How Chevrolet Corvair Works

1960, 1961, 1962, 1963, 1964 Chevrolet Corvair

The 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Lakewood station wagon boasted a surprising amount of cargo space.

Corvair's decade-long model run divides into two design generations: 1960-64 and 1965-69. Initial offerings comprised quite spartan four-door sedans in "500" and more-deluxe "700" trim selling at $2000-$2100. Three-speed floorshift manual transaxle was standard; Chevy's two-speed Powerglide was optional.

Two-door 500 and 700 coupes arrived at midseason, but the real attention-getter was the new "900" Monza coupe, which boasted an even spiffier interior with bucket seats.

Bolstered by a newly optional four-speed gearbox for 1961, the Monza caught fire, uncovering a huge latent demand for sporty, fun-to-drive compacts. This was fortunate, because Ford's much simpler and cheaper Falcon was handily outselling other Corvairs in the economy market. From here on, the rear-engine Chevy would aim increasingly at enthusiast drivers.

But it was too late to change some plans, so a brace of Corvair Lakewood station wagons arrived for '61 as scheduled, as did a Monza sedan. The Lakewood offered a surprising amount of cargo space -- 58 cubic feet behind the front seat, 10 more under the front "hood" -- more than other compact wagons and even some larger models. It didn't sell well, though, with first-year production barely topping 25,000.

Chevy also issued the interesting Corvair-based Greenbrier window van, Corvan panel, and Rampside pickup, all "forward control" models inspired by VW's Type 2 Microbus and forerunners of today's popular minivans. Finally, the flat six was bored out to 145 cid. Standard power remained at 80, but a $27 "Turbo Air" option lifted that to 98.

For 1962, the 500 series was trimmed to a lone coupe, and the Monza line expanded to include a wagon (no longer called Lakewood) and a new convertible. The Monza wagon was plush, but only about 6000 were built before the body style was dropped entirely to make assembly-line room for the Chevy II, the resolutely orthodox Falcon-style compact rushed out to do what Corvair had failed to in the economy market.

Mid-1962 brought what has become the most highly prized first-generation Corvair: the turbocharged Monza Spyder. Initially, this was a $317 option package for Monza two-doors comprising a 150-bhp engine with lots of chrome dressup, a shorter final drive for sprightlier acceleration, heavy-duty suspension, and a multigauge instrument panel with tachometer and brushed-metal trim. The four-speed and sintered-metallic brake linings were "mandatory" options.

The Spyder wasn't cheap -- a minimum price of $2600 -- but it was the next best thing to a Porsche. Total production ran about 40,000 units through 1964.

First-generation Corvair styling saw only minor year-to-year changes, mostly at the front. The original winged Chevy bowtie gave way to a smaller emblem on a slim full-width chrome bar for '61. The '62s substituted dummy air slots. A wide single chevron replaced those for '63. Then came a double-bar version of the '61 treatment.

Aside from the aforementioned rear camber compensator, the big news for '64 was a stroked 164-cid engine with 95 or 110 bhp in normally aspirated form. Spyder power was unchanged.

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