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How Automobiles Work


In 1965, a young lawyer named Ralph Nader published a book titled
Unsafe at Any Speed, which was a harsh critique
of automotive safety. One chapter of the book was dedicated to the curious handling of the Chevy Corvair. Nader called it “the one-car accident.” So I’ve arranged to drive a Corvair, and not just any Corvair, but one
owned by Ralph Nader himself. I’ve rented a wide open runway, and I’m here to find out, essentially, will the Corvair kill me?
(wheels screeching) (new age trance music) The Corvair is the most
controversial car in history. I’ve always been fascinated with it, so I’ve put together the pieces
to draw my own conclusion. It was designed in the ’50s during a time when the average American
car lumbered down the road carrying two tons of steel and rubber, and the postwar exuberance
was still in full swing. And with a price of less than 2,000 bucks it was cheap, and provided families with an alternative
form of transportation. At the time, General
Motors sold roughly half of the new cars bought each
year, so it was flush with cash. And it used those resources
to rethink the automobile. Now unlike every other American car that carried a water-cooled
engine in front, Corvair’s engine resided in the trunk. And since the engine was cooled by a fan, it didn’t need a radiator. The goal was simplicity
and function over form. Chevy had big plans for the car. In Nader’s book, he called the Corvair “the one-car accident.” He wrote that a design
flaw in the rear suspension made the car likely to flip over when driven in abrupt maneuvers like say, avoiding a ball that suddenly
rolled into the street. The book was a bestseller, and has been linked to the Corvair ever since. For Ralph Nader it was
very successful, yes. – [Larry] Say hello to Peter Koehler. Now I love listening to Koehler; he’s obviously so emotionally
invested in the car. When you hear him talk about Nader, there’s almost a little
tinge of anger in his voice. He presented the work in
a fashion that sold books. And got people’s attention;
I think that’s probably the best way to put it, okay? – [Larry] Pete’s a former GM engineer, and a Corvair fanatic. I’ve got 15 Corvairs, I believe. We’re supposed to be a
group of rugged individuals. We have Corvairs because
they’re different: they’re not Camaros; they’re not Impalas; they’re not Corvettes. But I want to be unique in
a unique group of people. – [Larry] I’ve always wondered
if Nader’s claims were fair. In car circles, Nader is credited with effectively killing Chevy small car. Brock Yates, the longtime
Car & Driver columnist, regularly vilified Nader. Yates lumped Nader into a group he referred to as “the safety Nazis.” Now to me, a car-obsessed adolescent born five years after Nader’s famous book, Yates’ diatribes and stunts were gospel. Nader’s book helped usher in a host of emissions and safety regulations that hobbled vehicle performance. When I finally got around to actually reading Nader’s book in the 1990s however, the car companies had long since engineered around the regulations. Horsepower was back and climbing. The death rate since 1965
had dramatically dropped, and our cars are now
far safer and cleaner. This is a 1962 Monza four-door sedan that I purchased from Ralph Nader. Having Ralph Nader’s Corvair,
trying to get the story out that this is still a viable vehicle, it’s a hobby, we enjoy it;
I haven’t been killed yet. I don’t have any grass stains
on the roof of my Corvairs. It’s not as unsafe perhaps
as the book made it look. So I bought it. – [Larry] The first
lawsuit arrived in 1961. Now, GM’s lawyers wanted to settle, but Ed Cole, who is credited
with designing the car, and Frank Winchell, GM’s head of R&D, convinced GM’s board to
fight, so GM enlisted the entire research and
development department to prepare a defense. Their rationale was
it’s an easy case to try because it’s different. Our feeling was, making things different is what we do as engineers! So we didn’t find anything
bad about that at all. – [Larry] This is retired
Chevrolet engineer Jim Musser; he spent his career in the research and
development department at GM, and he worked on improving the Corvair and preparing the defense
for the court cases. No one knows the Corvair better than Jim. The claim against the Corvair was, it was defective design. So that meant two things: one is that every Corvair was defective. And two, it was a slight on
