12 November 2013

After 50 years of Corvair ownership, love is still alive and well

It was nearly 50 years ago that David Abell first laid eyes on her, back when he “had a full head of hair and didn’t need a nap in the middle of the day.” For Abell, it was love at first sight. And despite a bumpy start to their romance, the two are still making beautiful memories on the road to forever. Heck, even David’s wife, Sharon, likes her.

Sometimes the right car just steals your heart.

“She’s had some work done, but she still looks as good today as she did back then,” Abell said of his 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza. “Same goes for Sharon – and neither restoration was cheap.”

For the record, Sharon approved that quote. Considering how much trouble David had with the Corvair during his first month of ownership, he quickly discovered that a good sense of humor was a plus.

In 1963, Abell was a teenager living in Louisville, Ky., when he discovered the irresistible car that Ralph Nader would eventually label “unsafe at any speed.” Abell was looking to replace his ’57 Chevy Bel Air with something newer and sportier. Of course, a brand new car sounded great, but considering his budget was limited – he earned $1.25 an hour at a printing company – the field narrowed quickly. Then Abell spotted a Corvair, and he just had to have one.

He stopped at V.V. Cooke Chevrolet and spoke with a salesman named Frank Hardy, and before he knew it, he’d agreed to buy a 1964 Monza Coupe. It had a base price of $2,325, and Abell added options like a 4-speed transmission ($91.50), 110-hp engine ($26.90), push-button radio ($58.60), white-wall tires ($28.60), wire hub caps ($69.95) and tinted windshield ($12.90). Sticker price, including taxes, came to $2,687.57. Hardy offered $713.57 for the Bel Air, with the assurance that the Chevy “wasn’t worth much and never would be.”

“Stop laughing,” Abell says now of the slight miscalculation.

It took six long weeks for the Monza to arrive. “I was beautiful – just as I’d imagined,” he said. But trouble began almost immediately. Abell was continuously pulled over by police because his taillights kept going out.

“For the first month or so I kept taking it back to the dealer,” he said. “It felt like they had the car more than I did. They’d put in a new fuse, I’d drive it off, and within a day or two the lights would go out again.”

Abell suggested there might be a bigger problem, but he got the distinct impression the mechanics weren’t giving much credence to a “dumb young kid” – until the engine caught fire right there at the dealership. That did it. The dealer finally fixed the problem, and “I haven’t had a problem since,” Abell said.

Abell’s father urged him to take proper care of the car, not abuse it as teenage boys are wont to do. Since Abell’s $64 monthly payment equaled an entire week’s pay, he got the message … sort of. His father owned a Texaco service station, and Abell’s brother, Ernie, worked alongside him. They built a race car to run at the local drag strip, and Abell’s father dreamed of Ernie successfully filling the trophy case. He didn’t. What Mr. Abell didn’t discover until long after was that he did, indeed, have a hot shot driver under his roof. David secretly raced the Corvair, and he quickly filled a trunk with trophies – while his father and brother remained empty handed.

“I’m proud to say that I never lost in the two years that I raced on the 1/8-mile track. I also never tore up my car,” Abell said. “My father eventually found out many years later, and he just shook his head and smiled.”

Abell drove the Corvair throughout his courtship with Sharon, and the two drove the car to Tennessee and eloped on Sept. 11, 1964. They have two children, Missy and Scott; both came home from the hospital in the Corvair.

There have also been some not-so-fond memories. Abell’s daughter was so embarrassed to ride in the car that she insisted her dad drop her off at the corner instead of in front of her school. It served as his son’s first vehicle, but he didn’t drive it very long – something about its lack of sex appeal. The Corvair once ended up in a river after David’s brother used it to tow a boat. After draining the water and changing the spark plugs, the engine turned over – “shooting water out of the cylinders like a sprinkler” – but was otherwise fine. Later, the car was stolen and used in a bank robbery; it was eventually recovered when a friend recognized it in an alley.

“It has seen its fair share,” Abell said. “Smashed French fries, leaking baby bottles, sick kids when I didn’t pull over fast enough … Through it all, it’s been like the old Timex commercial – takes a licking but keeps on ticking.”

David and Sharon’s three grandchildren – Sean, Meredith and Autumn – all had their first “ride” in the Corvair soon after they were born. Since the car doesn’t have seatbelts, they actually laid on the seat long enough for photos, technically continuing a family tradition.

