A two door, rear engined, air cooled flat six coupe. We’ve been here a million times before, right? Well, no. It’s rare for the American auto industry to try something radically new, but they most certainly did with the Chevrolet Corvair in 1960. Not only was this a move away from large land barges into something smaller, safer, more modern and far sportier, but its layout was truly big news – air cooled flat sixes have been commonplace since the 911, but the Corvair actually predated our favorite Porsche by three whole years. And what’s more, from 1965 the all aluminum, 2300cc motor could be enjoyed in turbocharged form. That’s proper innovation for 1965.
Of course the Corvair will forever go down in history, connected indefinitely to the name of political activist Ralph Nader, who’s book Unsafe at Any Speed slammed the first generation’s swing arm rear suspension in his damning review of the American car industry. External testing by the DOT later determined the Corvair to be no more diabolical than four of its more popular contemporaries and noted that the Porsche 356, Volkswagen Beetle and some Mercedes-Benz all used swing arms without issue. Despite a complete re-design in 1965 to fully independent rear suspension, the damage was done and after years of declining sales the Corvair was discontinued in 1969 after nearly 1.8 million of the revolutionary coupe, sedan, wagon, convertible and van had been sold.
Apart from a few small spots of rust, this lightly modified example was in mint condition and spotted sitting pretty in Adelaide’s Torrens Parade Ground recently. Still in left hand drive, this example has a nice stance over its three piece split rims, and I really dig the pro touring style front air dam, unfortunately a little hidden in the shadows of these midday photos. It just goes to show how a few carefully chosen and reversible modifications can really change the whole feel of a car.
Words and photos by Andrew Coles