There is no American automobile more controversial than this one. It’s the car that launched the career of Ralph Nader and led directly to the passage of the first U.S. federal safety legislation. Automotive historian Michael Lamm called this car a martyr; others said it should never have been built at all. It was flawed, at least in its original iteration, but it was also one of the most daring cars GM has ever built. We’re talking about the Chevrolet Corvair.
Author’s Note: The original version of this article was written in 2007. It has been extensively revised and expanded, adding new information and correcting various factual errors. WARNING: The article contains an animated GIF.
THE WRECK OF THE CADET
Once upon a time, Chevrolet, Ford, and Plymouth were known collectively as “The Low-Priced Three.” That did not, however, mean that their cars were particularly small by the standards of the rest of the world. In 1934, for example, a Chevrolet Master Six was 175 inches (4,445 mm) long on a 112-inch (2,845mm) wheelbase; the dimensions of the contemporary Ford and Plymouth were very similar. The Chevrolet weighed perhaps 3,200 lb (1,450 kg) at the curb and was powered by a 207 cu. in. (3,389 cc) six, which would have made it a very expensive proposition in England, France, or Italy, with those countries’ displacement-based taxable horsepower rules. Furthermore, the car and its engine would grow progressively bigger. Thanks to the pressures of the annual model change and the constant one-upmanship of its key rivals, the 1942 Chevrolets — the last available before America entered World War II — were more than a foot and a half (527 mm) longer than their 1934 ancestors. With the greater size came greater weight, more power, and a steady erosion of fuel economy.
Deploring that trend, some Chevrolet engineers had pushed for a smaller compact model as early as the mid-1930s, albeit with very little success. The primary obstacle was profit. Small cars cost almost as much to build as large ones, but larger models could be sold for higher prices. As a result, the division’s management and salesmen had little enthusiasm for compact cars. During the war, however, Chevrolet general manager Marvin E. Coyne became concerned about the prospects of a postwar recession like the one that had followed the Great War. As a potential stopgap, he asked engineer Earle S. MacPherson, then the head of Chevrolet’s Experimental engineering unit, to devise an inexpensive compact car to supplement the division’s full-size models.
In early 1945, MacPherson’s group started work on a compact “Light Car,” subsequently christened “Cadet.” The Cadet was a smallish four-door sedan, riding a 108-inch (2,743mm) wheelbase. Its target weight was about 2,200 lb (1,000 kg) and the intended engine was a 133 cu. in. (2,173 cc) OHV six making about 65 hp (48 kW). The Cadet was modestly sized, frugal, and reasonably nimble, using an early version of what is now known as MacPherson strut suspension both front and rear. Its target price was just under $1,000, or about 10% cheaper than the least-expensive full-size Chevy.
GM announced its intention to build the Cadet in May 1945, but the car’s internal support was limited. Corporate chairman Alfred P. Sloan opposed it, as did Chevrolet chief engineer James Crawford and much of the Chevrolet sales organization. To make matters worse, the Cadet was running well over its cost targets, frustrating Coyne’s hopes of a sub-$1,000 price tag. When Coyne departed to become vice president of the car and truck group in June 1946, the project began to lose momentum. In September, GM announced that production plans for the Cadet had been suspended. In May 1947, the Light Car was transferred from Chevrolet to the central Engineering staff to continue as a pure research project. MacPherson resigned that September and went to Ford.
Compact projects at Ford and Chrysler met a similar fate for many of the same reasons. Ford’s own Light Car was eventually sold to Ford SAF to become the 1949 French Ford Vedette while Chrysler’s four-cylinder A-106 was simply canceled. Some of MacPherson’s ideas for the Cadet found their way into the English Ford Consul and Zephyr in 1950, but Ford’s first postwar U.S. designs were standard-size cars.
As the 1950s dawned, only American’s smaller independent automakers still seemed interested in compacts. As we have previously seen, Nash unveiled its compact Rambler in April 1950, followed that fall by Kaiser-Frazer‘s Henry J. Initial sales were promising and the Rambler and Henry J were soon joined by the Aero Willys and the Hudson Jet. Unfortunately, the U.S. market was not yet prepared to absorb more than about 150,000 compacts a year, a volume insufficient to sustain so many competitors. By the 1956 model year, the Rambler and the tiny Nash Metropolitan were the only survivors and even their volume was trivial by Ford or Chevrolet standards.
The swift collapse of the domestic compacts validated the prejudices of Big Three executives, most of whom disdained the very idea of smaller cars. It would take both passion and desperation to convince the big Detroit automakers to enter that market.
THE PASSIONS OF ED COLE
Edward Nicholas Cole was born in the tiny Michigan farming village of Marne on September 17, 1909. From an early age, he displayed a fascination with machinery and by the time he was 16, he owned two cars — wrecks that he bought and rebuilt himself with money he earned milking cows and building and selling radio kits. Although he studied pre-law at Grand Rapids Junior College, Cole enrolled in the General Motors Institute (GMI, now Kettering University) in 1930, spending half his time in class, the other half working for Cadillac. He secured a permanent position at Cadillac in 1933.
In 1941, Cole adapted Cadillac’s L-head V8 engine for use in the Army’s M-5 Stuart light tank, a project that earned him a promotion to chief industrial design engineer in 1943. He became chief engineer of Cadillac in 1946 and subsequently led the development of Cadillac’s pioneering OHV V8, which along with the contemporary Oldsmobile Rocket V8 set the standard for almost all American engines of the fifties and sixties.
Shortly after the start of the Korean War, Cole was reassigned to run Cadillac’s Cleveland Tank Plant, a demanding and politically sensitive position. In June 1952, Chevrolet general manager Tom Keating brought him back to Detroit to become Chevrolet’s chief engineer, one of GM’s most important engineering jobs. Charged with breathing new life into Chevrolet’s conservative product line, Cole shepherded the development of the first Corvette, the small-block V8, and the much-beloved ’55 Chevy. Cole dramatically increased the size and power of Chevrolet’s engineering staff, expanding it from 851 to almost 2,900 employees. He also brought in several of his old colleagues from Cadillac, including Kai Hansen and Harry Barr, who had managed the development of the Cadillac OHV V8.
Emboldened by the tremendous success of the 1955 Chevrolet, Cole began pondering the idea of a smaller companion model for Chevrolet along the lines of the old Cadet. The business case for such a car was still not strong, but despite the failure of the Kaiser, Willys, and Hudson compacts, the small car market was showing signs of life. Volkswagen, which had sold fewer than 300 cars in America in 1950, was beginning a period of spectacular growth. Its sales increased by a factor of ten from 1954 to 1955 and expanded almost five-fold for 1956. Moreover, sales of AMC’s Rambler, which now had the domestic compact market almost to itself, were beginning to rebound.
