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Wild V8 Swap: 1961 Chevrolet Corvair

I will always respect a custom build because they will almost inevitably demonstrate interesting thinking and a novel approach to design and execution. That doesn’t necessarily mean that I would like to own or drive those particular cars, but I will respect them. However, every now and again one will come along, and when I look at it, all I want to do is to slide behind the wheel and hit the road. This 1961 Corvair is just such a car because while its appearance provides a hint that it could be something a bit special, it doesn’t tell the full story. I have to say thank you Barn Finder Pat L for referring the Corvair to us because it really does seem to be a truly unique vehicle. It is located in Harrison, Arkansas, and has been listed for sale here on Craigslist. The owner is asking $8,500 OBO for this custom, which would seem to be a lot of car for your cash.

There are plenty of words that could be used to describe the exterior appearance of the Corvair, but “subtle” isn’t one of them. Candy Pearl Red paint, graphics, enormous wheels, flared wheel arches, and a rear spoiler, are all designed to do nothing but grab your attention. Having said that, the paint itself looks really good, with no sign of any marks or scrapes. The panels are as straight as an arrow, which is essential with this type of paint because it does have a tendency to make any panel imperfections stand-out from a mile away. The graphics are neat and tidy, while there are no signs of any rust anywhere on the vehicle. The trim, chrome, and the glass all look flawless, but the wheels (which I probably wouldn’t have personally chosen) look like they might benefit from some work with a good-quality polish. So, the owner has taken what is essentially an economy car and given it a more aggressive look, but that is only the tip of the iceberg.

Now we walk around the front of the Corvair, open the trunk, and reveal…I’ll bet you weren’t expecting that! No more rear-mounted flat-six for this baby. What we find is a Chevrolet engine, but this is a 350ci V8. Hooked to the back of this is an automatic transmission, but it isn’t clear what type it is. In keeping with the bulletproof upgrades, the power from that 350 eventually finds its way through the auto to a Ford 9″ rear end. I might be going out on a limb here, but I’m fairly sure that this was a combination that Chevrolet never envisaged would find its way under a Corvair. It isn’t clear whether the 350 is in standard tune, or whether it has been given some internal upgrades. During the Corvair’s entire life-cycle, the most powerful production engine that the company offered produced 180hp. It is a virtual certainty that this engine would offer-up significantly more than that figure. I guess that the big question has to be just how well this entire conversion has been engineered. If the conversion work has been designed and executed properly, then this has the potential to be a thrilling car to drive. If it hasn’t been done well, then it could potentially be a horror story. I would expect that given the fact that the Corvair has apparently been deemed to be roadworthy to mean that the design and execution are of a high standard. There is no doubt that this Corvair would tip the scales at a higher weight than the original donor car, but then again, it would have plenty of extra power to offset this weight. The owner states that the vehicle is fantastic to drive, and this is a claim that I find pretty easy to believe. Now, do you see why this is a custom that I would love to drive?

Under normal circumstances, an interior that presents this nicely could potentially be a real highlight in a custom build. In this case, it really has to take a back-seat (excuse the pun) to that drivetrain. Having said that, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the interior, and its color combination works exceptionally well with the external paint choice. This is an interior that would seem to need nothing, because the upholstery and carpet, along with the dash, all appear to be faultless. Everywhere that you look, it oozes both class and the hallmarks of great execution. I’m not taking off any marks here for the fitment of aftermarket features, so the CD player rates as a nice touch if you ever get bored with the music provided by the 350.

I really don’t quite know what to make of this Corvair, because it is a car where its creator has thought a long way outside the square. If the mechanical upgrades have been engineered to a high standard, then it is a car that could be a real blast to drive. Placing a value on it is a virtual impossibility, but you would have to think that the owner is losing a pile of money if he sells it for $8,500. One thing is for certain, and that is that if you rocked up at your next Cars & Coffee in this classic, you would get plenty of attention. Now, could someone pass me the keys, please?


