Jonathan R 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa 2dr Convertible

A Unique Car Helps a Unique Boy

My son, J.B., has Asperger's Syndrome; it's a form of autism. One day, I brought home a 1965 Corvair I'd purchased on eBay; it's the unique GM car with the flat air-cooled aluminum engine in the rear and no hump in the floor. In his dogged Aspergian way, J.B. berated me for my sentimentality -- I'd grown up with Corvairs, my father was a huge fan of them -- and lambasted the car unmercifully for being "unsafe at any speed," as Ralph Nader had famously declared in 1965. Defending the car's safety, I told him the rest of the Corvair story that few people know: that in 1972, the US Government, after intensive testing, wrote a letter to every Corvair owner stating that the car was "as safe or safer" than comparable cars.

The scales seemed to fall from my son's eyes. "So the car isn't defective," he said. "It's just different. Like me."

Now the scales fell from my eyes: he identified with the car. He never has considered himself "defective," and he's right. He's just "different."

J.B. went on: "So it's been stereotyped by the world because they don't get its differences. Just like me." Well, yes, I agreed. "And maybe its differences make it even better!" he insisted. I had to agree. The Corvair was a very cool, unique car that was arguably "better" than many comparable cars of its day. But it was too different, got a bad rap, couldn't compete with the Mustang, and died a slow and painful death.

From that day on, J.B. always wanted to ride in the Corvair. For the first time, we worked on a car together. And for anyone who came up to the car, he'd evangelize about the Corvair's positives, eager to right the wrong done to the car, he felt, by Nader so many years early. A true crusader for the Corvair. And as for J.B., he became much more social and conversational now that he had something he wanted to converse with other people about: his love of our Corvair.

The story was so remarkable, I wrote a novel based on our experiences called "Lifemobile." The book has done very well, especially among the many thousands of people who fondly recall the Corvair.

Since then, we've spent many hours driving our Vair happily to car shows and book signings all over the country. We are reliving my own Corvair experience with my father, and truly driving happily ever after.

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