Ralph Nader’s Corvair Unearthed!

ralph-naders-corvair

From Caveman Pete in beautiful Southeast Michigan – I know this sounds like a tall tale… But, I just bought Ralph Nader’s Corvair! I met up with Ralph a few months back in Detroit when he was being inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame. Maybe that sounds like a tall tale too, but google it and check it out. I had a 1960 Corvair sedan on display in the Riverfront Ball Room of the Cobo Center. After the festivities I was retrieving my car and Ralph asked me if I could help him find a buyer for his Corvair. Of course, being the helpful kind of guy that I am, I said sure!

how-ironic

This past weekend I made the trip from Southeast Michigan to Ralph’s hometown of Winsted, Connecticut and pulled this derelict 1962 Corvair Monza sedan out of it’s 8-year slumber in a run down garage. The car was donated to Ralph Nader and his Museum of Tort Law also in Winsted. The museum has a much better example of an early tuck-under Corvair rear suspension on display so Ralph sold me this one.

unsafe-again

After dragging it out into the open on three half-flat tires and one really flat tire we winched it up on my flatbed trailer and headed back home to Michigan. As of today it does start and run. Soon we will get the brakes working and source a better set of tires for it. After that we may try to improve the poor bodywork that was performed by some non-bodyman sometime in this car’s deep dark past. Sometimes finding cars in barns (or rickety old wood-floored garages) can be difficult, but it helps when you have connections.

How ironic Pete! You bought a Corvair from the very man who demonized the model in his book, Unsafe At Any Speed. His work may have initiated the changes needed to make cars safer, but many enthusiasts still hold hard feelings towards him for slandering their precious air-cooled Chevrolet. Thanks for sharing your story with us and good luck with your new project!

Like This? Get Our Daily Email

Comments

  1. RoughDiamond RoughDiamond Member

    I love the Corvairs and sorry to say, but in spite of Mr. Nader being a nice man, I have always seen him as just your typical put me “In the limelight” political hypocrite.

    • Woodie Man

      That seriously underestimates his positive contributions to consumer protection and the advancement in technology brought about by his advocacy. On the other hand his quixotic campaign for President may have cost Gore the electoral college in Florida after Gore won the popular vote. No Nader maybe no need to look into hanging chads and no Supreme Court order to stop the recount t which as all the historians among us know handed the Presidency to George W. Bush.

  2. PaulG

    Great story, and kind of ironic.
    It would be great to have a picture of Mr. Nader in the car.

    • Caveman Pete

      Here is the picture sent to me before I made the trip to CT to buy the car.

      Like 2
  3. Joe Haska

    Not a fan of Ralph Nader!

  4. Bradshaw from Primer

    Ralph’s book started me on cars….in it he says “the 1965 Corvair was the best handling car in America” This was with its new IRS suspension similar to the Jaguar, Stingray …..
    I tried it and it was great! Had several, then a Lotus and many more cars with good turn in, great grip and good handling.

    Ralph’s book was a good turtorial on Swing axle vs A arm rear suspensions.

  5. ccrvtt

    I’m ambivalent about Ralph Nader but the fact remains that he simply took what was and exposed it, albeit a bit dramatically. But then that’s how change happens and the means sometimes justify the ends. The real tragedy was GM’s response: They didn’t do a whole lot to rectify the situation. In the end it was a relatively simple fix to attach a transverse motion-limiting spring to keep the swing axles from tucking under. The second generation Corvairs had u-jointed half shafts and were much better cars. But then it was too late and corporate hubris ultimately killed the Corvair, not Ralph Nader.

    • Bill

      To say that GM’s response to the Corvair chapter in Ralph Nader’s “Unsafe At Any Speed” was that “they didn’t do a whole lot to rectify the situation” is simply untrue. “Unsafe At Any Speed” was published in the Fall of 1965, after the 1966 Corvairs had been introduced. The transverse spring that you mention appeared on all 1964 Corvairs and the all-new ’65 models featured the Corvette-inspired multi-link rear suspension. These improvements clearly pre-dated “Unsafe At Any Speed.”