Abell has repainted the Corvair twice, most recently in 2000. The rest of the car remains virtually the same as when he bought it new, except for the dual exhaust he added. It won the Corvair Society of America (CORSA) Edward N. Cole Memorial Award in 2010 and has been displayed twice at the National Corvette Museum – as part of a salute to the 50th Anniversary of the Corvair in 2010 and the 100th anniversary of Chevrolet in 2011. And, since 2014 will mark Abell’s 50th year of ownership, he’d like to drive the car to Tacoma, Wash., for CORSA’s annual meeting – if he can talk his brother into coming along.

“Monetarily, my Corvair may not be worth much, but to me it’s priceless,” Abell said. “When I look at it, I see a young man sitting at the drag strip waiting for the light to turn green, a young couple running off to Tennessee to get married, and that young couple bringing their babies home from the hospital with little money but big dreams and a lot of love. And I see my kids sitting in the back seat and asking, ‘Are we there yet, Daddy?’ This isn’t just a car. Not to me.”

For information about the Corvair Society of America, visit www.corvair.org.

37 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Mark Lewisville, NC November 18, 2013 at 08:08
    I have owned two Corvairs. The first was a 1963 Monza Spyder with the turbo-charged 150HP engine, 4 speed, and metallic brakes. The second was a 1969 110HP. The cars were great to drive. Ralph Nader was an idiot who was out to make a name for himself. The first Corvair I ever saw had the clear engine hood, showing off the engine. A friend of my dad's who was a car salesman brought it to our house to show it to us. Anybody remember seeing one? They were done as a promotion gimmick I guess and there were not that many with that hood. I wold bet that one of those would go for quite a bit of money today if you could find one.
  • 2
    Eddie Conner Georgia November 20, 2013 at 13:05
    The part about the daughter having to be dropped off at the corner really gave me a belly laugh. I bought a 1967 Olds Luxury sedan from the 2nd owner. My best past girl friend's grandfather had bought the car new and when I bought it in 1983 it was still in mint condition. My daughter had a crush on the boy who lived next door to us and was in one grade higher. She was embarrassed to be seen in the Olds because it was so long and old looking to her and she thought to all her friends. I drove her to school one day in the Olds and as we got to the corner where we had to turn to her building she saw the boy standing in front with a group of other kids. She said, "Oh my God, Daddy, there's Paul - let me out here so he won't see me in this car!." I told her there was no way I wanted her to have to walk so far and that I'd put her out in front of the building. As she got out and was about half way up the walk, I lowered the passenger window, beeped the horn a couple of times and yelled out, "Bye Angie!!!" That was terrible of me I know, but it sure was funny and at 40 now she may not be over the embarrassment yet.
  • 3
    Mary Williamston, MI. November 20, 2013 at 13:22
    I too had a Corvair Monza. Mine was a new 1963 convertible. I loved that car until I had a fire in the dashboard on the way to work one morning. Found out it was insulation that had gotten into the heater hose some how. Scared the crap out of me so traded it for a new 1965 GTO.
  • 4
    Dave Texas November 20, 2013 at 14:20
    My first car was a dark metalic green 66 Corvair Corsa 180 Turbo. It was way too fast for its handling ability and its handling ability (particularly on a curve and a bumpy road) was way to limited for the driving ability of its owner. Sadly it was only a few months before its life ended wheels in the air having flipped over in a little old lady's petunia bed.
  • 5
    Bill Gucfa Rehoboth, Massachusetts November 20, 2013 at 14:43
    My very first car was a 1962 4-door Candy Apple red Corvair. It took me a year to save up to pay the dealer 400.00! I purchased it in 1967. It had bucket seats and 4 on the floor. Boy! Did I think I was somthin'! I kept it all through senior high. One day I changed the oil and took off my HS ring before doing so. I think the ring is still somewhere in that car! I can't remember what I did with that Corvair in the end, but I'll always cherish the 4 years of fond memories!
  • 6
    Gary Glenn Abilene TX November 20, 2013 at 15:37
