Birth of the Chevrolet Corvair Name
The birth of the rear engine Corvair, which was air-cooled, like a Porsche engine, began ironically as a regular I-6 car in Chevrolet's 1954 prototype lineup. Looking for a new and innovative design, designers used the new Corvette model as the basis for the new Corvair. Some called the car the "Corvette Corvair". The 1954 Corvair and the 1960 Corvair have nothing in common but for the name. Depending of the story, the name "Corvair" was originally the name for the original Corvette in 1953, but later discarded for "Corvette" and used in production. Corvettes were fast WW2 attack boats. In another version, Ed Cole, who was the 1960+ Corvair designer, originally called it "Corsair", after the WW2 fighter aircraft. However, key personnel mistook the S for a V and Corvair was used instead. If true, Ed apparently did not have an issue with the mistake!
The 1954 Corvair car was a 2-door fastback (something not revisited until the Ford Mustang in the mid-60s), 2-passenger coupe.
This Corvair used the Corvette front end, had ribbed air intakes on the hood that for fresh air to the interior and fender vents to allow heat to escape the engine compartment. It had a wrap-around windshield and the fastback roof swept into a chrome-trimmed licensed plate housing. The rooftop seems to have simply been inserted upon a Corvette body as there was no storage behind the rear seats. The chassis and power train of the Corvair was Corvette 100%. Its windshield had a 53-degree slant. The interior of the car was really a 54 Corvette.
This brings up the question, why? Why have a new car being showed at the major car shows in 1954 that was really a Corvette fastback instead of a convertible? The Corvette sales were sluggish, and to try to bring another car that was a near twin seems like a waste.
The asking price for a 1954 Corvette was $2,774.00 without options, more than a Cadillac which featured a V6 engine and a top that did not leak. On the sports car side, there was the Jaguar which also cost less than the Corvette AND featured a sophisticated, more powerful engine along with a four speed transmission. This tranny was standard for most sports cars. Had the Corvair gone into production, the cost would probably be the same. It would most likely have a two speed automatic with a 150 hp engine as did the 54 Corvette. In 1960, when the rear engine Corvair came out, it had a 95-110 hp engine.Both cars had only a six cylinder engine.
In 1954, only 3600 Corvettes were made, GM had hoped for 10,000. Of the 3600, only 1200 were sold at the asking price, the remaining were sold by dealers at less than the price. Thus, it was a good thing Chevy decided not to begin Corvair production because there really was nothing unique about it and most likely would have failed.
The Corvair specifications are:
- Wheelbase: 102"
- Car length: 167"
- Height: 33"
- Road Clearance: 6"
- Width: 70"
- Weight: 2500 lbs.