Will the Corvair Kill You?


I bought a new 1965 Corvair Corsa and my reason for choosing the Corvair over the Mustang was quality of materials. I inspected the Mustang and one thing that I immediately noticed was the seat material quality. The Mustang upholstery was paper thin and the Corvair upholstery was thicker and of much better quality. The body seemed to be more structurally robust than the Mustang…
My Corsa was the 140 with four carburetors. Boy, was it fast out of the gate and burned rubber in all four gears. I surprised my friends with 327 Chevys and the like by leaving them in the dust! Unfortunately, it ran out of steam at about 70 mph. I had access to an unpatrolled and lightly used highway and opened it up several times. It would top out at 110 miles per hour or more, depending on wind conditions. I’m older and wiser now and would never try that again! I didn’t have the opportunity to drive the 180 turbo, but I understand it was much faster.
I believe if the Corvair had been allowed to evolve today it would be a world competitor. Wish I had mine back!


Neat tale.
I had a nice boring white ‘61 Corvair 700 as a high school driver in late 1967, spun it into a shallow ditch when I took a 90-degree curve a bit too fast. No real effect other than education. The post-65s were amazing little cars, and it always ticked me off that Naders’ book hit the shelves after the car had been modernized.


I was not impugning the Corvair at all! I love the Corvair. My nephew and his wife both had brand new 65 Corvairs Jeff had a Black Corsa convertible and his wife Janice drove a 1965 red Corsa coupe… I do not care for the Mustang un less it is a 165 66 GT fastnack or I had owned tow 67 Shelby GT 500’s. The first Shelby was one that I flipped for money while I was in the Air Force 428 C6 Wimbleton White I paid 1700 for it in June of 1975 and sold it after a month to a First Lt. for $2500. Heck I was only making $650 a month as a Buck Sgt. E-4. That was quite a profit for me at thaty time! And then the one I should have kept I sold in 2000 was Moss Green, 427 side oiler one of 50 built with a top loader 4.10 dragpack. I paid $34,000 for it in 1997 and sold it for $59,000. So no disrespct to the revered Vair my man!! I love them!!! I have owned my 63 Split Window since 1990 and love the bowtie family along with my Silverado and I just sold my 2008 ZO6 to my tenant


Thanks for sharing that story. Was it tough to keep those carburetors in sync?


I drove it for (as I remember) 60-70,000 miles and never touched the carbs… As for that matter, other than normal maintenance the engine and running gear didn’t require any attention either. I do remember starting on a long trip and after getting it up to speed on the interstate it started smoking really bad. I took it to the Chevrolet dealer and the mechanic asked me if I had recently changed the oil and I replied “yes”. He asked if I had used detergent oil, which I had. That was the problem, Detergent oil would foam and the engine would smoke as if It had blown. He replaced that oil and the lesson was learned. NO DETERGENT OIL! That little car was lovingly referred to as the “poor man’s Porsche”, a fitting description, in some ways it was better!


GM installed a transverse leaf in the rear suspension in 1964 this limited the jacking effect .The outboard universal joints in 1965 and later models was the final solution that VW adopted in 1969
Loved my 1964 Monza convertible. 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible was badly handling and the gas tank that doubled as a trunk floor was a dangerous cheap compromise that preceded the Pinto safety hazard. Too bad GM killed the American Porsche 911. What if they had increased the displacement to four or five liters ? Too hot to handle. ?


@klkane62 - I often wonder the engine question as well. @LarryWebster pointed out above that the air-cooled six was the second most expensive engine GM was producing, so I have a hard time believing they would have attempted to build more performance, but rather focus on making it cheaper or easier to produce. The Corvair was mainly an economy car after all.


From what I heard, cost was a big factor. And adding displacement would also add heat, which my hunch is that they would not have wanted to do that.

BUT, I’m interviewing Corvair expert Pete Koehler for our podcast next week, so send along the questions and I’ll ask him.


