Ah, the Chevrolet Corvair. Easily the most controversial American car ever made, nearly two million examples were sold during the 1960 through 1969 model years. It remains one of the most common 1960s Detroit cars in Ewe Pullet-style car graveyards to this day. I found this sporty 1962 Monza Club Coupe in a Denver-area yard last month.
The ’62 Monza was available in sedan, coupe, wagon, and convertible forms, and it came with “deep-twist” carpeting and a “de luxe” steering wheel as standard equipment.
This car has the extra-cost front bucket seats, which cut the occupant capacity down from six to five people. Yes, the bench-seat Corvair was a six-passenger car, though those six would have to be willing to snuggle.
All that interior space was made possible by the car’s air-cooled/rear-mounted engine, which allowed the use of a flat floor.
That engine was an air-cooled boxer six, equipped with dual carburetors and an around-the-corner fan-belt rig that held together surprisingly well. This one was rated at 80 horsepower when new; a 150-horse turbocharged version was available in the Monza Spyder. If you got the Powerglide automatic transmission in a non-turbo 1962 Corvair, engine power went up to 84 horsepower.
The base transmission was a three-on-the-floor manual, with a four-speed manual and two-speed Powerglide automatic available as options. This car has the four-on-the-floor, which cost an extra 65 bucks (about $625 in 2022 frogskins).
A 2,500-pound car with double-digit horsepower and a two-speed automatic must have been miserably slow (the only Corvairs I’ve ever driven were naturally-aspirated manuals, and they weren’t particularly quick even by 1960s standards), so I’ve managed to find just a single Powerglide Corvair in 15 years of chasing history in wrecking yards. The automatic was expensive as well, adding $157 to the cost of a $2,483 Club Coupe (that’s about $1,515 on a $23,930 car when reckoned in 2022 dollars).
This car does have a factory AM radio, which added $48 to the price tag (about $465 today). Those triangle-in-a-circle symbols at 640 and 1240 kHz indicate the CONELRAD stations, to which you were supposed to tune when Soviet aircraft interrupted your favorite tunes by raining down Tsar Bombas.
The odometer shows 60,848 miles. Is it really 160,848 or 260,848? We’ll never know.
Like most Corvairs I find, this one spent decades sitting outdoors, exposed to the elements. The interior is crispy, the paint is faded, and there’s a bit of tinworm damage in the usual locations.
This dealership badge indicates that it was sold at Ed Hammer’s dealership in Sheridan, Wyoming. That’s way up by Montana, about 450 miles from Denver.
I can’t tell how long ago this car left Wyoming for Colorado, but the studded snow tires would have been a wise choice during winter in either state.
The Corvair was supposed to be Chevrolet’s compact car for all purposes, but the debut of the front-engined Chevy II in 1962 put an end to that dream. The Chevy II wasn’t as roomy inside as the Corvair, but it was cheaper and less weird.
Corvair sales really fell off a cliff during the 1966 model year. You can blame most of this on Ralph Nader and his book, though Unsafe at Any Speed focused on the Corvair for just one chapter out of eight. The death of Ernie Kovacs in a Corvair crash in 1962 had a role in the decline and fall of the Corvair as well. The swingaxle rear suspension— seen in this photo— got most of the blame for the Corvair’s allegedly dangerous handling, though the swingaxle-equipped Volkswagen Beetles of the same era had the same problems with oversteer and axle jacking. In any case, GM made Ralph Nader a big star by hiring private dicks to try to ruin him, and the Corvair paid the price.
The Corvair got a true independent rear suspension for 1965 (followed by the U.S.-market Beetle a few years later), but by then it didn’t make much difference in the showrooms. Corvair production continued through the end of the decade, mostly because The General refused to admit feeling any heat from Nader and his ilk.
Tackles the grasping mud and muck of Florida’s notorious Withlacoochie Swamplands!
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[Images by the author]
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