A history lesson courtesy of a 1964 Chevrolet Corvair
The Corvair got its name from the Corvette, whose 1954 fastback show car originally held this moniker. It was later revived as a new title for a car to be produced as a 1960 model in order to compete with popular small, lightweight imports and domestic compacts. At a town parade and classic car show in Burns, Wyoming, I met with Dale Sergeant, who owns a 1964 Corvair that has been lovingly restored to very close to its original condition.
The 2-door convertible immediately caught my eye during the town's parade procession as one of only three unusual classics to be driving by (the others being a 1963 Studebaker Avanti and a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T 440). After the parade and once our toddlers had been satiated with parade candy and juice boxes, I left my family under a shade tree and headed over to the classic cars to find the owners of these great vehicles. It didn't take long as the first car in the classic lineup for display along Main Street was the Corvair.
I began snapping photos of this beautiful machine when I was approached by an unassuming older man who I'd thought was just another admirer of the car. Turns out, he is such an admirer that he owns it - along with the 1950 Chevrolet 3600 pickup truck that was next to it. He introduced himself and we started talking. I learned a lot about the Corvair - both the one in front of me and the car in general. Dale Sergeant turned that classic car into a history lesson while including a lot of personal connection to boot.
For someone like me, who was born after this car had seen its production run, my perceptions of it were heavily tainted by Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed commentary on the Corvair. Comments, it turns out, that were wholly undeserved and completely disavowed by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study, but which still often go unchecked even 47 years later. It was Nader's claim that the Corvair was "the leading candidate for the un-safest-car title" that ultimately destroyed sales and caused the model line to be discontinued in 1969.
The Poor Man's Porsche was introduced in 1960 in two variants and then quickly modified by Chevrolet, who learned that base-level models were not of interest to most consumers and that the "Chevy II" options in the Monza coupe were the way to go. The Corvair Monza was, in 1962, the first production automobile to include a turbocharger as a factory option. As design tweaks progressed, the Corvair remained largely unchanged until 1965, with the convertible 1964 model before me as the pinnacle of what the Corvair line had to offer in that first generation.