  6. JW454

    Ralph Nader’s efforts may have had a positive impact somewhere but, I’d like to know the true statics regarding the number of Corvairs that ended up on their tops vs. say, a VW beetle with the same swing axle suspension. Whether a product is safe or not depends on how it’s used. Example; we didn’t stop making hammers because people smashed their thumbs driving a nail.
    I have never owned a Corvair but, I like the design and the looks of them.

  7. Mike Lanehart

    My dad worked at the GM proving Grounds in Milford Mi. and was a specalist on the corvair and was on the team that was fighting with Good Ole Ralph, when he was trying to shut the corvair down. They did not get along, at all.

  8. Dolphin Member

    It’s likely that both early Corvairs and Beetles had accidents that happened because of the less than excellent handling of those cars, plus less than excellent driving skills of the owners, plus less than total attention to the road and traffic, etc, etc. My ’62 Beetle’s swing axles made some strange moves on the road, too.

    Swing axles made for a cheaper IRS in cars, but were less safe than fully jointed axles, and Nader helped with that realization, even if he was more of a lawyer than a car guy and exaggerated things a bit in his book. I remember Road & Track pointing out than the extreme angles of the rear suspension bits shown in a drawing in his book were physically impossible.

    At least we have better rear suspensions now than we had in the 1960s, and that’s due in small part to Nader’s influence, even if his points might have been a bit exaggerated back in the day.

    • Marshall

      My first car I bought while I was in high school was a red 1962 VW sunroof beetle that I called “Howard”. Years later, I bought another (white) 1962 sunroof bug that I decked out like Herbie the love bug. I never noticed them behaving strangely as far as the rear end goes. But then I never drove them that fast either.

  9. David Frank David Frank Member

    I owned a bunch of second generation Corvairs and loved them, of course. Cars weren’t safe for many reasons, like fuel tanks behind the seats of pickup trucks, but safety didn’t sell. For example, in the 1930s the Chrysler Airflows were much safer than other cars of the day, but they were a failure. In the early 1960s when seat belts were introduced, there were mostly complaints. It took someone like Nader to get folks interested in safety to bring about change. Then the politicians got on board and over reacted.

    • packrat

      I know this one because it was an example sentence in a Harbrace English composition handbook: In 1949, the Nash motor company introduced seatbelts. Many customers cut them out of their cars…Same with Ford building a safer car, 1956-ish: They were afraid it would scare people away.

      • Marshall

        1956 was spot on! Several years ago, my dad and I got into an argument about whether it was the 1955 model year, or the 1956 model year, that Ford had it’s safety emphasis. Sometime later, I saw a restored 1956 Ford at a car show with literature in the trunk showing that the 1956 model year was the year that Ford promoted safety in their new cars.

  10. Fred W.

    It’s no Elvis’ Cadillac, but close! I owned two swing axle Corvairs and had close calls in both, (one of them a 360) so I can attest to the unsafe thing (tire pressures were a big factor but even as a teenage kid I knew that, and about the handling characteristics, being a Consumer Reports geek). A second generation car I owned never put me in a bad situation. I couldn’t stand Nader at the time being a Corvair fan, but in retrospect I can see that without Nader, we may have never had shoulder harnesses, airbags, etc.

    • Bill

      Maybe it was no Elvis’ Cadillac but Elvis bought Priscilla, the woman he loved most, a brand-new ’63 Corvair Monza for her high school graduation present!

      Like 1
  11. Ken Nelson Member

    When I was at Pomona College in Claremont Ca., my roommate had an early Corvair.
    He used to brag about how many donuts he did in that car. But then he was also a little crazy, as one night he’d borrowed his dad’s big Merc with the reverse-slant rear window and invited me along for a ride – on the railroad tracks behind the college! Turns out he’d found the track width and the fat bias ply tires fit perfectly on the train tracks. He found a crossing, turned the car sharply, lined up with the tracks and off we went. We didn’t even have to steer! the tires draped themselves just enough over the rails and the curves were gentle enough that we just rolled along laughing our heads off. We had the headlights off, but flipped them on when we came to a road crossing and startled the hell out of a couple cars heading to cross the tracks – they hit their brakes, and we just rolled across waving at them. What a wacky blast!
    A couple days later he looked a little down, & told me he’d gone on the tracks again, hit a switch and got the car hung up in it – until he heard a train whistle, floored the car & got out of there with a shredded tire, which ended his stunts.