General Motors’ engineering, that they would engineer a defective car. We felt it had to be vigorously
defended, which we did. The Corvair doesn’t
automatically roll over and die. The Corvair doesn’t cause
you to be a bad driver. If you know what you’re doing,
you can drive the Corvair. If you know what you’re doing, you can drive a Volkswagen
Beetle, or a 356 Porsche, which all had the same suspension system that Ralph said was “unsafe at any speed.” That really isn’t true. The problem was too much
weight transfer at the rear, for two reasons. One, a swing axle has a high roll center, which contributes to weight transfer. Because of the weight back there, the coil springs were stiffer, and so that added to the
roll stiffness as well. So fully 80% of the weight
transfer in cornering was on the rear tires,
and that’s what caused it to oversteer and eventually
go out of control. – [Larry] Okay, what these
guys are trying to say is that the Corvair
wasn’t flawed as much as it was designed with a unique
purpose, and that was economy. Its rear suspension was simple,
so it could be made cheaper. And consequently it sold
for less than $2,000. The idea here was a family car. They were entered in the Mobil
Gas economy runs back then; they got over 30 miles to the gallon. They won their class several years. That’s how Ed Cole envisioned the car, just a bread and butter, get
to the grocery store and back, economical, cheap to buy, cheap
to maintain, kind of a car. The way it’s operated is
different from any other car, and if you don’t know the differences, you could cause yourself
to be a in a situation that’s hard to recover from. Now is that the fault of the engineer? Was that the fault of the company that built the car and sold it? Or is that just somebody
forgot to follow the rules? – [Larry] Now before you call me reckless, you should know a few things. I’ve been racing and testing
cars for over 20 years. I’ve been to numerous racing
schools; driving is my life, and while I’m not a
professional race car driver, I know what I’m doing behind the wheel. I’ve also rented the perfect
facility for these maneuvers. It’s an airport, with hugely wide runways, nothing to hit, and plenty of runoff. – [Peter] I’ve known Larry for a while; I trust his ability to drive. My major thing is, Larry
knows how to go fast, and Larry knows when to say, “Whoa.” – [Larry] But even still, I’m nervous. I start slowly; I turn the wheel. I’m unsure what’s going to happen. In the back of my mind
is that crash footage that’s all over YouTube,
that shows the thing spinning out and rolling. I don’t know how strong this roof is, but it’s nowhere near as stout
as the roofs on today’s cars. I’ve got a helmet; I’ve got a lap belt; but I’ve also got three kids at home. The way cars can be rolled easily, many cars can be rolled easily, is to make a hard turn in one direction to get the body to roll
as far as it will go, and then suddenly turn it
in the opposite direction to add momentum to that roll. – [Larry] As I start picking up speed, cutting the wheel back and forth, I can feel the rear end get light. (tires squealing) When you’re racing, a car
that oversteers like this is a huge benefit. You can use both ends of the car to navigate turns quicker
than you would otherwise. I like it; it’s fun. (instrumental rock music) (tires squealing) The swings get wider;
they happen more abruptly. It doesn’t feel like it’s catching; it feels like it’s gradual,
almost graceful in its moves. But again, I’ve got a
perfect situation here: a perfectly maintained car. The car does what it is designed to do. The question is, is that
worse than the alternative? Say another driver does the same thing in a 1960 Chevrolet Impala. Now the Impala probably wouldn’t spin, but instead it wouldn’t
make the turn at all. Now since every situation is unique, it’s impossible to say
which outcome is preferable. Between the two however,
the Corvair probably has the better chance of avoiding that ball that rolled into the street. I think of the Corvair
as a sacrificial lamb that motivated Nader to write
a book that got the industry to make some initially painful changes that ultimately proved necessary. Every car has a story, the Corvair’s just happens to be more
interesting than most.

