On the surface, the story is well-known: An attorney by the name of Ralph Nader takes aim at General Motors and in particular, the 1960-64 Chevrolet Corvair, in the name of consumer protectionism. Never mind that Nader possessed no automotive engineering degree or even a driver’s license. Nevermind that the Corvair was not the first car with a rear-engine, rear swing-arm suspension layout. Nevermind that the NHTSA themselves tested not only the first-generation Corvair but the second generation as well, along with a Ford Falcon, a Renault Dauphine, a Volkswagen Beetle and a Plymouth Valiant and came away believing that the Corvair was on-par with other cars in it’s class handling wise. And never mind that a 1972 report that Texas A&M University concluded that the Corvair was no worse of a handler than it’s contemporaries. The damage was done, the little man from Connecticut had supposedly struck a blow against the manufacturing giant, and the automotive world wound up with the Chevrolet Vega. Who won? You decide there.
History tends to side with Nader’s view that GM callously put out a vehicle that was ill-handling and in no way should have been allowed on the streets of the country. But General Motors, even as big as they are now or were then, don’t go out of their way to send something that’ll kill drivers to market without thought. The Corvair was meant to take aim at the Volkswagen and the design was echoes of the Beetle: rear-engined, air-cooled, compact and useful for everyday situations. Would people be hurt or killed in a Corvair? Name one car that hasn’t seen a death in it that is not an exclusive racing car…motoring is inherently risky. But was the Corvair any worse than anything being cranked out of Detroit in the early 1960s?
Hemmings recently published a transcript of the 1979 speech that Frank Winchell, then Vice President of General Motors Corporations and Director of Engineering Staff, gave to the Corvair Society of America’s annual convention as part of their attention to an upcoming event called Corvair Vindication Day, which is a move by Winchell’s grandson Nick Gigante to bring Corvairs to Nader’s tort museum in an effort to exonerate the model’s reputation once and for all. If you’re stuck inside with nothing to do (and we know you are), then give this one a read.