I have owned three Corvairs in my life (a '62 4 door and two '65 coupes). I am currently restoring a '65 turbo but with a FI 191 CU IN putting out 325 HP without the turbo (should be over 400 HP with the turbo). I also own a copy of Nader’s book and have read it several times. The following things I know to be true:

  1. Nader had a point regarding product safety and emissions of the cars of the early 60’s. We have better cars now because of that book. And GM was hamfisted in their dealings with Nader in the '60s, because, well, they were GM!
  2. At the same time, Nader’s book hypes a number of points and overstates others, including the “one car accident” vilification of the early model ('60-63).Corvair. But, that’s how you sell books, by being controversial. By the way, he notes that the improvements made in the '64 (with the transverse leaf spring) and the later '65-69 Corvairs with their independent rear suspensions as the way that GM should have gone to begin with…
  3. The newly formed NTSB exonerated the '63 Corvair as being no worse than any other car of its period, but that was two years after the last Corvair rolled off the assembly line,.
  4. Because of engine costs and weight distribution issues, the 180 HP turbo was the hottest engine as GM technology could go with a production Corvair… Ford could stuff a 289 into a Mustang and have a pony car. Chevy killed their affordable sporty car (Corvair) in order to have a muscle car to rival the Mustang, IE, the Camaro (which had design clues from the Corvair).
  5. There are people like me who have always loved the “American Porsche” and many who will work to optimize them. The key to high-horsepower air-cooled engines is oil management with a large external oil cooler. and finned pans. Unfortunately such an exotic vehicle like this did not fit into GM’s plans at the time.

Thank you for your nuanced report on the Corvair.


Thanks for the great reply! I like 'em all, up to about '73. I owned a Boss 302 fast back w/ louvers, back in the day… after seeing the movie Bullet, with Steve McQueen… I was much younger, then and couldn’t afford the Mach I and the GT was also beyond my means. I am currently restoring a '67 El Camino and punching the 327 CI, 300 HP to 350 HP, running 700R4, OD trans. She will be my sunny day driver with a/c.


Uh, not the turbo models, Kyle! Also,we have a club member that is retro fitting the larger VW jugs, for more displacement. I don’t have any details on that, other than what I heard in conversation. I am past the interest in racing stage of life.


@fred - You are right, they did build the turbocharged engines starting in 1962. The engines largely plateaued after the 1965 redesign though when the uprated 180hp turbocharged made it’s debut. until the end of the Corvair run in 1969, no more engine development made it to production.


That is absolutely correct, Kyle. I have a '64 Vair turbo Spyder on my trailer, right now and she is a beauty. Just back from paint the interior is freshly re-done, new tires all around and as soon as I re-install the engine it will be ready to sell. She is a Hi-performing show car!


I’m starting to see everyone’s point (who thinks Nader did our society a great favor). Nader was basically saying that most drivers (such as himself) could not count on their own skills to save them from harm, and therefore, it should be the responsibility of manufacturers to save people from their own stupidity. We must create a society that protects the average idiot, that way we can redirect natural selection and become mentally weaker and less intelligent over time. Well, comparing 2017 American society to 1960, I’d say we’ve accomplished that.


Just picked a 1966 Corvair Corsa… the Corvair was my first car back in 1970… got her for 200 bucks… She was a 4 door sedan with 95hp, 2speed PG… always wanted a Corsa… My dreams have come true…


In 1968, I was in a Corvair with no seatbelts. It was a very foggy night. The driver of the Corvair drove a bit off the road, though at such a slow speed none of us knew we were off the road.

The car collided with a telephone pole and I was vaulted out of my seat and my head and shoulders punched through the windshield. My head smashed (now a second concussion when you count the windshield) the telephone pole we hit. I lost two front teeth, fractured my skull in two places on top of the broken nose.

The front of the Corvair collapsed right to the firewall with the indentation of the telephone pole.

All I could hear when I pulled myself back through the jagged glass that remained was the high pitched ringing in my ears and the blood pouring into the pool of blood in my lap.

My face swelled so quickly I had to keep pushing my index finger into my mouth in order to keep an airway open. I became concerned with amount of blood I saw in bigger and bigger pools in my lap and how much longer I would have the strength to keep my finger pushing into my mouth to keep the airway open.

The ER doc stopped counting the stitches he made on my face and head at 600! He continued to stitch for at least 45 mins after telling me he stopped counting at 600 stitches. All of the stitching was done without any anesthesia or local anesthetic as it was a head wound (the staff would not allow me to sleep for over 24 hrs after the accident so they could monitor my brain functions.) the local anesthesia just poured out of my wounds due to the volume of bleeding so they stopped trying to numb my face so I didn’t have to “feel” every stich that went in. I surely felt each one of the 600+ stitches sewn onto my face and head.