Beyond the marketing considerations, Cole was fascinated with the engineering possibilities of an all-new small car. Even while they were building tanks in Cleveland, Cole, Barr, and Hansen had spent their spare time brainstorming ideas for radical new cars. At the time, such talk had been only an intellectual exercise, but they now had the opportunity to explore those ideas more fully.
In the mid-fifties, each GM division still handled much of its own research and development work. In 1955, Cole ordered Chevrolet R&D director Maurice Olley to compare the merits of various layouts and powertrain configurations, including front-engine/rear-drive (FR), front-engine/front-wheel-drive (FF), and rear-engine/rear-drive (RR). The FR configuration was abandoned early on, mainly for packaging reasons — a conventional prop shaft and rear axle would have taken up too much space. Front-wheel drive was quickly discarded as well, in part because the very heavy, often balky steering of most contemporary FF cars was deemed unacceptable.
The rear-engine, rear-drive (RR) layout, then used by Volkswagen, Renault, and Fiat, among others, offered packaging, weight, and traction advantages as well as the prospect of lighter steering. This was in keeping with Cole’s own thoughts on the matter; he had been interested in rear engines since at least 1941 and had even developed an experimental rear-engine Cadillac shortly after the war.
With that decision, other parameters for the new car began to take shape. For example, the rear-engine layout dictated the use of independent rear suspension while weight and space considerations called for monocoque construction, a real departure for Chevrolet. Although GM’s European Vauxhall and Opel subsidiaries had adopted unitary construction in 1937, all of the corporation’s North American cars were body-on-frame. The upshot was that the new car would be truly all new — the closest Chevrolet had come to a clean sheet of paper since the ill-fated Cadet.
DOWN UNDER AND TO THE REAR
In July 1956, Ed Cole took Tom Keating’s place as vice president and general manager of Chevrolet, promoting Harry Barr to chief engineer. Cole could have taken that opportunity to propose the rear-engine compact idea to senior management, but he probably recognized that at that point, the corporation was unlikely to approve any compact car proposal, much less one as radical as Cole had in mind.
To keep senior management from learning of the rear-engine car before he was ready to make a formal presentation, Cole disguised it as a development program for Holden, GM’s Australian subsidiary, even assigning Holden part numbers to the new components and using Holden stationery and purchase order forms. (In the fifties, Chevrolet regularly did R&D work for both Holden and Opel, so this was a reasonably plausible cover story.) Even the styling development was assigned to Ned Nickles’ Experimental group rather than the Chevrolet studio.
Perhaps the most challenging aspect of the new car’s design was the engine. Cole, Olley, and project engineers Al Kolbe and Robert Benzinger decided that water cooling was impractical with the RR layout, so the car would need an all-new air-cooled engine. Kolbe and Benzinger quickly concluded that the engine needed to be a six; a four would have been simpler, cheaper, and more economical, but wouldn’t be smooth enough for American tastes. For packaging reasons, the project engineers also eschewed inline sixes in favor of a horizontally opposed “boxer” engine, which would offer good balance without the need for counterweights.
This was not Chevrolet’s first venture into air cooling. Back in the early 1920s, research boss Charles Kettering had developed a unique “Copper-Cooled” four, which was launched — despite the objections of Alfred Sloan, then on GM’s advisory committee — in early 1923. The engine was both difficult to assemble and disastrously unreliable, so fewer than 800 cars were built before the plug was pulled. Only about 100 of those cars were actually sold, all of them soon recalled. According to (unlikely) legend, many were dumped into Lake Erie, although a small handful have survived; one is at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan; another is at the National Automobile Museum in Reno, Nevada; the engine of a third car is part of GM’s Heritage Collection; and the body of a fourth car is displayed in the Buick Gallery and Research Center at the Sloan Museum in Flint.
With an air-cooled flat six, however, Chevrolet was in largely uncharted territory. Although Porsche would later build successful air-cooled sixes for more than 30 years, the first six-cylinder 911 was still seven years in the future when the Chevrolet project began. Air-cooled twins and fours were common enough in motorcycles and small European cars and Tatra had a 2,472 cc (151 cu. in.) air-cooled V8, but at that time, air-cooled flat sixes were mostly found in aircraft, tanks, or industrial applications, all of which had manufacturing requirements and operating characteristics too different from those of mass market passenger car engines to offer much in the way of useful precedent.
An additional challenge was weight. To keep weight distribution to manageable proportions, the engine’s target weight was only 288 lb (131 kg). To achieve that, Cole proposed making the engine all-aluminum and casting it in symmetrical top and bottom halves, joined at the horizontal centerline. To obviate the need for separate cylinder liners, he also wanted to use a special high-silicon aluminum alloy (akin to the A390 alloy later used in the engine of the Chevrolet Vega). Both of these ideas proved to be well beyond Chevrolet’s practical manufacturing capabilities, so the final engine design ended up with detachable cast-iron cylinder barrels, a two-piece aluminum crankcase, and detachable aluminum cylinder heads with integral intake manifolds. In final form, the engine weighed 294 lb (133 kg) with automatic transmission flex plate and torque converter housing, 332 lb (151 kg) with clutch and flywheel — light compared to most contemporary inline sixes, but still over its original design target.
Valve actuation was via pushrods and rocker arms (pivoted on rocker studs like those of Chevrolet’s contemporary small block V8) driven by a single gear-driven camshaft, carried in the crankcase below the crank. Unlike most European engines of the time, the engine used hydraulic lifters, which were an engineering headache, but eliminated the need for routine valve adjustments. Valve diameters were small and valve timing was deliberately mild, trading breathing capability and ultimate power for low-end torque. The same was true of the standard carburetion setup, which used one single-venturi Rochester carburetor for each cylinder bank.
Engine cooling was provided by an 11-inch (279mm) 24-blade engine-driven fan. For packaging reasons, the fan was mounted horizontally, driven by a torturous-looking “mule drive” belt that also operated the generator. There was also a thermostatically controlled oil-to-air oil cooler, mounted adjacent to the oil pump.
The engine’s position precluded the use of the live axle rear suspension common to all fifties Chevrolets (including the Corvette), so the rear-engine car had swing-arm rear suspension, using the axle halfshafts as control arms. Robert Schilling, who in early 1956 replaced Maurice Olley as director of research, attempted to counteract some of the oversteer inherent to swing-axle designs by supplementing the halfshafts with semi-trailing arms, but as we’ll see, this was not entirely successful.
