Junkyard Gem: 1964 Chevrolet Corvair convertible

Corvairs remain surprisingly common at the big self-service wrecking yards.

  • Image Credit: Murilee Martin
Walk the rows of a big, high-inventory-turnover self-service wrecking yard and you'll find plenty of vehicles with controversial histories. Chevy Cobalts, with their malfunctioning ignition switches. Audi 5000s, of "Unintended Acceleration" fame. Exploding Pintos. Any of the 23 million Ford products of the "Park-To-Reverse" fiasco. And, of course, you'll still find the occasional example of the most controversial car in American automotive history: the Chevrolet Corvair. Here's a '64 convertible that I spotted last week in a Denver yard.

1964 Chevrolet Corvair convertible in Colorado wrecking yard

The Corvair was quite radical by Detroit standards of the time, and the flat floor made possible by the rear-engine layout meant that six humans could squeeze into one with a front bench seat— pretty impressive for a compact car. This one is rough, probably not worth restoring, though it's not particularly rusty. I know a yard about 100 miles south of this one with at least 50 Corvairs in search of forever homes.

1964 Chevrolet Corvair rear suspension

Ralph Nader's 1965 book wasn't primarily about the Corvair, but that's what we remember now. General Motors made Nader into a big star by trying to crush him with a lot of ill-considered dirty tricks, but in fact Corvair sales were already in decline— mostly due to competition from the likes of Chevrolet's own Chevy II/Nova, not to mention Ford's new Mustang – before anyone had ever heard of Nader. The headline-grabbing oversteer and rear-suspension-jacking problems of the early Corvairs were solved, mostly, by the independent rear suspension setup that debuted in the 1965 models, but GM improved the '64s by adding a transverse leaf spring in back (shown above) and making a front sway bar standard equipment.

1964 Chevrolet Corvair engine

If you're looking for a classic 1960s Detroit project car today, a Corvair would be a good choice. They're fun to drive, prices for restorable examples are reasonable, and you can still find parts at the U-Wrench-It yards (well, in the not-so-rusty parts of the country, anyway).

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