Will the Corvair Kill You?


Not sure why, but every couple of years another article tries to canonize and saintify the Gen 1 corvair. I own a 66 red monza conv, 4 speed with the updated rear independent suspension that allowed vertical movement of the rear wheels by adding a second U joint at the wheel hub. No different than the rear suspension you see today on almost all RWD vehicles.

GM screwed up on the gen 1 corvair. The engineers - God bless them - were short sighted at best and basically copied without thinking or analyzing, the rear suspension design used then on the VW Beetle / porsche 356 or a Skoda or a Renault 10 etc…

This dangerous design was done in 1921 by Hans Ledwinka, a Czech engineer who developed the Tatra 11, launched in 1923, it featured a rigid backbone tube with swinging semi-axles at the rear giving semi independent suspension. But under hard maneuvers, it allowed the rear wheel to tuck itself under the car and lift the backend up, raising the center of the gravity and narrowing the momentum arm. Both movements are the worst that a suspension can exhibit in a vehicle facing oversteer.

So what did GM do? First, they tried to dis-credit Ralph Nader which backfired on them in a horrible way and led the GM president, James Roche to apologize to the senate committee and to Ralph Nader.

In hind sight, this was the best thing that could have happened that day to the automotive industry and consumer protection, because it drove multiple national acts such as Freedom of Information Act, the Consumer Product Safety Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.

Going back to the flawed rear suspension design on the Gen 1 corvair, GM in the Gen 2 corvair corrected that flawed design of swinging semi-axles and offered a fully independent rear suspension. This corrected the problem of backend lift and reduced oversteer and more importantly, it confirmed the flawed design in Gen 1 corvair.

Net: Why can’t we all admit and face the facts and be thankful that someone like Ralph Nader stood up to Goliath. Without him, we would probably still be driving vehicles with a solid shaft steering column that skewered our lungs in a head on collision and a metal dashboard that cracked our skulls like raw eggs and semi swinging rear axles that couldn’t handle a 0.5G on a skid pad without flipping a car over.


I bought a 1964 Corvair Spyder Convertible 4 speed brand new.

I did not have the issues with the suspension that has been reported in this article. However I did have issues with other functions of this vehicle. I bought the car in the winter (MIchigan) and couldn’t wait until the spring and summer to drive with the top down. I thought this was a very cool looking car.

The first issue that I had was that when it rained, the water came pouring into the heater ducts and filled the interior with at least 2 to 3 inches of water. During the night, the temperature dropped below 32 and I had to chip away the ice in order to drive the car. Because of the water in the heating ducts, when I turned on the windshield defroster, the windows fogged up. The dealer that I purchased the car from was never able to resolve the issue during my ownership.

The next issue I had was that the transmission had to be rebuilt 3 times during the 11 months that I owned the car.

The third problem I had was that one evening I was driving over to my future wife’s house, driving on the same paved streets and going over the same road bumps when the engine bolts broke (2 bolts) and the engine departed the car onto the street.

With these issues, I was very upset and disappointed with the Corvair and traded it in after only owning it for 11 months. I don’t know if anyone else had these issues, but it was enough for me. I now own a 1958 Corvette which also has problems but after 59 years, it’s understandable.


Unimoged, I could not agree with you more on all points. Nothing GM did was revolutionary and the redesign did indeed prove Ralph’s point and for what it’s worth, I’m not a fan of Nader. European cars, as you pointed out, had excellent, advanced suspension by this time and unfortunately GM, Chrysler, Ford… continued to turn out flawed, cars for decades to come. Sadly, many American cars are still considerably substandard to most european and Asian cars today.


I agree with others that it would be nice if you would show how wonderful the 1965 - 1969 Corvairs drove and handled. These videos act like the late models were never built and group all Corvairs into the 1960-1964 model years. How about a video showcasing the much improved and sporty late model Corvairs !!!