THE RIGHT TIME, THE RIGHT PLACE
In September 1957, shortly after Ned Nickles’ team had completed the first full-size clay models of the rear-engine “Holden,” Ed Cole finally revealed the full-size clay model to GM president Harlow Curtice and explained the entire project. Curtice was extremely skeptical, but Cole had prepared answers for every question, including logistical issues like production facilities and raw materials.
By then, the U.S. economy was skidding into recession, sending buyers in search of more economical cars. Volkswagen was rapidly emerging as a serious threat, with a growing, well-organized service and sales operation (even before the advent of the brilliant and now legendary marketing campaign later devised by Doyle Dane Bernbach). The time was ripe for a Big Three compact and Cole argued that Ford and Chrysler were sure to jump on the opportunity whether Chevrolet did or not. (At that point, he was probably not specifically aware of Ford and Chrysler’s own compact car projects, which were then in a very early stage of development, but it was a logical supposition and, as things turned out, wholly correct.)
With Curtice’s tentative support, Cole made his formal pitch to the corporate Engineering Policy Committee about three months later, not long after the first prototype flat sixes started dyno testing. GM’s 1958 models had debuted some weeks earlier to generally dismal response and the 1958 model year was shaping up to be the corporation’s worst in recent memory. In that uncomfortable climate, Cole won approval for his compact, rear engine and all.
The first running prototype, still badged as a Holden, was ready by the summer of 1958. It was still theoretically secret, although that September, Motor Life published a detailed preview of the new car, allegedly based on studying Chevrolet’s parts and tooling orders. Chevrolet officially announced the new car in May 1959. It took its name from a 1954 show car: Chevrolet Corvair.
CHEAP, BUT NOT CHEERFUL
By mid-1958, it was clear that the domestic compact market, which had looked rather vacant when the Corvair’s development began, was about to become very crowded indeed. As Cole had anticipated, that spring, Ford had approved the Falcon, and Chrysler the compact Valiant. Studebaker was busily preparing its compact Lark for 1959, beating the Corvair by a full year. The Rambler Six and Rambler American, meanwhile, were posting record sales.
As the Corvair moved closer to production, the project engineers began to clash with the sales organization over production costs. With so much competition, the Corvair’s starting price was going to be crucial. The result was a last-minute de-contenting program. The trim of the base model was downgraded significantly and features that were intended to be standard were moved to the options list or deleted entirely. Some of those omissions would turn out to have unintended consequences.
The Corvair went on sale on Friday, October 2, 1959, about a week before the Falcon and nearly a month before the Valiant. The Corvair was initially available only as a four-door sedan with a base price of $2,038. That was $137 less than the cheapest full-size Chevy Biscayne, but over $120 more than the cheapest Falcon.
The Corvair’s performance was much better than that of most European or Japanese imports of its era. It was capable of 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in a bit under 18 seconds and a top speed of around 85 mph (137 km/h) — not outstanding, but adequate for American traffic and not far behind most six-cylinder full-size cars. Fuel economy averaged about 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km) in urban driving, reaching perhaps 25 mpg (9.4 L/100 km) on the road. Most of the imports could do better, but the Corvair could seat six adults in only moderate discomfort, something few contemporary European sedans could boast. The Corvair rode well and its steering, although rather slow, was light enough that power assistance was neither necessary nor available.
All that was commendable, but the other domestic compacts offered similar performance and accommodations despite their comparatively mundane engineering. Despite the low-slung roof, the Corvair’s flat floor provided somewhat better passenger space than did the Falcon or Valiant, but the Corvair had less than half their luggage space. The cost-cutting had also left the basic Corvair 500 with a rather downmarket interior. Not only was it missing some essential features, like windshield washers, some popular extra-cost accessories weren’t widely available until months after launch.
The Corvair was well received by the motoring press, which had long bemoaned the oppressive sameness of Detroit engineering. The air-cooled Chevrolet also made a strong impression on manufacturers overseas. Its styling directly influenced at least half a dozen later European cars. American buyers, however, were less easily convinced. For shoppers looking for straightforward basic transportation, a Rambler or a Falcon seemed like a safer bet.
To Chevrolet’s undoubted dismay, the Falcon quickly emerged as the best-selling domestic compact, followed by the Rambler Six. The Corvair did outsell the peculiarly styled Valiant, but for a Chevrolet to fail to beat its direct Ford rival was a reversal of the usual order of things. In December 1959, barely two months after the Corvair’s debut, Ed Cole ordered a crash program to develop a conventionally engineered Falcon-fighter, the 1962 Chevy II.
With the decision to develop the Chevy II, the question became what to do with the Corvair. Although it had fallen short of Chevrolet’s optimistic projections, it was hardly a sales disaster. Furthermore, its development and tooling costs had been substantial and a host of minor revisions had already been made for the ’61 models. There would be no dumping unsold cars in the lake this time. What the Corvair needed was a new direction.
Chevrolet found its answer in a new model called Monza. Introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in February 1960, the Monza was a sleek pillared coupe with a sporty trim package that included bucket seats, wire wheels, and a sunroof. The Monza was originally just an auto show confection, created to promote interest in the new coupe body style, but public response was so strong that Chevrolet hastened to develop a production version, which bowed in May.
The Monza, which cost $189 more than a Corvair 700, was basically a trim package, but to bolster its sporty pretensions, Chevrolet added an optional “Super Turbo-Air” engine with a hotter cam and 95 gross horsepower (71 kW). A Monza with the Super Turbo-Air engine was less tractable than the base car, with a noticeably lumpier idle, but was capable of reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) almost 4 seconds quicker than the standard car with very little sacrifice in fuel economy. A four-speed manual gearbox, cleverly engineered from the existing three-speed, was announced around the same time, but didn’t actually become available on production cars until the introduction of the 1961 models later that year.
Despite its late introduction, the Monza sold almost 12,000 units in the last five months of the model year. In 1961, the Monza became the best-selling Corvair model by a margin of nearly two to one. The Monza line was expanded to include a four-door sedan in March 1961, followed in 1962 by a convertible and even a wagon. Thanks to the Monza, Corvair sales climbed from about 250,000 units in 1960 to almost 330,000 in both 1961 and 1962.
The Monza soon emerged as one of the most influential American cars of this era, revealing a healthy market for inexpensive, reasonably practical cars with a sporty flair. Aside from its direct imitators, which included the Falcon Futura, Lark Daytona, and Valiant Signet, the Monza’s success led to the emergence of the Ford Mustang, Plymouth Barracuda, and other “pony cars.” It also spawned a thriving aftermarket accessory business, offering everything from sport wheels to complete tuned cars like racing driver John Fitch’s Corvair Sprint.
