Small, cute….and deadly? The strange saga of the Chevrolet Corvair

Posted by on April 9, 2008

The early 1960’s, much like today, saw a movement towards economy in automobile design and basic functionality. This was a direct change from the chrome-laden, fuel-hungry autos of the late 1950’s.

Streamlined design, fuel economy, and simplicity of operation became the called for norm. Perhaps in response to the increasingly popularity of a little car from Germany called the Volkswagen Beetle or perhaps a change in the public’s response, the statistics tell the tale:

“In 1960 , from 25 to 30 per cent of all new cars sold were compacts….” (1)

To address this divergence in the car-buying public, Chevrolet soon introduced their new model, the Corvair.



And what a different car it was. Some of the more unusual engineering approaches included such things as:

Rear-mounted engine, with room in front for the groceries




aluminum engine

unibody construction

modest trim levels.


It was wildly popular and even earned Car of the Year in 1960. Sales figures for the new small auto were above expectations and began to “poach” customers from the new imports on the scene such as Volkswagen and others.



As the years went by new models including station wagons and vans were introduced and proved to be as equally as popular.

However, the success was not be to be taken lightly.  Published in 1965 and titled Unsafe At Any Speed, Ralph Nader argued about the design flaw(s) inherent to the basic Corvair:

“…The subject for which the book is probably most widely known is covered in the first chapter, General MotorsChevrolet Corvair. The chapter is subtitled “The One-Car Accident”. The 19601963 Corvairs had a rear engine and a suspension design which was prone to “tuck under” in certain circumstances and which required drivers to maintain proper tire pressures which were outside of the tire manufacturer’s recommended tolerances…” (5)

After this, sales and manufacturing for the Corvair continued up until 1969, but operated under a seemingly “unsafe” shadow, even though later models had been fixed. Total production for the auto was over a million units and even today, the Corvair is still very popular.

Take a minute and look at some of the links below. Even if you are not a big car fan, the history behind the publicity, design, and construction opens up a archive of knowledge and information on America in the early 1960’s.

Have a great day, see you tomorrow!


Wikipedia: Corvair

Corvair Society of America

Wikipedia: Unsafe At Any Speed

Corvair In Action, Handy (Jam) Organization-Internet Archive (search for corvair safety axle keywords)


(1)Various editors. World Topics Year Book 1961. Lake Bluff: United Educators.

(2,3,4)Corvair In Action, Handy (Jam) Organization.

(5) Wikipedia: Corvair.

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