An Entertaining & Informative Vintage Automobile Internet Magazine

Chevrolet Presents – The Corvair In Action

When Chevrolet introduced the Corvair, the new compact car with the engine located in the rear, the Company also began a campaign to convince skeptical new car buyers that it was a safe vehicle. This film was produced to demonstrate the economy car’s handling, braking, reliability, structural strength and was called “the compact car that people could count on.”

In the production watch as the rear-engined car is driven up a stream, through all types of rough terrain and put “through its paces” on both the road and race track. The automaker also included crash tests in the film conducted with a 1959 Chevrolet and a rollover test to prove that it was also structurally sound.

The video is courtesy of Mac’s Motor City Garage. The photo is courtesy of The Old Car Manual Project.

36 responses to “Chevrolet Presents – The Corvair In Action

  1. My Dad had a 1964 Corvair, 110 hp, 4 speed, that I learned to drive on and took my driving test. At that time in RI your license was stamped auto only if you did not test with a manual. I powered around the corner in front of our house and learned the limitations of a swing arm rear axle. It only happened once.

  2. I believe the Corvair’s best feature was a removable drain plug in the front ‘trunk’ ……. filled with ice and your favorite beverage, you delivered the party !

  3. Aside from my Model T, this is the most unsafe car ever built. Very bad over steer and uncontrollable oscillations after loosing it in a corner. Don’t ask me how I know.

    • Exactly how is the T more unsafe than any other car of its era?
      Feel free to defame the Corvair, after all, GM should have known better, but to complain about the lack of safety items in the T (what, no illuminated defroster controls!! 🙂 ) which was reasonably high tech for its time, smacks of revisionism.

      • Model T:

        Steering can feed back to steering wheel. Hit a bump and it will jerk the wheel out of your grip and can flip the car.

        Brakes are in the transmission. If one wheel in the mud and one wheel on a hard surface, brakes are not effective. Break an axle and no brakes, which actually happened to my dad. When the babbett thrust bearings in the differential eventually fall into pieces, the ring gear looses contact with the pinion gear resulting in no brakes. The parking brakes were cast iron shoes on a steel drum and were useless to stop the car in an emergency.

        The car can flip end over end if the front axle rotates. This can happen on the early T’s when the wishbone breaks. It happened to Henry Ford and has killed people within this century. It can also roll easily. There is NO roll over protection.

        No collusion protection. No bumpers on early cars. No windshield wipers. No brake light. No turn indicators. The cars came without rear view mirrors.

        The early clincher tires can come off the rim if the tire pressure is low.

        • Most of the problems mentioned here are not specific to the Ford Model T. The Model T, when properly maintained, was, and is, no worse than any other car when it comes to safety. Most modern owners will have taken the time to actually make their flivver safer than when it was new – replaced worn components, added brake lights, converted the pane glass to safety glass, etc. A Packard or a Cadillac may have had more mass than a Model T, but it was built essentially the same way as the Ford: a wooden frame with metal panels all mounted on a steel chassis. The Packard or Cadillac may have come with more standard features, but there was almost nothing those marques had that could not be procured for the Ford to make it as safe as them.

          Complaint: Hit a bump and the steering wheel will jerk out of your hands. Reality: This could happen with any car of the era where the steering was so directly connected to the front axle. Should we get rid of all bicycles because this could still happen to cyclists?

          Complaint: Limited brakes. Reality: In addition to the transmission brake, there were band brakes on the rear axle using the parking brake. If you broke an axle, you still had the transmission brake to slow you down.

          Complaint: Front axle breaks resulting in possible death. Reality: Though much less likely to happen today, steering, wheel, and suspension components can still break today, which can lead to an accident or even death.

          Complaint: There is no roll over protection. Reality: Since most cars being sold at the same time as the Model T were open (e.g. phaetons, runabouts, touring cars, etc.) few cars had any rollover protection of any kind. It wasn’t until the 1920s that closed cars, with only rudimentary rollover protection, began outselling open cars. As late as 1924 only 43% of autos being produced were closed. Even so, the largely wooden closed bodies of the time would often collapse upon impact or roll-over.