100 thoughts on “Will the Corvair Kill You? | Hagerty Behind the Wheel – Episode 1

  1. My parents bought a used Corvair about 6 year old .One day they were backing out of the driveway on their way to going shopping and ready to leave for the store.Suddenly I heard a loud boom .I quickly looked out the window and the little Corvair was full of white smoke.For a few seconds I thought they blew themselves up.I went outside to see what happened and they both got out of the car in good condition.I ask my dad who was also a mechanic at the time what happened and he said that the heater blew up on starting it .It was a heater that ran on gasoline since the Corvair had no radiator for heat. So the Corvair had plenty of faults inside too.

  2. A ‘65 Corsair when I was stationed at Cherry Point. It was the first car I bought. Such a spacious car! Huge trunk, nice cab, comfy seat. It had a two speed auto tranny. Loved this car. The vans, trucks and cars of this line were very handy cars. Nader was crazy

  3. Lots of 1960's cars drove amazingly well and were so loveable, yet they were awfully unsafe and dangerous cars!

  4. I had a 1964, after they had redone the rear suspension.
    Maybe that's why nobody told me the rules to drive it, as I assume they told all the owners of the early ones the rules on how not to roll it (according to Hagerty).

    It was a POS, though. The oil seals, the generator that ran backwards and other issues that kept me fixing it.

  5. "Will The Corvair Kill You?" asks the title of this video. To which I reply – not likely, because virtually nobody at this point is ever going to enter one. Nearly all of them are long gone, along with 99% (at least) of all the cars manufactured in the 1960s.

  6. The mid-late 90's Explorer was worse and I don't see anybody complaining. You couldn't avoid anything at moderate speeds because the front of the SUV would push down and the rear would lift, causing it to rollover. I almost got killed in one of those after we tried to avoid a dog that went across the road.

  7. If he's so invested, why is he letting it go to hell. At least put some primer over the cancer. A bitter, lazy throw back. Besides, the Falcon was transformed into the Mustang. One of the great sales successes of Ford history. And the Corvair became…..

  8. My father had a black Corvair….I am surprised I made it through my teenage years being driven to school every morning in this POS. Yes! There is a God looking after us!

  9. well alot of vehicles are unsafe if you run them hard around corners, an F250 would probly flip over or fly off the road too if you tried to take turns at crazy speed lmao corvair was meant to be driven slow to the store and back, dont drive it like its a lambo v12 and there wont be problems…..

  10. Just like the SL Mercedes, VW Beetle and the infamous Triumph Herald with its totally stupid swing-axle rear drive train! Chev, Mercedes, VW and Triumph should have been sued for putting such designs on the market.

  11. After watchiing more of the video… Come on they are bloody shitty rubbish. From 45years ago, I have the broken pelvis and loss of nerve function to prove it.

  12. my mom had two corvairs, 1960 and three kids, then a 1965 which I was old enough to drive it some. Used it for 6months for a morning paper route to pay for my mg and I was often stopped by the on duty cop and told to slow it down around certain corners as he had a complaint from there. I slid around corners and did 180's while backing up at a quick pace to zoom off tossing papers in the right direction. Get all 450 or so papers delivered as early as possible.
    That car taught me how to drive sporty style from 3;30am to maybe 7am every day for 6 months. It would do a 180 degrees if you stepped on the brake too hard in the rain so it taught me how to drive backwards at 40+ mph. I never was old enough to drive the 60 corvair but spent a lot of time in that car and it seemed ok… we were even squarely T-boned in it and spun around – bruised up bad but ok.

  13. My father would cuss Nader every time his name was mentioned. Nader should have been sued by GM. A anti sway bar was added to the rear of the Corvair later…it was even more composed in emergency maneuvers. One of the issues was owners DID NOT keep tires inflated properly.

  14. I just saw a really sharp Corvair the other day. It as a 2 door and looked great from 50 feet.

    My uncle had a purple one that sat in his driveway for years. We all played in it. Can say how safe it was because I never saw the damn thing run.

    I would love to have a Yenko Corvair.

  15. I had to do a thesis paper on Nader's book back when I was in school. I have never owned or rode in a Corvair. After studying his book I could see where his logic came from. Although me also being a gearhead car and bike fanatic I felt as though owner error was a big part. Just watching this video here and seeing the slow motion turns would tell me to run at least 30-35 psi in the rear tires and probably about 15-20 psi in the front tires. I am sure that car steers very lightly. I would actually like to find one and tinker with it.

