My Model A project plans were derailed by a Corvair alignment

Kyle Smith

Ah, good intentions. So often they lead us astray. The 1965 Corvair that has been languishing in my garage for two years has finally returned to life, thanks to strict adherence to a carefully crafted timeline. Kindly hold your applause, however, because I designed that schedule to put the sad Corvair back into my driving rotation knowing full well it would not be in driving shape come my self-imposed Thanksgiving deadline.

The engine runs, the transmission shifts, and brakes brake, but the steering leaves more than a little to be desired. This month, I decided to finally deal with the horrific alignment and get this car truly ready for the road.

If only I had known that an appointment at the alignment shop is so rarely just an appointment at the alignment shop.

To start, I will acknowledge that my Corvair is not stock. Long before I purchased it the original drivetrain was unceremoniously divorced from the chassis, which was not pampered. This car has been driven. The odometer reads a skosh over 36,000 miles, but the previous owner had no qualms telling me that it hadn’t been working for some time. Possibly not at all during his two- or three-year ownership. Once the Corvair was signed over to me, any system or component I wanted to trust became a system or component that I rebuilt—but somehow, the steering always escaped close attention.

1965 Corvair on jack stands
Kyle Smith

Of all the systems a driver interacts with, the steering apparatus is the most important. No throttle or brakes is a bad thing, but the worst situation is one in which you cannot control what you are about to hit. Given this reasoning, you would be rightly surprised that, amid all the work I’ve done to my beloved Ermine White coupe, I haven’t touched the steering. In the thousands of miles logged around Michigan, and even a few cross-country trips, the wheel always had that loose-but-not-scary feel familiar to any vintage car owner.

It was a bit of a race to get the Corvair to the alignment shop before Traverse City salted the roads, but I was lucky enough to snag an appointment just in time. The arrival of winter made for a chilly evening drive to drop off the car and keys: The exhaust system functions as it should, but I have yet to do the fabrication work to close the heater boxes back in, clean out the blower motor, and get the whole heat system back up and running. The next day, my phone rang with humbling news. Even sadder, I had received the same verdict before, though with a different vehicle: “This cannot be aligned.”


The news was hardly surprising, though. Who knows whether the steering gear was original to the car. Years ago, I took the entire front crossmember and front suspension out of the car and refreshed the entire system. Fresh bushings and ball joints made the car drive wonderfully, especially combined with the stiffer ride I had created by cutting the coil springs to lower the car a bit. That stiffer suspension and large, modern tires likely both contributed to the worn-out pitman arm bushing and idler arm identified by the shop. The tie rods were passable, according to the tech who poked underneath the car, but he accompanied that evaluation with knowing look: I was not about to leave well enough alone, and he knew it. Once back home with the car, I popped open my laptop to place an order to Clark’s Corvair.

When parts arrive, I’ll shuffle them into the garage shelves … or maybe just go ahead and install them. And therein lies my problem.

I now know something is “wrong” on the Corvair—but I am faced with a conundrum. My off-site storage location currently holds the 1930 Ford Model A coupe that I intended to be my winter project. Now it appears that the Corvair will be staying home, instead of the Ford, and getting fresh steering gear, new weatherstripping (which has been carefully stored for years at this point), and maybe even the heater repairs I mentioned earlier. A plan to get the Corvair “good enough” has now ballooned into making it what I’ve always wanted, all because I don’t own a trailer—and because my regular loaner trailer is stranded a few states away.

Unable to drive these two minimal-rust classics on winter streets with a clean conscience, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and start crossing things off the Corvair’s to-do list. The Model A will have to wait until spring. Worse things could happen.

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