The cute, relatively compact Chevrolet Corvair was the result of GM lead engineer Edward Coles’s admiration for the rear engined Beetle. Sure enough, the car was launched to much acclaim – a challenger to the behemoth winged and chromed hulks of the late fifties and early sixties. With an innovative setup – aircooling and a swing axle, it was cheap to produce, run and own. Problem was, of course, that a crude GM version of the engineering that made the Porsche 356 a joy to drive made this car ludicrously back-happy.
It wasn’t long until politico writer Ralph Nader singled out the Corvair’s atrocious safety record as a harbinger of corporate irresponsibility in his book Unsafe at Any Speed.
Nader’s book was a game-changing critique of unthinking, uncaring mass capitalism, and articulated for the first time the power of the consumer in American society. The writer might have been a killjoy, but the movement he provoked also saved a few lives over the years as single-car disasters gradually became a thing of the past.
Pity. We really like the Corvair’s pert version of sixties Americana…and it must have been a blast to drive in the wet!
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