          Complaint: No collision protection. Reality: The automobile was in its infancy when the Model T first came out. No car had a collapsible steering column, air-bags, ABS, welded beams in doors, safety glass, etc. The Model T was no different in its general build or more dangerous than any other car of the time.

          Complaint: No windshield wipers. Reality: You could easily accessorize your Model T with an aftermarket windshield wiper. While the windshield wiper might never have been a standard feature, over time more options became standard on the Model T to include headlights, top, windshield, horn, and a speedometer which, gradually over time, made the Model T safer.

          Complaint: No brake light. Reality: Think about this: in 1928 only 11 states mandated brake lights. Why? Because the universal convention at the time was hand and arm signals. So its not surprising that the Model T did not have them. Accessory/after-market brake lights were readily available. Today such websites as Model T Ford Fix clearly tell you, “If you want to drive your Model T and not worry about being rear ended you need a brake light.”

          Complaint: No turn indicators. Reality: The modern flashing turn signal was not patented until 1938. Accessory turn signals were available before then.

          Complaint: No rear view mirror. Reality: While limited use of rear view mirrors before 1921 is known, such as on Ray Harroun’s 1911 winning Indy 500 race car, the rear view mirror was not patented until 1921.

          Complaint: Clincher tires can come off the rim. Reality: Well maintained wheels and modern tires have done much to make wheel/tire combinations safer. If you are taking your antique car out and not checking the tire pressure before leaving and at rest periods, you are placing yourself at risk of a flat tire. Replacing old tires with modern replacements also is a good idea. Wheel and tire maintenance, while likely less needed as in the past, is still mandatory. Look at how many worn our and dead tires we still see along Interstate highways. How many of us have seen rubber tire pieces strewn across the road and a semi-truck parked up the road? Tires today still separate from wheels. It was no different back then except for how much faster we travel today.

          Sources: The Rise and Fall of American Growth by Robert J. Gordon; Henry’s Wonderful Model T 1908-1927 by Floyd Clymer; The History of Brake Lights on News Wheel; Safety And The Ford Model T on Model T Ford Fix; Wikipedia

        • Of course what you say is correct, but that was the state of the art of the time.

          A bit like saying the Wright Flyer is more dangerous than a 787.

          I bet if one did a study, you would find that per miles driven, today Ts and other “unsafe” antique cars have a lower accident, injury and death rate than newer cars.
          Safety often comes down to how a vehicle is used…Ts are driven by sober adults on nice days….therefore they’ll have a good safety record.
          I have spent a lifetime in aviation…so I have learned something about safety…it’s often not the vehicle that’s unsafe, rather the way it’s used.

        • funnny before that was the horse and it had none of the above. Safety was all on how the horse felt that day

  4. Great film! Thanks for posting. Couple of thoughts, please:

    1) Very dramatic music
    2) I’d bet there was a lot of mud in those cars that drove through the water with the windows open
    3) There was quite a surplus of 59 Chevrolets available for crash-testing

    It was great fun! Thanks again!

    • That’s one very informative movie, however, they didn’t manage to roll the car until it was done intentionally, yet most comments about the Corvair claim that it would roll over at the drop of a hat! I had a 1960 Corvair that I did some pretty insane driving in and never once thought it might roll over.

  5. I remember in the Fall of ’59, as we often did on a Saturday, my brother, friends and I rode our bikes the two or so miles out to the then three year old, Southdale Center shopping mall in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina, MN and saw a bunch of circus tents, some car carriers and a couple tractor trailers. Drawn closer, we saw the Chevrolet banners, just-introduced Corvair sedans parked around and that the trailers had exhibits of some sort in them. In one set up as a mini theater they showed this “Corvair in Action” film. I was amazed to see crash tests on brand new cars and am still fascinated by the “disguised” version shown at the beginning.