  16. Nader was right, and these clowns carefully ignore his exact point. That for a few dollars more this unique design would have been far safer. Typical conjob.

  17. Ralph Nader personally killed the independent car industry and enabled government to put its nose in every aspect of the regulation of these machines. Of course the big 3 ultimately likes it in the end as their competition was destroyed. It is corporatism, not capitalism, at its finest.

    New car prices have skyrocketed out of affordability as each demand and requirement implemented is passed down to the consumer. The poor can get used vehicles.

  18. Modern cars are horrible.

    People will say their safer but they really mean is that engineering has created solutions to problems. Could imagine if classic 50s and 60s cars had todays engineering but with their style what we would have.

    Car companies today will rarely use leather because cows pass too much gas.

  19. When you said, "The most controversial car in history" you really made a mistake, yes? "You meant to say, "The most controversial car in AMERICAN history". Yes???

  20. Never cared a bit for Ralph the mouth. My Corvair was a 1965 Corsa with A/C and the Spyder engine (130 HP if I remember correctly). I drove it all over So Cal, from Oct 69 – Mar 71, and loved every minute of it after the 1st 3 hrs of ownership; got hit by an older driver on Broadway in San Diego, with her head pointed into the back seat for a block and a half, dispite having an older gentleman screaming at her the whole time. Never had a problem with it and kept it in great shape. Sipped gas and drove like it was a slot car, even in wet weather.

  21. What about the 2008 cobalt, GM save pennies and the fucking thing shut off while driving. GM are garbage cars… mechanic for 20 years and they are trash… that’s why they are cutting cars because they suck!!!!!

  22. The right rear wheel came off the ground towards the end of the video
    Had he pushed it a little harder I'm sure he would have rolled it but I'm also sure his buddy told him not to roll his car before he ever took it out
    If you have to swerve hard for any reason you dont want to he in a corvair
    Ralf was right

  23. Total nonsense – Corvair was a death trap for those 60s housewives (and house husbands) who were not given specific instruction on the difference between their 50s beater and the newly designed corvair. The engineers were allowed to go on a tangent and Nader called them on it. The corporation will kill the consumer if you allow them to.

  24. Ralph Nader was a liar attacking the Chev Corvair to make himself be important. Ralph has made millions as a false advocate  for the American people. He was dishonest and not truthful to the American people. I would guess that he was taking money from foreign auto makers to spew his lies. I owned a 1960 4 door Corvair and had several friends who owned the Corvair Monza. We never had the problems that the liar, Ralph Nader tried to tell us was wrong with the car. It handled wonderfully, got reasonable mileage and was very dependable. it did not leak oil as he portrayed. That bastard tried to destroy it for his own personal gain. I hope Ralph Nader is punished for his deception and lies about the car. I actually hope he rots in hell. Chevrolet would have gone on to make more small cars to compete with imports if it wasn't for this ant-American so called consumer advocate. As I said he made millions of dollars lying about just about everything he touched.

  25. I have owned 4 or 5 of these beauties. I crashed my first one trying to broad slide it after watching Bullit. The back wheel tucks under and the car takes a giant hop sideways. My fault. That said, there has never been a two wheel drive vehicle that handled as well in the snow as the Corvair. All cars have their limits. The idea is to drive within them. I would be happy to buy a new one today. I love these cars. I have seen a bunch of Jeep rollovers at the repair shop, but they are still going strong. My wife almost rolled one on a test drive.

  26. my dad had two corvairs. a 62 convertible and a 65 monza hardtop. they were awesome cars to drive and my eldest brother said the 62 would go thru any mud as long as you did not bottom out the engine.

  27. Apart from the overturning or not of the Corvair it also had an engine fire tendency. Oil would spill onto the engine when refilled, which was the cause of many fires.

