American Beetle: 1960 Chevrolet Corvair 500

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By 1960, five domestic U.S. car manufacturers had joined the compact car market – and more would follow. All were conventional designs with water-cooled engines up front – except the Chevy Corvair, which opted for an air-cooled engine in the back like the VW Beetle. This first-year Corvair 500 looks rather nice, but no mention is made of its running condition. Located in Cos Cob, Connecticut, this former California classic is available here on craigslist for $5,500. Thanks to Mitchell G. for turning up this tip for us!

The sales leader for U.S. compacts in 1960 was the Ford Falcon, which was also introduced that year. They set the bar high at 435,000 units, while the unorthodox Corvair still managed to come in second at 250,000 copies. They were followed by the Plymouth Valiant, Studebaker Lark, and Rambler American, in that order. As the entry-level model to the 700 and Monza, the 500 as a 2-door sedan only saw 14,000 vehicles (most buyers opted for four doors or the other two series).

According to the seller, this Corvair stayed in the same family from new until three years ago when he/she acquired it. That’s apparently when it moved east and cross-country to New England. It’s said to be rust-free and the best example the seller has seen out of a dozen Corvairs to pass through his/her hands over the years. The paint job is newer and looks to be holding its own. At 85,000 miles, we assume the 140 cubic-inch flat-six is original and it’s paired with a Powerglide automatic transmission. Since nothing is said about the running order, we assume that it doesn’t though the battery looks fairly new.

It’s a bit hard to gauge the condition of the Plain Jane interior because there is a lot of stuff stored in the floorboards (why not take all that out before listing the car?). Perhaps it all comes with the sale or it’s just accumulated over time. The Corvair was more than an experiment for Chevrolet as the car would remain in production through 1969. But Chevy would also go the more conventional route in design with the Chevy II/Nova in 1962 which would end up outselling the Corvair.

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  1. HoA Howard AMember

    To Russ, “Thank ya, thank ya, thank ya( in my best Gomer Pyle voice). You know, a site like this HAS to cater to a wide range of viewers. Some might actually be interested in that classic Lambo’ for $6 mil,,, but I can say, without too much reservation, most here cling to cars like this, for a host of reasons.
    This car should be in a museum, if any left, that is, and should be noted as the most radical car from Detroit. Broke every rule that would bend. They promoted the heck out of it, but again, for many, just too far out there for most. You know the kind that bought them, that odd neighbor down the block, a HS economics or art teacher teacher. We had wide track Pontiacs, and such. A Corvair wasn’t even considered. For one thing, air cooled, while superior, didn’t cut it and these weren’t cheap either. I read, a base 2 door Corvair like this, was $1984 to $2230, when a 1960 Falcon was around $1350.
    I SAY,,,,the Corvair was the best combination of foreign engineering, with American pride we’ve ever seen. It was simple, well engineered, got great mileage, and were almost unstoppable in the snow, aside from major understeer, that a few cinder blocks in the front helped, we have. Heat was always a concern up north, and I heard the gas heater did a good job. I’ve seen a lot of Corvairs, and never one burned to the ground. Odd, in all those Corvairs, I never remember seeing a gas heater, although, like VW, you could tell who had a gas heater by no inside window frost..
    Fun stuff here, clearly it was saved because it was the 1st year, and if this car isn’t gone by the time I finish this windy post, something wrong. A super find.

    Like 15
    • Dr. R

      Agreed! That car should be donated to the National Corvair Museum in Glenarm Illinois (Just south of Springfield). I am not sure if they need a 1960. I know they have a very good collection of cars/vans/wagons, even a land speed car and a tow truck. If they want to donate it, they can contact the museum through the CORSA home page.

      Like 3
    • ACZ

      B.S., Howard! The buyer you describe was the perfect Rambler driver. The Corvair was much more mainstream. Like any other car, if you took care of it, it worked well. Heaters worked just fine in the north, if you made sure the heater hoses were intact, the pushrod tube seals weren’t leaking and the thermostats were operational and properly adjusted. Gas heaters were a plus, I agree. My 65 Greenbrier had a gas heater and I added a hot air heater from a junkyard Greenbrier and that van was toasty. Corvairs were one of the best things to come out of the General. That’s when that company had courage.

      Like 2
      • HoA Howard AMember

        Hmm, you say that “Rambler” thing, like it’s bad. To be clear, you are right, these took special care, of which, 99% of the owners did not do. Ramblers, on the other hand, gave years of service and the owners did nothing. VW owners knew what “pushrod tubes” were, but the vast majority of Corvair owners, merely added oil before they left for work. Most Corvairs you could barely make out the tail lights. The heaters did work well, but, many just didn’t trust them and an inside window scraper was much safer. The hot air heaters worked okay at speed, like a VW, but at idle or slow going, not much help.

