Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Purdy Car, Snapshot Pictures

The Gen. II Corvair's killer "coke bottle" shape in side view.  De-chroming and  aftermarket wheels a plus.

The rear 3/4 view was its best angle.  Panasport wheels a plus-plus.

But the front 3/4 view was fine too.

By 1965, with the introduction of Gen. 2, the Corvair was a sorted car.  And its new body was a Billy Mitchell/G.M. Styling home run.  It deserved a better fate than being replaced by the Chevy II.

I was rooting for the Corvair when it came out in 1960: "hey, America can do a technically advanced car too!"  All props to Ed Cole for pushing an aluminum air-cooled rear-engine design from concept to production through G.M.'s conservative bureaucracy.  You need only compare it to its competitors, the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant, to see how far outside the box Cole was thinking.

Alas, the Gen. 1 Corvair was almost as much a turkey as Ralph Nader claimed it was.  I drove one once, and the father of a high school buddy owned one, so I had some shotgun seat time.  Steering feel was vague, even for an American car of that era.  Not good in a car with a heavy rear weight bias.  With swing-axle rear suspension, it oversteered like a Beetle on steroids.  It was really tail-happy in the rain. Proper pressure in its gripless cross-ply tires was critical, and needed to be checked often.  A set of good radial tires would have mitigated much of this, but radials on American cars were still half a dozen years in the future.

Its cooling fan belt changed direction from vertical to horizontal and back again over idler pulleys.  Belt condition and tension were critical.  It wasn't the kind of "drive it and forget it" kind of car Americans were used to (and wanted).  My own Dad had a 1960 Valiant.  Its 101 h.p. "slant six" would leave Corvairs and Falcons for dead in a drag race.  The Falcon, by far the most joyless car of the three to drive, would still be running and comparatively rust-free after Corvairs and Valiants had gone to that Great Crusher In The Sky.

In 1965, most of the Corvair's problems were addressed with the Gen. II.  It had fully independent rear suspension with good geometry.  The sporty models had a 4-speed and an available turbocharger. American cars by then had front disc brakes.  Owners looking for a driver's car mounted radials.  And it now had killer looks.  The only problem that wasn't fixed was oil leaks.  The Gen. II Corvair proved that the car's issues were in execution, not concept.  Its sales strategy was moved upmarket from basic transportation to "fun car," where it belonged.  Don Yenko of Yenko Chevrolet even turned the Gen. II into a winning SCCA racer.

If I'd been offered a free pick-of-the-litter G.M. car (Corvette excluded) in 1965, I'd probably have taken a 396 Chevelle or a Pontiac GTO.  Wrong!  If you were looking for fun on curvy roads, using most of the car's performance potential, the 180 h.p. turbocharged Corvair Corsa was the way to go.  In style, thanks to Billy Mitchell.

Yenko Stinger SCCA racer.

No comments:

Post a Comment