Motoring Trailblazers - Chevrolet Corvair

Sun 10th Jun 2018

The world of motoring is hurtling headlong into a bright new future of all-electric, automated, connected technology - and Marty McFly is not behind the wheel! But what were the cars that were ‘back to the future’ of years gone by?

There have been many different trailblazing motors which were seen by the critics to be ahead of their time, and in this series, we will investigate and showcase many of the best in class.

Chevrolet Corvair
They love a big car in the United States and during the motoring revolutionary period of the 1950s they built them big and bold. GM, Ford and Chrysler dominated the domestic market and their huge family sized saloons appeared to be the only option available - unless you went for an import.

The fact that Volkswagen, Fiat and Renault began to see increased sales towards the end of the 50s suggested that there was a demand for smaller, more compact cars and Chevrolet were the first of the big three to blink.

It was Chevrolet’s General Manager, Ed Cole, who pushed for the changes, both in engineering and design, and thus was born the rear-engined, air-cooled Corvair.

The name Corvair, taken from an amalgamation of Corvette and Bel Air, the earliest models included a two-door coupe, a convertible, four-door sedan, a station wagon and a number of commercial van options.

The revolutionary design proved to be a huge success, with sales of over 200,000 in each of the model’s first six years since its 1960 launch. The rear-engine design brought some huge advantages including improvements in ride quality, traction and braking balance.

The Corvair inspired a number of imitators, with the Volksawagen Beetle, Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant all harking back to the rear-engine thinking.

However, with rear-engine design also comes a tricky swing axle, which came with even trickier and unpredictable cornering.

This difficulty is said to be responsible for a series of fatal single-vehicle accidents, and leading US intellectual Ralph Nader wrote a book, Unsafe at Any Speed which pointed out these issues and accused GM of refusing to acknowledge the problem.

The Corvair’s issues saw its production run come to an end in 1969, after leaving an indelible mark on the US motor industry in more ways than one.

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