Peter P 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa 2dr Sport Coupe

The Rodney Dangerfield of Cars

A neighbor, Roy Jackson, had a new black 1964 convertible Spyder, white top over a red interior. I think he was a beatnik probably because I walked in on him playing four-hands jazz piano with his wife, both nude because it was hot. There was an herbal smell in the air too. He had graduated a lawyer from Wayne State University after wearing out his MGTC commuting there. He worked for GM managing Cheverolet’s advertising account with Campbell Ewald and some promotional stuff like rallying Corvairs the year the Mustang was introduced. Roy was restoring his MGTC and also drove a Jaguar Mk IV DHC whenever he felt like driving a “stately car.” I had just started high school. Girls had just starting to go nuts over the Beatles and I learned their songs too. The complete reassembly of his MG was an eye opener for me. Also in the neighborhood was a Monza coupe that showed the lower half of the flywheel from a small block Chevy V8 just below the rear bumper. That owner worked at Dearborn Tube, where parts for a top secret Ford GT40 were hatched. In that environment my first car ended up being a used Triumph TR-3 to please my father. Because its motor was based on the same basic engine as found in forklift trucks and it didn’t use wood to hold body panels to the frame he ran out of vetos.

Then, forty years and a couple of careers forward, there was David E. Davis (RIP) who liked cars a lot, but Corvairs he liked a lot more than most people did. And he remembered my mentoring neighbor from long ago. By then I had restored my own MGTC, acquired two Jaguar E-types, two Alfa Romeo Giuliettas and a Maserati 3500 Vignale Spyder. With one Jaguar and the three Italian cars in the reassembly phase of restoration back in Ann Arbor (a sign that the hobby is out of control), I yelled at my co-driver who was Technical Editor for David E’s Automobile Magazine at the time as we were anxiously motoring in the Alps in winter, that we shoulda brought a Corvair instead! Kevin’s Saab 96, with a ringky dink 3 cylinder 2 cycle engine, was gutless going uphill, so he had to stressing everything the chassis and we had in us to make up time going down hill. On the last overnight stages the roads got icy, then it snowed on the ice, and low clouds restricted visibility more often than not. He had signed us up for the pro class in the Winter Marathon, Brooklands to Cannes, but we weren’t getting paid to risk life and limb. Then and there I promised myself if I survive I will buy a Corvair in case we’re still friends and he wants to do this again. A Corvair is relatively cheap but still exotic, its looks great, it handles like a 911 and it comes with a big crush zone up front for safety.

Over loud objections from my wife I bought a dessert rat 1966 Corsa Coupe out of Arizona via eBay and restored it to good driver condition by hiring out most of the routine work. After a complete chassis rebuild, Koni shocks, quick steering box and arms, finishing a rebuilt spare engine, adding dual circuit MC, new tank and electric pump, with spare tire and battery moved up front, it turned into a sweetheart of a driver. On our first shake-down classic car tour my wife exclaimed, “I forgot all about spring seats - they are great on bad roads, the ventilation is fantastic, and the noisy/hot/oily part is behind us, nice! We can talk in a normal voice with all the windows down at the speed limit no sweat at all.” I felt vindicated right then and there. Plus virtually every enthusiast and car collector comments how terrific it looks today, and those who follow me on tour visited to say it looks like a blast to drive on curvy roads. And I have a fun economical sporty car to toy with without risking a lot if I get the competitive urge again. But my other projects are still not done!

If this were a literary contest I would add that any and all Corvairs could be the best possible character imaginable if you wanted to write a novel about the American auto industry, American business culture, American lawyers and politics. It IS the first “import” made in Detroit. But then the Mustang and Camero ran it off the roads because they were more profitable. After that Detroit tried to run the flood of foreign imports back into the oceans but failed. Today Detroit is pitching a new car on TV as, “Imported from Detroit.” My, my, life can be fun if you live long enough, or if you’re a restored car that has a lot in common with Rodney Dangerfield.

0 Reader Comments

Join the Discussion