    I bought the exact same car in 64 in Belleville MI. First new car. Loved it until I got T-Boned in Downtown Dallas by a cab running 70. Dog tracked after it was fixed. :-) In 1994 I bought a 63 convertible. spent $20,000.00 restoring it and still have it today. I can drive any other car I have and everyone likes them, but the Vair always draws a crowd, and EVERYBODY has a Corvair story to tell you. Think I'll have the wife Bury me in it when the time comes!
  • 7
    Lawrence Jahn Hoopeston,IL November 20, 2013 at 15:37
    Great Story! I am the original owner of a 63 Corvair Spyder Convertible. I courted my wife Gloria in the car 3 years later. I drove the car for 14 years and stored it in a machine shed for 25. It took 6 years to restore it. I have won over 50 trophies and plaques the past 7 years. I drove it to Kalamazoo Michigan for the International Corvair Convention last summer and scored 97.5 in Concour deElegance. I have won my class for the past five years at both the Illinois and Indiana state shows. I put on about 3,000 miles per year.
  • 8
    Dave Harvard, MA 01451 November 20, 2013 at 15:54
    I did my best time ever from Belmont, MA to Seaford, NY in a '62 4 door Monza with the 110 hp engine... 3 Hours and 45 minutes for 212 miles and that included stopping for beaucoup tolls in Connecticut and NY. And that record, included trying to better the time in a '68 Roadrunner. Both of the cars were new with maybe 10,000 on them. The Corvair was, and is, one of the all-time greats. Not to mention that the styling in the second series was so outstanding as to make them the best looking cars on the road today.
  • 9
    Don WI November 20, 2013 at 16:07
    Similar experience. I was 13 when my neighbor pulled into his driveway with a new 62 Monza. I was hooked. Drove Corvairs in high school and college. In 1979 b.K. (before kids), wife and I purchased a 66 Corsa turbo-charged convertible (1 of less than 600 produced) and drove it back from CA to WIsconsin. Still have it today and never fails to draw a crowd wherever we go. Wrongly maligned car that deserved a better fate. Nice to see more interest and value appreciation after all these years. Wife won't let me sell it and quite honestly, I don't really want to.
  • 10
    Jesse Southport,NC November 20, 2013 at 16:10
  • 11
    John Baton Rouge November 20, 2013 at 16:39
    My mother refused to let me buy the 1957 2 door Bel Air or the 1948 Ford Woody in 1961 for my senior year in high school. She said I could afford a new 1961 2 door Corvair. I was not pleased and should have sued her for child abuse! We laughed about that for years. I bought a 4 speed Bel Air when I turned 65. I showed her! I've owned 26 cars.... the Corvair was not my favorite but it drove me on Route 66 from L.A. to college.
  • 12
    Todd RI November 20, 2013 at 16:57
    Great job, David and Sharon! My first wife turned out to be too expensive to maintain, but I still have my '64 Corvair.
  • 13
    Jere Herold jereh@sbcglobal.net November 20, 2013 at 17:00
    In 1969 I was stationed at Ft. Carson Colorado and lived with my family in the downstairs apartment of a large house in Colorado Springs. A buddy of mine had a white Corvair. The Corvair had one bolt in the back that held the engine in place. One day he was on his way over to visit and when he got a few blocks away, that bolt fell out and the back of the engine fell onto the pavement. He walked to my apartment and another buddy, who lived upstairs from me in the upstairs apartment, and I went up to survey the situation. We got a new bolt, jacked the engine up and set it on a beer can while we replaced the bolt. We got a big laugh out of that except the guy who owned the car. He didn't think it was at all funny!
  • 14
    Dave Texas November 20, 2013 at 17:08
    My first car was a dark metalic green 66 Corvair Corsa 180 Turbo. It was way too fast for its handling ability and its handling ability (particularly on a curve and a bumpy road) was way to limited for the driving ability of its owner. Sadly it was only a few months before its life ended wheels in the air having flipped over in a little old lady's petunia bed.
  • 15
    Dave Texas November 20, 2013 at 17:08
    My first car was a dark metalic green 66 Corvair Corsa 180 Turbo. It was way too fast for its handling ability and its handling ability (particularly on a curve and a bumpy road) was way to limited for the driving ability of its owner. Sadly it was only a few months before its life ended wheels in the air having flipped over in a little old lady's petunia bed.
  • 16
    Bill W. Torrance, CA November 20, 2013 at 17:21