In April 1962, the Corvair achieved a new distinction: it became the world’s first gasoline-powered, turbocharged production car, narrowly beating Oldsmobile’s turbocharged F-85 Jetfire.
The popularity of the Corvair’s uprated Super Turbo-Air engine suggested that there would be a market for something even hotter. Bob Benzinger, who had become the Corvair’s chief engine designer in 1959, was no doubt aware that aftermarket suppliers were selling at least three different supercharger kits for the Corvair, so he assigned engineers James Brafford and Robert Thoreson to develop a production version.
Packaging and cost considerations quickly led Brafford and Thoreson to abandon belt-driven mechanical superchargers in favor of turbocharging, which also imposed less of a fuel economy penalty. Although the Corvair engine and clutch had to be beefed up considerably to survive the higher temperatures and pressures of forced induction, the turbo installation was very simple. It used a small TRW turbocharger with a maximum of 10 psi (0.69 bars) of boost, breathing through a single side-draft Carter carburetor; a crossover tube fed the pressurized mixture into intake ports on both sides of the engine. The turbocharger had neither an intercooler nor a wastegate; detonation was controlled by a lower compression ratio and a revised ignition curve that retarded the spark timing at mid-range engine speeds.
The turbocharged Monza, dubbed Spyder, was rated at 150 gross horsepower (112 kW) and 210 lb-ft (284 N-m) of torque. A four-speed Monza Spyder was capable of reaching 60 mph (97 km/h) in 11 seconds or less and had a top speed of well over 100 mph (161 km/h), although extracting that performance in the real world could be frustrating. There was considerable turbo lag below 2,800 rpm, boost faded well short of the 5,300-rpm tachometer redline, and the four-speed’s ratios weren’t well matched to the turbo’s power curve. Nonetheless, the Spyder package made for a very sporty Corvair. In fact, its performance was similar to that of a Porsche 356 Super 90 at about half the price.
Even without the turbocharger, the Corvair was an attractively styled, reasonably priced car with sensible exterior dimensions and an appealing blend of performance and fuel economy. Like a classical Greek hero, however, those virtues would ultimately be overshadowed by a single tragic flaw.
THE CORVAIR’S FLAW
The Corvair’s tail-heavy, rear-engine layout had a number of effects on its performance, some good, some less so. With nearly 64% of the car’s static weight on the driving wheels, winter traction was excellent. The rear weight bias aided braking as well, although the early Corvair’s brakes still faded heavily in hard use. On the other side of the ledger, the Corvair was more sensitive to crosswinds than was a typical front-engine car. Also, in fast turns, the Corvair’s rear tires lost their grip first, sending the tail sliding toward the outside of the turn — a condition engineers describe as terminal oversteer.
The Corvair’s oversteer was the product of both its weight distribution and its suspension design. With the engine behind the rear axle, the rear springs had to be quite stiff to support its weight. The rear coils of the early Corvair were more than twice as stiff as the rear springs of a contemporary full-size Chevrolet. As a result, the Corvair had very high rear roll stiffness, something that was exaggerated by the geometry of the rear suspension.
Body roll is in part a function of the distance between the center of gravity and the suspension’s roll center (the axis on which the car’s sprung mass rotates when lateral force is applied to it). Because of its swing axles, the Corvair’s rear suspension had a high static roll center, which effectively increased the rear roll stiffness even further. Roll stiffness reduces body lean in turns, but it also increases the slip angle of the outside wheel (the angle between the direction the tire is pointed and the direction it is actually rolling). Since the Corvair had much higher roll stiffness in the rear than in the front, the rear tires’ slip angles were higher than those of the fronts, resulting in oversteer.
Oversteer is not necessarily any more dangerous than understeer — either can put a car in the weeds. However, few American driver-education programs teach the techniques involved in correcting oversteer and many of an untrained driver’s knee-jerk responses will make the effect worse. For that reason, most automakers try to tune their cars for final understeer, which is easier for the average driver to manage.
The early Corvair’s real Achilles heel was not oversteer, but another side effect of the swing-axle rear suspension: jacking. In a hard turn, the halfshaft of the outside rear wheel would drop below the pivot point of its universal joint. As cornering forces increased, the halfshaft then acted as a lever, forcing the tail upward. As the tail rose, the outside rear wheel would “tuck under,” assuming an exaggerated positive camber angle that would weaken and eventually break the tire tread’s already-tenuous grip on the pavement.
The result of this progression was a sudden burst of non-linear oversteer. It was not always easy to predict at exactly what point the tail would break loose and catching it was not always easy. (This behavior was by no means exclusive to the Corvair. Most cars with swing-axle rear suspensions suffered it to one degree or another, the most notorious example being the Mercedes-Benz 300SL “gullwing” coupe. The early (1961–1962) Pontiac Tempest also behaved similarly for the same reasons.)
Chevrolet engineers were well aware of these tendencies and took several measures to alleviate them. The semi-trailing arms caused some rear steering, changing the toe angles of the rear wheels to induce understeer in turns. The original design also specified a front anti-roll bar to increase front roll stiffness. The anti-roll bar wouldn’t have changed the rear suspension’s behavior, but by increasing the slip angles of the front wheels, it would have caused the front end to wash out well before the rear tires reached their limits of adhesion.
Unfortunately, the anti-roll bar became a casualty of the last-minute cost-cutting program. As a cheaper stopgap, Chevrolet specified unequal tire pressures: 15 psi (1.03 bars) in front, 26 psi (1.79 bars) in back. The lower pressures reduced the grip of the front tires, effectively promoting understeer. It was at best a half-measure and the lower pressures served to reduce the load capacity of the front tires by 40%, which meant that a full load of passengers and luggage would strain the load capacity of the 13-inch tires. In any event, few owners observed the recommended pressures and even Chevrolet dealers offered differing opinions about the best settings.
In normal driving, neither the oversteer nor the jacking was usually an issue. Many owners drove their Corvairs for years without noticing anything unusual about the handling. A sudden maneuver taken at too high a speed on an unfamiliar road, however, could provoke an unexpectedly severe response. Since many Corvair owners had never owned a swing-axle car before, the effect was not unlike a normally docile family dog suddenly going for its owner’s throat. Even knowledgeable drivers could be caught off-guard; John DeLorean later claimed that Chevrolet engineer Frank Winchell actually flipped a Corvair prototype at the GM proving grounds in Milford, Michigan.
