Hagerty.com

Why isn’t the 1960-69 Chevrolet Corvair worth more?


#1

Depending on your point of view, the Chevrolet Corvair was either one of the most creative or most foolhardy steps in the history of the U.S. auto industry. It was designed to combat the Volkswagen Beetle and adapted the air-cooled, rear-engine concept to American scale and style.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2018/03/26/why-isnt-the-chevrolet-corvair-worth-more

#2

I always struggle with this question.

Devil shoulder- It’s an oddball car with a terrible (though unearned) reputation

Angel shoulder- It’s fun to drive, 60’s styling, just as practical as any other “old” car

If Corvair’s weren’t cheap I wouldn’t be where I am today. I hope they rise in value, but I also love being able to share experiences and encourage those with meager bank accounts to get into cool cars.

Sure, you can get a Mustang for Corvair money, but is it the Mustang you really want? Maybe that’s what holds the Corvair back, the lack of a “halo” version. Not many are familiar with the Stinger and it doesn’t have nearly the presence of a GT500, for example.


#3

Hi Kyle
Kirt K here. I think the second generation Corvairs are on of the best designs gm ever did!
I would own one over a Mustang because of the uniqueness and the fact every 4th car person owns a mustang. :slight_smile:


#4

In my younger days, I remember an aftermarket company had made a kit whereby you could install a 327 in the “back seat”. I actually saw one at a Mel’s Diner one Friday night and it was a Beast, although blasphemous to the purist.

The last generation Corvair was a nice looking car and I always loved the vans and trucks.

Ah… memories.


#5

For the most part they weren’t that expensive to repair, it’s just that for several years after they were discontinued the value of used Corvairs dropped to such incredibly low levels that there was no point in repairing them. I was a claims adjuster back then and handled a loss on a Corvair that had superficial damage to the rear grille, and a minor oil leak that allegedly started after the accident. The labor cost of just removing the engine shrouds to investigate where the leak was coming from (about an 8 hour job as I recall) was more than the car was worth. It’s the one and only time I ever had to tell an insured that the value of his car ($75) was below his deductible ($100).


#6

Used to have a '63 Monza Spyder, 150 hp out of 145 c.i…
Once we fixed the gaskets, put stabilizers front and rear plus guides to keep it from throwing the drive belt and a set of Toyo Radials, it ran just fine.
With 2/70 ac there was no problem running down I-5 in CA from Oregon to San Fran, one of the most boring highways in the world.


#7

Have a 65 Corvair Monza Conv’t that I ordered from the factory in April '65". 140 engine with a 4spd
Took delivery in May “65”. My wife was the primary driver and she drove it until 1974 when we put it into the garage with 63K miles on it.
Tomorrow I will finish a total restoration,to mfg. specs,when I install a new
back up light switch. Now the decision is to,as the TV show says,Love it
or List it. Any suggestions. The car now has close to 64K miles on it.


#8

here’s a personal story about the Corvair. i grew up on a farm in W.Va. down a long, muddy lane. i had two older brothers and in the summer of 1965, my father purchased a brand new Corvair Corsa with the 140 hp engine and a four speed “floor shift” trans. he liked the Chevy TV commercials showing the car going through snow and mud because of the engine in the rear providing great traction. so he bought the beautiful white Corsa, black interior, off the showroom floor of our local Chevy dealer. my 17 year old middle brother liked cars and he managed to get the new car all the time while my father continued to drive our long owned 1958 Belair Station Wagon. by the second month of having the car, my brother had completely trashed the tranny from doing “burn outs” - apparently not thinking about the “physics” of doing burn-outs with a rear engine car. the Chevy dealership replaced the trans. a month after that, the clutch went out “for some reason” and my dad got the dealership to replace that also after a couple of angry “conversations” with the service manager. by the third month, the “new” trans had gone south again and this time the dealership refused to honor any further warranty work. my dad had another angry encounter - this time with the dealership owner and a deal was worked out with them taking the car back in trade for a 66 Biscayne with a 283 and a column shift auto. my middle brother didn’t like the Biscayne as much. i remember riding in the Corvair Corsa a couple of times with my brother. it was a pretty quick car and the 4 speed on the floor was a pretty unique thing at the time. it also had a fold-down rear seat that looked cool - almost like having a “two seat sports car.” i remember also that the engine had quite a bit of chrome items on it from the factory - part of the “Corsa” package.