        Like 0
    • Glenn ReynoldsMember

      Major oversteer, not understeer

      Like 1
      • HoA Howard AMember

        Um, what I meant was the light front end would not respond to steering, going straight when attempting a turn, aka, understeer. Oversteer is when the back end comes around, no?

        Like 0
    • Artie Jarrel

      I think it was Ralph Nadar that got the plug pulled on the Corvair …
      It was a bit weak in a head on crash.

      Like 0
  2. Vair Nut

    Great looking first year. A lot of potential there; however, as I have said many times, growing up with these cars is not the rust you can see that should be a concern; it’s the rust you can’t. I picked up a 1961 500 Coupe from Florida with just 16K original miles. Every photo looked better than the next. But I could see daylight when I inspected where the windshield wiper mechanism lives, from inside the car and under the dash. The same thing with the top rear seat out; remove the cardboard packing shelf to reveal the rear shock towers from inside the car. I found baseball size holes. Last, but not least, take a hammer to the bottom of the front cross-member. If debres has accumulated inside the cross-member and is allowed to sit, it can rot from the inside out. All of these things are fixable. However, they should be considered before making an offer. If I can be of any help to the new buyer feel free to contact me. I still drive my second Corvair to this day and love it.

    Like 6
    • Jim Thomason

      I am interested in the car. Can I take you up on the offer to see the car? If so, I will contact the owner. Thanks, Jim T.

      Like 0
  3. Connecticut mark

    I live a mile from this car, at one time he had many others in his yard. If any one needs info on it, I can check it out.

    Like 7
  4. Derek

    That photo looks like it’s been taken with the engine running.

    Like 6
  5. Maggy

    I’ve always wanted one of these.Worked on and drove one once about 30 years ago it was a 64 convert..Must have made an impression on me.My mom’s second husband loved these.He said the Nader thing was bs and he used take off ramps at 50 mph plus no problem.I don’t know what year his was though.I heard the earlier ones had a problem.

    Like 4
  6. TheOldRanger

    The Covair was a decent looking car, but I drove one and hated the feeling of the front floating and trying to find the road.
    I parked it back at the dealership and marked Covair off my list of any car to consider.

    Like 1
  7. Michael Freeman Michael FreemanMember

    My very first car. Paid $183 for it in 1971 because tags were due and the previous owner knocked off the price of a $17 tag. 3 speed on the floor, a gasoline fed heater under the”hood” just ahead of the passenger’s feet and a 6″ x 9″ behind the back seat in a box I made to play AM tunes. My wife would kill me but if it were white/Lt. blue I’d chance it.

    Like 0
  8. alphasudMember

    The 60 model year was unique in that Chevrolet went back and redesigned much of the car which makes the 60 special to many collectors. 60 was the only year that had a gas heater. Also the thermostatic cooling system used a ring that controlled the volume of cooling air for the engine which would change for the 61 model cars. I often wondered why the manufacturer would change so much after one model year. Was the consumer the R&D department? The car shown was running when pictures were taken. Looks to be a solid car and if so is definitely worth the asking price. Try and find a Porsche for the asking a lot of ways that’s what you are getting here. Just remember it was Chevrolet that made the first air-cooled flat 6 engine. Not Porsche. As far as handling these cars handled better than just about anything on the road in 1960. Even the Corvette was still solid rear axle in 60.

    Like 4
    • Vince H

      The gas heater was still a option in 62.

      Like 1
  9. CCFisher

    Judging by the beltline molding and the interior door panels and armrests, this is a Corvair 700. If that’s not enough evidence, the body tag shows the “0727” code that indicates a Corvair 700 Club Coupe.

    Like 0
  10. ACZ

    Here we go again. The bellyaching posts from people who never owned one. Does that ever end?

    Like 1
  11. bobhess bobhessMember

    Three of them in our family: a ’60, ’64, and the best of all a ’65 two door hard top. All fun, all dependable.

    Like 2
  12. Vair Nut

    I wanted to share a link of mine coming out of storage a while back. The engine has had quite a bit of work.

    Like 0
    • ACZ

      The one, and only, thing I never liked about the one 1961 I owned was the manual choke.

