Safety advocate Ralph Nader damned the first-generation Chevrolet Corvair over what he criticized as a deadly rear suspension design. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) exonerated the model in a lengthy 1972 report, but Nader nevertheless displays a 1963 example in his American Museum of Tort Law, so an enthusiast is organizing a rally called Corvair Vindication Day to set the record straight.
Vindicating the Corvair is a personal fight for Nick Gigante. He told Hemmings that his grandfather, Frank Winchell, was Chevrolet's head of research and development when the company was fervently defending the Corvair's reputation in courtrooms across America. Winchell often found himself in Nader's line of fire.
"I haven't made peace with Nader, I haven't buried the hatchet. I can't let that go," Gigante said. He's previously tried to convince the museum to release its Corvair, which he referred to as a prisoner, but its staff wasn't the least bit interested in letting it go. And yet, he categorically believes it doesn't belong in Nader's collection, because "a tort has to be for a faulty product that hurts somebody, but there's no actual tort on the Corvair."
Gigante is inviting Corvair owners and enthusiasts to participate in the rally, which will take place at the American Museum of Tort Law in Winsted, Connecticut, on July 20. He'll drive to the event in the 1962 coupe he inherited from his grandfather, who bought it after it was used as an exhibit during a trial in Houston. He's hoping to at least convince the museum to add the NHTSA's full acquittal to its Corvair-themed display.
Nader didn't mince words when writing about the Corvair; his 1965 book "Unsafe at Any Speed" referred to it as a "one-car accident." But NHTSA's report concluded the 1960–63 Corvair's rear suspension design didn't increase the likelihood of a crash. Chevrolet added a transversely mounted leaf spring that reduced body roll and made a front stabilizer bar standard in 1964, and it fitted the second-generation model released for the 1965 model year with a new four-link rear suspension to improve its handling, but irreparable damage to the car's reputation was already done. In 2020, it still stands as the firm's first, last, and only rear-engine car.