Early (1960–1963) Corvairs were involved in a number of serious, occasionally fatal single-car accidents, including the crash that killed comedian Ernie Kovacs in January 1962. Some of those accidents struck very close to home. The Corvair was very popular as a personal car for GM employees and their families and at least two children of senior executives died in accidents involving Corvairs. According to DeLorean, the niece of Pontiac’s Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen was injured in a similar crash.
Some owners filed civil lawsuits against General Motors, charging that the Corvair was unsafe. By 1965, there were more than 100 such suits. GM strenuously denied any mechanical fault, blaming the accidents on driver error or road conditions, but Chevrolet, perhaps stung by the accusations, developed an optional handling package to rectify the problem, followed in 1964 by an extensive revamp of the standard suspension (see sidebar below). Nonetheless, the accusations and lawsuits would eventually do serious damage to the Corvair’s reputation.
CORVAIR MK 2
In 1961, Ed Cole was promoted to group vice president of the car and truck group, ceding the management of Chevrolet to Bunkie Knudsen. Under Knudsen’s leadership, Chevrolet began work on the second-generation Corvair, which arrived for the 1965 model year.
The new Corvair, designed by Henry Haga’s Chevrolet 2 studio, under the supervision of Chevrolet chief stylist Ron Hill, was one of the prettiest cars to come out of GM in this era. The new Corvair retained some of the basic themes of the first-generation car, but was sleeker and more curvaceous, with new hardtop roof lines for both two- and four-door models.
Under the skin, the swing axles and semi-trailing arms were gone, replaced by an entirely new three-link rear suspension. Developed by Frank Winchell and Zora Arkus-Duntov, the new layout was based on the rear suspension of the 1963 Corvette Sting Ray. The wheel hubs were now carried on long trailing arms with small lateral links to adjust toe-in. The wheel hubs were now carried on long trailing arms with small lateral links to adjust toe-in. The half-shafts, now pivoted at both ends, acted as upper control arms while two lateral links acted as lower arms. Unlike the Sting Ray, the Corvair used rear coil springs. The 1964 Corvair’s additional transverse leaf spring was deleted as it was no longer necessary.
With the new suspension, the second-generation Corvair’s ride and handling impressed even British critics, who tended to regard the road manners of American cars with dismay. The new Corvair could still be made to oversteer (as could most front-engine domestic sedans of the era), but it had none of its predecessor’s eccentricities. The second-generation Corvair handled and stopped as well as many contemporary sports cars. With the optional 140 hp (104 kW) normally aspirated engine and four-speed gearbox, it could also go from 0-60 mph (97 km/h) in less than 12 seconds and reach a top speed of perhaps 105 mph (169 km/h), while returning better than 20 mpg (11.8 L/100 km). Few cars of the mid-sixties could offer all of those qualities simultaneously, particularly for a price under $3,000.
If the second-generation Corvair had arrived a year earlier, it probably would have been a great hit, but by the time it appeared in the fall of 1964, it faced a formidable new rival: the Ford Mustang.
Even before the new Corvair debuted, it had largely relinquished its economy-car role to the Chevy II. You could still buy a stripped Corvair 500 coupe, but people generally bought Corvairs because they were sporty, not because they were sensible. Most buyers who could afford it generally chose the Monza with the hotter normally aspirated engine. The new Mustang, therefore, was aimed directly at the fattest part of the Corvair’s market.
At first, Bunkie Knudsen wasn’t worried. A year earlier, he had watched Ford stumble with the V8-powered Falcon Sprint, which was a commercial flop. Although the Mustang had a six-month head start, Knudsen was certain that the Corvair would blow it out of the water. The Corvair was far more sophisticated, arguably better-looking, and offered superior handling, all for a similar price.
The public felt otherwise. For one, the base Mustang had more power than most Corvairs and the Ford’s optional V8 offered 200 or more horsepower (149+ kW) with less fuss than a turbocharged Corsa. (A Corsa turbo was actually about as fast as a Mustang with the base 289 cu. in. (4,728 cc) V8, but that wasn’t obvious to casual shoppers.) Moreover, the Mustang’s blunt, long-hood/short-deck styling seemed to appeal to a broader spectrum of buyers than the Corvair’s Italianate curves. The result was 1960 all over again: The 1965 Corvair soundly trumped Plymouth’s ungainly new Barracuda, but the Mustang outsold the Chevrolet by nearly two to one.
As had happened five years earlier, Chevrolet decided to follow Ford’s lead, developing a conventional, front-engine Mustang rival, based on the Chevy II: the Panther, later renamed Camaro.
That decision once again left the role of the Corvair in doubt. It couldn’t match the Mustang as a sporty car and the Chevy II had more appeal as basic transportation. In April 1965, GM management decided to freeze the Corvair’s engineering development. Styling work on a second-generation “Corvair II” continued for a few more months, but later in the year, it was transferred from the regular Chevrolet styling studio to the research studios. The Corvair was not canceled — it would remain in production as long as there were buyers — but there would be no more design or engineering changes except to meet regulatory requirements. It was the beginning of the end.
UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED
Any hopes of the Corvair fading into a graceful retirement were shattered in the fall of 1965. Just as the 1966 models went on sale, The Nation published “The Corvair Story,” the first chapter of a new book entitled Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile. Written by a young attorney named Ralph Nader, the chapter was an exposé of complaints about the early Corvair’s handling. Nader asserted that Chevrolet engineers had known the Corvair was flawed, but consciously decided not to redesign it — even deleting features that would have helped, like the anti-roll bar — in order to save a few dollars per car.
The Corvair was just the tip of the iceberg. Unsafe at Any Speed was an impassioned indictment of what Nader saw as Detroit’s callous attitude toward safety. His criticism was not limited to the domestic industry; the Volkswagen Beetle received a similar excoriation.
The book’s effect was incendiary. Nader did not invent the safety debate; advocates like Dr. William Haddon, Jr., head of the New York Department of Public Health, had been making similar charges for years. Nader also didn’t invent the charges against the Corvair, most of which came from the previously filed lawsuits. Nonetheless, he soon became the safety movement’s most visible and vocal spokesman.
GM itself inadvertently aided the crusade by arranging to hire private detective Vincent Gillen to follow Nader, hoping to uncover some compromising information to use against him. That effort was in vain and quickly backfired. In March 1966, GM president James Roche was forced to admit the surveillance and make an embarrassing public apology in front of Senator Abe Ribicoff’s subcommittee on traffic safety. Roche’s admission infuriated Congress and validated Nader’s public image as a modern-day David fighting a corporate Goliath. The furor surrounding Roche’s admission, the book, and Nader’s testimony before the Ribicoff committee all played a major role in the passage of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act later that year.