  6. I bought a 1961 Corvair 4 – door new in June, 1961, with a 3 – speed manual on the floor. It was unbelievably pokey, and unable to climb even the slightest hill in third. Returned it to the dealer several times without satisfactory corrections. Finally traded it off after less than a year, after discovering that one of the twin carburetors was not hooked up to the linkage, and it was essentially running on three cylinders. Next to the last GM car I ever owned. The last was a 1982 Pontiac 6000, cheaply made and totally worn out at 50,000 miles. I’ve bought imports exclusively, since then.

  7. I worked for a Chevrolet dealer’s service dept when the Corvairs first came out. They were famous for throwing fan belts. I’ll never forget the elderly couple crying there. One said “The next time we buy a new car it will be a real one.” I felt really bad for them.

    • Hi Keith, Corvairs were known for throwing belts. I believe GM came up with an extra pulley to prevent that.
      If I may enter a Corvair story, many years ago, when the late Terry Ehrich, I believe the editor of Hemmings at the time, had several classic cars. The Hemmings panel trucks were his, and he also had a Corvair. Terry would have parades in Bennington and feature his vehicles with Henmmings staff driving them. He had a secretary drive the Corvair, who had no idea about the air cooled motor. She and others draped a Hemmings banner across the back, covering the louvers for air intake. Sadly, the car overheated, started on fire. It was quickly put out, but damaged the car, the woman felt terrible. But, from what I hear, Terry was a great guy, and let it go. I think a Farmers Insurance commercial featured a Corvair in a parade on fire. Coincidence?

  8. My uncle had a 63 Monza convertible, 110 hp and 4 speed. I got to drive it a good bit one summer. It had been sideswiped on one side, all the way down, just hard enough to make it look like crap on that side, but it drove well and was fun to drive with the 4 speed and with the top down. Couple years later, he had a 66 Corsa, 140 hp and 4 speed. By this time, Corvair had a true independent rear suspension. On one stretch of interstate, I ran it up to its top speed of 115, which I thought was pretty good for what it was. These two Corvairs were the first 4-speed cars I ever drove (but not the last).

  9. Some people called them Flying Saucers.I read somewhere that BMW would later slightly imitate the Corvairs body style.
    I think those BMWs are the ones that looked like flying saucers more than Corvairs.

  10. Ralph Nader is an eternal solution in search of a problem, typical of the gasbag types seeking presidential status…as in 1996, 2000 and 2004. As I recall he characterized the Corvair as the worst car, from a safety standpoint, ever made. Interestingly, two years after his now famous encyclical, the National Highway Transportation Safety Agency issued their own report on Naders findings. Essentially the agency said the guy was wrong. At that point though the lethal damage had been done. I’ve known people in the distant past who had these early 60s cars and they loved them. Of course they weren’t in the habit of testing rear suspension limits on city streets or hauling excessively heavy loads while running at high speed. Nader has made a career of sticking his very ample nose into the affairs of the rest of us, and it’s a shame he’s gotten away with it to the extent he has…becoming very wealthy in the process I might add. By the way, Don Yenko very successfully campaigned Corvair based cars with some of the best drivers in the world (Dr. Dick Thompson comes to mind, driving for and with Briggs Cunningham at LeMans, among other places). Yenko himself would never have stuck his neck out with a Corvair, nor would he have had the guts to approach a driver of the caliber of Dick Thompson had the Corvair been a total disaster.

    • A friend of mine did the body and paint on a Yenko Corvair restoration years back for some local sports car enthusiast. IIRC, it ended up with Leno

  11. The Corvair has got to be the most misunderstood car of the last century. I thought the Corvair was a good car. While non-gas heated cars were a bit chilly ( some say the gas heater worked great) and smelly( hot air going to the cabin passed over leaking pushrod tubes ) it’s superior handling in snow was the trade off. A Corvair with a set of “Town & Country” snow tires, not much could stop them. The oil leaking was it’s downfall. I remember Corvairs with rear panels coated with oil, you couldn’t read the license plate. Not long ago, driving down a 4 lane, I smell oil fumes coming from up ahead. Few more miles, everybody passing some car, turns out, it was a Corvair in the right lane, going about 52 mph and the elderly driver with a big smile.

