In 1961 Mom and Dad loaded my brother and me into our old ’55 Plymouth Wagon and drove from New Jersey to Michigan to visit my aunt, uncle and cousins in Michigan. On the way the old wagon took ill and we made it as far as a Chevy dealer in Southeastern Michigan.
There the folks traded the brown Plymouth in on a new white Corvair Lakewood wagon. In those days before electronic banking, paying for the car was a problem. They couldn’t access their accounts back home, so Mom called her imperious — and very wealthy — Aunt Lilly, who agreed to wire her $2,000 on one condition: As soon as we returned home my parents would repay her in cash with a pair of thousand dollar bills. I remember being dragged all over Central Jersey as Mom tried to find those pesky thousands.
Boy do I remember that new Corvair. The interior was red vinyl and Dad — true to form — found some aircraft seatbelts and had them fitted. Something I remember as being unusual for any American car of the day was the four-speed manual transmission with floor shift. But for me the most memorable feature of all was the aftermarket textured mat my parents had on the rear deck. With a U-Haul car top carrier in place, there was plenty of room for us to sleep as we took our family vacations all over the Northeast. We’d fall asleep and wake up at some rest area, with the texture of that mat imprinted in our cheeks. Our dreams wouldn’t have been so sweet with the flat six thrumming directly through the metal floor, so it’s a good thing we had that mat.
Some of the best trips ever revolved around that car, including the vacation to Lake Winnipesauki in New Hampshire, where my older brother stepped off the dock into the boat. I thought it was hysterical that Dad had moved the boat and big bro landed with a splash. It was also the car Dad was driving when we were rear-ended down by the Jersey shore, though that wasn’t the best trip ever and involved a trip to the emergency ward. Other high points included a Cape Cod trip where the folks tried to show us the Kennedy family compound — and actually bought a can of Cape Cod Air — and a picnic in northern New Jersey where we were able to climb aboard an abandoned steam engine.
To learn more about Corvair, and to connect with more than 4,800 fellow owners and enthusiasts, visit the Corvair Society of America website at http://www.corvair.org/.