The Making of the Chevrolet Corvair Engine

The ramp up time to make America's Chevy Corvair was considerable because of its unique aluminum engine. It began in 1952, when Ed Cole wanted to build a small (for that time) compact economical car with an aluminum engine. Aluminum would allow the car to remain very light, just around 2000 lbs. No other American car would uses as much aluminum in their engines. The problem for Chevy and GM was that using aluminum is much more expensive to produce. The other problem was that GM had no plant devoted to aluminum molding etc. Thus, GM would have to find a site and either build its own plant or convert an existing one.

GM started talking with Alcoa Reynolds Aluminum in 1954 about such a plant, but it was not until 1956 or so when a deal was struck. Now GM needed to find a new plant site and after time decided upon Massena, New York, as the ideal. In 1957, a deal was signed and Chevy began to build their own foundry to mold the corvair engine parts and was obligated to buy over 37 tons of aluminum from Alcoa. Chevy was now fully committed to producing the Corvair, their only car with an aluminum engine. Chevy officially approved of the Corvair project, then called, Holden, late 1957. In 1958, the plant was constructed. Once built, 70 corvair engines would be produced per hour.

With the plant being constructed and the Corvair being designed, the next problem was finding equipment that could mold the engine in an effective manner using aluminum casting techniques. For this, Chevy went to Germany in 1958, searching for a good method. They went to the Neckarsulm firm who were making Porsche engines. Being more impressed with that method versus the method that VW was using and one not known in the US, they struck a deal to use their technology. Chevy purchased 24 casting machines from the German firm along with their tech support to train and operate. These began to arrive in 1959. With molden aluminum being poured the first corvair engine head was created. The first production parts for the Corvair were made in April, 1959 (the public debut was Oct. 1959). The first production models came out in July for road tests etc.

The molten aluminum (used to make the corvair engine parts) was hauled to the Chevy plant by trucks pulling flatbed semi trailers. Two open ladles were mounted and about nine tons of liquid aluminum could be carried on each trip and traveled not more than 5 mph!

Even before the first Corvair was available to the public, Chevy had invested over $19,000,000 just to manufacture the engine parts. By 1962, the plant employed over 700 people on a payroll of over $5,000,000 yearly. Over 1.5 million Corvairs were sold during its 10 year production run @ an average consumer price of $2100.00 a car. Gross sales hovered around $32,000,000.

Ed Cole, the father of the Corvair, also went on to create the Chevy Vega, again with an all aluminum engine. Soon, Chrysler use aluminum engines in their Valiants, Pontiac used it in the 215 V8 engine.

The Corvair Early Model Engine

Comments 6 comments

Marvin McConoughey 4 years ago

The Corvair engine was very pleasant in actual use. I recall driving one on a long trip from California to Oregon. The pleasant hum of the engine and the quiet cabin made for a happy drive. My 2010 Subaru 3.6R six cylinder boxer engine doesn't sound as good, vibrates at idle, and is rougher at high RPM than that old Corvair.


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perrya 4 years ago Author

marv- ironically, I have both. A 67 Corvair monza and a s.0 LL Bean outback. Love the corvair, like the Outback. Both get around the same MPG! for a corvair is fine, for a 05 outback-not good enough.Hard to compare the cars, IMO.


MIke Henson 4 years ago

I recall the Corvair as being a very sound car. Oh sure there were the typical complaints of leaking valve cover gaskets and the like. But overall, everyone I knew who had one (and there were many) really liked them. Especially when it snowed! I think the car got a rather raw deal from Lex Luther (aka "Ralph Nader"). And considering all the bad press, they continued to build them up until 69. Which wasn't such a bad run for a single model. I rode in several, and even drove a couple. The care was a good handler for the time.


Michael 2 years ago

trying to add transmission fluid to my corvair monza 1963. Feel stupid but I cannot locate where it goes. Just got it and having trouble shifting. Can anyone direct me to where the fill cap is? M


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perrya 2 years ago Author

For some reason, I think the AT fluid may be added thru where the dipstick.


GTI16V 6 months ago

Pontiac, 215 Aluminum V8? Try Buick Kids then came the 300 Olds. These were engines that never quit. They were in MGB's, Range Rovers, and Triumphs

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