“This is a rare vintage 1959 film produced by GM Photographic for the Chevrolet Division of General Motors regarding the development, engineering concepts, design styling, and assembly of the Chevrolet Corvair. Rare footage of Corvair test driving, the New York aluminum and Tonawanda Engine Plants, and newly opened Willow Run Assembly Plant (where most Corvairs were made).”

When watching this film note the section (starting about 5:00) where front-to-rear weight balance is graphically depicted. While percentage of difference between loaded and unloaded is emphasized, the fact that the Corvair has 58–61% of its weight over the rear wheels is ignored. I’ll let the Corvair controversy battle it out in the comments.

  1. I’m a big Corvair fan ever since I saw my first 4-door 700 at (believe it or not) a church picnic, sent by the local dealer in Chicago (Nickey Chevrolet, on Irving Park Road) for folks to pore over.

    I was 12 at the time, and was immediately smitten. This thing was completely unlike anything I had seen before–I was taller than it was! It was silent and smooth when we took a test ride. At idle, I couldn’t tell it was even running. It rode a lot smoother than Dad’s ’53 Plymouth…

    We soon saw hundreds of these every day on the streets of Chi-town. Chicagoans, usually a skeptical and conservative bunch when it came to purchasing new iron, seemed to really take to this new concept.

    I didn’t become an owner until 1973, when I bought two used ones, both ’64s. They couldn’t have been more different. Both were coupes, the first a 95HP “Monza” (ha!) purchased from a good friend for fifty bucks, because it dumped oil everywhere it was parked and he couldn’t be bothered to fix it. A few hours on a borrowed hoist and about twenty dollars in parts, and the pushrod tubes had new seals. No more leaks and years of service. Sweet, smooth, though not very powerful.

    The second–you know the one you let get away? Well, I saw it on the street about four months after I bought #1, and stopped and left a note under the windshield. I got a call back that evening, and it was mine, as the owner had no room for his newest family addition in the small coupe. I got it for $40.00 and my well-worn but nice ’66 Impala 4-door sedan, which was, in turn, a gift from my father-in-law. The Impala had just turned 150K miles and was beginning to show signs of its age.

    Oh, the Corvair…It was a Daytona Blue TURBO coupe in mint condition, with 65K miles and a hole in the exhaust pipe that I had to weld up. I couldn’t believe my luck on this one. It was the 95HP on steroids, and still rode and handled like a dream. I could get used to being a two-Corvair family.

    Both were passed on to family members, the 95HP one went to a cousin after several years’ trouble-free daily driving. The Turbo coupe went to my brother, who sadly abused it and sold it on within a year to a collector who had a big smile on his face when he picked it up.

    Turbo convertibles always seemed to be about ten times more common than the coupes. It’s just been an impression, as all Turbos are exceedingly rare, and have always been so in my neighbourhood experience. But, boy, I sure wish I had that deep blue sweetheart back sitting in my driveway again!

    And, of course, Mr. Unsafe At Any Speed, the dry, humourless, monklike Ralph Nader, who made political hay while driving nails in this wonderful car’s coffin, remains pariah in my automotive world.

  2. A wonderful bit of vintage film… showing off the amazing process of the mighty Corvair… Total entertainment… Thanks for doing this piece.

  3. Jason Houston

    Like Paul, my first sight of the 700 4-door was overwhelming. A born stylist I, too, was 12 when it appeared, and I was instantly impressed with all three “compacts” from Detroit. The Falcon had an ultra-modern fresh, aerodynamic flavor, the Valiant a tasteful Italian-inspired theme, but the Corvair was so unique, the only identifiable lineage it shared was that handsome GM flat roof design. The way they scaled it down to adapt to a small car just blew me away, and the original Corvair is still one of my all-time favorite cars.

    It was ironic, my best friend (then and to this day) was a tall kid named Paul, who was a GM fan. We spent hours trading and discussing car styling and swapping AMT and Jo-Han flywheel model cars. So when the new compacts first hit the showrooms, how could you explain why the Ford kid was crazy about the Corvair and the Chevrolet kid crazy about the Falcon?

    Since I always bought convertibles with manual transmissions, in 1969 I was lucky enough to own a Satin Silver 1964 Monza Spyder Turbo with 4-speed. It was a Michigan car with zero rust. The high school buddy I got it from was in the army and drove it all the way from Michigan with three army pals to Long Beach, California, with the top down without incident.

    My apologies to you wonderful, dedicated Corvair lovers, but the ’60 4-door 700 was the only Corvair I was crazy about. I didn’t like the 2-door or the post-1960 facelifted models. I also have no fight with Ralph Nader. He had the guts GM lacked, to tell the truth. And this was in a conservative era, when it was considered uncool to disclose brand names of products that had embarrassing problems, like cigarettes.

  4. Jason Houston

    Film Review:

    “Passengers… all six of them!”? Let’s see you fit six people into a modern, squnchy Chevrolet…

    “The most tested and proved automobile ever offered the American public.”? They drove it around Michigan and Arizona. The 1958 Ford was driven around the world.

    “Corvair’s a new car. We couldn’t drive it to death, but we tried!” Obviously, you never drove it the way your customers would.

    “A car whose dealers will be fully-stocked with parts from coast to coast, from the day of announcement.” OMG…! famous last words?

  5. D Radowicz

    My uncle was with GM Photographic, the in-house division that documented on film just about anything that GM produced. He and his crew shipped out one of each model Corvair to Montana/Wyoming in 1959/60 to some ranches for some “beauty” shots. They accompanied the ranch hands on a roundup of the herd, and ended up going just about everywhere the horses did. Needless to say, the cowboys were impressed. My Dad drove his ’64 Turbo in Michigan weather – no garage – for over 247,500 miles till he traded in on a new Firebird. Only non-original part was the gas tank that rusted from the inside out.

