16 December 2015

OUR CARS: Kyle Smith’s 1961 Chevy Corvair Greenbrier

As a kid in central Kansas, Kyle Smith enjoyed taking things apart (mainly lawn mowers), which led to an interest in cars. His father owned a few classic vehicles, but the only one Kyle recalls working on was a sun-faded, blue, late-1950s GMC pickup. “I remember enjoying running errands and short trips in that old GMC and watching dad easily drive the three-on-the-tree transmission,” he said. After driving classic cars in high school, Kyle decided to attend McPherson (Kan.) College and study automotive restoration. He started at Hagerty as a summer intern and accepted a full-time position upon graduation. Earlier this year he purchased a patina-covered 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier van from a friend in California.

Employee: Kyle Smith

Title: Licensed Sales Agent

Years at Hagerty: 2 1/2

Car(s): 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier

Why did you choose a Chevy Greenbrier? In high school I decided to dive head first into a project car and visited my local scrapyard to find one. A 1965 Corvair 500 caught my eye, and the yard was kind enough to drop it off in my driveway. But I was quickly in over my head with a locked engine and rust issues. I was saving money from a summer job and purchased a 1964 Corvair Monza in much better condition. It became my daily driver for a few years until I went away to college and the throwout bearing failed. So I sold both cars and got into motorcycles. I’d been looking for another Corvair when the Greenbrier became available.

Repairs and Modifications: The previous owner lowered and added later model wheels. I’ve installed an electric fuel pump, and I’m finishing a camping set up for the rear cargo compartment.

Hobby activities: I go to the McPherson College CARS show, local shows and events, and I’m hoping to take the van to the Woodward Dream Cruise sometime in the next few years.

Interesting Car Stories: I purchased the van from a former college roommate who lived in Southern California and needed it out of his driveway. I had the van shipped to my parents’ house in Kansas, where it sat from January to May, when I planned to drive it to Michigan. Upon arriving in Kansas, my father told me he hadn’t started it or moved it since it rolled off the shipping truck – and when it came off the shipping truck it was coughing black smoke and would barely stay running. I worked approximately 30 hours to get it in good enough shape that I could confidently hit the highway and drive 1,300 miles. It was a bit of a thrash, but it was a good time in the end and served me no unexpected issues on the way home.

Favorite Drive: Loading up the bicycles and driving to a group ride. It’s always fun to be the oddest vehicle in the parking lot!

Best and Worst Moments: The worst moment was when I realized for the first time that the gas gauge is a quarter-tank off (showing 1/4s left when it’s actually empty). A quarter mile is a long way to push a 4,000-pound van.

My best moment was “showing” the van at the McPherson College CARS show in May, 2015. That event started my journey to Michigan, and it allowed me a chance to meet some great Corvair enthusiasts and catch up with friends and other alumni.

13 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Phil Tucson December 17, 2015 at 10:31
    Kyle - glad to see you're keeping an old Greenbrier alive. I had good childhood memories in one, including camping trips in New England with my 6 siblings. Ours was red with white belt, and we had a Batman logo plate on the front. I remember one camping trip where my dad had the engine out the night before and was up half the night getting it reinstalled. Great memories. At 58, I'm an avid biker, so I agree - you have a bad ass machine to show up in for group rides! -Phil
  • 2
    Kyle Smith Traverse City December 23, 2015 at 13:48
    Hey Phil: sounds like you had some really cool memories with that Batman van! It's pretty amazing how simple they are underneath. It's really a perfect roadtrip car because how the ease of repair. This van was originally red, or at least I think so from the rear door jambs. Hopefully it will be red again one day.
  • 3
    Ken Florida December 30, 2015 at 15:16
    I have had a few Greenbriers in my day. I drove a real beat up one to Baltimore Md from Connecticut in the 70s with out a problem. Like most Corvairs they are tough vehicles and very dependable. Good luck with yours
  • 4
    Jerry Fl December 30, 2015 at 16:45
    My first job out of college was traveling in a '61 Corvair Greenbrier many, many miles through the Southeast in a sales promotion job. I must say it was fun driving it, and it was new! I moved on to a Monza convertible for personal use. They were fun vehicles, regardless of Ralph Nader's reports as being dangerous. Never had a problem. Enjoy!
  • 5
    Rick Herrick Big Bear Lake December 30, 2015 at 17:30
    I owned a 1964 Greenbrier. I purchased it in 1975 from a repair shop in West Los Angeles after non payment lean. It sat in their back lot with other incarcerated vehicles and it was begging for me to take it home. Being a former yellow school bus I, not so quickly, change it to a copper metallic then added multi colored carpet and a cool 8 track player, it was perfect for the mid 70's. I have great memories of driving up to Santa Barbara for college events and friends piling in for games or in prompt to parties. After college I sold it for next to nothing which was a lot more than I paid for it. Rear engine and air cooled ... no wonder I now own an old Porsche. Thanks for the memory trigger.
  • 6
    Mike J. Minot, North Dakota December 30, 2015 at 22:44
    The Greenbriar is an awesome ride, but I would love to hear the story on the A100 Dodge in your photo. I have a couple of Dodge pickups and a Chrysler Newport, so MOPAR products always catch my eye.
  • 7
    MARTY ROTH New Orleans December 30, 2015 at 22:48
    Kyle, congratulations on maintaining a historic vehicle. I've always liked the Greenbriar - it is just so cool, and so 1960s. McPherson was obviously a great choice, as is your employment with Hagerty. My Dad had a 1960 4-door with powerglide which was perfect for getting through the snowdrifts in northern New Jersey. I always enjoyed driving it, even though I really wanted a convertible. Eventually we bought and maintained so interesting models. Our 1965 & '66 Corsa and Monza convertibles and coupe were eventually passed along to sons of friends. Finally I have another Corvair - a 1965 Monza convertible and look forward to maintaining and touring with it, and probably entering it in Driver Participation Class (DPC) at an upcoming AACA Meet. Hopefully you will also consider driving to, and showing your driver-Greenbriar at an AACA Meet, possibly the upcoming Central Division Meet in North Mankato, MN - July 14-16, 2016.
  • 8
    Carey Denver December 30, 2015 at 22:49
    I enjoy reading about co-workers' collector cars! Thanks for sharing your story! It's true, "We live classics!"
  • 9
    Billy Bones South Florida December 31, 2015 at 08:06
    I love hearing stories of young people getting involved with classic cars. There will come a time in the future where finding one will be a real chore. Good luck.
  • 10
    Eddie Meadows Oviedo, FL 32765 December 31, 2015 at 09:16
    Please join the Corvair Society of America (CORSA - www corvair.org). There are a couple of big active Corvair clubs in Michigan which are listed in the newsletter. Also, the national Corvair convention will be in Springfield, IL in July 12-16, 2016.
  • 11
    Larry Bontreger Minneapolis MN December 31, 2015 at 11:09
    I have a couple friends that own Corvair vans. I also belong to a van club, and I know a lot of the folks that are in clubs around Kansas City. If you Goggle "Heart of America Van Council" I'm sure a link will come up for them. Your early Dodge also caught my eye, for several years I owned an early '70 "no door". We didn't drive it much, but had a blast when we did. Good luck and thanks for the story. Larry
  • 12
    al Pachaug,Ct January 1, 2016 at 22:46
    You sold the car over a throwout bearing?!?
  • 13
    John H OH February 23, 2017 at 17:47
    While you're waiting on the bodywork and paint you might get an Earl Scheib special clearcoat on the van as it sits. Sort of a 'Fast 'n Loud' special. Would protect it some from Northern Michigan weather. Still would look kewl!

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