28 March 2016

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.”

12 Reader Comments

  • 1
    Brian Adams Reno, NV March 30, 2016 at 16:52
    Uh, "formally owned"" Formerly. I've loved Corvairs since my best friend in H.S. had a Greenbrier van, and we went everywhere (sun and snow) and did (ahem) everything in that thing. With Powerglide and all the weight over the rear snow tires, it couldn't be stopped in the snow, unless we were plowing it with the front end. The toggle shifter on the dash made "rocking" it out of ruts a cinch.
  • 2
    Ken Florida March 30, 2016 at 18:30
    I have had a lot of Corvairs over the years. I only have one left a 1964 Monza convertible with factory air conditioning. I have had this car since 1983. It's not so pretty any more but I will get it back to it's former glory soon. I grew up with Corvairs as it was the only car my mother wanted to drive. I have had almost every year and model except I never owned a 1969 or a rampside pickup. I will always have a Corvair they are great cars and hold a lot of memories for me.
  • 3
    David Richard Harvard, MA March 30, 2016 at 19:01
    Of the 50 or so cars I have owned from Ford, GM, Chrysler, Citroen, and Renault, the '62 Corvair was one of the best... doing the 212 miles from Boston to Seaford. LI, NY in 3hrs and 45 minutes including the numerous Connecticut tolls and the Triborough bridge!
  • 4
    Bob Nichols L.A. CA. March 30, 2016 at 19:35
    I'm happy to report "Stubby" arrived in L.A. Ca. and is now owned by a member of the SCC club. It's quite a novelty. I'm was raised in the Midwest and warned the buyer about rust before he made the purchase. At this point the plans are to find a rust free donor car to fix up the body. It will be worth the effort and hopefully Stubby will survive a long time.
  • 5
    Robert Bouskill Hamilton Ontario Canada March 30, 2016 at 20:44
    I was a mechanic and I wrote a book caller "A Tinker's Dream " available on Amazon.com. I have an old '71 Eldorado rag. I liked the old Corvairs but I never understood why the engineers didn't figure out an easy fix for them flipping over by simply putting a short steel cable to stop the rear a frames from travelling all the way under the car when cornering. This simple fix would have prevented many accidents.
  • 6
    Casey Schesky Northville March 30, 2016 at 09:53
    In the Corvair ”world", we all know Caveman Pete! We will all be surprised if Pete doesn't buy and sell more Corvairs. I have bought 3 from Pete and have helped him rescue others that he has helped move on and back to the road. Thanks Pete!
  • 7
    BRAD HURST SR. SCHLEY , IOWA March 30, 2016 at 10:17
  • 8
    Tom Cepak Fort Worth, TX March 31, 2016 at 17:56
    I owned a '63 Monza Convertible and drove it as my daily driver until 2013. I replaced it with a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro 2SS/RS. I really miss my Corvair. Once my kid is away at college, another Corvair may magically appear in my garage. ;)
  • 9
    Jeff Rosenberg Melville, NY March 31, 2016 at 18:40
    My first car was a 1962 Corvair Spyder Sprint by Fitch. The guy I bought it from installed Porsche suspension and brakes. That little car would fly like the wind and corner like a 911
  • 10
    Nick lombo Syracuse NY March 31, 2016 at 10:05
    I have a 66 no post 4Dr 100 with 3spd 110 hp radio delete with 50k actual miles right now.I'm told it is a rare survivor right now.Are they right?
  • 11
    John Miller Punta Gorda fl. March 31, 2016 at 10:32
    Nice to read that Pete is still active with Corvairs..When I lived in Temperance Mi. I was a long time member of the Detroit Corvair Club. At 79 I still think of buying another Corvair but it would have to be mint condition. Sold off all my vairs and parts in 2000 and moved to Fl. As a matter of fact, Pete bought all the spare parts. Great bunch in that Detroit club.
  • 12
    Chris Long Island NY March 31, 2016 at 23:22
    I bought my first Corvair from Caveman Pete last summer. A '66 Corsa Turbo he found in a barn. It was there since 1973. Pete was extremely fair and helpful and has a tremendous knowledge about these cars. He ignited a passion in me and introduced me to a community of people who are very generous, passionate, non-pretentious and genuine car people. For this I'll be externally grateful to Caveman Pete.

Join the Discussion