — had great traction in the snow. She loved the fact that she could get around without fear of inclement weather. She never felt endangered by the car's handling.
But all things change.
When Mercury introduced its luxurious Cougar muscle car in 1967, the Corvair was gone; my grandmother liked to drive fast.
So, not long after Thanksgiving, I pose this question: Was the Corvair a turkey?
Yes, it did over-steer.
So did any rear-engine, rear-drive car. But it was a fun little beast to flog around, with styling that influenced small-car design around the world at the time.
Turkey? Not in that regard.
And most people forget that the Corvair employed aluminum engine blocks and turbocharging; common now, uncommon then.
Turkey? Not in that regard either.
And it launched the consumer movement, which gave us safer cars. Consider this: As the last Corvair rolled off the line, GM was putting the finishing touches on two new safety options for its large cars: air bags and traction control.
Turkey? I don't think so.
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk; email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates storm back with late rally to defeat Diamondbacks, 9-4
- Steelers’ Blake prefers secondary job
- Pirates notebook: Cole scratched from rehab start at Indianapolis
- Auto sales heat up in July on steep discounts
- McKeesport pipemaking plant idling delayed
- Steelers notebook: Team extends Suisham’s contract through 2018
- Locke’s difficulties continue thanks to old friends
- Rostraver police identify suspect in home invasion
- Police target 17 in Mon Valley drug investigation
- Pittsburgh New Music Ensemble closes season with dramatic revival
- Greensburg Central Catholic graduate returns as staffer