1960 was a game-changer for Detroit because they lost the fins and added the compact car to their lineups.


A compact car from the Big Three was a major change in direction for the boys from Detroit because big had always been beautiful when it came to cars.


A compact car was their way to gain a share in the small car market where the European car makers owned the territory and led the way with the German-made Volkswagen Beetle.


The Beetle had become a big success in the North American car market and Detroit car makers wanted to take the small car market away from the foreign invasion.


Enter the compact car with a North American birth certificate.




Ford and Chrysler stayed the course with their compacts and used small water-cooled engines whose main claim to fame was they were not V-8s. The driving force behind these small American cars was gas economy and a big emphasis on MPG in the compacts.


The compact cars were very light and could easily handle highway speeds with their six-bangers while they sipped fuel by comparison to their heavier, full-sized colleagues with V-8 engines. The first compacts would never win a street race in factory form, but they could win a mileage race.




General Motors decided to directly take on the Beetle with their Corvair in 1960.


The Corvair also had an air-cooled engine and it could blow the doors off the Volkswagen Beetle in a race. It also had more passenger room and was more stylish than cute, unlike the lovable Beetle.




The net result was a unique car with many of the features found in a Volkswagen Beetle. The swing axle rear suspension was similar to the Beetle and Porsches of that era, but consumer advocate Ralph Nader made the handling characteristics of the Corvair the focal point of his bestseller book Unsafe at Any Speed.


The result was a tidal wave of negative publicity for the Corvair and the result hastened the death of the Corvair.


None of this mattered to a young Corvair owner named Shawn Simank when he bought his 1966 Corvair. Shawn was not even born when Nader torpedoed the Corvair, nor was he around when the last Corvair left the factory.




All of that information was simply ancient history to Shawn when he decided to buy his Corvair while on a search for “something different” in his words. He was actually looking for an El Camino, but Shawn told us that idea “went out the window real fast” when he spotted the Corvair. He really liked its looks.


The car will keep a steady 75 mph (125km/h) on the highway if conditions dictate that kind of speed because Shawndoes not want to get run over in traffic“. Shawn says he “tries to baby it but lets the car decide the speed”.




The car is smooth and comfortable on the road but the two-speed automatic and low gear ratio means the air-cooled engine screams a little at higher speeds. The final analysis for Shawn is he actually prefers the Corvair to newer cars-except for the engine noise.




It turns out Ralph Nader had no effect on this young Corvair owner because Shawn loves his car and no Nader book from ancient times will change his mind.


Jim Sutherland

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