One of my twin sons once got thumped by a grade school bully for something his brother did. That’s sort of the situation with the reputation of 1965-1969 Chevy Corvairs. When Ralph Nader came out with his incendiary book, “Unsafe At Any Speed,” the second-generation Corvairs suffered, even though they had excellent handling.
Unfortunately, Nader’s claims were exaggerated and only applied to the earliest of the first-generation Corvairs. The second-gen. 1965-1969 Corvairs were vastly improved. In fact, these cars had very sophisticated suspension for the time and were (and are) great-handling cars.
The ’65 Corvairs were all new with very handsome styling and technically advanced suspension. The new fully independent rear suspension with upper and lower control arms and coil springs was similar in design to the Corvette’s.
Second-generation Corvairs were very European in form and function. They were styled by Ron Hill under the strong influence of GM styling chief, Bill Mitchell. Several Chevrolet styling cues first appeared on the 1965 Corvairs. Look at the side profile and compare it to a 1966 Chevelle sport coupe. The front end styling hinted at the still-to-come 1968 Corvette. Both the two-door and four-door sport coupe and sport sedan body styles were hardtops. The center pillars vanished with the 1964 Corvairs.
The automotive press warmly welcomed the 1965 Corvair. It was more successful compared to previous-generation Corvair sales figures (199,387 sold in 1964 and 235,500 sold in 1965), but wasn’t even close to the new Mustang. Had the pony car era not been the runaway success that it was, maybe the Corvair would have been more appreciated.
The pony car/musclecar juggernaut pretty much ruined any chance of a third-generation Corvair. Sales dropped by over half in 1966 (103,743), dropped by an additional 75 percent in 1967 (27,253), dropped by almost half again in 1968 (15,400), and finally bottomed out in 1969 at an even 6,000 units produced.
A quick glance at second-generation sales figures shows why ’65 and ’66 Corvairs predominate with enthusiasts: these cars have an added advantage of no emissions equipment, and 1965 and 1966 are the only two years that the popular Corsa model was produced. The Corvair 500 was the base 1965 model; the Monza was the mid-level offering; the Corsa was the top dog. An air-cooled, horizontally opposed flat six engine powered all series. Horsepower ratings were 95, 110, 140 and 180.
The 500 series Corvairs were available in two-door and four-door hardtop form. The Monza models added a convertible and the Corsa was only available in two-door hardtop or convertible body styles. The models and body styles were the same for 1966. The Corsa models were dropped for 1967. The four-door body style was dropped for 1968 leaving the 500 sport coupe and Monza sport coupe and convertible as the only three Corvairs for 1968 and 1969. The Corvair convertibles are by far the most rare.
Of the convertibles, the 1965 Corsa (8,353 built) and 1966 Corsa (3,142 built) models are highly prized although the sheer rarity of the 1969 Monza convertible at 521 units makes it very desirable as well. The Corsa sport coupes were produced in decent numbers (20,291 in 1965 and 7,330 in 1966). Those production figures along with the model’s popularity mean they’re relatively easy to find. The four-door hardtops are unique cars, but they don’t have much of a following. In all five years of second-generation production, the two-door sport coupes greatly outsold the four-door models.
The proliferation of two-door sport coupes makes them the easiest to find, and the best buys. The ’65-’66 Monza two-door sport coupes had the largest production runs, so they’re the most prevalent model today.
There seems to be a fairly even mix of people that restore their Corvairs and those that modify them. Convertibles favor restorations and coupes favor mild modifications. Radically modified Corvairs are rare, but many people upgrade suspension systems and engines. A large number of Corvair owners upgrade the original 13-inch wheels and tires to larger-diameter aftermarket alloy wheels and wider tires. A radical modification that isn’t seen as often as it was during the ’70s and ’80s is Corvairs with mid-engine Chevy V-8 swaps. A few companies including Mid Engineering and Crown Conversions made kits for installing a V-8 engine in the former rear seat area, and used Olds Toronado transaxles. We rode in a Corsa with a twin-turbo small-block and this rocket cleaned up on autocross courses.
Corvairs have their share of rust problems, as do most mid-’60s cars. Some of these problems may be attributed to the low value these cars have had. They weren’t the kind of rides people pampered and kept sheltered. Typical rust areas include the areas around the rear window and windshield, the drip rails, the lower door edges, and around the fenders/wheel openings. Convertibles tend to have more floorpan rust due to leaky canvas tops. These are unibody cars so floorpan rust is a serious problem.
The air-cooled flat six-cylinder engines are unique, so they represent their own problems. This is the Corvair engine, so it isn’t like other collectible Chevys where a number of different engines can be used. The optional 180 hp turbocharged Corsa engine is quite desirable, but these early turbochargers weren’t a reliable as modern ones. The base transmission was a 3-speed manual. A 4-speed manual transmission and a 2-speed Powerglide automatic were optional. Automatic-equipped Corvairs were in the majority, but 4-speed cars are the most desirable today.
Prices are very low if not downright cheap. Decent driver-quality cars are available in the $2,000-$3,000 range. Five thousand dollars can get you a much nicer car, and ten grand should put you into a very nice Corvair. As an example of how reasonable Corvair prices are, a very rare ’69 coupe with six original miles on it was recently advertised for $25,000. Try to find a virtually new ’69 Camaro for that kind of money.
Since Corvairs are so inexpensive it doesn’t make much sense to buy one in poor condition. Restoration costs can easily exceed the value of the finished car. A so-so Corvair can be a bargain way to have fun, but don’t get buried in it financially. If you want a really nice ’65-’69 Corvair buy an already restored one.
Chevrolet Corvairs will never be headline collectible cars, but they are very good looking cars, fun to drive, and affordable. As far as we’re concerned that’s a good deal.