My Corvair Story
I had just finished a light restoration on an all original 1980 Shay Model- A Roadster, getting it in to tip top shape. A great parade car that gets a lot of looks and smiles, but is certainly not a great touring car. In fact it can be downright punishing to drive at times. So I started looking for something different, a good “driver” that I could comfortably cruise with and take to car shows. I wanted something different, affordable, that I could easily get parts for.
I decided on a Corvair, and narrowed it down to a first generation convertible. I started looking for a 1964 model because Chevrolet had made a lot of improvements on their first unibody, rear engine production car that they introduced for the 1960 model year before changing the style in 1965. I had purchased parts for my other cars and various other things on E-bay in the past so I thought I might give classic car buying a try. I was looking for a “driver” that needed a little TLC, something my foreman Eric and I could work on over the winter in the warehouse of my business during our slow period. I envisioned doing a project similar to the ones I have seen on one of my favorite TV shows “Wheeler Dealers”. Where Eric like Ed China on the show would do all the work and I like Mike Brewer, would go out and get all the parts needed. We even fit their body types, Eric is tall and thin and I’m much shorter and well, not so thin.
I ended up finding a maroon ’64, 4 speed Monza convertible with a newer white top that sounded promising in Amish area of Pennsylvania. An all original 53,000 mile car that sounded like a barn find although was probably not. I won the bid so Eric drove down from our business on Long Island with the car trailer to pick it up. When he got there he called me right away to say that the cars runs and is complete, but it is very rough with a lot of rust and a big hole in the floor pan. While I wasn’t happy with the report, I told him that I didn’t pay a lot for the car so pay the man and bring it back home and we would decide what to do with it.
After Eric got back with the car I drove it around the block and went over everything with him that we thought needed to be done. Man, the body and paint were in really bad shape but it looked okay from twenty feet, or maybe thirty. The project seemed like it was getting bigger that I originally planned. So Eric said “John why don’t we fix the floor, do all the mechanicals, and make it safe to drive over the winter like we planned. Then you can drive it next spring and summer and if you like the car we can send it out for the body and paint restoration.” That sounded like a good plan to me, it was already late November so we put the car in the parking lot covered it and let it sit while I started researching and ordering the parts we needed.
When Eric got back to work in January after our holiday break, he pulled the car inside and started working on the engine first before stripping out the interior to work on the floor. I was still at my vacation home in Florida and called the office to see how things were going. I was told that the business was doing fine but the office staff was upset because there must be a rat or something in the warehouse doing damage and making a big mess. This was not good! So Eric went out and got a rat trap and set it before he left for the day. When he returned the following morning he found a completely mangled trap with the bait gone and knew he needed a much bigger trap because this rat had to be big!
The next morning he was confident he would get his quarry with his oversized state of the art new and improved trap. What he found in the trap however was not a rat but a huge snarling opossum and texted me the picture. After further investigation and stripping out the Corvair’s interior, he discovered that he had brought this critter back from the Amish country with him. The opossum and her family had hollowed out the back seat and used the stuffing to make a nest in the heater box between the back seat and engine. When we had the car stored outside this nocturnal animal would go in and out the hole in the floor to forage for food. This worked well until we moved the car inside and she was locked in at night.
With the wildlife episode out of the way, we did finish all the mechanical work on the car and because of the opossum, ended up doing a lot more work on the interior than we planned. When the weather got nicer we drove the car through the summer and got it sorted out and running great. Finally we were ready to take our Corvair out on a road rally that my wife and I do each year to support a local charity. The event took place on the east end of Long Island with many car clubs members attending with their Mercedes, BMW’s, Miatas, Triumphs , various classics and even a Lotus. With all these great cars we were surprised when they asked us to park up front at the finishing line restaurant. I was a little embarrassed with the car being so rough but it drew a lot of attention from these car guys who were discussing the history of the Corvair and its unique innovations.
We did win 1st Place in our 1960’s Class that day, but the best thing was getting the thank you letter in the mail a couple of weeks later stating that of the 49 cars that completed the course with scores ranging from 97 to 14 points, that our score was 97. At that point I said to my wife that I had to do a complete restoration on this car and she agreed.
So Eric took the Corvair around to several shops but no wanted to take the project on, too much Bondo they said. Finally we met with Robert Mistretta from Roberts Auto Restorations in Farmingdale, N.Y. an old school auto body man who agreed to take the car down to bear metal and do a complete all steel restoration. The restoration did take over eleven long months to complete and we did miss the entire spring and summer but got it back just in time to show it at The Long Island Corvair Association’s Annual Car Show. We won a trophy for “Best in Show” and I couldn’t have asked for a happier ending to my story.