Yes, Chevy’s funky Corvette Corvair was almost a thing
When I first entered the vintage car world, telling folks I had a Corvair was often followed by saying, “No, not a Corvette. A Corvair.” So imagine my surprise when I recently found out the Corvette and Corvair nameplates were both affixed to a single fiberglass shell six years before the Corvair landed on dealer lots. The 1954 Chevrolet Corvette Corvair is not the annoying autocorrect error I thought it was, but rather a sleek Motorama show car.
The Corvette’s introduction at the 1953 New York Auto Show stirred up fanfare and interest in a roadster Chevrolet had not initially planned to develop into a production car. Just 300 Polo White convertibles went into production, but that small number was enough to spark one of the longest-running nameplates of the car world.
That spark had yet to start a fire, though. The 300 1953 cars that made it to the public don’t fit the definition of “sports car” fulfilled by modern Corvettes. The Blue Flame inline-six powerplant, mated to a two-speed Powerglide automatic, was merely a means of propelling the styling exercise; performance was secondary to appearance. However, Chevrolet needed to bring something interesting to the 1954 Motorama in New York, so it created a few versions of the Corvette that were certainly outside of the box.
The Corvette Corvair was one of the prototypes debuted during the 1954 Motorama. Combining the Corvette’s American flair with a healthy dose of European styling, the Corvette Corvair added more than the obvious fastback roof. Air intake ribs on the hood and fender vents were alterations from the C1 Corvette’s now-familiar front end and helped dissipate heat from under the hood. This recreation packs an early small-block V-8, though the original show car would have kept the Blue-Flame six-cylinder, since the small-block was still a year away from production.
Further back, a wraparound windshield blended into the sloping roofline which terminated at a small cove designed to resemble a jet afterburner. Small fins on the taillights kept the aerospace theme strong from front to back. The large trunk panel is a bit misleading since, in reality, the cargo space is quite small; the car appears to be a case of adding a hardtop to a Corvette rather than redesigning the underlying body to increase rear capacity.
The original show car was displayed in ruby red during the 1954 Autorama, repainted mint green, and eventually destroyed. The Corvette was struggling to achieve sales volume in 1954, so the thought of expanding the Corvette brand was too much for GM. Luckily, the Corvette Corvair still lives on—in all the conversations in which I explain how the Corvette and the Corvair are indeed different… though their stories were, at one time, closely intertwined.