Had a beautiful '63 Red Spyder. Once, while heading east on the I-10 on a steep downgrade at around 70 MPH near Pomona, CA, with three co-workers aboard, the right-rear tire blew. Nothing happened. We made our way to the side, changed the tire, and went on to our meeting. Certainly safe at that speed!

One other memory: While leaving a supermarket, the car suddenly stopped. Got out and looked and the motor was at a 45⁰ angle, with the backside resting on the pavement. Jacked up the car and found that a single nut had come off, and was sitting there. With another quickly borrowed jack and a little muscle we raised the motor, attached the nut, and off we went. GREAT car!


There appears to be one slight fudge in the video/write up about the Corvair and its oversteering and cornering abilities. The article refers to a 1960 Corvair with standard transmission being used for the test. However, at minute 8.58 of the accompanying video, there is a second or so of footage showing the driver’s foot on the gas pedal. Where’s the clutch pedal in this shot? The pedals shown in the video clearly belong to an automatic vehicle.


Our family owned a 64 turbo manual transmission when I was 18 and in college. It was a second car and usually mine to drive. I was a fair driver back then always kept the car tip top including tire pressures. I can truly say that if anybody could have killed themselves in a 64 corvair, I would be long dead. Yes it did oversteer, but it was totally predictable and could be easily controlled. One curve on the way to school was usually taken with the rear end loosing traction the whole way, just because it was fun. I wish I still had the car. Definitely in a class with other TR3’s and MG’s I owned.


I own a 1964 Corvair that drives and runs great. One of the things not mentioned in this article is the steering column. Since there is no engine in the front, a one piece steering column in a front end crash can impale you very easily. This was also true on many other models. Another trick I use is to put a 100 pound bag of Sakrete cement in the front trunk area. This improves the wandering of the car a lot. Folks, watch the tire pressures, you dont put 32 pounds of pressure in each tire like a normal front engine car. I put 17 in the front and 28 in the back.


@beeprint - You make a couple good points. The weight in the front really changes the character of the Corvair, for the better.

The steering column note isn’t unique to Corvairs, but it is certainly something to keep in mind driving classic cars!


Ralph Nader helped somewhat in leading to the demise of the Corvair. What really killed the Corvair was the arrival of the in expensive, mass produced Ford Mustang.It’s 550,000 units in 1965 sales killed Chevtolet with it’s Corvair.


To be reasonably safe, a car should be drivable by a person with normal driving skills under normal road conditions. A trained racing driver, operating a car on a broad, dry skid pad does not replicate normal driving, and a trained driver isn’t normal driving skill. Try doing the same tests with a normal driver, in wet conditions, or with slow or ice, or gravel on the road. Throw in a driver who does not understand how to control overstear to prevent rollover. Don’t forget the rear engine layout has a lot to do with the overall problem also. Bottom line - your testing is not in any way adequate to refute Nader’s premise that the car is unsafe (for normal drivers under normal road conditions).


Yeah, the irony is that Nadar’s book came out the same year that Chevy modified the rear suspension. Also, I think the Corvair was never going to survive anyway. That air cooled engine was the second most expensive engine that GM produced back then. And also, the Mustang arrived, which hurt Corvair sales as well.

Neat car, in any case.


In 1963 I bought a 1962 Corvair Monza coupe to get back and forth to college classes. It was a joy to drive and, with the trombone exhausts and 4 speed transmission, sounded every bit a sports car. I spun the car twice. Once on purpose to scare the hell out of some guys I knew, and once because I pushed the car too hard into a right hand hairpin curve and wound up in the ditch. Both were my fault. BTW, because the car was relatively new, I tried taking it to the local Chevy dealer. Nobody there knew anything about the little air cooled engine and, furthermore, nobody wanted to. I wound up doing most of the mechanical work on the car myself. The Corvair had been touted in Road & Track as the dawn of the American Porsche, but the nanny bureaucrats and lawyers managed to end that dream.