The effect on Corvair sales was predictable. While Nader’s book made clear that his complaints were directed at the 1960–1963 cars, not the much-improved 1964 or totally redesigned 1965 Corvair, the newspaper headlines seldom made that distinction. All the public usually heard was that the Corvair was unsafe. Sales plummeted from more than 237,000 in 1965 to fewer than 104,000 in 1966. For 1967, the Corvair also had new in-house competition from the Camaro, which had conventional engineering and optional V8 power. Corvair sales fell to fewer than 30,000.
THE FINAL DAYS
Despite the Corvair’s tarnished reputation, Ed Cole, who became GM’s executive vice president in July 1965, had not lost interest in the basic concept. Some styling work had already been done on a third-generation Corvair and one version of it, coded XP-849, had reached the full-size model stage. Badged “Corvair II,” it bore little resemblance to the second-generation car and was somewhat smaller. (Interestingly, some of the later XP-849 styling studies carry “Viva GT” identification, suggesting some mechanical kinship with the subcompact Vauxhall Viva from GM’s English subsidiary.) This project went on the shelf when Corvair development was frozen, but Cole revived it in June 1966, now under the auspices of the corporate styling studios and central Engineering Staff rather than Chevrolet.
The XP-849 doesn’t appear to have ever been a production project and was shelved again in June 1967, but throughout the year, GM exhibited a wild-looking rear-engine concept car dubbed Astro I, ostensibly powered by a bored-out 176 cu. in. (2,879 cc) version of the Corvair’s flat six with new overhead-cam heads and a pair of unusual three-barrel carburetors. Designed by Larry Shinoda, the Astro I was clearly not intended for production — it was not a ‘runner’ and the exotic engine was never actually fitted — but it indicated that GM engineers and stylists still had some interest in the rear-engine layout.
In January 1968, Clare MacKichan’s Advanced studio began one last round of rear-engine concepts, coded XP-892. Although it still had a rear engine, the XP-892 was planned around the Chevy II’s water-cooled 153 cu. in. (2,512 cc) four rather than the Corvair’s air-cooled six. The XP-892 reached the full-size clay model stage, but the design apparently failed to impress Cole, who terminated the project for good at the end of June. Cole, by then GM’s president and CEO, turned his attention instead to the corporate XP-887 project, which emerged in 1970 as the Chevrolet Vega.
Meanwhile, the second-generation Corvair stumbled into 1968 with only minor running changes. The slow-selling four-door body style was discontinued, leaving the coupe, in 500 or Monza trim, and the Monza convertible. Sales totaled only about 15,000. The few testers who tried those late-model Corvairs found assembly quality poor, another sign of the car’s imminent extinction.
The Corvair sold only 6,000 units in 1969, which would be its final year. Production ended on May 14. The final car built, a gold two-door hardtop, was the 1,786,243rd Corvair.
Ironically, within a year of the Corvair’s demise, sales of the Mustang and its ilk declined sharply as buyers turned away from the increasingly bloated pony cars in search of cheaper, more frugal compacts. By the time of the 1973 OPEC embargo, Ed Cole lamented that if it were still in production, Chevrolet could have sold all the Corvairs it could build.
Neither the Corvair controversy nor Ralph Nader’s crusade hurt Ed Cole’s career. In October 1967, the GM board appointed him to succeed Jim Roche as GM’s president and chief operating officer. In that role, Cole oversaw the development of the Chevrolet Vega, a new subcompact car that was, in its way, almost as ill-starred (pun intended) as the Corvair. Cole remained president until reaching GM’s mandatory retirement age in September 1974, when he was replaced by E.M. (Pete) Estes. After leaving GM, Cole became chairman of the Checker Motor Corporation. He died in a crash of his private plane in May 1977.
Few of the 150 or so lawsuits filed by Corvair owners made it to trial and GM won most of the handful that did. The large majority were settled out of court. In 1971, responding to pressure from Ralph Nader, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) ran extensive tests on a 1963 Corvair. The NHTSA’s 134-page report, published in July 1972, concluded that the early Corvair’s handling, stability, and rollover risk were no worse than those of the early Ford Falcon or Plymouth Valiant and were actually somewhat better than the contemporary Renault Dauphine or Volkswagen Beetle. The NHTSA then hired three independent engineers to conduct a follow-up study, which returned similar results. In August 1972, the NHTSA sent a letter to all Corvair owners declaring the agency’s conclusion that the early cars were not defective.
In 1974, Chevrolet executives told historian Michael Lamm that Nader’s charges had no real effect on the Corvair’s fate. Even if Unsafe at Any Speed had never been published, GM had already decided to let the second-generation car die a natural death. Many observers have wondered if Nader’s attacks led GM to keep the Corvair alive longer than it otherwise would have just to spite the critics, although everyone Lamm interviewed insisted that wasn’t true. Nonetheless, GM was sufficiently embarrassed by the whole affair that the Corvair virtually disappeared from its official company histories for several years.
More than 40 years after its birth, the Corvair remains controversial. The original model still pops up on lists of the worst cars ever built; as Ralph Nader pointed out in 1965, even some of the journalists who originally praised the Corvair savaged it once it was gone. Some historians call the Corvair a failure, a sentiment that must be carefully qualified. After all, it’s difficult to describe a car that sells 1.8 million units as a flop, and the Monza was a genre-defining success. From a public relations standpoint, however, the Corvair was a debacle, casting a pall that neither the car nor GM has ever fully overcome. Fans will insist that the NHTSA reports exonerated the Corvair, but few engineers have ever really disputed the nature of the early cars’ handling peculiarities, only their severity and whether or not they were unreasonably hazardous. Since most modern Corvair owners know what to expect from their cars, it’s become a moot point.
Surviving Corvairs are moderately collectible, although less so than early Mustangs or Camaros. As with the Porsche 914 and other cars maligned in their day, aficionados staunchly defend the Corvair’s virtues (although there are distinct early- and late-model factions) while taking advantage of its modest prices.
The Corvair was ahead of its time in many respects: monocoque construction, aluminum engines, and independent rear suspensions are now ubiquitous and rear engines have begun to reappear on microcars like the smart fortwo and Tata Nano. On the other hand, you could fairly question whether all the technological fuss was worth the effort. For all its engineering novelty, the Corvair’s performance was little better than that of a contemporary Falcon, a Valiant or, for that matter, Chevrolet’s own Chevy II.
If the Corvair had a singular advantage, it was that was different. Indeed, by the standards of early-sixties domestic sedans, it was positively contrary. If it was flawed, it also had character where the Chevy II was merely anonymous. The Corvair was one of a tiny handful of American cars of this era that dared to break the mold, and perhaps that is itself worthy of celebration. There are still thousands of enthusiastic Corvair fans who would agree wholeheartedly.
The author greatly appreciates the comments and wisdom of Corvair enthusiasts Bob Nichols, Mark Fernandez, Greg Vargas, and the members of South Coast CORSA. Special thanks to Kathy Adelson of the GM Media Archives for providing the archival photo of Ed Cole.
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NOTES ON SOURCES
Our sources for this article included Gary Aubé, “Corvair Crosa,” (2000–2006, www.corvaircorsa. com, accessed 15 July 2010; the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, Encyclopedia of American Cars: Over 65 Years of Automotive History (Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 1996); “How Chevrolet Corvair Works” (14 June 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ chevrolet-corvair.htm, accessed 14 July 2010); “1960-1962 Plymouth Valiant” (28 August 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.how stuffworks. com/ 1960-1962-plymouth-valiant.htm, accessed 15 July 2010), “1962-1967 Chevrolet Chevy II” (2 November 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, auto.howstuffworks. com/ 1962-1967-chevrolet-chevy-ii.htm, accessed 14 July 2010), and Cars That Never Were: The Prototypes (Skokie, IL: Publications International, 1981); “AUTOS: Something of a Victory,” TIME 20 January 1967, www.time. com, accessed 17 July 2010; “AUTOS: The New Generation,” TIME 5 October 1959, www.time. com, accessed 14 July 2010; Patrick Bedard, “If the Corvair Was the Answer, What Was the Question?,” Car and Driver Vol. 24, No. 11 (May 1979), pp. 88-92; Robert P. Benzinger, remarks made at the CORSA National Convention, Seattle, WA, 26 July 1975 (transcribed by Bob Helt and reproduced on the web at www.vv.corvair. org/ Library/ benzinger.htm; accessed 20 July 2010); Ray T. Bohacz, “The Winds of Change: The 1960 air-cooled Chevrolet Corvair,” Special Interest Autos #198 (December 2003), pp. 54–56, and “Under Pressure: The 1963 Corvair Turbocharged Engine,” Hemmings Classic Car #26 (November 2006), pp. 86–89; “Business: The U.S.’s Toughest Customer,” TIME 12 December 1969, www.time. com, accessed 17 July 2010; Bill Carroll, “Inside Pontiac’s Terrific Tempest!” Sports Cars Illustrated October 1960 and “Pontiac Tempest Road Research Report,” Sports Cars Illustrated March 1961, reprinted in Car and Driver on Pontiac 1961–1975, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1986), pp. 5-16; Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors Corporation, “Corvair by Chevrolet: The Prestige Car in Its Class” [1960 brochure], 1959; “Cole, Edward N.” (n.d., GM Heritage Center, history.gmheritagecenter. com, accessed 14 July 2010); Mike Covello, Standard Catalog of Imported Cars 1946-2002, 2nd ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 2001); Robert Cumberford, “Who Killed the Corvair?” Car and Driver Vol. 15, No. 2 (August 1969) pp. 34-35, 73; Rad Davis, “Forward Control Corvair Primer” (2005, rad_davis.sent. com/ fc1.html, accessed 14 July 2010); Jim Donnelly, “Corvair Connoisseurs,” Hemmings Classic Car #35 (August 2007) 14–23; Jim Donnelly, “Edward N. Cole,” Hemmings Classic Car #32 (May 2007), p. 76; Robert Gross, “Air-Cooled Authority,” Special Interest Autos #180 (November-December 2000), pp. 12–18; David Halberstam, The Best and the Brightest (Greenwich, CT: Fawcett Crest Books, 1973), and The Reckoning (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1986); Bob Helt, “Government Tests Prove the Corvair Does Not Have a Handling or Stability Problem” (n.d., CorvairCorsa, www.corvaircorsa. com, accessed 17 July 2010), and The Classic Corvair (N.p.: Bob Helt, 2001); Maurice Hendry, Cadillac: Standard of the World: The Complete History (Fourth Edition update by David R. Holls) (Princeton, NJ: Automobile Quarterly, 1990); “How Safe at Any Speed? A critical look at ten years’ progress in car safety,” Autocar 28 February 1976, pp. 8–12; Wick Humble, “1961 Pontiac Tempest: But cars aren’t supposed to have curved driveshafts,” Special Interest Autos #48 (November-December 1978), reprinted in The Hemmings Motor News Book of Pontiacs: driveReports from Special Interest Autos magazine, eds. Terry Ehrich and Richard Lentinello (Bennington, VT: Hemmings Motor News, 2001), pp. 74–86; Roger Huntington, “Science and the Chassis Part II: Fundamentals of Suspension,” Car Life Vol. 10, No. 2 (March 1963), pp. 42–45; Lee Iacocca, Iacocca: An Autobiography (New York: Bantam Books, 1984); “Investigations: The Spies Who Were Caught Cold,” TIME 1 April 1966, www.time. com, accessed 17 July 2010; Don Keefe, “1967 Chevy Astro I,” Hemmings Classic Car #15 (December 2005), pp. 64–67; Beverly Rae Kimes, ed., Standard Catalog of American Cars 1805-1942, 2nd ed. (Iola, WI: Krause Publications, Inc., 1989); Mike King, “The Corvair’s Granddaddy,” Motor Trend Vol. 16, No. 8 (August 1964), pp. 84-85; David LaChance, “According to Plan: The 1960 Corvair, built with economy in mind,” Hemmings Classic Car #35 (August 2007), pp. 24–29, “Collector Buyer’s Guide: 1961-1962 Corvair Station Wagon,” Hemmings Classic Car #53 (February 2009), pp. 70–75, “The Connecticut Corvair,” Hemmings Classic Car #77 (February 2011), pp. 40–43, and “Vibrant ‘Vairs,” Hemmings Classic Car #35 (August 2007), pp. 14–23; Michael Lamm, “1948 & 1949 Cadillac Fastbacks: Two Very Important Cars!” Special Interest Autos #11 (June-July 1972), pp. 10-17, 56, and “Martyr,” Special Interest Autos #22 (May 1974), reprinted in Corvair Performance Portfolio 1959-1969, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998), pp. 132-140; Richard Langworth, “Corvairs for the ’70s: What Chevy Might Have Built,” Special Interest Autos #68 (April 1982), pp. 20-27; Karl Ludvigsen’s “The Truth About Chevy’s Cashiered Cadet,” Special Interest Autos #20 (January-February 1974), pp. 16-19; Karl Ludvigsen, “SCI Analyzes Ed Cole’s CORVAIR,” Sports Cars Illustrated November 1959, reprinted in Corvair Performance Portfolio 1959-1969, pp. 5–13, 17; George Mattar, “Cornering Corvair,” Hemmings Muscle Machines #20 (May 2005); Mark J. McCourt, “1965-1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa Turbo,” Hemmings Muscle Machines #11 (August 2004), and “Timeline: Chevrolet Corvair, 1960–1969,” Special Interest Autos #198 (December 2003), pp. 22–23; Ralph Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile (New York: Grossman Publishers, 1965); Paul Niedermeyer, “Automotive History: How the 1960 Corvair Started a Global Design Revolution,” Curbside Classic, 15 August 2011, www.curbsideclassic. com/ automotive-histories/ automotive-history-how-the-1960-corvair-started-a-global-design- revolution/, accessed 15 August 2011; the Old Car Brochures website (oldcarbrochures.org); Stuart Shepard, et al, Corvair Basics (N.p.: CORSA, 2003), pp. 59-60; Rich Taylor, “Boss Kett’s Dog: 1923 Chevrolet Copper-Cooled,” Special Interest Autos #30 (September-October 1975), pp. 44-51; “3 Station Buses,” Car Life September 1961, pp. 20–25; J. Patrick Wright, On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean’s Look Inside the Automotive Giant (Chicago, IL: Avon Books, 1980); and Anthony Young and Mike Mueller, Classic Chevy Hot Ones: 1955–1957 2nd ed. (Ann Arbor, MI: Lowe & B. Hould Publishers, 2002).