#9

I’ve always wondered why the original 61-62 BOP senior compact cars don’t fall into this category too, particularly the Pontiac Tempest/LeMans? With a front engine, rear transmission/transaxle design, it’s a unique and fun to drive car! Lightweight, corners & handles well, and the “Ropedrive” (which also got a bad reputation) is extremely durable. But I also include the 61-62 Buick Skylark and Olds F-85/Cutlass and Jetfire as unique and unusual collectibles. Buick’s aluminum 215ci v8 is a great engine, and the 62 Olds F-85/Jetfire was bold to beat the Corvair to a production turbo. Along with the very cool Corvair, I just can’t understand why these cars aren’t worth more!


#10

Not any suggestions as to price but what a great story. I have 2 1965 Corsas, a black couple and a black convertible. I got them for my sons along time ago. Both boys are gone now, the youngest over 10 years ago, the oldest 1 1/2 years ago. My Dad and I always had matching cars and I wanted my boys to grow up with that tradition in their lives. I’m hoping the oldest boys 2 girls grow up and want the 2 cars to carry on the tradition my Dad started
I wish you and your beauty the best


#11

Beats me why it isn’t. I bought a new Spyder convertible in 1962. Lived in South Lake Tahoe and thought the Turbo would solve my altitude (6200 foot ) performance problems. WRONG it only excerbated them. Thing would’nt run well under 3K BUT i LOVED IT.! I finally installed a Bill Thomas turbo conversion which changed it to a turbo’ed pressurized carb with huge increase in tube diameters, OMG what a difference!!! Now it ran like the factory probably intended. A REAL performer. and a poor mans 911.


#12

I had 2 Corvairs back in the day. A 65 convertible and a 69 I think it was a Monza. Both Automatics. They were cool but the brakes were drum and not very good and the heater like Volkswagens wasn’t very good. Exhaust into the car. Also the steering had a lot of play so they weren’t as sporty to drive as they should have been. That being said I think GM/Chevy had a great idea and I suspect if it weren’t for the Nader reports killing them they had a lot of potential to be taken to the next level.


#13

Nader’s book dumped on a bunch of cars. The swing axle was already gone when the book came out.
2 things killed these;emissions and pony cars.
Look at the yearly sales figures these peaked when the Mustang was introduced and fell off every year thereafter.
Emissionscontrols started in the country in '68. Air cooled engines run hotter than water cooled ones. The Beetle only lasted a little longer because it was a 4 cylinder so it was less NOx/mile. than a Corvair.
I had a '66 convertible, fun car,
thinking about getting a Corsa.


#14

About the senior compacts -besides my four corvairs (60, 61, 63 & 65) I also have a 61 Tempest. Have Autocrossed them all. I enjoying my Tempest but the handling is not up to the standard of the Corvair. And for the Jetfire Olds you have to be careful about saying who was first- the Jetfire was announced before the Corvair Spyder but numerous production delays prevented the Jetfire from being in the showrooms while the Corvair Spyder was already being delivered to retail customers in early April of 62.
Larry Claypool


#15

I cut my teeth on these cars in the 60s and have a different perspective on how Nader affected them. He just wrote a book which was an indictment of the entire industry in which the first chapter highlighted a car he used as an example of how costs dictated what the manufacturers did. He actually showed how the car which was being sold at the time the book was published was a vast improvement which did not exhibit the problems of the early models. The book went on to give many other examples of bad decisions based primarily on profitability. I think most of the media never got past the first chapter.

I believe that if Nader had an influence on the Corvair it was to extend it’s life an extra 2 years. Think about it. When compacts came out in 1959, GM designed and built 4 totally different cars while Ford and Chrysler created “badge engineering”, essentially selling the same car through two dealer networks. GM did it again in 1964 when those cars morphed into the intermediate A Body lines with each division stamping out unique doors and body panels at an incredible tooling cost, not to mention engineering and other costs. At the same time, Ford built the Mustang on the Falcon platform!

When GM decided to compete with a “pony” car they finally learned their lesson and came out with the Camaro and Firebird simultaneously. Same doors, same fenders, same seats… These were GMs first badge engineered cars. The bean counters won! And a car like the Corvair was doomed at that moment in 1967 as it shared nothing more than door handles and window cranks. Gradually every new car design was a corporate design and the divisions became strictly marketing arms. Ten years later they even tried to sneak in common power trains. (I ordered a new 1977 El Camino in late 1976 and when I opened the hood and found a blue 350 I remember telling the dealer something was wrong here)!

I believe that GM really wanted to stop Corvair production as soon as the Camaro and Firebird came out, killing it for the 68 model year. But then they got caught spying on Nader and the press they were getting was so bad (with lawsuits coming) that dropping the Corvair would have been a huge admission of guilt. Instead they quietly stopped production on May 14, 1969! Having owned a 69 convertible it was clear to me they were no longer even trying. That car came from the factory and the underside of the hood did not even have primer under the paint!

