So much controversy surrounds the story of GM’s innovative rear-engined compact, the Chevrolet Corvair, that you can’t even bring up the name without hearing a lot of shouting over Ralph Nader and his book that nobody has actually read (I’ve read it, and most of it has nothing to do with the Corvair). No, Ralph didn’t singlehandedly kill the Corvair — his book came out in late 1965, when Corvair sales were already getting pummeled by sales of the “traditional” front-engined/water-cooled Chevy Nova. Before all that, though, the Corvair sold pretty well, and Chevrolet shoppers could even buy Corvair vans, pickups, and station wagons for a few years in the early 1960s. Here’s a very rare Corvair wagon, spotted a couple of months back in a Phoenix self-service yard.
The Corvair wagon debuted in the 1961 model year, when it received the Lakewood name. That name lasted for just a single year, though “Lakewood” remains the name Corvair aficionados apply to all years of the wagon. Today’s Junkyard Gem is a mid-level Corvair 700, which came between the 500 and the Monza wagons (the 500 got dropped during 1962, making the 700 the base model). By 1963, The General gave up on the Corvair wagon, so we’re looking at a two-model-year-only car (the Greenbrier van became the “wagon” after that point, with production continuing through 1965).
This one spent too many years sitting outdoors in Arizona to be worth restoring. Sure, it’s not rusty, but the fried interior would cost way more to restore than the value of a nice Corvair wagon today. These days, only Corvair coupes and convertibles get rescued, though even most of those end up getting crushed when their time comes.
I found newspapers from 1996 inside the car, so it’s a good guess that nearly a quarter-century has passed since it last moved under its own power.
I still see quite a few discarded Corvairs during my junkyard travels, more than 50 years after the last one rolled off the assembly line. This is the first Corvair wagon I’ve seen in a big self-service yard for at least a decade, though I know of a privately-owned operation down near Colorado Springs that has dozens of them.
The air-cooled flat-six engine lived in back, beneath the cargo area. Later on, Volkswagen used this layout for the Type 3 Fastbacks and Squarebacks, sales of which began in 1965 in the United States. Unlike the air-cooled VW wagons, though, the Corvair wagons weren’t notorious for overheating.
Sadly, the CONELRAD-equipped factory AM radio got replaced by a more modern cassette deck at some point. Real Corvairs have the stations for Radio Armageddon marked on the radio dial.
The Great Sand Dunes of Colorado are no place for a car … but no problem for a Chevy Corvair!