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the almighty corvair



  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    Oh that's RIGHT. I do remember that problem now. I wonder why Americans were so concerned in the era of Cheap Gas? What was it in 1960? About .25 cents a gallon?

    It really needed a gas heater, as did the VW. And even when the regular heater worked on the Corvair, the inefficient engine sealing sometimes caused oil to drip into the heater boxes, filling the passenger compartment with acrid smoke. Nice.

    Corvair purists will insist that all of the Corvair's "issues" (they dare not call them problems) are correctable, and they are right.

    The "issue" with that is that the American car buyer did not want such a fussy car, that required precise tire inflation, and a higher level of maintenance, and various "upgrades".

    One could argue that the 1960 VW was no winner in the comfort or reliability department either, but it was simple to fix and it had a sort of cult status that the Corvair never did achieve.

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  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    Oh that's RIGHT. I do remember that problem now. I wonder why Americans were so concerned in the era of Cheap Gas? What was it in 1960? About .25 cents a gallon?

    Yeah, but 1961 was also in the wake of a recession, one that had a lasting impact on cars. The economy wasn't so hot yet, and people were becoming more concerned with fuel economy. Witness the success of the Rambler. And the simple fact that suddenly cars like the Falcon, Corvair, Valiant, and Lancer even existed!

    Even with bigger cars, they were cutting compression and making feeble attempts at downsizing. One example I can think of, off the top of my head, is that Chrysler cut the output of their 361-2bbl from 295 to 265 hp that year. The '61 Pontiacs, Oldsmobiles, Buicks, and even Cadillacs were a bit smaller and lighter than the year before. Dodge was relying mainly on Plymouth-sized cars for their volume sellers, while Chrysler and the remnants of DeSoto were depending on what had traditionally been Dodge-sized cars. The '61 Lincolns were downsized, although probably not much lighter or fuel efficient, than their mammoth '58-60 forbears. And Mercury went from being a big, beefy monster to a glammed-up Ford.

    Of course, it wouldn't be long before nobody cared about fuel economy anymore, and the weight, length, and cubic inches would start piling on. But for one brief moment, say 1958-61, I think people did start caring about fuel economy and thrift again.
  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    The Corvair was a pretty daring move in 1960. Ford took the easy way out with the cheap and cheerful Ford Falcon, about as technically advanced as a 1935 Buick. The Valiant/Lancer was a bit more interesting, and really the most successful of the "compacts" in terms of performance, handling, with just the right touch of new tech such as tornsion bars and an alternator.

    As the Corvair was born a-dying, GM shoved the Chevy II into the mix.

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  • euphoniumeuphonium Great Northwest, West of the Cascades.Posts: 3,425
    On 21 Oct 60 gasoline for the Corvair cost .299 here in WA. My records don't indicate if that was for Regular or Supreme.

    In 1950, I remember Regular Mobil was 5 gallons for $1 on Saturday mornings. Funny how first time experiences make an impression, fueling my '39 Chev 4 door.
  • wevkwevk Posts: 179
    "And even when the regular heater worked on the Corvair, the inefficient engine sealing sometimes caused oil to drip into the heater boxes, filling the passenger compartment with acrid smoke. Nice."

    Yes, very nice. On my commute I used to know exactly when, by location, to roll down the windows to ventilate the blue smoke that was about to billow out of the heater. (1964 Spyder convert). I seem to recall that the heater boxes covered both the block and headers so that a gasket leak would vent carbon monoxide into the interior There were stories of unconscious drivers running off the road.

  • Mr_ShiftrightMr_Shiftright Sonoma, CaliforniaPosts: 57,564
    One wonders if GM was out to kill its customers sometimes.

    My favorite GM defect was defective motor mounts on the Impala V8s. They'd break, causing the engine to fall to one side on the steering, thereby locking it. Furthermore, as the engine fell, it would pull the throttle wide open; then as a final touch, the moving engine would pull the vacuum line out of the power brake.

    An assassin couldn't have planned it better, no?

    I'm no defender of very early Corvairs. I think they really did flip over pretty easily, and in fact I eye-witnessed one.