In the end, like him or not, Nader was right. Everything was (and still is) about the bottom line.


#16

“Unconventional” is the key to why the Corvair isn’t real popular. It’s unlike anything else, and it sits really low. My 63 Rambler Classic was a mid size car (heck, it’s a full size now!) , and it sits a bit low compared to many cars made now, except sporst cars. The Corvair sat lower than a Mustang (I mean sitting in the seats, not ground clearance), even the four door models. Ity’s a good looking car, I agree that the second generation was one of the best looking GMs of the time. But it wasn’t what Americans were used to/wanted… not with that air cooled engine in the trunk. The Beetle was in a different class – low cost, economical, and small. You gave up things in a little cheap economical car back in those days. The Corvair was a grown-up Beetle, and no one really wanted that when they could get a conventional Chevy II that got the same gas mileage and around the same price.

Nader really didn’t kill the Corvair, though I’m sure it hurt sales some. By the time his book came out Chevy already had the Corvair on the chopping block due to declining sales. It shared little with other cars, so it was a lot more expensive to build than more conventional offerings. Only makes sense that as sales slowly declined and costs slowly increased it would go. GM offered a variation the transaxle in the first gen Pontiac Tempest, and that body (first gen Buick Special/Skylark and Olds F-85/Cutlass too) used the same front suspension assembly, but other than a few smaller components nothing else was used on other cars (and the others grew too large in a few years). that made them costly to build.


#17

@farna - I think you might be onto something with the “unconventional” statement. The ubiquity of small block Chevy II’s will always steal a few sales away from the Corvair space.


#18

@imosrv - The Crown or Kelmark kits are not too frowned on by purists, and hold value good today if well done.

I would love to get my hands on a Crown swapped car, but that backseat placement of a small block makes even a 6’ person pretty tight in the drivers seat!


#19

As the recently retired owner of a ‘65 Corvair 500 4 door hardtop with less than 37,000 original miles, I am in awe of the steps that GM took in their ‘65 redesign to make the car fresh and competitive. Curved glass, hardtop (no center post) on 4 doors, beautiful lines - obviously cues from the ‘65 Impala, and the 180 h.p. From 164 cid pancake six in the Corsa. Corvairs were then, and are today, not in in the mainstream. Once Ed Cole left, they had no corporate champion, and post ‘65, the only updates were what was required to comply with Federal safety and pollution standards. It’s a shame, as most all Corvair owners lament, the “what ifs” - what if
GM had marketed the car better? - What if there had been a 3rd gen car? As a former Chevy II owner, the Corvair was light years better in terms of engineering and handling. So why is it that a not very good car (unibody, with a solid rear axle and mono plate rear springs, very conservative boxy 1st & 2nd gen styling) like the Chevy II brings way more money than similar vintage Corvairs?
GM really did an amazing job in 1960 and 1961 with all of its compacts. The Buick Special , and the Olds F-85 were both very nice, albeit more conventional offerings, and the 1961 “rope shaft” Tempests (I had one of those, too) and the Corvair shared some transmission and transaxle components, and were both very forward leaning from an engineering and styling stand point. The Tempest 4 cyl. (Half of a 389 cid V-8) with vibration dampening and very large spongy motor mounts, was surprisingly smooth. The 1st gen Tempests also suffer from being different, with the engineering and design approach being championed by John DeLorean (I believe) at the Pontiac Division. It was an interesting moment in time for the automobile industry, which In those glory days, was far less risk averse than it is today. Finally, the degree to which these 1st gen GM compacts could be personalized in color combination for both the interiors and exteriors, the individual option selections, and the combinations of engines and transmissions was very noteworthy. Finally, each of these compacts came in 2dr, 4dr, wagon, and convertible body styles, to which Corvair added a full light duty truck and van line. Cars today are boring look-alike, with very little to distinguish one model from another by the same manufacturer, or one brand from another, across market segments; driven largely by the globalization of the industry. I do miss those days in the 1960s when GM really set the standard for innovation, style, and quality.


#20

@mwlynch: Keep it, love and enjoy it. How could you even consider selling it with all that history, all those memoies and all that work to restore it? These are really fun cars to own and drive and they are getting harder and harder to find, despite what Larry says in the article. You have completed all of the hard work. Now enjoy the fruits of your labor and drive the heck out of it. I have a 1961 Rampide pick up, a 1962 Lakewood Wagon and a 1966 Corsa Coupe.