    My brother owned a 63 Corvair Monza and I owned a 64 Monza, it was my first new car, and I wish I could find it today. I loved the oversteer, after I put on Pirelli Cinturato tires. I could beat or stay with almost anything on Mulholland, except a well driven Porsche.It was as if the car was an extension of my body, it was so comfortable to drive. My brother sold the 63 and bought a 68, which he still has.
  • 17
    Bill W. Torrance, CA November 20, 2013 at 17:22
    My brother owned a 63 Corvair Monza and I owned a 64 Monza, it was my first new car, and I wish I could find it today. I loved the oversteer, after I put on Pirelli Cinturato tires. I could beat or stay with almost anything on Mulholland, except a well driven Porsche.It was as if the car was an extension of my body, it was so comfortable to drive. My brother sold the 63 and bought a 68, which he still has.
  • 18
    Larry Michigan November 20, 2013 at 18:01
    GM stopped making the Corvair because they couldn't get the car to pass California emission standards and cool the engine with air conditioning. They had to drop AC from the car and then could not sell many.
  • 19
    John Fenrich Owasso, OK November 20, 2013 at 18:20
    One of our favorite family stories is about my Dad and a 1963 Corvair convertible. Dad was a dyed-in-the-wool big car guy. As was the fashion back in the 50's and 60's he would by the family a used, late model station wagon every four years like clockwork. Well, I went off to college in 1965 and came home for a weekend. Dad was looking at the big Pontiac stationwagon we had had for 3 or 4 years and decided it was trade-in time. That Saturday afternoon imagine our surprise when he came driving up in a torquois '63 Corvair convertible with white top and white interior. We thought he had gone nuts, but I guess it was just his way of dealing with the mid-life crisis. He drove the car for 2 or 3 years and then gave it to my younger brother to take the college. What he didn't know is that when we boys borrowed the car on the Saturdays I was home, we would take it to wherever the local sports car club was having a gymkhama and we won quite a few trophies. My Dad has been gone now for quite a few years, but I can still see that grin on his face when he drove into our driveway and tooted the horn on that Corvair. P.S. when my brother got the Corvair he immediately ordered aluminum valve covers from J.C. Whitney. I still tease him about this since who in the world would ever look at the valve covers on a Corvair unless they were looking for that pesky oil leak.
  • 20
    John Zink Lake Leelanau, MI November 20, 2013 at 19:09
    My father took delivery of a 1960 Corvair 700 sedan on introduction day, Oct. 2, 1959. That became my car to drive to high school. I never thought of my father, an engineer, as much of a salesman, but as I think back, he must have been a really good one: I was thrilled to get the new Corvair, even though it replaced a 1958 Pontiac Bonneville convertible with three two-barrels. For the past 30+ years I have been the proud owner of a 1963 Corvair Spyder coupe.
  • 21
    Bob Tennessee November 20, 2013 at 19:22
    I've had numerous Corvairs over the past 37 years. Stopping to get gas is a 20 minute ordeal...people almost always ask questions or want to talk about the car. The amazing thing is how you can go to a general car show and spectators will walk right past a $50K Camaro or Mustang restoration to come talk to the Corvair owner. Many have stories about how they either owned one or had some relative, friend or neighbor that had one. The other interesting thing is how foggy peoples memories get about the facts surrounding these cars. So many mis-truths out there and some started 40 years ago as folklore and have now spun their way to be "fact" for many. But overall a great car that is fun to drive...just a little misunderstood!
  • 22
    Gerry south of Boston November 20, 2013 at 20:18
    I just sold a 61 Corvair Lakewood wagon- it was a never ending nightmare to restore but looked pretty neat- probably gonna regret selling it
  • 23
    Chris Campbell Traverse City, MI November 20, 2013 at 21:14
    At the end of 1969 I went to eastern Tennessee as a VISTA volunteer. I needed an inexpensive and economical car to get around. A local used car lot had a maroon 2 dr. 4-speed Monza for $150. I soon discovered that somebody had removed the choke linkages, but I bought new ones and the car started fine. I drove it very hard for a year and had no problems. It threw a belt once when my boss borrowed it but it always behaved for me. My year of service ended in late 1970. When I called home, my mother said "if you've still got that car, don't bother coming." She wasn't really being unfair; I still have two cars stored in her garages. But I sold the little Corvair and still miss it. That air-cooler sound always makes me nostalgic. At the end of the year I drove back to the used car dealer and showed him the car was still running. He showed a big grin and admitted that he thought he'd had the best of the deal when he sold it to me.