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  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,599
    Growing up in So. Calif, we rarely if ever used our heaters but I remember my dad's 1962 Volkswagen.

    It had a small knob on the floor that operated the heater. You had to turn it about 40 turns to full open the heater which took hot air off the manifolds.

    Same as with a Corvair. Any exhaust leaks would suck fumes right into the cabin.

    And, weak? After driving 20 minutes, you might be able to feel something.
  • andre1969andre1969 Posts: 23,040
    An assassin couldn't have planned it better, no?

    Funny you'd mention that. I saw "Capricorn One" the other night, and NASA pretty much did the same thing to Elliott Gould's Mustang in order to shut him up! As for that '65 Chevy motor mount issue, am I just imagining things, or when the engine shifted over, couldn't it jam the shift linkage to the transmission as well, possibly keeping you from being able to shift it into neutral? Or is that just a little TOO consipracy-theoristic of me?

    I've heard that the 1961-63 Pontiac Tempest, which also used swing axles, was actually worse than the Corvair, but somehow Ralph Nader missed that little scandal-in-the-making. I wonder what about the Tempest made it worse, though? Was it simply because it was more powerful, especially with a V-8, and that would make it much more catastrophic if you lost control?
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    A higher center of gravity may have made the Tempest even less stable than the Corvair. I say "may" because I'm not aware of any direct comparisons between these two cars. However, I drive a '61 Tempest (4 cylinder) once, and tested its stability around corners. I also drove and rode in several '60-63 Corvairs. From my experience, I can tell you that the Corvair didn't tend to swing out and lose its composure in curves as much as the Tempest. I felt that the Tempest was truly dangerous. It had very little tolerance for accident avoidance maneuvers, for example. The '60-'63 Corvair had similar problems, but considerably less pronounced, from my recollection.

    Corvairs were low cars, with normal, for their day, 13' wheels and tires. The Tempest featured 15" wheels and relatively skinny tires. Normally, 15" is preferable to 13", but when the rear wheels tend to buckle under, when driving in a spirited manned (way less than recklessly), the greater diameter of the larger wheels and tires tend to exaggerate this aberrant behavior. Conversely, the lesser distance from the road to the axle in the Corvair, worked in the Corvair's favor vs. the Tempest.

    Quite aside from the handling, that 4 cylinder in the Tempest belonged in a farm tractor, not a car.
  • hpmctorquehpmctorque Posts: 4,600
    In answering andre's specific question, I gave a one-sided view of the Tempest. In fairness to Pontiac, the Tempest was quite innovative, and it was different from GM's other '61-'63 compacts. For example, in addition to the independent rear suspension and 15' wheels, which the Tempest didn't share with its Olds and Buick counterparts, the Tempest's drivetrain employed a unique drive shaft.

    For those of you who aren't familiar with the Tempest's driveshaft design, it consisted of a tunnel that spanned almost the length of the car. This tunnel housed a flexible steel driveshaft running on bearings residing inside a steel box. This unusual design forced it into a curve. This driveshaft became known as "rope drive." It connected the engine to a rear mounted unified differential and transmission in the rear. This combination of front-mounted engine and rear-mounted transaxle gave the Tempest a nearly-ideal 50/50 weight distribution. This was years before BMW made a big deal of this weight distribution. Another advantage of this driveshaft is that it eliminated the floor hump for front seat passengers.

    While Pontiac deserves credit for trying to make its compact better than Olds' and Buick's, it made the mistake of introducing this car before the bugs had been ironed out. The result was the handling problems covered in my previous message, plus the rope drive was prone to early failure. It lacked sufficient strength.

    It makes me think of how different automotive history would be if GM had learned from these mistakes.
  • oregonboyoregonboy Posts: 1,653
    made the mistake of introducing this car before the bugs had been ironed out.

    Geez, how many times did GM do THAT !? :sick:
  • isellhondasisellhondas Issaquah WashingtonPosts: 19,599
    Very good info!

    And, that "rope drive" axle made the BEST prybar in the world! If you were lucky enough to get your hands on one in a junkyard you really made a score!

    Once in awhile in an old time shop you can see one in a corner somewhere.
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