Blast from the Past: The Corvair

Back in the unregulated days of the early 1960s, American cars were pushing the envelope in body styles and engine ingenuities. The cars were getting smaller and more tapered, and were being powered by stronger power plants. The Pontiac GTO, the Ford Mustang and the Plymouth Barracuda became sought-after muscle cars that were cut from the same cloth – heavy, two-door sleds that made more horsepower than could ever have been practical.

‘Unsafe at Any Speed’?

One car that deviated from that norm was the Chevrolet Corvair, Car and Driver’s 1960 Car of the Year. With swoopy, rounded fenders, the two-seater had an air-cooled, rear mounted engine that produced more than enough power to move the smallish vehicle. There were problems with the swing-axle suspension that caused the car to “tuck under” and flip over. Ralph Nader’s portrayal of the Corvair in his book, Unsafe at Any Speed, was spurred by over 100 injury lawsuits that had been filed against General Motors over Corvair accidents.

In the Rearview Mirror

Only after the wave of negativity caused the discontinuation of the Corvair as a production model did independent studies determine that the 1960-1963 Corvair’s suspension system, while not perfect, was no less reliable than those that were utilized by similar makes and models both foreign and domestic. What’s more, GM made improvements to the later model Corvair (which had other technical issues and wasn’t long for the world at any rate).

The federal government, through the NHTSA, remains committed to ensuring the safety of consumers by working with all automobile companies with regard to voluntary recalls. This ounce-of-prevention approach has saved millions of dollars in injury lawsuits and has burnished the car makers’ reputations as being quality-oriented and safety conscious. Unlike Ralph Nader, some would say, they’ve changed quite a bit since the days of the Corvair.