  • 24
    brian steele Lisbon lowa November 20, 2013 at 22:03
    I own two corvairs 1964 Monza spyder convertible one of my dad s cars we had 9 of them at one time and a 1969 corvair model 500 which is slightly modified its are hot rod these cars are fun to drive and are a great conversation opener I always get some one to say I had one year s ago and wished they had it back
  • 25
    John Glass Columbus, Ohio November 20, 2013 at 22:09
    I bought my 1963 Monza 900 Spyder Convertible from the first owner and he also traded in a 1957 Chevy for his Corvair. 'John
  • 26
    Al Jordan Traverse City, MI November 20, 2013 at 12:35
    I bought a 1960 Corvair, 700 4 Door Sedan, in June of 1960 at Meyer Chevrolet, St Louis, MO. I have the same car in my garage today. Of course it has been maintained, refurbished, repainted, etc. I am married to the same gal, Mary, 52 years.
  • 27
    Dave A. Reno, NV November 20, 2013 at 12:57
    I had a 1963 Turbo Spyder Corvair for about two years back when I was in college. Had a burgundy paint job and a black vinyl interior with bucket seats with the wire wheel hubcaps. Was a great car that served me well - even going over the Golden Gate Bridge 5 days a week while commuting from Marin County to SF. Also drove it problem-free on trips to Los Angeles and Lake Tahoe. Early in my ownership, I discovered the local Chevy dealer mechanics had no clue how to tune the Spyder; so I learned how to do that on my own. I quickly learned the ins and outs of changing out ignition parts, adjusting the turbo boost and pretty much doing all the routine maintenance. Generally speaking, my Corvair was a very reliable vehicle with few issues. It's too bad the car was killed by Ralph Nader - who after all is just another phony, self-promoting lawyer.
  • 28
    Ken Florida November 20, 2013 at 12:58
    My mother had a Corvair when I was growing up. She refused to drive anything else. Her last Corvair was a 1966 Monza 4 door with factory air. As time went on the car got so rusty that you had to put the New York Post on the front floor by the wheel well so if it rained the water would not spash you in the face. I have owned almost every Corvair from 1960 to 1968 but I have never owned a 1969 or a Rampside but have owned vans, station wagons, Spyders, Corsas, 2 and 4 door cars. They are great cars and very reliable. We were never stuck on the side of the road with any Corvair. I still have one left a 1964 Monza convertible with factory air that I bought in 1983. It is not so pretty any more but in time I will get it back in shape. Too bad GM didn't have the guts to continue production we could have had an American Porsche 911 today.
  • 29
    Lawrence Jahn Hoopeston,IL November 21, 2013 at 01:27
    I am also the original owner of a Corvair. I ordered a 63 Spyder convertible in May of 1963. I drove the car for 14 years (courting my wife Gloria of 46 years). I stored it for 25 years in a barn and took 6 years to restore, I drive it about 3,000 per year. I have won over 50 trophies and plaques the past 7 years. I scored 97.5 in Concours deElegance at Kalamazoo, MI at the International Corvair Convention this past summer.
  • 30
    Peter R. B.C., Canada November 21, 2013 at 15:51
    Carlo Abarth got a Corvair and modified the suspension, installing his famous exhaust (P/N: 1143) and other mods. It was done as a potential performance package offered to Chevrolet, that they could market and sell directly to customers (which fell through). Anybody know whatever happened with that car and where it ended up (a '61, four-door model)?...
  • 31
    Gary Tucson November 21, 2013 at 08:09
    I had a 64 Monza with a 4 speed and factory air bought it in 66 and had some great times in that car! I used to go on rallies and auto crossed it proving Ralph Nader wrong on many occasions. I entered a contest that Courtesy Chevy had and won a set of chrome Astro Wheels,car looked great with those wheels. The only problem was a bad clutch that was more of the young drivers fault that than the car! Also went to California and had a custom exhaust system with headers and twin megaphone tips,kind of sounded like an XK120! Great Car!!!
  • 32
    Stu Iowa/Arizona November 21, 2013 at 20:11