  1. nycbjr Member

    not for me, give me a nicely restored or preserved Monza any day!

    Like 7
  2. Gaspumpchas

    Seems nicely done, but I’d like a look at the underside to see if he added a full frame and how the rear was installed. Bet it screams. Good luck to the new owner, Sure is different!!!

    Like 17
  3. Steve R

    It might be a hard sell. The car is very dated looking, the paint, wheels, flares and some other touches are straight out of the mid-1980’s. Who knows how well engineered or thought out the front engine conversion was conceived and performed. Besides, early year Corvairs aren’t highly sought after. It may stand out from the crowd, but that doesn’t mean people who sing it’s praises will be willing to dig into their own wallet.

    Steve R

    Like 6
  4. Jam

    It’s a shame they put the engine up front. The car lends itself for a mid engine swap. The corvair had a reverse rotation engine. Flipping the transaxle over gave you the correct rotation to mount to a V8 while keeping the independent rear axle an enhancing the weight distribution.

    Like 16
    • Michael Rogers

      I’ve seen the mid eng version but hear that the diff doesn’t like being run backwards It is A lovely little car! I’d like to see that done to a later vair, the body looks like a small camaro~~

      Like 3
      • Dave

        MR: you can find lots of examples of Late Model (’65-’69) mid-engine Vairs here:

        Like 4
      • ACZ

        There are three different types of mid engine conversions for late models. Kelmark ( Mid-Engineering), Crown (that leaves the transaxle in the same position but ads an input shaft to the other end), and the other Mid-Engineering kit that uses a pre-79 Toronado powertrain.

        Like 1
    • Jay Morgan

      Couldn’t agree more about making it mid engine instead.

    • 1-MAC

      Crown made a kit to put a v-8 infront of the trans axle. Mid engine. very good road manners someone put a 454 in one, don’t kow how that went. Crown Conversions.

  5. JWKJR

    There was a gut on HAMB that did rear swap 409 in one

    Like 2
  6. Little_Cars

    I’ve seen this car in person at the CORSA convention a dozen years ago. I’m not exactly keen on the oval opening in the front and tubular grille (could have made a straight cut and/or used dark material to de-emphasize the radiator). And why add the huge wheels in the back and destroy the wheel arches? Even as a drag car, I bet the build could have been done without messing too much with those back fenders. Finally, that interior and graphics are indeed way too “circa 1983” for my taste. All in all, though, a good buy if it can be driven safely on the street.

    Like 5
  7. Egbert

    As the owner of a mid-engined (Crown) conversion 1966 Corvair (the 8th Corvair I have owned and the 2nd mid-engine V8 I have owned), I would say this looks nicely done (and I seem to have seen it posted on Corvair FB sites recently). Personally, the late models (65-69) are more my cup of tea. But I like the look generally.

    My concerns would be the lack of a roll bar and any photos of the undercarriage. The lack of the roll bar sometimes leads to problems with the front windshield leaking when it rains (among other issues). Also, the front-engines tend to lose out in maneuverability compared to the mid-engined Vairs. Strictly my personal opinion.

    Like 9
    • Michael Rogers

      with those giant rear donuts–it won’t handle anyway–it’s to go straight~~~

      Like 3
    • Stephen F Sharp

      well, yea, about mid-engine versus rear engine, but that also goes for the front engine versus the rear engines.

  8. jerry z

    A few changes to be perfect, radius the front fenders, remove the spoiler, and change to a set of Fenton 5 slot mags.

    In the second picture you can see he has done a 2 gen Vair to front engine with side pipes.

    Like 4
  9. Big Len

    Engineering is the key here and it must cover all vehicle operations, from suspension dynamics to engine cooling. Not for the amateur and impossible to determine by looking at 8 pictures.

    Like 5
  10. Red

    Would have paid more for a Monza 4speed with the engine in the back… Styling is cool as a retro mod but suspect it will have more engineering issues than the original.