  28. You can't sell a product that acts differently than all the other products in its class. If you sold a vacuum cleaner that acted differently than all the rest,…..many people will eventually screw up and forget, and blow up the unit. Selling a car that you needed special training to drive was a stupid mistake, that mistake sits firmly with the engineers. This car and all cars sold to the consumer as a family car should be 100% user friendly and require no special instructions at all. Toyota knew this about the Prius and did the work to hand the public a hybrid that drives exactly like a regular car……that equals success, the Corvair did not.

  29. Most SUVs driven by soccer Moms and Dads on the road today have higher centers of gravity than a Corvair. Driver a Ford Escape like a Porsche and it will turtle as well.

  30. In 1963 at the age of 18, while on a flower delivery 2 days before Christmas, I rounded a corner on a rural road at the speed limit and rolled the Corvan delivery truck. I had made that corner many times in my personal car without a hint of a problem. The van over steered on the turn and a very slight attempt to correct the over steer caused the van to roll. I personally liked Corvairs, my sister had one and I loved it. Volkswagen buses had a similar issue with toe-in on turns at one time. Sometimes there are problems that need to be fixed, it's that simple. There was no need to vilify the car, they were sweet little cars with a problem that needed to be addressed, end of story.

  31. I had the good fortune of driving a 68 Monza repeatedly. So fun! Drove like a sports car….a real hot rod. Never felt like I was on the verge of losing control.

  32. When a GM VP lost his daughter & comedian Ernie Kovacs was killed in a Corvair the same week, they made some suspension changes.

  33. Very interesting test, but the camber on the rear tyres in those hard turns looks nasty. Add a slope and uneven surface and things mightn't end so well.

  34. Sorry chum, I was in a Corvair that spun out thanks to a fairly minor twitch of the wheel by a competent driver who was no hot rodder.
    You failed to mention that the Corvairs had strict and quite unusual tire pressure requirements, requirements that the vast majority of casual drivers didn't know about or maintain. However ignoring these specifications greatly magnified the vehicle's inherent instability.
    The only people you talked to were clearly totally biased. How come you didn't bother to include just one knowledgeable person to challenge the excuses the GM guys delivered?
    Unfortunately what you've created here isn't a balanced history, it's more like a whitewash.

  35. So I am 81 years old and know that the VW Beetle had the same suspension. The US Army's M151 Jeep (actually a Ford) had the same suspension. The rear wheels would tuck under in a tight turn that would probably be bad whatever you drove. And I drove the Beetle and M151, and XK-140 Jaguar at Laguna Seca, and an E-Type on the German autobahn. If you take any car to the limits then trouble ensues. I never thought much of Mr. Nader. Mostly because he did not review other cars with the same type of suspension. But I am getting too old to even think about all the bad stories I have heard.

  36. I owned two different 1962 Corvair convertibles. The first I bought from a retired CHP (CA Highway Patrol) officer. He had added a 90# sandbag to the bottom of the frunk. The thing was quieter on the freeway at 90mph than Mom's Lincoln Continental. Man, did I have a lot of fun in that car. I had friends with little motorcycles (Hodaka Combat Wombats) and I enjoyed chasing them over the dirt track, complete with jumps. Yup, I got my Corvair airborne many a time. I survived, too. I never spun out, I never rolled, and I never hurt my Corvair or myself. Nader was a traitor to the country.

  37. I bought one when they were new – because it sounded real good…
    It turned out to be the worst car – mechanically – I ever had!
    I finally traded it for a used "bug" which took me all over the States and Mexico.
    Never worried about tipping over, though.

  38. I'm not, and never have been, a GM fan!

    That being said, the Corvair rated quite
    highly in my estimation. It is the ONLY
    GM product I'd consider owning!

    Period!

    As an almost retired Mechanic, I LIKE
    gm products. LOTS of business, but I
    end up working on inferior products.

    What I like now, Toyotas that rode on
    a ship from Japan. (NOT Texas.) And
    early Mopar products, from the Corvair
    era. I do like the Slant Six!

    steve

  39. If you want to know about the Corvair, read "On a Clear Day, You Can See General Motors" by John Z. Deloean or, better, "Unsafe at Any Speed", by Ralph Nader. Both of these books describe the insatiable greed of the U.S. auto industry in making really crappy, dangerous cars and the limitless gullibility of baby boomers for buying them.

