Luxury fashion

American Oddball Cars That Nobody Expected

In the 1950s, Chevrolet was one of the most conservative automotive brands in America. At the tail end of the 1950s, the Big Three (Ford, General Motors, Chrysler) launched compact cars, but they were scaled-down versions of existing vehicles. Chevrolet, however, took a look at what the Europeans had been doing and ignored the American brand rulebook completely. The result was the air-cooled rear-engine-powered Corvair, and it wasn’t a little four-cylinder engine in the back like a Beetle; it was a six-cylinder boxer engine like in a Porsche. Chevy’s performance car came in various body styles over the years, including as a station wagon and a van, but the piece de resistance was the two-door turbocharged Corvair with the “Spyder” engine. Chevrolet may have been looking at Porsche when it designed the Corvair, but it beat Porsche to the turbocharged air-cooled boxer engine by 15 years. The first Corvairs rolled off the line with 80 horsepower. By 1996 you could option the “Corsa” turbocharged engine to make 180 hp.

The Ford Mustang overshadowed the creative and well-engineered high-performance Corvair after a hungry not-yet-politician called Ralph Nader named the Corvair in the opening chapter of his headline-grabbing book, Unsafe At Any Speed. To be fair, his evaluation wasn’t necessarily wrong, it was just a touch exaggerated.

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