    • Jonny the Boy

      Wow! My dad told me about riding on the rails in his buddy’s convertible back in the 1950s. They’d get some beer, sometimes some girls, and ride along for miles! If they needed to get off the tracks, it was easy enough to just turn the wheel. He said nothing bad ever happened while riding the tracks, but they got caught drinking and driving… The cop had them empty out their beers, said to drive straight home, and said no more drinking and driving or he’d tell their parents!

      Like 1
  12. Bobsmyuncle

    The Corvair and VW weren’t the only examples MANY European cars had been using this design for decades.

    The fact is, based on numbers it simply was a non issue. Not unlike how 60 minutes ruined the Audi 5000 or the Pinto exploding gas tank fiasco.

    Plans to update the car were already in the works however corporate lawyers were concerned that introducing the new model at that time would look like an admission of guilt. How’s THAT for irony?!

    • Poppy

      Didn’t the TV expose on the GM X-car premature rear brake lock up also have the front brakes completely disabled during their “tests”?

      • Bobsmyuncle

        I’m not familiar with that one.

    • Mike Williams

      @Bobsmyuncle I almost flipped a VW when the rear tire tucked under on a curve and knew people that rolled their Corvairs when hitting a unsuspecting bump in the road. I also had a Audi 5000 that the front wheel fell off. And Pintos don’t have any protection in the rear, a cheap piece of crap.

      Anyway it sounds like Ralph was just passing on a unwanted donnor car.

      • Bobsmyuncle

        Other than your bad luck, your anecdotes don’t prove much.

        I’m not certain how many of the nearly 22 MILLION Beetles (not to mention the other models) were built with swing arm suspension but its safe to say it was an immense number. How many lawsuits?

        Any?

        Of the 2 million Pintos built on 10 years, do you know how many examples of gas tank fires there were?

        27.

        Let me write that again, 27! That is considered well within the normal range compared to other make and models at the time.

        The Audi 5000 wasn’t criticized for wheels falling off, but rather unintended acceleration. The 60 minutes feature was an absolute lie that used a mechanically altered car to ‘fail’ as they needed it to.

        BTW you should always ensure your wheel lugs are properly tightened, and any time you hear or feel something out of the norm, pull over to investigate.

        Like 1
      • Dave

        Learn to drive and take care of what you are driving.

        Like 1
      • Rando

        Having owned an Audi through that period, I defended Audi and still do, even though my Audi was a total POS. That situation was mostly drivers of other brands getting into an Audi and the pedals were aligned differently. I had the opposite happen to me. I got out of my Audi into another American car and was having “unintended braking” issues because I was used to where the pedals were in my Audi. It only took a couple miles fdor me to adjust. But if you just droopped a wad into a new Audi, then dropped it into the pool because it took off on you, you don’t want to look foolish. Blame the car, not the driver.

  13. Rocko

    My dad had a corvair and as a treat he would drive it on the train tracks between streets in our town. I never thought much of it , but he seemed to get a kick out of it, like no one else could do this with their car! It was a white four door with red interior. He also liked to point out the propellers sticking out from under an Amphicar on the next street, i remembered seeing the car drive by in winter with the props full of slush and ice, exiting times !

  14. unclehotrod13

    If you go online under vintage corvair commercials you see how incredible these were, unsafe??? Thats the charm of older cars!!! Would love a wagon or th greenbrier van…

  15. packrat

    If I had a choice, it would probably be a two door, as they’re all reasonably affordable. That being said, if Ralph Nader is selling a Corvair, you GOTTA buy it, just for the story. WELL DONE.

  16. roselandpete

    Love the irony.

  17. Rex Kahrs Member

    My friend had a neighbor who was a Corvair nut, had several of them. My buddy bought his first car from the guy, a red convertible if I remember the story correctly. Later, they discovered the neighbor dead in his garage, crushed under one of his Corvairs. Unsafe at any speed, including zero!

    • Glen

      I hate to say it, but that’s funny. I’m weird that way.

  18. Steve

    He should have driven it until it rolled over, you know, to prove his point.

  19. Maddog

    Owned three of them red 1960, yellow 64 spider, & blue 67 everybody made fun of my rides, wheels were wheels when ur 16.

