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Homepage. This page: Steve looks back and tells the story of owning a ten-year-old Chevy Corvair.

Steve's 1962 Corvair.

Steve purchased his first car, a 1962 Chevy Corvair, in April 1968 and kept it for four years. This is his story of his car.

1962 Chevy Corvair.

I found your site quite by accident as the result of a Bing search for "Pre-WW2 British Cars" a few days ago and wanted to express my thanks as it's been an almost endless source of entertainment.
Being a resident of the central valley of California where temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 months out of the year, and average yearly rainfall is about 12 inches, we have many ancient rust-free cars still around but not many British ones as they tended to overheat, and the summer sun is not kind to wood and leather interiors.
I'd like to share my memories of my first car, a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Monza that I took possession of in April of 1968 and reluctantly traded in sometime in the early summer of 1972.
Chevy Corvair
The Corvair was GM's first attempt at a domestically produced "compact car", introduced as a 1960 model in the fall of '59, at the same time as Ford's Falcon and Plymouth's (Chrysler) Valiant. The Falcon and Valiant were basically scaled down big cars of conventional design, offering water cooled inline six cylinder engines mounted in front driving the rear wheels, which had solid axles and leaf spring suspension.
The Corvair was different, in having a rear mounted flat 6, air-cooled with swing axle independent rear suspension. It was significantly lower than the Falcon and Valiant and decidedly more entertaining to drive, and it's styling was soon copied by several other mfgs.--there are elements of it in the late 60's BMW 1600 and 2000, the NSU Prinz, and even the Hillman Imp.
In 1968 I was a senior in high school, April being a couple of months after my 18th birthday. Muscle cars like the Pontiac GTO were all the rage at the time but I wanted something with decent gas mileage that would actually go around corners. One Saturday my Dad threw the classified ad section of the daily paper at me and told me to look and see if there were any cars advertised that I'd like to go look at in the $500 range. I immediately circled all the Corvairs in that range and we set out in the family Impala to go look at them.
We looked at 4 cars that day, 3 with manual 4 speed transmissions and one with an automatic (2 speed powerglide). 2nd gear synchro was out on two of the 4 speeds and the other had a serious oil leak (not uncommon on Corvairs at the time). The last car we looked at was a medium blue metallic 2 door 1962 Monza coupe with Powerglide, optional 102hp engine, AM pushbutton radio, 43,000 miles on the odometer, and no oil leaks at all. The rear shock absorbers were bad and a little plastic choke vacuum diaphragm on one of the two carbs (these had one carb per cylinder bank) was broken. The price was $625 but it was a really clean little car so we bought it. New shocks came from Sears for about $17 each and the plastic thingy on the carb was about 65 cents from the Chevy parts dept.
Unsafe at any Speed book cover
The car wasn't very fast, I think 0-60 took about 18 seconds, the powerglide shifting from Lo to High at about 45 mph, but it went around corners quite nicely. Ralph Nader attacked the handling thoroughly in his muckraking book Unsafe at Any Speed but a much later govt. investigation revealed better cornering power than any of it's competition at the time. The secret was to maintain tire pressure to factory specs--18psi front, 32 rear. If this was done the tendency to oversteer was almost non-existent. My little car would not lay a 30 foot patch of rubber on the pavement from a dead stop, and sounded more like an overstressed drinks blender than a muscle car, despite my installation of a dual glasspack muffler system, but was soon very popular among my friends because they never had to ante up much gas money to ride in it. It was also such an easy car to drive and maneuver that at least 3 of them borrowed it to take their driving license exams in -- the big cars they normally had access to were just too daunting to attempt the parallel parking part of the text.
I worked two summers in a row at Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains and had occasion to enjoy racing muscle and pony cars on the twisty mountain roads on many occasions. Despite the auto trans and low hp if I could get around a big V8 muscle or pony car I could easily lose them on the curves. One impromptu race around the Yosemite Valley floor's potholed roads involved a late 50's MG with a hopped up engine -- when he hit a rough curve the ox-cart suspension on the MG skittered sideways while my Corvair tracked fine and again I won. There was also some guy up there who'd managed to put a 327 cu. in. (about 5.4 liter?) Chevy V8 into a Morris Minor station wagon (estate?) -- probably beat him because of the disastrous effect of that boat anchor on the Minor's handling.
On one occasion a couple of friends of mine had to catch a plane from San Francisco back to their homes in Michigan. I volunteered to drive them to the airport, a total distance of about 350 miles. We set out at 3pm, got to the airport in time for their midnight flight, and I turned around and drove back to Fresno-another 250 miles, arriving at 4 am. Fuel economy for the trip was about 26 mpg and the car ran flawlessly.
I can remember the automatic transmission requiring 2 overhauls due first to my having bumped the shifter with my knee into reverse when I was accellerating hard at 45mph and again due to lack of new parts available for the first overhaul. Both times the repairs cost more than the book value of the car but I could not have replaced the car with one as good for the cost of the work, and besides I loved LUV650 (her license number) too much to let her go.
At about 85,000 miles she finally started to leak a bit of oil from her pushrod tube seals, but an overnight session at the gas station where I then worked resulted in a successful repair.
When she showed 99,997 miles on the odometer I jacked up a back wheel and ran her until the Odometer went to all 0s, then disconnected the speedo and drove her another year or so.
Finally in 1972 the powerglide was showing signs of distress again. I was then working as a lube man at a Toyota dealership and reluctantly decided to trade in the Corvair which by then probably had 120,000 miles on it on a new Corolla 1600 2 door sedan with 4 speed stick and an AC unit hung under the glovebox. I was allowed $450 for the Corvair toward the $2600 Toyota, the remainder in payments of $81.16 a month for 36 months.
LUV650 was purchased by the parts manager of the Toyota dealer where I worked and sold by him for a quick profit to a kid about the age I was when I first got it. I remember the proud new owner coming by the shop and asking me why I'd let such a fine car go for such a low price. A few weeks later he tried to change the oil filter, got the gasket wrong, and blew up the engine. I cried when I heard the story.
I've probably owned 25 or so cars since that Chevy Corvair but only kept one as long and never loved any as much.
Thanks for your great website.
Steve.
Thanks for the story Steve, much appreciated. If anyone else would like to write about their early motoring experiences, please drop me a line as it's always fun to read these reminiscences. While growing up in the States, Steve would go for many trips in cars owned by his father - his recollections of one of these cars, a 1958 Buick, can be found on this page of the site.
Visit the motoring memories pages at oldclassiccar for more stories like this.
Photographs of a Chevrolet Corvair owners' meeting in Iowa, celebrating the 50th birthday of the type, can be found here on the site forum (thanks to stuchamp).

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