Collector’s love for Corvairs still strong, even though some have hit the road

Pete Koehler loves Corvairs – 1960 models, specifically. In fact, his passion for them is so intense that his recent decision to pare down his collection may have been a bit of a surprise to some.

Not to worry, Koehler insists. The sky isn’t falling. He simply can’t get around like he used to. “It’s just a lack of mobility,” said the long-time member of the Detroit Area Corvair Club. “It isn’t life threatening, just fun threatening.”

Koehler’s solution was to let some of the cars go. He listed 11 Corvairs on Craigslist last month, and then not-so-secretly hoped they didn’t sell. Four of them did, and a couple may be on the verge.

“I thought I’d try to sell a few, and I put decent prices on them,” said Koehler, 63. “I figured, if they sell, they sell. If they don’t, they don’t. I would have been happy if none of them sold … and I would have been pretty sad if they all had.”

During a 38-year career at General Motors – half as a field rep and the other half as an engineer – Koehler gained a deep appreciation for GM automobiles. But he said he caught the Corvair bug long before that.

“I bought my first Corvair in ’68 when I was a teenager. I thought, ‘Wow, a 4-door sedan with bucket seats for only 10 bucks? What a deal.’ It didn’t have an engine, but what did I know?” Koehler said with a laugh. “I tried to get it fixed up, and I was appalled by how much money they wanted to charge me, so I started working on it myself. That’s where it all started. Eventually it just went crazy.”

Koehler, who retired from GM in 2008, was nicknamed “Caveman” by a friend because of his love for the ’60s, and that is evident in his collection. Among the cars that he didn’t offer for sale are a 1964 Greenbrier Sportwagon and five Corvair convertibles – a 1962, a ’65, two ‘66s and a ’69, the last that Chevrolet built. The ’69 is on display at the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum in Decatur, Ill.

One of the 1960 models that didn’t sell is a Jade Green and White 500 sedan with manual 3-speed transmission. It is the oldest surviving Canadian-built Corvair, and Koehler is hoping to work out a long-term loan agreement to display it at the Canadian Automotive Museum in Oshawa, Ontario.

Another with an uncertain future is a 1960 “Holden” replica that pays homage to early prototypes that were painted flat black and given Australian Holden badges to throw off the competition. Several suitors have expressed an interest in the car.

Among the Corvairs finding new homes was a 1960 custom job nicknamed “Stubby” that was shortened by 18 inches and converted to a 2-door. It was featured at last summer’s Michigan Concours d’Lemons, a tongue-in-cheek alternative to the Concours d’Elegance of America.

“Before I started letting some them go, I had 20 Corvairs,” Koehler said, then stopped to consider Stubby. “Well, maybe it’s more like 19 1/2. Either way, that’s far too many for one human being.

“My brother and I used to go to the Carlisle (Pa.) show every year, and we’d see guys selling the same cars year after year after year. They’d promised their wives they would try to sell, but they always put a number on the car that no one would pay so they could bring it back home.”

Koehler didn’t pull those shenanigans with his wife, Patty. He promised – and actually parted with some. Of course, this isn’t the first time that he’s sold a Corvair or two or three or four …

“It’s tough to prove, but I’ve owned over a thousand Corvairs in my lifetime,” Koehler said. “I own them, work on them, sell them and buy more. It’s become a little joke around here. We call them ‘Corvairs Formerly Owned By Pete’ – and there are a lot of them.”

Koehler thinks he may have turned over a new leaf, however.

“Do I miss the cars that I’ve sold? Sure,” he said. “Will I build the collection up again? Geez, I hope not.”