    • yes they did have high maintance. the push tube s and oil cooler had to be re sealed. That was maintance back then. Remeber a lot of things did not last back then. Rings valves tires . plugs points brakes.

      • they also required that you maintain the thermosts and door flaps for heat. when they go bad just like a thermoste in your car no heat. I worked with a guy who did nothing but covairs from the day they were introduced to they didcontinued. He taught me a lot. He could do the head gaskets and juggs and rings and push tube. Plus do not forget the oil cooler o rings. replace the thermosts and repair thew flapper working on his back in 4 hrs in the evening. they were very easy to work on.

  12. The Corvair was so far superior to the VW Bug yet it sold a fraction of what VW produced. That’s a shame. It was a good car that got better every year. The last year’s models were very stylish and still look good.

  13. I had a 66 Corvair Monza Hardtop Coupe with the 110 engine and 4-speed transmission. I bought it from a neighbor who was a pilot. He replaced the Corvair with a Porsche (which had all kinds of problems). It was great in the snow. Commuted from Santa Fe to Los Alamos in it for several years. Never worried about driving in the snow. I did place a flywheel from a V-6 GMC in the trunk floor for more weight. The front end was light and the extra weight made handling and steering better. My son drove it through high school. Finally sold it after the body rust got to be too bad. Still, the engine was running great and it used no oil. We did replace the push rod tube seals once. I think a major problem was they were not like the conventional cars and many did not know how to repair and maintain them. Neat car.

  14. This is great stuff. A buddy in HS had a dark blue ’69 and this brings back such memories.
    Thanks too for the link to MCG; another place to feed my daily fix for old cars

  15. Wow, one of the original SUV’s! Take it almost anywhere! I have never seen a road test with comprehensive off-road sections for that era, so I was more than a bit surprised. My ’59 Ford would have failed miserably. Never could get over that butt-ugly styling, but the next version really was a major improvement. Too bad Chevy did not continue to improve on the marque as it had great potential….greater quality control, better engine reliability, disc brakes, improved supercharging leading to fuel injection as well, and the introduction of some of the improvements Yenko made could have made the Corvair into a real global winner just in time for the Japanese onslaught.

  16. I owned a 1961 Corvair coupe with a 3 speed. Was great in snow, but leaked oil. wasn’t popular with the neighbors.

  17. My first car was a 1967 Corvair. I paid $80.00 for it so you can imagine the condition. While rebuilding the engine
    I couldn’t afford the stock exhaust so I opted for a set of glass packs from J.C. Whitney. The flames on the over run where impressive even if the local police were not. Fortunately my Dad was driving it that night.

    With the rear engine it went through snow pretty well until one night I hit a drift and that flat floor pan simply slid up onto it leaving all four wheels searching for the ground.

    I remember the drain plug well. Early spring brook trout with cold beverages. The leaking pushrod tubes I remember well too. I think I used furnace cement in an effort to seal them up. The interior always had the tangy aroma of burned oil. I sold the car when the windshield got hit by a wayward baseball. The ledge it sat on was simply too rotted.

    I ended up replacing it with a 1970 Vega with a V8 stuffed in it. But that’s another story.

  18. My dad was looking for a new car in late ’62. Salesman was trying to steer him towards a corvair because traveled for work and it would get good gas mileage. He said the new corvairs already had oil puddles under them. He special ordered a 63 SS Impala, white with torquois interior. I’ve never seen one in person.

  19. I am surprised that no one mentioned the NASCAR Compact Division of 1960. The race was on the road course inside Daytona Speedway. Valiants ran away with the race. All the Corvairs turned over, and the Falcons were several laps down at the end. NASCAR decided that there would be no Compact Division.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *