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Undeservingly maligned cars

I am the proud owner of a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Turbo Spyder Convertible (whew!), and I have to say that this car is not at all deserving of it’s bad reputation! I drive it across some pretty twisty mountain roads in Kentucky, and this thing handles like it’s on rails!
Just keep the tire pressures right, and there are very few cars that can hang with it in the twisties.
Anyone else own a car with a totally undeserved bad reputation?
Any proud Edsel owners, or Datsun B210 owners, or even 64 Dodge Dart Convertible or MGTD owners?

For the 1964 models, Corvair did come with a transverse spring in the rear that prevented a rear wheel from tucking under going around a curve. I had a 1961 Corvair Monza and liked the car. I installed the camber compensator spring which was available from J.C. Whitney for under $15 and the car handled very well. In my opinion, the worst problem with the Corvair were the seals between the cylinders and the block that would leak and allow carbon monoxide to enter the cabin. The 1960 Corvair didn’t have the problem as it had a gasoline heater (the seals still leaked, but the fumes didn’t get into the cabin).
I owned a 1975 AMC Pacer and I liked the car. It handled well, had a good ride, and very good visibility. It was one of the few U.S. cars at the time that had rack and pinion steering. The back seat was usable and with the wide, passenger side door, entry to the back seat was easy for a two door. I have heard Tom and Ray make fun of AMC products, but I had good luck with the three I owned: 1) a 1965 Rambler Classic 550 (the stripped model); 2) a 1968 Javelin with the 6 cylinder engine; 3) a 1975 Pacer X. All three had engines with the same block but different displacements. The Classic had a 199 cubic inch version, the Javelin had the 232 cubic inch version and the Pacer had the 258 cubic inch version.

I learned to drive on a '61 Corvair and a '65 Corvair, both my dad’s, and I wholeheartedly agree with you. “Golden boy” activist Ralph Nader used the Corvair to make himself famous, and he did get everyone’s perceptions to change about much-needed automotive safety, but he did the Corvair a great disservice by focusing his book on that car.

The '64 that you own is actually a much better vehicle than the early Corvairs. Replacing the swing-axle rear end with independent suspension was a huge improvement, and there were others. But by then its reputation had been forever destroyed. I truly believe that the later Corvairs, like yours, were ahead of their time design-wise.

Guys, read this book . . .

“Engines of change” by Paul Ingrassia

There’s a whole chapter about the Corvair

There’s also chapters about Iacocca, Jeep, AMC, the beetle, Delorean, etc.

A great read for car buffs

Two of my cousins owned Corvairs back in the day and had no problems with them. My best friend back in high school had a '65 Corvair Monza with the turbocharger and it was a slick, dependable little car. The only reason he got rid of it was because he found an equally slick Pontiac Catalina convertible and liked the top down aspect.

Personally, I’ve owned several British cars and did not find them to be oil leakers or prone to electrical glitches in spite of the vast number of Lucas jokes.

One car that I thought was very unfairly maligned was the Ford Pinto and especially because of the alleged reason; the location of the gas tank in relation to the rear axle.

I’ll toss out the Pontiac Aztek. Ugly? Yes, but no different underneath than millions of other GM minivans.

The Aztek would have had to get prettier to be simply ugly. But I agree with your point.

OK4450, with respect, that problem wasn’t “alleged”. But if one thinks back to earlier eras, it’s easy to find things like the fill pipe under the rear trim… or the rear license plate. The term “accident safety” clearly had never been spoken much in the early years. Except for a few manufacturers like Tucker.

My brother owned a Corvair Monza convertible some years back. I got to drive it quite a bit. I was in college and really did not appreciate it’s attributes. It was a lot of fun with the top down though. Though it handled much better and much more forgiving then the VW bug, I did not especially like driving one at speed in a cross wind. Not that it was that bad, but with no weight or mass in the front, like all cars of latter years, getting into a crash would mean a terrible outcome compared to newer cars. Personally, I always liked a little more mass up front. I would take an early Firebird over one any day.

I had a 61 Corvair and I liked it. It never went out of town though so don’t know how it would handle on the road. It was great going through snow banks. Made me some money too after get hit so many times. Once was by a girl on her drivers test. The car was just parked but she hit it anyway.

My dad had a '62 Corvair that I thought was a pretty decent car. The only issue I had with it is that it burned up a set of points in short order. I got pretty good at filing them down and regapping them. :slight_smile:

@thesamemountainbike, the reason why I feel the Pinto problem is overblown is simply because of a tragic fiery accident and a corporate memo.
The Pinto flaw was supposedly because the gas tank was mounted behind the rear axle line but any car rammed from behind at 70+ MPH runs a risk of going up in flames.

Go back to countless other vehicles with similar, or worse, tank mountings in the same era. Look at the tank mounting on a 70s or 80s era Camaro for instance, or VWs, or Subarus. Look at the tank mounting on an old air-cooled Beetle; right in the laps of the driver and passenger.

Check the tank mounting on an 80s era Subaru; adjacent to the rear bumper and behind the axle line. Consider a 70s era Subaru tank mounting; inside the cabin against the back of the rear seat. At least with a Pinto the tank is outside where it belongs.
None of those vehicles (which are only a small sampling) have a reputation as infernos on wheels.

My Dad had a Pinto wagon. Can’t remember the year but think it was 78 or so. It was not a bad car. My gosh, my 59 VW bug had the gas tank right in the front where the radiator would normally go. No protection what so ever except the sheet metal hood and the spare tire. Never heard about them catching on fire but I guess most of us never drove fast enough to run into anything.

If the Aztek was less ugly, you’d have to call it a Rendezvous.

I don’t think the placement of the gas tank on the pinto was the main issue, though putting it somewhere else wuld help. As much as anything, it was the lack of reasonable protection. You can say that about many cars of that era. Just being a reasonable high seller would put it into the higher frequency crash numbers. All smaller rwd cars IMHO, had placement issues when lack of wheel base and fighting the solid rear axle/differential for space. The idea that it was suppose to be an Econo car too and could not afford the extra weight-protection and just being a scaled down big car had just as much to do with giving it the tin can affect. Just look at a side profile and you will see how little was devoted to rear end protection, not only from behind, but being jammed against the solid differential where it was easily punctured by bolts from it. Little thought was given to safety and more to economy.

Surprisingly, it didn’t take much to protect the tank, but Ford still failed to do it. Finally, just a few accidents and suits could prompt govt. tests which led to some pretty ugly pictures. A picture is worth ten thousand words and a fireball in the newspaper or magazine says it all.


I will disagree with the OP here somewhat. I owned Corvairs back in the day and I favored the Spyder series. You can go around corners and curves with a Corvair…you just can’t do it very fast. As for handling like it’s on rails…I think that’s an exaggeration of the first degree. I’ve been there and done that with many of my vehicles so I can understand it. I drove my Corvairs with bias ply tires, not the radials of today, so that may be why the OP’s Corvair seems to handle better than Corvairs of old. When you apply modern technology to older vehicles…you can’t say that their reputation was undeserved because of that fact.

OK4450, there’s no question the design was common, and there were even worse.
I only commented on the description of the bad behind-the-axle design as “alleged”. Where I’m from, that means it was never proven.

Regarding the Corvair, the biggest problem with its decidedly unorthodox handing (for the time) was GM’s failure to adequately inform owners/drivers of the necessity for maintaining tire pressure that was also decidedly unorthodox.

When the Corvair’s tires were inflated to the recommended pressures (something on the order of 18 lbs in the front and 26 lbs in the rear–IIRC), it was a decent-handling car. However the only reference to tire pressure was buried in the text of the Owner’s Manual. As we all know, many–perhaps most–car owners fail to read that manual, with the result that most folks were unaware of the critical need for proper tire inflation differentials on this car.

Because so few people were familiar with oversteer in those days, GM should have posted the extremely vital details of the car’s tire pressure on a prominent label on the door jamb and/or the inside of the glove compartment. By failing to do this, most folks never knew what the proper tire inflation pressures were for this car, and surveys showed that even Chevrolet dealerships seemed to be largely unaware of this detail also.

Another safety-related problem with these cars was the fact that the rigid steering shaft ended at the steering box–which was located about 2 inches behind the front bumper. Yes, some other cars in those days also had steering boxes uncomfortably close to the front bumper, but those other cars had the mass of a cast iron engine that would limit intrusion to a great extent in the event of frontal impact. Without an engine in the front, there was nothing to prevent the steering shaft from being driven back into the driver’s chest & face, and–in fact–there were several collisions that resulted in the steering shaft being pushed up into the roof of the car.

The Corvair was an interesting design that was made much better after a few years, when they abandoned the swing axles and gave it the articulated axles with 4 u-joints + the camber compensator that it should have had in the first place. In typical GM fashion, by the time that they were ready to discontinue production, they had made it into a very good car, but–unfortunately–that cannot be said for the first few years of production that included an under-designed rear suspension and a failure to adequately inform drivers of how to maintain relatively safe handling.

I seem to recall it said that one reason the Pinto was prone to a fuel tank fire was because the fill tube didn’t have metal to metal isolation from the fuel tank. So when the car was rear ended, the metal fuel tube could move inward against the fuel tank metal, causing a spark.

I, too, had a '65 Rambler. I hadn’t intended to get rid of it, but it got totaled in an accident. I seem to recall a comercial advertisement for the Pacer where the guy puts the wide loaf of bread into the back.

Surprisingly, it didn't take much to protect the tank, but Ford still failed to do it

The problem with Ford and the Pinto was that Ford knew that the gas tanks were a problem. And they even predicted how many deaths and injuries would occur because of the gas-tank…and decided the cost to fix it would be more then ensuing lawsuits.