Friday, January 15, 2010

1960 Chevrolet Corvair 4-door sedan

"With the Corvair, Chevrolet presents America's first specific design for a compact car . . . nine years in development . . . an authentic 108" wheelbase compact car that maintains American standards of room, ride and performance. The key: America's first modern aluminum engine, so light it can be joined with the transmission and final drive gears in one lightweight unit and placed in the rear where it belongs in a compact car. There's a virtually flat interior floor, and room for six."

When this heavily customized Corvair from Sancti Spiritus catched our attention, we did't expect a surprise...

Designed as Chevrolet's answer to the soaring demand for compact cars in reaction to the 1958-recession (which completely surprised the "Big Three" and awarded compact cars like Studebaker's Lark with a massive sales boost), the Corvair was a very advanced car upon its arrival. A flat boxer-engine was mounted in the rear, and the design was a radical break with the "chrome-and-tailfins"-dogma of the late 50's. Beside fullsize cars like Buick's Special or Oldsmobile's Super-88, the Corvair looked like from the future. In fact, many european companies were quick to copy the Corvair's design (i.e Fiat 1300-1500 and NSU Prinz in 1961, or the russian Zaparoshez), a thing unheard of american automobiles before and after.

But not everything was sunshine: the new package with the weighty engine in the rear could provocate unexpected road-behavior (generally sudden oversteering), especially when the tire-pressure advice (26psi in the rear tires versus just 11psi at front) was not accurately followed by the owners. An anti-roll bar could have solved this problem, but apparently GM didn't want to spend an extra 6$ per car.

This economic decision should hit GM later: in it's popular book "Unsafe at Any Speed" (published in 1965), lawyer Ralph Nader bashed the Chevrolet Corvair for it's critical road-behavior. However, in a series of comparative tests in 1971, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration concluded: "The handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic."

With or without the stigma of being unsafe, the Corvair sold at a stable 200.000+ units every year until the end of it's 10-year existence. And to our surprise the owner of this Corvair from Sancti Spiritus found its own solution for all the imperfections: when our conversation came to the inevitable question of "original motor", he told us "No, no, amigo. Toyota". And opened the front hood! Imagine a rear-engine car completely reworked to a front engine drivetrain, and all this with the limited possibilities of cuban do-it-yourself workmanship. Stunning...

1 Kommentare:

sanducci said...

The ability of the Cubans to modify and keep these cars running speaks volumes about their mechanical skills.