Cheap Project: 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa

Finding affordable project cars can be a battle, and it can be a source of frustration for people who are considering dipping their toes into the waters of classic car ownership for the first time. For those individuals, this 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa could be an option worth considering. Under that dust is a car that is complete and has only limited rust to be addressed. Probably the best part is the price. If you hand the owner $1,000, you can take this one away. Located in Midland, Texas, you will find the Corvair listed for sale here at Hemmings. I have to say a big thank you to Barn Finder Larry D for referring the Corvair to us.

I have always liked the 2nd Generation Corvair because it seems that Chevrolet learned a massive amount from the original cars, and they applied these lessons to the new model. Apart from the changes to the rear suspension, which made the car more sure-footed and less wayward, Chevrolet draped it with a smooth and svelte body. It remains that way today, and a well-preserved or nicely restored example will still draw a crowd at a show or Cars & Coffee. Hiding below the heavy layer of dust is a Corvair Corsa that would seem to show plenty of promise as a project car. The owner admits that it has some rust for the buyer to tackle, but it looks minimal. The main area that the owner specifies is the area behind the wheel wells on each rear quarter panel. This is a common trouble spot, but it is also an easy one to repair. He doesn’t mention any issues with the floors, and if these are sound, it is a good thing. Being of unibody construction, rust repairs in areas like floors are critical, and they need to be completed to a high standard if structural integrity is to be maintained. It would also be worth checking the cowl at the base of each A-Pillar. This can be a trouble spot, and repairing this correctly usually means replacing the upper section of the cowl. If those areas are sound, the buyer could be onto a winner with the Corvair. One part of the listing that I find encouraging is that the owner states that the Corvair will mainly need interior work. If that is accurate, it suggests that the rust problems really are pretty minor. The panels are straight, and most of the chrome is present. One taillight lens is missing, but finding a replacement should not be difficult. The Corsa is fitted with tinted glass, and while the dust hides its true condition, it looks like there are no visible cracks or breaks.

The Corvair Corsa is powered by a 164ci air-cooled flat-six engine that would have produced 140hp in its prime. This motor is bolted to a 3-speed manual transaxle that sends the power to the rear wheels. That is slightly unusual because most buyers chose to spend the additional $92 to equip their Corsa with a 4-speed transmission. With 140hp available to the driver, performance figures weren’t bad for a car of this size and type. Point it down the ¼ mile, and the journey would be over in 17.8 seconds. Hold the foot to the floor, and the Corvair Corsa could eventually hit 110mph. Some people refer to the Corvair as the “American Volkswagen,” but I don’t necessarily subscribe to that theory. The Beetle offered owners a 1,300cc flat-four engine that produced 50hp. Point it at the ¼ mile, and it would stroll through in 22.1 seconds. I expect that some of our readers will probably laugh at this, but I look at the Corvair’s mechanical configuration and performance figures, and it is surprisingly close to a 1966 Porsche 911. Both featured flat-six engines with power outputs that were within 6hp of each other. The Corvair’s ET has already been covered, but the 911 would take 16.6 seconds to complete the same journey. The numbers were closer than many expected, but the prices and target buyers were very different. While it’s an interesting thought, I doubt that many potential buyers agonized over whether they were going to buy a new Corvair or a new 911 in 1966! The owner doesn’t supply any information on the mechanical state of the Corvair, so we are flying blind. If the motor turns freely, parts are readily available to return the Corvair to a mechanically sound state. His primary focus in the listing is on the state of the interior trim, but he supplies no photos. That suggests that a retrim will be on the cards, but once again, parts aren’t hard to find. Interestingly, the original owner didn’t select to upgrade the vehicle’s transmission, but they did select air conditioning. Still, it does get pretty warm in Texas.

