Little red … Corvair? Jay Leno loves this American oddity


The 1960s were a time of great technological developments in the automotive industry. In one way, however, the ’60s were just like any other modern decade: Perception could make or break a new car. Case in point? The Chevrolet Corvair. Despite significant innovations that made the car more user-friendly, it ended up fizzling out before the decade’s end. Jay Leno takes a walk around his 1966 Corvair Corsa and points out what the naysayers are missing.

The Corvair has more than a little European flair, especially those known as “late-model” cars in the Corvair community. The second generation ran from 1965–69 and is arguably the brightest part of the Corvair’s history. The early-model cars were tainted by the “Unsafe at Any Speed” swing-axle debacle, so the rear suspension redesign that happened on the 1965 cars puts some minds to rest despite there being no real problem with the early cars. The styling of the second-gen cars is also preferred by many enthusiasts.

The ’66 Leno looks at is a Corsa model, one that was well optioned by the original buyer. Under the hood—at the rear of the car, remember—is a 164-cubic-inch flat-six that is pressure-fed by a draw-through turbocharger. It’s a primitive setup by modern standards, but that makes sense considering the Corvair was on the cutting-edge of production turbocharger implementation … 55 years ago. The package is rated at 180 horsepower, but most Corvair enthusiasts tell you it’s a laggy 180 hp, because boost really doesn’t show up until third gear in stock-trim cars.

On the road, the Corvair is a delight. Without a heavy iron six or eight on the nose, power steering is not needed to keep steering effort manageable. Four-wheel drum brakes are reliable and consistent, because the whole package comes in under 2500 pounds. Leno goes so far as to call the Corvair a sports car, but in its time, this model was an economy car. A quirky and quick economy car, to be sure—but “sports car” seems like a stretch to me.

The Corvair lived in a weird place when it was new and still lives in a weird place today. It’s a cult classic and those who love them have a hard time loving much else. Just look at the way Leno talks about his. Next time you see one out and about, consider saving the Ralph Nader joke and instead strike up a conversation about how technologically remarkable the Corvair was. I bet the owner will be a bit more likely to chat.

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