Classic Cars A to Z

Chevy Corvair History 1960-1964

Article by Mark Trotta

In the late 1950's, America had been going through an economic recession. As an answer to the growing interest in smaller cars, Chevrolet introduced the rear-engine Corvair for the 1960 model year.

Chevy Corvair history

Origins

Technically, the first Corvair was a Corvette-based fastback concept car created for the 1954 GM Motorama. The story goes that Ed Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer at the time, liked the Corvair name, so it was carried over to the rear-engine car he was planning.

Design for the production car began in 1956 and was spearheaded by Cole. Wheelbase was set at 108", with an overall length of 180".

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All Corvair models featured all-wheel independent suspension, a first for General Motors. Unibody construction with welded front fenders was another first for GM.

Corvair Engine

The Corvair was powered by a rear-mounted, overhead-valve, 140 cubic-inch air-cooled engine. It was referred to as a 'flat-six' as the two banks of three cylinders were horizontally opposed. The light engine weight of just 332 pounds was achieved by casting the block and heads from aluminum.

All Corvair engines had forged cranks and connecting rods, torsional vibration dampeners, hydraulic lifters and oil coolers. Producing 80 to 95 horsepower, the engine was less powerful than other cars in its class, but was sufficient for the 2,300 pound car.

In order to use existing transmission parts from other Chevy passenger cars, engine rotation was reversed.

Air-Cooled Advantages

Air-cooled engines do not have water pumps, thermostats, hoses, or a radiator. Water-cooled engines can have trouble with air pockets in the cooling system as well as leaks. The dry weight of an air-cooled engine is much lighter than a comparable water-cooled engine.

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With the engine in the rear, the Corvair's interior floor was flat, offering more room for passengers. The front trunk housed the spare tire.

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1960 Corvair

Arriving in the fall of 1959 was a four-door Corvair sedan, offered in the base 500 series or higher trim level 700 series. A floor shift (unsynchronized) three-speed manual transmission was standard, with a two-speed Powerglide automatic optional.

Two-door 500 and 700 coupes followed in January 1960, with fold-down rear seating adding storage capacity. The Monza 900 coupe with bucket seats and four on the floor debuted several months later.

Total production for first-year Corvairs: 250,007 units.

1960 Car Of The Year

The Chevy Corvair was awarded Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year for 1960, largely due to it's unique air-cooled engine, transaxle, and four-wheel-independent suspension.

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Gas-Powered Heater

The passenger compartment was heated by a gasoline-powered heater, which was mounted in the front trunk. While it offered immediate hot air, customers complained of decreased gas mileage on cold days and long winters.

Corvair gas mileage could be as high at 26 mpg, but when the gas heater was fired up, it often dropped to under 10 mpg. Chevrolet redesigned the heating system for the 1961 model year, but left it up to customers to choose the gas heater until the end of the 1964 model year.

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1961 Corvair

Second-year Corvair's were offered in no less than eight body styles!

Engine displacement increased to 145ci and was available in either 80- or 98-horsepower versions. Buyers could choose between a three-speed or four-speed manual transmission, or a two-speed automatic.

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The bucket seat Monza, offered in either coupe or convertible, was a huge hit for Chevy. By the end of 1961, Monza was the best-selling Corvair, and would continue to be up until 1969.

Corvair Station Wagon

Joining the coupe and sedan for 1961 was the Corvair Lakewood wagon. Offered in the either the entry-level 500 series or the upscale 700 series, engine and transmission choices were the same as other models.

1961 Corvair station wagon

Total 1961 Corvair production was 329,632.

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1962 Corvair

A new convertible model was offered, while the slow-selling entry-level 500 station wagon was discontinued. The top-of-the-line Monza coupe, (900 series) included a tachometer and 120mph speedometer. Engine choices included a single three-barrel carburetor motor, or optional turbocharged motor producing 150 horsepower.

Turbocharged Engine

In an effort to increase engine power and enhance its sporty image, Chevrolet offered a turbocharged engine starting in 1962. Differences from other Corvair engines included lower compression heads, more durable valves and guides, and chrome engine accents.

Second And Last Year Of Corvair Wagon

The Lakewood moniker was dropped, and the 500 series was replaced with the Monza wagon, which featured all the amenities of the coupe and convertible Monza's (bucket seats, carpeting, etc).

Built only for the model years 1961-1962, production total for all Corvair wagons was 33,271 units.

Chevy Corvair history

Advertised as "America's budget sports car, total Corvair production for 1962 was 328,500.

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1963 Corvair

Slight minor changes in trim and interior, but for the most part identical to the 1962.

early Corvair history

Total 1963 Corvair production was 281,539.

1963 Corvair

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Tire Pressure Critical

The 1960-63 Corvair's had a swing-axle independent rear suspension, where the Falcon, Valiant, and American had conventional, solid-axle rear suspensions. Some Corvair owners encountered oversteer (tail-wag) when they drove the car too hard and had incorrect tire pressures, which were specified to be lower up front, higher in the rear where most of the car's weight was concentrated.

The Corvair relied on an unusually high front to rear pressure differential (15psi front, 26psi rear when cold, 18 psi and 30psi when hot). If the tires were inflated equally, as was standard practice for all other cars at the time, the result was a dangerous oversteer. Gas station attendants, who routinely filled what they considered under-inflated tires in the 1960s, put the same pressure in all Corvair tires, which adversely affected handling.

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1964 Corvair

Earlier handling problems were addressed with a redesigned rear suspension. A single, transverse leaf rear spring was added, attached at the left rear lower suspension, right rear lower suspension, and the bottom of the differential in the middle.

1964 Corvair rear suspension

Engines received another increase in displacement, now at to 164ci. Horsepower was increased as well, with three options; 95 horsepower, 110 horsepower, and turbocharged 150 horsepower.

The model lineup was now down to three body styles; coupe, sedan, and convertible, with the Monza Spyder becoming an actual model instead of an option.

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Total 1964 Corvair production: 207,114 units.

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Corvair Society of America

The Corvair Society of America (CORSA) is a worldwide organization with over 40,000 members and 125 local chapters across the globe. Their monthly magazine is called CORSA Communique.

Corvair Monza history

National "Drive Your Corvair To Work Day" is in October.

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