Some people attribute the demise of the Corvair to Ralph Nader’s book, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” but that is far too simple. There is no doubt that his book tarnished the car’s reputation, but the writing was on the wall for the Corvair well before that book hit the shelves. The company had intended to ax the Corvair before the end of 1967 but chose to retain it for a couple of additional years so that it wouldn’t appear to the public that they had been intimidated by the claims made in the Nader book.  Chevrolet admitted that it was an expensive and complex car to build, which ate into its profit margins. However, its sporting credentials were blown 6-foot into the air when Ford’s Mustang broke cover. GM recognized that the best way to tackle the Mustang was head-on and that to do so meant producing a model that followed a similar design philosophy. The Corvair could never be that car, but the Camaro eventually was. That the 2nd Generation Corvair should be tarnished by the revelations in Ralph Nader’s book seems unfair because it bore little resemblance to the vehicle portrayed in the book. These are attractive cars, and the suspension upgrades that came with the new generation made them an enjoyable and rewarding classic out on the road. It seems that this one could make a great project, and it is being offered at a rock-bottom price. Is it low enough for you to consider parking it in your workshop?

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Comments

  1. alphasud Member

    Nice write up Adam. I own 2 65 Corsa models. 66 is the one to have and factory A/C is a real desirable option. Killer price as well. I had this discussion a few months back about the Corsa having a 3-speed and several well informed members chimed in that the 3 speed had good placed ratio’s. Too bad I’m not in Texas as someone is going to get a nice project car. Car appears to have its original glacier gray paint as well.

    Like 20
  2. bobhess bobhess Member

    Bought the ’65 Monza off the GM turntable at the Detroit Auto Show. Maroon, black interior, 4 speed, wire wheel covers. Beautiful car. With the addition of the turbo exhaust system the car had good power and topped out at 113 mph.

    Like 14
    • JoeNYWF64

      I thought only concept cars were on turntables at car shows.
      (& at the manufacturer’s design studios – only mockups & clay models).

  3. TomW

    Had a chance to buy one forty years ago for $900, had transmission problems, so I bought a 63 Studebaker instead. Actually sold the Studebaker within a month and doubled my money. Paid $600 put on new brake lines and while I was working on it in the driveway, a gentleman stopped and asked if it was for sale and offered me $1200 on the spot. Went back to get the Corvair and it was gone. Only time I made money on a project.

    Like 2
  4. Derek

    oooOOOooo…

    Shame it’s an ocean away.

    Like 1
  5. DayDreamBeliever Member

    If I didn’t already have one in mothballs….

    As has been mentioned, the 3-speed is extremely unusual. There are differences in opinion over how many were actually delivered.

    The AC is also uncommon on the 140, and added weight on the wrong end of the car. Also robbed power.

    But this specific car (with a Kansas plate from 25 years ago) appears to be quite complete and original. That would make it a great restoration candidate. If the overall rust level isn’t too severe, a private restorer might even be able to make a profit from doing the work.

    Note that the inside of the engine lid is a different color…. Makes one wonder why?

    Like 3
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      Note the same maroon-ish color on the rear leftside cove cap. Maybe this car was actually maroon and repainted. Need to see body tag to be sure. Shame it got pulled…this Corsa really speaks to me and has the right combination of features.

      Like 4
  6. alphasud Member

    Seller withdrew it form the market. He must have been getting a lot of activity and decided to keep it. I posted the ad on the Corvair forum and one of the members was in contact with the owner. But the owner backed out and said he was going to keep it.

    Like 7
    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      “keep it”

      As-in… “Oops,I priced it too cheap! Better wait a couple of months and relist it at $3K.”

      Like 12
  7. bobhess bobhess Member

    JoeNYWF64… Been to a lot of car shows in my life and never saw any concept cars associated with new model introductions. Was in Traverse City at the time and the local dealer alerted the car to us and we went down to see the car and the show. All we had to do was tell him we wanted it and he arranged for GM to ship it up to his dealership. My dad bought a new ’73 Camero off the display at the airport in Jacksonville, FL while he was living there. Fully loaded with everything he wanted and payed for directly to the salesman who provided information about the cars on display. Got off the airplane, bought the car, threw his bags in the trunk and went home with a new toy.