  6. James E. (Jed) Duvall

    In the winter of 1959-1960, an Aillison’s co-worker of my father’s drove home a new 1960 Corvair 500 with Powerglide. I recall the following Saturday morning, sunny, bright as snow had fallen overnight and very cold. The light blue Corvair four-door flatop sedan was outside the garage door, awaiting the wife’s drive to the Stop and Shop in Whiteland, IN. My dad’s friend let me sit in the car and start it up, which it did quickly. The car was roomy and the floors relatively flat. The car had a gas-fired heater, so the car’s interior warmed quickly on that very cold windy day. I was amazed how roomy the car was. Eventually the blue Corvair became the beautiful college-age daughter’s car and she got married and moved away. To my knowledge, she kept the Corvair for several years.

    It is too bad that the bean-counters nixed the rear-camber compensator for the 1960-1963 Corvair rear suspensions. The Corvair was not a 36-horsepower Volkswagen. E.M.P.I. made a lot of money in the aftermarket. Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen was right to stand his ground to get a revised rear suspension in the Corvair by 1964. I understand, but don’t: The Corvair was more expensive to produce and did not match the Falcon in sales. The 1960 Corvair 500 m.s.r.p. was $ 2,038.00 compared to the base 1960 Falcon at $ 1,882.00.

    Since G.M. purchased the Ford Willow Run B-24 bomber plant (Air Force Plant # 41) plant from Kaiser-Frazer for its Hydramatic transmissions plant after the tragic Livonia Hydramatic /Ternstadt fire on August 12th, 1953, when G.M. built the assembly plant just to the south and built the Corvair and later the Nova there, did this mean that these cars inherited the mantel of “The Pride of Willow Run (Ypsilanti)”?


    Unfortunately another GM blunder. Canceling production of the Corvair because of Ralph Nader’s book ( Unsafe At Any Speed ). GM dropped the Corvair just as it was becoming an American Porsche. This car could have been a world class sports car.

  8. Eva "Corvair Lady" McGuire

    Thank you for sharing this film I acquired and posted to our “Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair” YouTube Channel. We also have a Facebook page for those who are interested in learning about all things pertaining to the history of the Chevy Corvair which also includes first hand stories of the former GM Designers, Engineers, and auto workers who worked on this air-cooled wonder. I’m also pleased to announce that we have a National Corvair Museum located at 10041 Palm Rd. (Old Route 66), in Glenarm, Illinois. The museum features historical significant vehicles (like the last surviving Corvair and the Super Monza), prototype engine displays, and many examples of Corvair cars and FC trucks. We have a partnership agreement with General Motors who have endorsed our museum as the official Corvair Museum of North America. Thank you.
    Eva “Corvair Lady” McGuire
    Corvair Historian/Creator, Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair
    Historian & Publicist, Corvair Preservation Foundation & National Corvair Museum

  9. Bill Warner

    I just purchase an ex-Bunkie Knudsen/Chevrolet Engineering 64 Monza Spyder, convertible. It is currently at MasterWorks in Troy being freshened. Kelsey Hayes wires, Abarth Exhaust, Lucas lights, Cadillac Firemist (?) blue. One owner since new. Will post photos when completed.

  10. Norman Gaines Jr.

    The sheer stupidity of seliing the “Mark 1” Corvair without a rear camber compensator standard boggles the mind,as much so as not having a properly matched anti-roll bar in front, standard again. And the modern “Miura” modified Corvairs show a direction GM could and should have led to, not followed.

  11. Kevin Bishop

    I’ve had a life-long love for the Corvair, thanks to my Dad who imparted his passion for cars on me from a young age. Dad was a 1942 engineering graduate of GMI in Flint and was a GM die-hard, although he appreciated anything automotive – he was always impressed with Chrysler for their reputation for engineering innovation. We lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec in the late 50s near Lake Champlain and spent a number of summers for two weeks at a rented cottage in Highgate Springs, Vermont on Lake Champlain, just over the border and not far from St. Albans, Vermont, the “big town” where we did our shopping – J.C. Penney’s was a popular stop. I vividly recall Dad taking me as a 9-year-old to see the new Corvair in the service department at the local Chevy dealership across from the town square before the official introduction of the 1960 Corvair, in September 1959. The unique engineering of the Corvair attracted him. One of my Christmas presents in 1960 was an AMT Corvair model, since I was hooked on making model cars. Fast forward to 1966 and Dad, even though a family man with three kids, insisted on taking me to see a used 1965 Corvair Corsa coupe for sale with the four-carb 140 hp engine in the then-popular purple Orchid color for 1965 Chevys. He wasn’t seriously considering buying it but was drawn to see this unique “American Porsche”. Dad passed away at only 50 years of age in 1967 but my interest in Corvairs sparked by Dad led me to do a straight-trade of my 1970 Kawasaki 350 motorcycle for a 1965 Monza 140 coupe in 1971 at a local Chrysler dealership in St. Catharines Ontario (the last I saw as I drove my Monza away was salesmen doing wheelies with the Kawasaki in front of the showroom.) I have posted in the past about my adventures with my ’65 140 Monza, my first and still most memorable car. After rebuilding the engine in a friend’s parents’ garage in 1972, I installed dual free-flow Stebro exhausts and four separate EMPI chrome air cleaners. With rebuilt and properly tuned carbs (engine and carb rebuilds all accomplished with the indispensable GM Corvair official shop manual) it was a blast to drive, especially throwing it through twisty corners. I sure wish I had that 140 today…

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