I had to have my eyes flushed out for about an hour as the nurses bent my (throbbing) head over a sink. They poured water on my eyes for so long, the hospital water system ran out of heated water and the last 15 mins were nurses pouring cold water into my eyes. I was in a great deal of pain with no chance for pain meds for 24 hrs.

I spent my 4 yrs of high school with Frankenstein-like scars on my face that caused small children to burst into tears in fear of just the site of my face. I had complete strangers stop on the street and ask rudely “What happened to your Face?!”

I finally was allowed to have plastic surgery in the summer I was headed to college. I had three surgeries to repair my face overall.

No, I would never get into a Corvair again. Ever. I’d walk first.


Hi all! I have personally owned several Corvairs, 62, 63, 64, 2-65’s, 2-67’s and a 66 Crown V-8 conversion. My early vair’s handled marvelously after installing 1980 Dodge Van front shocks (Monroe Gas Magnums) on the rear suspension and adding a spare transaxle to the trunk to cope with the understeer in slick conditions, I too dropped an engine due to loose engine mount bolts in back, LOL! Jacked it back into place, located the missing nuts on the road, replaced, hooked the coil wire back on and got going again. I did have a disastrous occurrence with a small seal that divides the auto trans fluid from the diffy, it cracked and all the ATF went into the diffy starving the trans which locked up at 55mph causing 4 cars behind me to pile up, they missed me but ouch! The real failure on GM’s part was the use of neoprene o-rings to seal the pushrod tubes, they would crack, open up and cause large puddles to form in the driveway. Viton o-rings fixed that issue but running real low on oil meant the cam bearings, which were the engine block, no inserts, would wear out rapidly and lower oil pressure drastically. The other failure point was the standard trans, the long trans input shaft was supported by a funky bronze bushing on the clutch end pounded into the crank which would wear rapidly causing oil to come out of the transaxle onto the clutch disk creating chatter and slippage. The Turbo 150-180 engines had the hot turbo mounted by the air intake for engine cooling considerably shortening engine life, The 140 4-carb engines dropped valve seats due to the soft aluminium used in the head castings. My Corv-8 was insane to drive with a 327 using a Corvair gearbox but the 66 gearboxes had thin castings and would break in half if driven too hard, ouch! GM dropped the ball on many things but once the above stuff was fixed it made a fun reliable car.


I own a '68 Corvair convertible 140 PG and all '68s came with lap belts. Your accident was indeed, tragic. I had to leave the road to avoid a head on collision, coming out of Key Largo, Florida, in 1980. I was driving a '78 Ford conversion van, that had the factory seat belts that would not function with the RV seats and I was ejected when it rolled over a couple of times. I sustained a broken back and spinal cord damage. I have had several surgeries since, but have not been able to walk or stand since. I have owned two Ford vans, since and a Ford Crown Vic. It wasn’t the vehicles fault, now was it?


I also own a '62 wagon and a '64 Spyder Turbo coupe, almost show ready. The engine has to be re-installed, after the body was painted. Our '68 convertible 140 PG has been a joy to restore and drive the past ten years. The '62 wagon has all of her mechanicals upgraded with new wiring, electronic ignition, Flame Thrower coil, electric fuel pump, new carbs and she runes beautiful. It is time to get her painted and a new interior. There is no reason any car can’t be safe and dependable, today! Just Resto-mod it!


Hi Fred! Glad to see you are into 'vairs. I am currently 'vair less but still like them. Two things I recommend, one is use a ‘wrapped’ belt for the fan and convert the bronze bushing in the crankshaft meant to support the input shaft with a needle bearing, it will take a bit of engineering to do, bore the bushing hole to accept a needle bearing and cut down the input shaft to accept a hardened sleeve that will ride in the needle bearing. I added a slice of the bronze bushing on top the needle bearing to provide thrust support and formed some Teflon on the outside of that to keep dirt out. Don’t ask for specs tho, I did that years ago. remarkable difference on clutch spin down time making shifts quicker. Oh one more thing, ALWAYS replace the small seal between the powerglide and the diff. I keeps the ATF in the trans, if it fails the diffy fills with ATF and the trans will seize stopping you in the middle of the road, I caused a 4 car pileup behind me once, not fun. Enjoy your projects!