    Like 6
  8. John

    Short story: I owned a 69 Monza Corvair and loved the handling. Pulled up to the beach on a single lane asphalt drive, went surfing and by the time I got to my car a bunch of cars pulled up behind me. I had no choice but to back up through deep sand to get to the road about 100 yards away. Impossible I thought, but here’s the thing – I had to go to the bathroom BAD! I mean really bad! So I went for it – I floored that Corvair, in reverse and the darn thing bulldozed it’s way over that sand leaving a nice smooth trail behind it! People watching cheered and clapped and I made it to the bathroom with absolutely zero time left before I soiled my surf trunks!

    Like 12
    • Steve Clinton

      tmi lol!

      Like 5
    • Little_Cars Little_Cars Member

      Then there are the tales of guys who dropped bags of ice– or would drive into snowbanks with the front lid open to capture the icy stuff — to fill their trunks with beer, etc. Worked better on the early models because their fronts were practically flat. The bottom of the Corvair cargo hold had a drain plug that could be removed when all the drinking was done!

      Like 3
  9. geoff cook

    The Hemmings ad has been removed, so it looks like this Corvair has a new happy owner.

  10. bobhess bobhess Member

    John… Found my ’65 had good traction when I ran a snow autocross in Traverse City. Beat out two Porsche 356s and a V8 powered Austin Healey. Wasn’t even running the snow tires. Glad you saved the surf trunks.

    Like 6
    • DayDreamBeliever Member

      Turning the front was the most difficult part of snow/slippery pavement driving, from my experience. I used to carry one or two bags of sand in the trunk. Added enough weight to get the fronts to bite.
      At a gravel-lot autocross in the early 70’s, I ran snows on the front to counterbalance the big 14″ rears off of a friend’s Cutlass! 2nd fastest of 60 cars….

      Like 1
    • John

      Those were my favorite trunks too! And man I was sure proud of my little car for doing what it did!

  11. charlie Member

    Drove two of these and a 911, off and on, in the day, and the Corvair was by far the better driver. Constant vigilance was required to keep the Porsche on the road, it was so squirelly, but the Corvair was easy to drive. The one with the John Fitch modified turbo was, and still is, a great car if you can find one. And it would go through snow deeper than the floorboards, a great winter car, and, as a result, a great rust prone car, in New England.

    Like 4
  12. Rustytech Member

    I just finished restoring a 65 with 110hp. and automatic, I was seriously going to look into this one but alas the add has been pulled. Missed a good one.

  13. Knightomite

    It’d be awesome if you could swap out that 164ci flat 6 …with a 350 :)

    Like 2
    • alphasud Member

      Many have and Crown and Kelmark made conversion kits.

  14. Bimmerbill

    Adam,
    Your reference to the Corvair being the American VW is not correct but close. Dr. Porsche was hired by GM to be a consultant on the Corvair. A group of Porsche Club owners from the USA went to the factory in Stuttgart to tour the factory and meet Dr. Porsche. They were all standing outside the office building waiting on the good Dr. and the conversation was centered around what type Porsche he would be driving. They were all shocked when he drove up in a Corvair which had been given by GM as part of his consulting work. He was questioned about the Corvair and admitted that he drove it all the time. Go figure.

    Like 3
  15. John Klintz

    LOVED looking at this car and reminiscing! I had a ’65 Corsa 140 4-carb like this one except a four-speed. Bought it with a seized engine; had been run out of oil due to a crushed oil filter and obviously idiot operator. First engine I ever rebuilt; it was quick, fast, and handled well. I could beat a fairly warm V-8 in a drag race. Loved that car; wish I had it today! Check out Jay Leno; amongst his Corvairs is a ’66 Corsa turbo.

    Like 2
  16. chrlsful

    grand mother hada monza 1st gen ’61, the poor man’s porche. She wuz an upscale gal ! I hot rodded it around. Eventually it aged a lill and oil began to drip onto the heater duct wrk. Got pretty stinky in the cabin. Vedub’s heater box rusted out too. Kinda different era in durability. Nice low compression motors ran for ever, often – the rest? not so much.

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