      Like 0
  13. CadmanlsMember

    Look at the glove box door it says 700. Drove a basic vair 1960 vintage. Had a 3 speed manual transmission and that wonderful gas heater. Almost instantly provided heat, real heat and in NE Ohio that was amazing. If I recall VW used one also, Chevy one year. Don’t know if it was cost or fear they started pulling air off the engine. That worked fine until the pushrod tubes started leaking. But overall I owned 6 over the years all models and they had the potential to become the American version of Porsche, but Ralph and the pony car ended the development. Had a 66 I built using many turbo parts and it was quick and handling was amazing.

    Like 2
  14. Derek

    They were never sold here, but there was a Corvair raced in the Super Saloons series in the ’70s. Might’ve had a mid-mounted V8 and a Hewland, though.

    We had Skodas. Pal of mine had one with a 2.0 Fiat engine fitted; had half a paving slab (600×300) wrapped in carpet in the front as ballast.

    Like 0
  15. Tom Wasney

    Saw this car last year at the new Canaan ct. cars and coffee held at Waveny park… Beautiful park with a huge mansion which displays the ultra high end cars on the front yard surrounded by a circular drive. This was front and center with all the classics, exotics and rare muscle cars… Overall it’s a clean solid example.. I always liked the styling, borrowed an auto sedan from my cousin when I blew the clutch in my 69 sprite.. When I was 17 my girlfriends mom had a sweet maroon convertible which I detailed up nicely for her… Cool little cars. A classmate named John Fitch had a John Fitch edition when we were in high school.

    Like 0
  16. James_HGF

    December 2016 UK’s The Automobile pre-1965 classic automobiles; “Corvair Class & Controversy” article by Karl Ludvigsen, “1.7 million were produced in its 10 year lifetime, the Chevrolet Corvair is sometimes labelled a loser. Few of its enthusiastic owners would support that assessment of the most radical model ever made by General Motors.”

    The Corvair was Ed Cole’s baby and he really liked flat sixes in the aircraft he was flying. The Corvair six target weight was 288 lbs, but actual weight was 366 lbs thus adding 78 lbs or 3.5% of total weight behind the rear axle resulting in ultimate oversteer. Once in trouble with the standard steering (5 tuns lock to lock) it was almost impossible to get out.

    The standard tire was a 6.50 x 13 on 5.5 inch rim half an inch wider than a standard Chevy. Standard tire pressures were 15 psi front and 26 psi rear. Cornering capability could be as low as 0.53 g on the 1960 Corvairs. There were numerous upgrades to the Corvairs over its lifetime, but the original’s handling was abysmal sorry to say.

    Even though a woman lost an arm in roll over crash that GM settled for a five figure sum…”There was no general feeling with either the public or road testers that the Corvair was anything either than perfectly safe, albeit with handling more akin to European cars rather than American ones.”

    The list price of the Corvair 500 2 dr coupe was $1984.00. The Falcon’s price for the 4 dr sedan was $1974.00 however the 2 dr was priced at $ 1912.00 with prices up to $2287.00. Corvair’s Monza 900 was $ 2238.00.
    Volkswagen’s 1960 2 dr 1200 had a p.o.e price of $ 1565.00.

    Back to the Lane Museum, The Automobile’s publisher sent the small whatsit (don’t remember) to the Lane museum along with money that was used to purchase the allegedly near perfect original 1960 Corvair 500 sedan with automatic transmission which was shipped to the UK. Properly fettled for regular road use the Corvair was driven onto the Dover ferry to Calais and provided classic transport to the 24hrs du Mans.

    My first company car was a ’63 Corvair and I covered a large swath of Nascarland for a year or so with only a belt coming loose – easily fixed.

    The 500 offered on Craigslist, if solid, is a good classic driver cand

    Like 1
    • Tom Wasney

      Great writeup, very informative…

      Like 0
  17. Hank

    Ask the 2 kids who tried to follow me up a narrow winding country road in a Honda CRX. After of course they went into the ditch b/c they were trying to keep up with my 1965 Monza. Thank God they were OK.
    Only question they asked….. WHAT THE HELL CAR IS THAT?

    Like 2
  18. ACZ

    Hank, you are absolutely correct! (No matter what Howard thinks).

    Like 1
  19. 19sixty5Member

    All this talk about Corvair heaters… I grew up just north of Chicago, and many friends way further north. A Corvair with intact heater tubes would provide a ton of heat, plus they had blower motors, something the VW’s did not have until much later. As long as the pushrod tube seals were in good shape, there was no objectionable smells at all. I’ve had at least 8 that I can remember, and still have 2 late models, one convert and another that is a mid engine conversion. Fun little cars.

    Like 2

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