  11. Steve S

    I have 3 pictures I took of a corvair that I seen at the cruise in the town I live in a few years ago. It is more custom than this one I wish I could post the pictures but can’t. The person that built the car I’m talking about took it apart and rebuilt it from the ground up. He widened and stretched the rear end a little. Then he took the front end and supercharged v6 from a Buick if I remember right and put that in the rear of the corvair. It still had all the steering knuckles and everything on it and he made it where the wheels couldn’t steer. Then the guy put a custom exhaust on the car. Then he made it front wheel drive and then he made it where the body of the car could be lifted up from the rear. Then he added a small frame that is attached to the rear of the frame of the car with a small grill and a couple small coolers and a pot to cook chilli or any kind of soup in while going down the road and an umbrella and to finish it off he added a blender to make mixed drinks with on the engine. All of that fit under the rear of the body of the car and nobody knew everything was there when the body was down.

    Like 2
    • Hoiman

      I know that Corvair. It burned in a fire and the burnt frame was auctioned last year (I was interested, but never bid on the burnt shell).

  12. Johnny

    Well one thing for sure. If he broke down. He wouldn,t go hungry. I had a friend put a 396 down in one back in the late 60. Him and his brother was all the time doing something like that. They even put a 396 down in a Datsun pick-up.

    Like 1
  13. Jay Morgan

    I want to see the white one in the background!

    • DayDreamBeliever DayDreamBeliever

      Looks as though it is also front engined. Side pipes are a solid indication…..

  14. KevinLee

    About1976-7, there was a 65 with mid engined big block Chevy, and a Gremlin with about the same engine, that terrorized the streets in my hometown. They were both built at a local speed shop, and both painted purple. They would line up at a red light, and both do a giant wheel stand on a green light. Damn, I so miss the 1970s!

    Like 4
  15. Larryboy18

    So, What would be Ralph Naders take on this one?

    Like 2
    • Ed P

      Ralph would have a stroke!

      Like 3
  16. Steve RM

    If this car is engineered as well as it looks, this would appear to be a screaming deal.I knew a body man/fabricator who put the engine and transaxle from a Toronado in one back in 1975 mid engine style. That thing looked stock but was a rocket.

    Like 1
  17. Greg Millard

    I really like the whole package, cheers, Retrogreg

    Like 1
  18. ACZ

    Can’t really tell how this one is done but I have seen a couple where the early model Corvair body was dropped on an S Blazer chassis.
    There was also a late model Corvair that was done with a Jag V12 and RWD. That was a fine piece of craftsmanship.

  19. junkman Member

    If you use a marine cam you can run the engine backwards and not worry about the transaxle. My cousin had a homemade one of these with a 283 the builder ran backwards by putting 2 bbl carbs on upside down headers and had the exhaust coming out the intake. Freakin wild.

  20. onree Member

    Speaking of unusual engine transplants; at a Corvair convention sometime in the eighties in San Jose, there was a 2nd gen Corvaiir with a front engine Jaguar V-12. Green, if I remember. Also at the same place, a VW Type3 Ghia wirh a Corvair engine in its rear compartment.

  21. Joey Enlowe

    The front V-8 Corvair was common to see on short tracks in the 60’s and 70’s. A friend has a replica of a local driver’s car, Phil Morgan, who was very successful at South Boston, Trico, and other tracks in the NC / VA areas. All I know of were constructed by mating the Corvair body with a GM chassis.
    Cutlass, Chevelle, etc. His uses the GM factory rear suspension. I recall some of the past examples converted to to leaf springs with a quick change rear axle. Phil raced with an elite class of true wheelmen. Mr. Sam Ard , Monk Tate, Earl Moss and many others. More than once there would be a bounty declared at a track on the 11a.
    R. I. P. Phil Morgan

    Like 3
  22. Robert Woodward

    They should have upgraded the brakes. Is it being stopped with four wheel drum brakes with all that added weight?

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