In the late 1950s, Detroit was designing a new breed of auto to challenge the European and English imports that were gaining popularity. These new models were smaller, lighter efforts with six-cylinder engines and sportier pretenses than the typical domestic behemouths. Ford dreamed up the Falcon sedan, Chrysler delivered the Lancer and Valiant, while Chevrolet went rogue with the aircooled Corvair.
Borrowing heavily from Germany’s VW (and Porsche) ideas, The General launched a tidy 3-box design with a rear-mounted, aluminum aircooled flat six where the trunk normally was. However technically advanced the Corvair may have been, sales were poor until some smart guy planned an up-market ‘sports’ model called the Monza, borrowing cachet from the famous Grand Prix track in Milan, no less. This sporty package quickly excited many buyers and became very popular. The Monza featured fancy extras like bucket seats, floor-shifted manual transmissions and even turbocharging!! Take that, Ford and Chrysler!
While its Detroit peers had difficulty shaking off their downmarket plebian images, Corvair Monzas sold like hotcakes in two-door coupe and convertible models, besides the obligatory sedan. For folks attracted to the import image, the Corvair was vastly more comfortable and practical than an MG or Triumph, fancier than a VW and far less expensive than a Porsche 356. Monzas began to show up at SCCA sports car rallies and even autocrosses, and Chevy had a winner on their hands. By the mid-‘60s the cars had been steadily redesigned and considerably improved, but a malcontent named Ralph Nader crusaded against the Corvair and single-handedly killed off one of the most innovative cars Detroit ever built (albeit with borrowed technology).
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