  20. chad

    DF: “safety doesn’t sell cars”
    that wuz Wolwo’s claim to fame & lookit how many they sold on just that by-line…

  21. ACZ

    This story is pure Pete.

  22. Car Guy

    Nader was lawyer and media hound. Never the like the guy. always thought the Corvair got a bum rap.

    Naders famous factor was built on the backs of hard working people who worked on corvair,.

  23. Wayne Thomas

    The Corvair is a perfect example of how easy it is for dogmatists to ignore history and facts. The Mustang (combined with the Corvair’s non-amortization of costs) killed the Corvair. Nader pointed out a design shortcoming, but his book is more than the Corvair.

    With Nader, you have to wonder why do anything to help common people against the corportocracry. So many line up to be taken advantage of and will beat down anyone not willing to obey.

    • Woodie Man

      So true. Lemmings of the cliff of consumerism.

      • Rex Kahrs Member

        Consumerism? Well, the Corvair may have attracted it’s share of Lemmings, but nothing compares to the buy-in of the smart phone…it’s like oxygen to so may people. I don’t have a smart phone, but I’d like a Corvair.

      • Woodie Man

        Rex :

        My reference to ‘consumerism’ was not to the purchase of Corvairs. It was in reference to Wayne Thomas’ observation to questioning why Nader even bothered to point out the possible real or imagined flaws in the Corvair as well as the corporate dominance of American capitalism….given the predisposition…even more so fifty years ago imho….of people to be manipulated by the ‘corporatocracy’.in all things.

      • Rex Kahrs Member

        Hey Woodie, I stand corrected, no umbrage intended. How ’bout I buy you a cup of coffee at Starbuck’s sometime?!

  24. Paul

    I knew it!!! I JUST KNEW that Nader was a closet Corvair lover, I knew it!!! Now, there is proof and I can put that, I knew it thought to bed… I knew it, I just knew it!!!! zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  25. Rick

    The Camaro was the demise of the Corvair.

    • Bobsmyuncle

      This is accurate. And believe it or not the evolutionary path that the car would be taking threatened the flagship Corvette.

  26. JohnnieD

    I have consistently read over decades that Ralph Nader has never owned a car personally. Never had a drivers license and never has driven cars. That he has lived his entire life in the city and travels by cab, bus or foot. He was never a Corvair lover indeed he hates cars in general. There may be a Nader Museum and he may have been given this car but, I doubt he ever drove it anywhere.

  27. Ed Willaims

    You can add me to the list of “Nader Haters” It’s too bad that Chevrolet because of his book discontinued the Corvair just when they were making improvements for future models. Example: They had a new OVERHEAD CAM ENGINE with the fan belt running in one plain around the pulleys at the back end of the engine. This engine ended up in the Chevrolet Astro show car and never got beyond that.

    My Nader can GO FLY A KITE!!

    • ACZ

      The next Gen Corvair was supposed to be liquid cooled. The designs were done and prototypes built but then the plug was pulled. NOX emissions are too hard to control on air cooled engines.

      • Bobsmyuncle

        VW and Porsche (others?) did it for another two decades.

        Never heard about that though. Any links to a source, wouldn’t mind learning more?

  28. Jim booth

    My daily driver is a 65 Corsa 140. It’s a 2 door 4 speed. Love driving it because you have to do just that…Drive it. It’s driving dynamics are still respectable and are great compared to most other cars built over 50 years ago.

  29. Rex Kahrs Member

    I know that Renault had a swing axle car in the Caravelle. I owned one, and let me tell you that the handling was frightening.

    • Bill

      My first car was a 1966 Renault Caravelle. I now own two ’63 Corvairs. You are right that the Caravelle, like the Corvair, had swing axles. Unlike the ’60-’63 Corvair, the Caravelle had a front anti-roll bar and rear rebound straps. I never found either the Caravelle or the Corvairs to have frightening handling. I owned the Caravelle so long ago that bias ply tires were still the norm in the U.S. and mine was thus shod, and yet, no complaints from me.

Leave A Comment

RULES: No profanity, politics, or personal attacks. Don't post your car for sale in the comments. Click here to get it featured on the homepage instead.

*

Notify me of new comments via email. Or subscribe without commenting.