Junkyard Gem: 1968 Chevrolet Corvair 500 Sport Coupe

Junkyard Gem: 1968 Chevrolet Corvair 500 Sport Coupe


Quick, what’s the most controversial American car ever made? Was it an Edsel? Pontiac Fiero? The Chrysler Airflow? That wasn’t a serious question, because we all know the answer already: Chevrolet Corvair. Today’s Junkyard Gem it was built during the end of Corvair production and now sits inside a self-service car cemetery in Denver, Colorado.

Pick Your Spot is closing its former funky, muddy Denver operation on Federal Boulevard and moving it to new location near the I-70/I-25 intersection. Cars sit on asphalt instead of dirt, there’s a great view of downtown Denver, a taco truck sells lunch in the parking lot, and the menu was all clean for the April 1 grand opening.

I was one of the first customers to show up that morning, and so the Corvair still had all its badges on when I found it.

More than 2 million Corvairs were built between 1960 and 1969, and many of them still sit in driveways, garages and yards awaiting repairs that never happened. That means it’s not that hard to find GM rear-engine compact models in junkyards to this day.

Since I started writing about discarded gems and treasures of automotive history in 2007, I’ve documented more than a dozen Corvairs in such areas, including a 1960 700 sedan, 1962 700 car, another 1962 700 car, 1962 Monza Club Cup, a 1962 photo of Rampside, 1963 Monza Club Cup, another revolution of 1963another revolution of 1963, still one more coupe than 19631964 convertible, 1964 Monza sedan, the 1965 Monza revolution, the 1968 Monza revolution and Several Corvairs are sitting in a field near Pikes Peak.

The history of the Corvair is too difficult for me to adequately cover here, so I suggest you read every word. An article by automotive historian Aaron Severson carefully researched the topic before we continue.

The short version goes like this: A growing number of American car buyers were opting for small imported cars in the second half of the 1950s, with Volkswagen Beetles and Renault Dauphines rolling out of showrooms in enough numbers to make Detroit at least. a little nerves. The American Automobile Corporation made money on the model by building it Compact Ramblerswhich sold very well. Chrysler, Ford and GM each started making small cars that would start as 1960 models.

Chrysler and Ford pioneered engineering and styling innovations with the Valiant and Falcon, but the cars were still traditional machines with front-mounted water-cooled engines and rear-wheel drive. General Motors, on the other hand, chose to go bright and his new Chevrolet compact.

To save weight and allow the use of a flat floor in the passenger compartment, the Corvair received an air-cooled boxer-six engine in the rear of the car. Combining the transmission and differential assemblies into a single transaxle unit and eliminating the liquid cooling system resulted in a more agile and efficient vehicle, with the first Corvairs gaining nearly 2,300 pounds.

With bench seats and a flat floor, six occupants would fit inside (Americans were smaller and more tolerant of cramming together in cars at the time). There are some obvious limitations to the air-cooled/rear-engine design, of course; it’s hard to warm up an air-cooled car in cold weather, for one thing. What proved to be most important to Corvair sales was the handling difference you get with a heavy-rear car with a swingaxle suspension versus the “regular” front-engine cars that most Americans had been driving since the days of the Ford Model T.

Comedian Ernie Kovacs died in a highly publicized Corvair crash in 1962, with stories of Corvairs wiping it out in overdrive, misfire accidents became common (many Corvair owners ignored Chevrolet’s recommendation to set the Corvair’s front tire pressure at 15 psi, which didn’t help matters). Corvair sales were strongest in 1961 and 1962, then slowly declined from 1963 to 1965, then was discontinued in 1966. Ralph Nader and his book “Safety at Any Speed” received much of the blame for the Corvair’s demise from enthusiasts today, but the book that was not ‘. t was not published until late 1965 and did not gain much attention until well into the following year.

Chevrolet gave the Corvair a true rear suspension for 1965, but few paid attention to the move. Hindsight shows that the Corvair was no more dangerous than other cars of its era (in fact, almost. all of them among them were death traps by modern standards), but car buyers stayed away. Only 15,399 Corvairs were built as 1968 examplesversus 377,371 for the 1961 model year.

The Corvair’s stiffest competition came from within the Chevrolet Division itself, by way of Chevy II/Nova. Introduced as a 1962 model, the car looked and drove like a smaller version of the mass-market Chevys, while being slightly larger (and cheaper) than its air-cooled showroom neighbor. Beginning with the 1963 model year, sales of the Chevy II surpassed sales of the Corvair and never looked back. As if the Corvair needed more trouble, for 1964 Ford introduced the Falcon sports car that competed directly against the Corvair Monza coupe.

The interior of this car is pretty bad from decades of outdoor storage. I found 1995 registration papers inside and there’s a 1997 Colorado emissions sticker on the windshield, so it’s a safe bet it hasn’t been driven below capacity for at least a quarter century.

Passengers were encouraged to light up inside.

This car is basic 500 Sport Coupe (as of 1968, only Corvair coupes and convertibles were available, in 500 and Monza trim levels), and has a 95 horsepower engine.

1968 was the first year for the Corvair and “Air Injector Reactor” system., otherwise known as a “smoke pump.” Many owners removed and discarded their AIR kits, but this car still has all of its original engine components.

Naturally, it was bought by voluntary two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission instead of the base three on the floor or discretion four floor guide. This car would be very slow, even by 1968 standards, with the base engine and two-speed slushbox. The MSRP for this car was $2,243 ($20,412 in 2024 dollars) with the three-speed manual, with the Powerglide adding $153 ($1,392 after inflation).

The body is rust-free, and it’s a rare Powerglide delayed production car, but the project Corvairs aren’t valuable enough to keep them out of harm’s way. The good news is that Corvair parts, both used and reproduction, are still easy to find. If you’re looking for a 1960s Detroit project car that looks good and is fun to drive, the Corvair is a smart choice.

It clings to the road like it has claws!