The number of claims maybe more representative because of the significant volume of vehicles produced. Between 60-64 GM produced 1.4 million Corvairs. If you compare that to other makes of vehicles that were equipped with a swing axle rear suspension and rear engine layout I suspect, you would have a similar claims rate. For example, Porsche sold 47000 356’s during that period That is only 3.4% of the total production of the 5 Corvair model years. I would even go further to say that the Porsche owner might even be a slightly different class of driver. Let’s assume at least an enthusiast, therefore, their driving skills might be a notch above the average driver. The Corvair was billed as everyman’s car. It was priced and marketed to the masses and therefore, many of the drivers would have the average skill level that was unfamiliar with the dynamic behavior of a rear engine car.
The bottom line is GM failed to listen to their internal experts, their engineers and failed to equip the vehicles with anti-roll bars until later in the 62 model year and it was an option until 63. They originally slated to have the vehicle equipped with a front anti-roll bar. But, wasn’t until 64 that they properly addressed the vehicles driving dynamics by not only equipping it with a front anti-roll bar but, adding a traverse leaf to reduce the tuck under effect when the rear suspension went into rebound. Basically for a few bucks per unit they trashed their own reputation and created a stigma for what is actually a great car in its own right.


There were multiple times more high profile pickup trucks in that area. During the time early model Corvairs were commonly seen, I handled more Covair rollovers, then pickup roll overs. Nearly all of them were while trying to negotiate a left curve & they slipped off the road surface. I can only express my personal experience & expressed it to other claims reps. Several of them also noted the unusual number Corvair roll overs. Didn’t want to ride in the early models then, still feel the same. Didn’t happen after the GM made the suspension changes.


It is known as “Jacking Effect.” On first look, one would expect the ‘outside’ suspension to compress due to weight transfer, as it does normally - i.e. the car leans towards the outside of the curve. Unfortunately, due to the relationship between the rear suspension pivot point near the differential and the center of gravity of the car (which is higher), centrifugal force causes the mass of the car to want to rotate around the pivot. This lifts the rear of the car and causes the swing axles to droop downwards, and the outside rear tire ‘tucks under.’ The English Triumph Herald had the same kind of swing axle rear end. I owned one for a short time, and anything more spirited than driving like granny was potentially lethal as the car wanted to spin at the slightest provocation.


My grandmother had a 60 Corvair that she drove every weekend to their cottage way up north. To get into the property she had to pull off to the shoulder of the highway prior to slowing appreciably so she could then slow to turn in the driveway. She did this every week until 69 when she was diagnosed with advanced cancer. The car never did anything unusual, and she insisted on keeping the car everytime my grandfather suggested they replace it. To her it was the best driving and handling car she ever owned. Can still remember watching her drive a stick car.


I had several '64 Corvairs and drove many others.
My '64 coupe with the 164 inch 108hp motor and 3 speed tranny was, point to point, a very respectable car.
I drove them cross country through blizzards and I’m still here.
I drove a Disc Jockey’s 4 door, small motor auto from North Dakota to New York with two other guys.
The DJ had loaded the car with his record collection.
Do you have any idea how heavy that was?
The suspension was close to bottomed out when the car was just sitting.
At least the load didn’t shift.
The last ones made, particularly the Yenko “Stingers” were real performance cars.
Nader taught Detroit that innovation was dangerous and they avoided it.
This gave Japan an opening and eventually led to the “Rust Belt”.


Thanks for reading and watching. And great catch! We used two different cars, a manual transmission model that I wrote about and the Nadar’s old automatic-equipped car for the video. Sorry for the confusion.


Corvair guys would much rather you (fix-or-repair, daily) sorts, would offer up your comparisons of our beloved Vairs to the recycled tin bodied Pinto, rather than the over produced Mustang! Of course, when I was young and impressionable, I sold my '65 VW after viewing Steve McQueen,in a “Stang” GT run down the bad guys in a Hemied-out Mopar Charger, in the movie Bullet and I bought a 70 Boss 302, because I couldn’t afford a Mach I, nor even afford to look at a GT. Compare those bad boys to the Chevelle SS, or GTO Judges… C’mon, man!