We also consulted the following period road tests: “Corvair: Away with the myths, up with an important and very sound new car (Road & Track Road Test 244),” Road & Track November 1959; “Corvair automatic transmission (Road & Track Road Test 235),” Road & Track February 1960; Floyd Clymer, “Road Test of the Corvair ‘Monza,'” Automobile Topics September 1960; “The Corvair 700 de luxe Sedan,” Car (South Africa) November 1960; “Corvair 4-Speed (Road & Track Road Test 266),” Road & Track November 1960; Jerry Titus, “Why Doesn’t the Corvair Handle?” Foreign Cars Illustrated November 1960, “Hot and Cold Running Monzas,” Sports Car Graphic June 1961, and “Driver’s Report: Corvair with RPOs,” Sports Car Graphic December 1961; “Corvair Among Coconuts,” Modern Motor September 1961; “Corvair,” Motor Life November 1961; “Monza Sprint,” Car and Driver December 1961; “Turbocharged Monza Spyder,” Car and Driver June 1962; “Corvair Monza Spyder,” Car (South Africa) July 1962; Harvey B. Janes, “Driving the Corvair Sprint,” Road & Track November 1962; “Car and Driver Road Test: Corvair Monza Spyder: Poor Man’s Porsche adds a ‘Super’ to the top of the line,” Car and Driver May 1963; “EMPI-Equipped Corvair Monza,” Car Life September 1963; “Corvair Monza,” Motor Sports Illustrated December 1963; “1964 Corvair Monza 4-speed, 110-bhp,” Car Life February 1964; “Corvair Sprint,” Road & Track July 1964; Jerry Titus, “’65 Corvairs: Although the changes aren’t sensational, they do make a great deal of difference!” Sports Car Graphic October 1964; John Ethridge, “Corvair Corsa Road Test,” Motor Trend January 1965; “Corvair Monza,” Track & Traffic February 1965; David Phipps, “The Chevrolet Corvair,” Sporting Motorist February 1965; “Corvair Sprint,” Car and Driver September 1965; “IECO Corvair,” Car Life September 1965; “Chevrolet Corvair,” Road Test November 1965; “Ram Induction for the Corvair,” Auto Topics June 1966; John Lawlor, “Corvair – All Washed Up?” Motorcade September 1966; “Chevrolet Corvair Corsa,” Motor 17 September 1966; Tom McCahill, “is the Corvair REALLY Unsafe?” Mechanix Illustrated March 1967; “Corvair Monza Sport Coupe,” Car Life January 1968; and “Retesting a Slow Corvair,” Car Life May 1968, all of which are reprinted in Corvair Performance Portfolio 1959-1969 (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998); “Comparing Corvair, Falcon, and Valiant,” Motor Life December 1959, reprinted in Falcon Performance Portfolio 1960-1970, ed. R.M. Clarke (Cobham, England: Brooklands Books Ltd., ca. 1998); “Corvair Is Exciting to Drive, But Needs more Economy, say Owners,” Popular Mechanics March 1960, pp. 124–128, 272–276; Ken Fermoyle, “The Facts Behind Those Corvair Stories,” Popular Science May 1960, pp. 78–81, 217–218; Ken Fermoyle and Devon Francis, “New U.S. Small Cars,” Popular Science October 1959, pp. 108–121; Devon Francis, “New turbocharger makes Corvair 150 Horses Hot,” Popular Science April 1962, pp. 77–80, 243, and “What’s Coming in the 1963 Cars,” Popular Science July 1962, pp. 46–49; Jim Whipple, “Owners Find Nimble, Sporty Corvair a ‘Fun Car’ With a Few Rough Edges,” Popular Mechanics September 1961, pp. 106–109, 274–280, “Spotlight on the Turbocharged Olds F-85 and Corvair,” Popular Mechanics May 1962, pp. 60–62, and “The ’64s,” Popular Mechanics October 1963, pp. 90–103, 238–240.
Additional information on the mechanics of swing-axle and semi-trailing arm suspensions came from Herb Adams, Chassis Engineering HP1055 (New York: HPBooks, 1993); Johannes W. Rosenkrands, assignor to General Motors, “Swing Axle Rear Suspension,” U.S. Patent No. 3,020,061, applied 11 January 1960 and issued 6 February 1962; and Mark Wan, “Suspension Geometry” (2000, Autozine, www.autozine. org/ technical_school/ suspension/ tech_suspension2.htm, last accessed 14 July 2010).
Some additional background on the M-41 Light Tank came from The Editors of Publications International, “M-41 Walker Bulldog Light Tank” (17 November 2007, HowStuffWorks.com, science.howstuffworks. com/ m-41-walker-bulldog-light-tank.htm, accessed 16 July 2010).