Blast from the Past - A 1962 Corvair Monza
This little car was championed by Ed Cole, Chevrolet's chief engineer in the early 1950s and general manager in the late 1950s, as an answer to the growing popularity of small, lightweight imported cars. Design began in 1956 under his direction and the first vehicles rolled off the assembly line in late 1959 as part of the 1960 model year. It was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year that year. And that year, for twenty-four hours, two Corvairs were tested at the Riverside International Raceway out here in Riverside, California. One car rolled over, but the other completed the drive, only losing a quart of oil.
Chevy made these for ten years - they were discontinued in May 1969 as no one was buying them. Sales from 1965 to 1969 dropped ninety-six percent. There was the Ford Mustang and the other pony cars, of course - even if the 1960 Corvair Monza started that trend. But it was mostly safety issues that did them in, and specifically Ralph Nader's 1965 book Unsafe At Any Speed. And they were expensive to make - and then getting the air-cooled flat rear engine to meet the new emissions standards didn't go well. Chevrolet pretty much stopped advertising them after 1967 - they didn't even print a Corvair showroom brochure for 1969. That year they sold six thousand of them. I was one of the six thousand that year - the price was right, by then they had worked out all the problems, and the machine was cool.
In the good years the annual sales had been over 200,000 units. Here's why -
Chevrolet deliberately designed the Corvair as a radical departure from the conventional Chevrolet. The rear engine offered enormous packaging and economy advantages, providing the car with a lower silhouette, flattening passenger compartment floor, obviating the need for power assists, reducing the need for air conditioning (due to the absence of engine heat blowing over the passenger compartment), and offering dramatic improvements in ride comfort, traction and braking balance. The radically different design also attracted customers from other makes, primarily imports. This was an important, and often underemphasized, driver for the Corvair's success. Unlike the Falcon and Valiant nameplates, whose conventional designs tended to poach customers from the cheaper but profit-driving full-size models from their respective manufacturers, the Corvair siphoned customers from makes such as Volvo or VW. Because such customers had not been likely to contemplate a larger Chevrolet Biscayne (which cost only slightly more), each Corvair sold did not translate into a Biscayne that was lost. This was in direct contrast to the situation at Ford, where the Falcon nearly ate its maker alive by stealing sales from the basic large Ford sedan. Corvair sales were almost entirely 'extra business' for Chevrolet.
… In 1962, Chevrolet introduced the 150 hp turbocharged Monza Spyder option for Monza coupes and convertibles mid-year, making the Corvair one of the first two production automobiles to come with a turbocharger as a factory option, with the Oldsmobile F-85 Turbo Jetfire of the same year.
This one, lightly enhanced, was parked at the Duel at the Docks - the day before Saturday's North American Supermoto (NASMOTO) Championship and Sunday's American Motorcyclist Association (AMA) Championship finals, right beside the Queen Mary in Long Beach. Someone likes cool machines.