  40. Am I the only one who finds it particularly hilarious that Ralph Nader bought a Corvair at all considering how bad he bashed it in the book? Perhaps what others have said for years is actually true!!!,,, He wrote the book knowing full well it was bullshit propaganda written only to make him money & get his name in the press simply because the Corvair was different…To an extent, I'd say it worked, we're still talking about this moran all these years later!!! The Corvair is a great car that introduced the average American car buyer to new innovations & ideas & is no more dangerous than anything else really. If you drive like a complete moran, bad things will happen no matter what car your driving.

  41. At the time these were death machines GM fixed the problem in 65. The Corvairs original design was dangerously flawed however.

  42. for all his faults. Nader got the big three to start to improve the product. if he didn't do what he did. the Japanese would have gotten off to a even faster start.

  43. A well engineered product dose not force a user to 'know how to use it' or change the way they use it in order to remain safe. A product should recognise a users shortcomings and engineer safety onto the product.

  44. Well done video, look at those rear tires fold in like that! The whole swing axle/real engine and transaxle layout was really based on the German design rear engine air cooled cars. The Corvair really just has more power and overall bigger heavier car so as not able to get away with the lesser/cheaper suspension that VW/Porsche used at the time.

  45. If it is as safe as proponents say it is, then why has the design never been used by GMC. The rear mounted air cooled horizontal rear mount engine never appeared from that day forward. I feel the horizontal engine, and the gyronamatics invovled effect the performance of the car on high speed curving maneuvers . Lets face it, is there any car todayn that has that exact configuration?

  46. "Don't worry. We are with the government, we are here to help." Translation: Let us tell you what is good for and make lots of money doing it.

  47. As someone that owned some VW Beetle rear engine cars they do drive very different then front engine front wheel drive or even front engine rear wheel drive, but are far from dangerous.

  48. The problem with the Swing arm suspension is when you are doing a turn like this and have to brake, it causes the rear suspension to "jack up' and the camber to get even worse and with more force on the outside wheel the car will roll over, you have not demonstrated this, which is obviously difficult, an Impala of the same era has a rigid axle and does not exhibit this trait. People died because of this fault in the Corvair. Stop the vid at 09:18 and imagine what would happen if you hit the brakes at that point.

  49. modern volkswagens with theyr torsion rear axle are ven worst but no one talks about it because they are German and germans "make good cars"

  50. So the car was good if you're a professional driver. And we all know the ones who buy cheap mass produced cars are professional drivers.

  51. I can tell you what my Father said half his life. He owned a 1966 Corvair Monza and claimed it handled better in the snow than any other car he owned. Even on dry roads he claimed it handled extremely well. He hated Ralph Nader because he was convinced Nader lied to sell a book and because somebody hit him and totaled his Monza at an intersection. He tried to buy a used one, as a replacement, but nobody wanted to let theirs go.

  52. Great review. As stated the same design as a Porsche 356, and yes you had to learn to drive it. I think he said it best when he described the Corvair response to enter a very difficult to achieve turn, just because of the dynamics of mass and inertia, while an Impala would not even enter the turn . because it was no capable given the mass and design.

  53. I had a 1963 2 Door Droptop and it was a great car. Want to talk about something really deadly Ralph Nader? ATC's better known as 3 Wheelers.

  54. This only applied to the '60-64 versions …. the '65-69 were different. This video didn't make that clear. My 2nd car at age 17 was a '66 Corvair Monza 110 convertible.

  55. My buddy had the turbo Corvair with disc brakes. That was a fast machine. ALL Triumph Spitfires had the same kind of tuck under in hard corners because of the similar swing axle early Corvairs had. I had 8 of them in all and used a strap made from seatbelt material to limit downward axle travel. Triumph fixed it on the newer GT-6's (had 6 of them) like the newer Corvair suspension. Ralph Nader sucks ass.

  56. If you're interested in this story, check out what Consumer Reports Magazine did to the Suzuki Samurai! 😡

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