    A good friend in high school had a Spyder and we loved cruising around in our 'merican Porsche... great car, great gauges and dash, and a turbo long before its time! Would love to have that car back! When in college, Ralph Nader gave a speech at our school (Cornell College in Mt. Vernon, IA) and a friend of mine there had a Corvair- I thought about pushing him into the street so my friend could accidentally run him over.... just kidding... sort of.
  • 33
    Marjie Shriver Ft. Myers, FL November 21, 2013 at 08:55
    My first car was a 64 Corvair Spyder Convertible. Red with white interior and top. It was a fantastic car. My friends all drove VW's, not me. Growing up in SW Florida, it she many miles of beach and never once got stuck. I loved that car! So much so, that in 1993, I bought a 1963 that was identical except for the 1 yr difference and the color combination. It sits iin my garage and has 59K miles on it, all numbers match. It has also taken a 3rd, 2nd and finally a 1st place trophy. Sadly, I now have a chronic illness and have decided to sell. If anyone reading this is interested, please contact me at this email address or 239-349-0589. I am not asking a fortune, just a fair price. I am hoping someone will keep her going another 50 years!
  • 34
    Kirk Illinois November 22, 2013 at 19:05
    I bought my first 'Vair (a '64 Monza Coupe, 110HP/PG) when I was in high school, and I barely knew a spark plug from a spare tire back then. I got rid of the car when I was told the ring gear on the torque converter was shot, and the engine had to come out. I'm still kicking myself- that was a solid car, and I now know how simple it would have been to fix. Now, I own a '68 Monza Coupe (currently a "hangar queen"- a "built" 140HP/4spd), a '66 Corsa Convert (140HP/4spd), a '64 Monza Convert (110HP/4spd, California car) my stepson gave me, and finally, my wife's '69 Monza Convert (140HP/PG) the nicest of the bunch. Obviously, Corvairs are like potato chips- you can't have just one! I also live just 20 minutes from Larry Claypool's Vair Shop, qualifying me as "The Single Most Spoiled Corvair Owner...Ever!" I love these cars, and the friendships I have gained through them are truly priceless.
  • 35
    TC Canada November 25, 2013 at 16:57
    My 67 Air Car is a Corvair Monza Convertible I drive it as much as I can every summer. Its not a show stopper but it still turns a lot of heads. This Monza is pretty much original except for a new Clarion deck and dual exhaust with balance tube. I would drive it anywhere..5PLZ9
  • 36
    Samuel Wilkerson Rio Rancho, NM. November 28, 2013 at 12:47
    First car, Senior at Western H.S. in LV, NV. fall of 1965. Blue 1961 Monza coupe. Paid $550.00 for it and one of countless adventures was 400 mile trip to Reno for State H.S. football championship late Oct. The first bullet hole decals were out and car had 3 on rear window. We were pulled over by Reno P.D. as car matched description of alleged robbery vehicle that had been shot at. It took a lot of convincing, with one of the officers finally relenting and putting his finger in the middle of the decal to see that it wasn't real bullet hole! Skated on that one, but wasn't so lucky some months later. Car acquired 4 real bullet holes but that is a different story!!
  • 37
    Ted Turner Hollywood, Maryland January 5, 2014 at 16:35
    The Corvair was GM's answer to the VW Beetle, and there were obvious lessons learned from the Tucker automobile in its design. It says a LOT about the kind of company GM was in the early 1960s that they put such amazing technology into their lowest price car. Sadly they had no clue how to market the car, and abandoned any further development after 1965, preferring the utterly conventional and utterly unremarkable Chevy II, which competed in the same Chevrolet price category. I've had two Corvairs; the first was a 1966 Monza 110hp Powerglide 2dr that I bought used in 1977 for $165.00. Drove it 40,000 miles until it threw a rod in 1981. My current Corvair is a 1965 500 sport sedan with 35,000 original miles. Mist blue with a fawn interior and the 110hp Powerglide. I've had it four years, and bought from someone's front yard for $1,200.00. Had the brakes done, the carburetors rebuilt, the fuel tank replaced, seats reupholstered, and the car painted. The Corvair Ranch in Gettysburg, PA, ROCKS, by the way. These cars are fun to drive, easy to maintain, parts are plentiful, and NOTHING sounds as cool as that little air-cooled pancake six. Great story, and thanks for sharing!

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