Plans for the Corvair dated back to 1956, Chevrolet by then having fairly complete proposals for both the mechanical layout and the styling of their new "smaller" car. By 1957 these ideas had formed detailed drawings, and prototype engines had been produced.
Initially only the 4 door sedan was available, however this was soon joined by the attractive 2 door Monza, along with the Lakewood wagon and now highly collectable convertible.
The minute you looked at the new car, you knew Chevrolet had pretty much discarded everything old, and started with a completely clean-sheet design.
For instance, the GM engineers opted to use a pair of top hat-section rails that curved back from the bumper mounts and over the front suspension to blend with the underbody, thereby taking on the qualities of boxed members where their open faces were closed by the wheel housings.
Area's over the rear suspension and alongside the engine were reinforced by the additional pair of channel-section members extending to the back bumper.
Inside the original Corvair's was a rather austere affair, particularly to US standards. On the twin-hood fascia was a 100mph speedo, fuel gauge (of the then new counterbalanced-pointer type), and warning lights for oil temperature and fan belt (which played the important role of not only running the generator, but also running the cooling blower on the air-cooled engine).
The Harrison Division of GM developed the
optional heater, which was rather complex in design. A 2700rpm centrifugal blower supplied air to a 7 inch cylindrical stainless-steel burner, which received fuel from the engine fuel pump, and was lit by a simple spark igniter.
Before leaving through a tiny exhaust pipe under the floor pan, the hot gasses flowed through a heat exchanger which warmed the interior air, drawn from the cowl vent and fed to the cockpit by a two-speed fan. The thermostatic control adjuted the temperature by turning the flow of fuel on and off as required.
But it didn't stop there! As an additional safety measure, there was a switch that cut off the fuel to the unit if the temperature went too high, and another operated in much the same way if too much unburned fuel drained back. There was a third switch which kept the combustion blower running an additional 30 seconds after the heater unit was turned off, to purge all gasses from the system.
Upon release, Chevrolet claimed the unit consumed the equivelant of a quarter US gallon per hour from the Corvair's 11 gallon fuel tank.
Up front, a massive boxed cross-member was bolted directly to the body, it in turn carrying all the front suspension parts. The stamped upper wishbones were inclined rearward to help combat nose dive during braking, while the lower wishbones were divided into two parts.
Of course, designing a rear-engined car was not without engineering difficulty, and braking in particular was an area that needed to be addressed by the engineers. Under normal braking, the weight distribution of the Corvair would change from around 38 Front / 62 Rear to almost 50/50. Therefore the front-rear braking ratio was set to 46 Front / 54 Rear.
But regardless of any brake bias changes, it was always going to be a challenge to curb the profound oversteer with 62% of the cars weight sitting across the rear wheels. Under mild cornering the Corvair displayed an initial mild understeer tendency, with oversteer taking over in managable degrees. The excellent steering on the Corvair went a long way to ensuring the car remained easily manageable, although of course there were some that disagreed.
The flat-six over-square engine design used a total of four webbed bulkheads for main bearing support, with the crankcase being split vertically. Three seperate cast iron cylinder barrels were used on each bank, with a one-piece aluminum cylinder head.
Years of Manufacture: 1959 - 1969
1,271,089 (all models)
Price at Introduction:
Base car: US$1810 - $1920
Automatic transmission: $146
Unitary construction (Monocoque)
Corvair 4 Door Sedan
15" 0 in. (457 cm)
Total width: 5" 6.9 in. (170 cm)
Height at kerb weight: 4" 3.3 in. (130 cm)
Wheelbase: 9" 0 in. (274 cm)
Front Track: 4" 6 in. (137 cm)
Rear Track: 4" 6 in. (137 cm)
2415 lb (1098 kg)
3 Speed Manual
Synchro to 2nd and 3rd
Optional automatic torque converter
Central gear lever
1st: 11.43 or 12.53:1
2nd: 6.53 or 7.16:1
3rd: 3.55 or 3.89:1
Reverse: 2.89 or 14.09:1
Rear Axle Ratio:
Hypoid bevel drive
3.55:1 or 3.89:1
Corvair Flat 6 Engine:
Capacity: 2296cc / 140ci
Type: Flat six, air-cooled four
stroke, reciprocating piston type
Configuration: Rear mounted, driving rear wheels
Head: Pushrod and rocker actuated
ohv with two valves per cylinder
Fuel System: Two Rochester single barrel downdraft type carburetors
Bore and Stroke: 3.375 in. (85.7mm) x 2.60 in. (66mm)
Power: 80 bhp @ 5200rpm
Compression Ratio: 8.0:1
Ignition and Electrical:
35 amp hour battery
Front: Independent, coil springs and anti-dive wishbones
Rear: Independent, coil springs and semi-trailing arms