By 1960, sales of dinosaurs were down, small-car imports were up, and Detroit finally listened to a market screaming for economy compacts. Then along came Chevrolet’s adventurous answer to the Volkswagen Beetle, the pretty, rear-engined Corvair, which sold for half the price of a Ford Thunderbird.
But problems soon arose. GM’s draconian cost-cutting meant that a crucial $15 suspension stabilizing bar was omitted, and early Corvairs handled like pigs. The suspension was redesigned in ’65, but it was too late. Bad news also came in the form of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, which lambasted the Corvair. The new Ford Mustang, which had become the hot compact, didn’t help either. By 1969, it was all over for the Corvair. GM’s stab at downsizing had been a disaster.
IMPRESSING THE PRESS
After very few styling changes for the first five years, the new body design for ’65 had a heavy Italian influence with smoothflowing, rounded lines that impressed the automotive press. Car and Driver magazine called it “the best of established foreign and domestic coachwork.”
Wire wheel covers were a pricey $59 option.
Despite the public’s interest in economy, 53 percent of all Corvairs had automatic transmission.
Shatter-resistant side mirror came as standard.
Only 26,000 convertibles were sold in ’65.
The rear seat folded down in the Sport Coupe and Sport Sedan models but not in the convertible.
The post-’65 Corvair had Corvette-type fully independent rear suspension via upper and lower control arms and coil springs.
Long-life exhaust system consisted of aluminized silencer.
The new longer, wider, and lower Corvair initially sold well but floundered from 1966 in the face of the rival Ford Mustang and Nader’s damning book.
Most tops were manually operated and stowed behind a fabric tonneau, but this model has the $54 power top option.
Buyers could choose from 15 exterior colors, a number of which were only available on the Corvair Monza.
A choice of eight interior colors included black, fawn, and saddle.
Engine lived here— 95 bhp was dire, 110 fun, and 140 wild. Turbocharged versions could crack 115 mph (185 km/h).
Corvair buyers had a choice of alloy, aircooled, horizontal sixes. The base unit was a 164cid block with four Rochester carbs developing 140 bhp. The hot turbocharged motors were able to push out a more respectable 180 bhp.
All Corvairs had an automatic choke and aluminum cylinder heads.
The 140 badge represented the Corvair’s power output.
The all-vinyl interior was very European, with bucket seats and telescopic steering column. The restrained steering wheel and deep-set instruments could have come straight out of a BMW. The dials were recessed to reduce glare and deep-twist carpeting added an air of luxury to the cockpit. Options on offer included a windshield-mounted automatic compass and a hand-rubbed walnut steering wheel.
END OF THE LINE
By the end of ’68, sales of the handsome Monza Coupe were down to just 6,800 units, and GM decided to pull the plug in May ’69. Those who had bought a ’69 Corvair were given a certificate worth $150 off any other ’69–’70 Chevrolet.
Rear-engined format meant that storage space under the hood was massive.
1965 model year production peaked at 205,000 units. Ford’s Mustang did half a million in the same year.
The early Corvair Monzas, with deluxe trim and automatic transmission, were a big hit. In 1961, over 143,000 were sold, which amounted to over half the grand Corvair total.
Side windows were made of specially curved glass.
Power-operated rear antenna was an option.
S P E C I F I C A T I O N S
MODEL Chevrolet Corvair Monza (1966)
PRODUCTION 60,447 (1966, Monza only)
BODY STYLES Two- and four-door, four-seater coupe and convertible.
CONSTRUCTION Steel unitary body.
ENGINES 164cid flat sixes.
POWER OUTPUT 95–140 bhp.
TRANSMISSION Three-speed manual, optional four-speed manual, and two-speed Powerglide automatic.
SUSPENSION Front and rear coil springs.
BRAKES Front and rear drums.
MAXIMUM SPEED 105–120 mph (169–193 km/h)
0–60 MPH (0–96 KM/H) 11–15.2 sec
A.F.C. 20 mpg (7 km/l)