The Car That Ralph Nader Killed

            Jim Powell is proud of the fact that he is only the third owner of his 1960 Chevy Corvair that his dad bought back in 1962.
            “The man who bought it had died and his wife didn’t want to keep it around. It reminded her of him. So she turned it into the dealer where my dad bought it,” Jim explained. “The car had 8000 miles on it.”
            He came into possession of the rather infamous car 25 years ago and still proudly drives this “close to period” car around town.
            The Corvair was introduced in 1960 as a way for Chevy to compete against some of the smaller foreign imports such as the Volkswagen Beetle. It fit nicely into a small, efficient car class that was born with such the Nash and Rambler American. At the time, it was pitted against domestics such as the Ford Falcon and Plymouth Valiant.
            Chevy wasn’t just making another cookie cutter small car when they built the Corvair, though. Its design took nearly four years from inception to seeing cars rolling off the assembly line and proved to be quite successful, selling over 200,000 cars for each of its first six years.
            It was a unique car in many ways, least of all the fact that it was the first mass produced, read mounted air cooled engine manufactured in the USA. Coming in a number of trims, including both two door and four door coup, a four door rag top, a station wagon and even a number of van designs, the Corvair was marketed as a car for anyone’s needs.
            First generation Corvairs, those made between 1960 and 1965, were alleged to have had some serious problems with handling. Saying it stemmed from a lack of an anti-sway bar that was installed on the second generation models, over 100 people filed law suits against Chevrolet. And this sparked an investigation by consumer advocate Ralph Nader who cited the Corvair in his 1965 book, Unsafe At Any Speed.
            Among other factors the bad publicity caused sales to drop by more than half, eventually leading Chevy to pull the plug on this once popular car.
            “People say that Ralph Nader killed the Corvair,” Jim said. “What really killed it was when Ford introduced the Mustang.” Indeed, young people swarmed to the new Ford with its bigger engine and sportier looks. Nader’s campaign may have landed some heavy body shots to the Corvair, but the Mustang delivered the knockout blow.
            Still, Jim enjoys his Corvair. Though he says it does spend much of its time in storage, he drives it around on a fairly regular basis. In fact, about a week after we spoke I just happened to see Jim driving down a main drag on the east side of town in his Corvair.
            “It’s mostly original,” he said. The interior, he explained, has new upholstery, carpets and head liner.
            The 110 horse power air cooled flat six engine currently in the car has only 20,000.
            Currently the car is painted a light, almost canary yellow. “The original color was a soft yellow with a touch of green,” said Jim. “Or a soft green with a touch of yellow. Depending on how you looked at it.”
            However you look at it, this close to period perfect rear engine classic is worth seeing, especially on the road. Trust me; you’ll see that Jim has no problems handling it at all.


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