What to Look for When Buying a Used Corvair
As a former owner of several Corvairs, and a survivor of each, many sympathetic folks ask me what to look for when buying a used Corvair. The first place to look is in a mirror; check for the telltale "L" on your forehead. If you have the universal symbol for loser emblazoned across your receding hairline, you're ready to take the plunge. Embrace your unhipness. Corvairs represent the epitome of uncoolness to such an extent that they actually wrap around again to become the epicenter of automotive avant-garde. Newly-minted drivers should be obligated to manually adjust the 4 carbs of the legendary Corvair 140 engine. Automotive neophytes should be required by law to learn the nuances of exhaust manifolds shedding mounting ears like leaves from a Sugar Maple. Each and every sentient being who sits behind the Corvair steering wheel comes away forever changed, or at least queasy from the oil-soaked fumes drifting in from the engine compartment.
Can you still find a Corvair?
Assuming all the little beasts haven't completely rusted away, look for early and late model Corvairs hidden in barns, warehouses, and weedy backyards. As Jeff Foxworthy observed: "You know you're a redneck if you cut your grass and find a car."
Don't expect to find a completely roadworthy creampuff these days. Corvairs lived long and useful lives but even the hottest Detroit iron eventually loses the battle with oxidation. As Neil Young crooned: "Rust never sleeps."
Look Under the Floor Mats
One desirable trait in any used Corvair is the view from underneath the floor mats. Expect to see sheet metal between the carpet and the road. Even the slightest glimpse of asphalt between the driver's knees is a really bad thing. Aftermarket floor pans are readily available; anyone handy with a rivet gun and tin snips should be able to fabricate replacements or patches in short order.
Don't look for the engine
Yes, the thing has an engine, but it's not where you might expect it. Corvair trunks are in the front. The motor hides in the rear, behind the back seat. Why? Don't complain: Porche started it. General Motors simply followed their lead. Teutonic engineering was not to be denied. German craftsmanship inspired a Detroit design with virtually no front-end crash protection. NHTSA was way behind the curve back in those days.
When approaching a 'Vair for the first time, stride confidently around back, reach under the deck lid, and pop the hood/trunk/engine cover. Call it what you like, baggage goes in the front and horsepower emanates from the rear. Most vehicles tend toward a 50-50 weight balance. The Corvair places all its bulk in the back. This unique weight distribution combined with a huge steering wheel (for increased leverage) eliminate the need for power steering.
Be Prepared to Replace Rubber Stuff
Bushings, seals, and gaskets can't outrun Father Time. Extreme cold and heat, along with solar radiation, break down rubber and vinyl compounds in relatively short order. Don't be put off by a few crumbling components that can be replaced with shiny new aftermarket pieces. An excellent source for Corvair parts is Clarks Corvair parts at corvair.com (what else?). Just give them the year and model, They know what you need!
Rebuild the Carbs
Corvair carburetors come in three different configurations. The Turbocharged engine sports a side-draft unit that fights an eternal battle with gravity and leaks gasoline in multiple directions, some toward the throttle body. The 110 horsepower engines employ a dual carburetor setup and the 140 horsepower engines actually make use of four pumpers. Regardless of the carb count, be prepared to invest time and money into rebuilds. The base usually survives, but gaskets, jets, clips, and floats usually need to be replaced. Many a Corvair owner has been frustrated by gasoline-soaked carburetors floats that refuse to float properly.
Be preprared for weirdness
Given that Corvairs exuded strangeness when they rolled off the assembly line, we cannot blame their owners for only enhancing that image. Many shade tree mechanics found the time and motivation to install a V-8 engine in the back seat. Double-dating became problematic but drag racing was a lot more fun,
The next time you see a dune buggy or street rod, take a close look at the engine, If it's a six cylinder, chances are that it's been amputated from a Corvair. Air-cooled motors are desirable for these little vehicles because they're lighter and easier to maintain. While the majority are propelled by 4 cylinder Volkswagen power plants, many are blessed with a 'flat 6' Corvair screamer. The crank shafts turn in opposing directions. If that doesn't help you discriminate, simply count the spark plug wires.
Don't go out in the rain.
Ultimate Corvair Coolness (not an oxymoron) comes in convertible form. Both early and late model styles of the vehicle were built in drop-top and hard top body plans. Unfortunately, both early and late models canvas tops were notoriously leaky. An aftermarket top will solve most of your wetness issues.
They're so nerdy they're hip. They refuse to die, but they will need some tender loving care to remain roadworthy and relatively safe. Long live the Corvair.