My Wheels – Chapter 19
1970 Chevrolet Nova

nova70Again I must confess to a purloined photo gracing yet another My Wheels post. My car did not have the highly visible dual exhausts or fancy wheels of the pictured vehicle nor did it have the unseen 350 V8 and 4-speed floor shift. Mine was a 307 V8 with a 3-speed automatic. However, my car was, just like the one at right, a Cortez Silver 2-door with — and this is important — black vinyl top. It is the only vinyl topped car I’ve ever owned and one of very few I can even imagine owning without some level of embarrassment. While I doubt everyone agrees that the vinyl covering looks pretty good on this car it’s apparent that I’m not alone in thinking so. There are many full restorations of third generation Nova coupes that include a restored vinyl top. And that includes some high-end 396 Super Sports.

There was nothing extraordinary in my acquisition of the car. I bought it from a Chevy dealer’s used car lot for a reasonable but not remarkable price. I don’t recall any of the numbers though I do recall some evidence surfacing while I owned the car that the miles showing on the odometer were considerably less than those actually traveled. Selling used cars has always been something of a craft and its practitioners somewhat crafty.

Viewed in isolation, there was nothing extraordinary about the Nova’s departure, either. However, when seen as part of the My Wheels story, it stands out as the first car I ever sold in drive-able condition to a stranger. Only three cars had previously left my possession while drive-able. The 1952 Ford was sold to a friend, my half of the 1959 Chevy went to my sister who already owned the other half, and the 1969 Opel stayed with my wife who already… well, you know.

The car came and went in roughly the same condition but deviated from that condition a couple of times along the way. One was when I slid off of a wet road on the way home from work and parked it solidly against a tree. That required a bit of popping and painting in a body shop.

Then there was the Joni Mitchell incident. A friend and I were headed to her concert in Oxford, Ohio. While stopped in a line of traffic leading to a parking lot we noticed a cloud of smoke from — we thought — the car ahead of us. When that car moved on and I attempted to follow, there was more smoke but no motion. In time we realized that the lack of motion, the racing engine, and the billowing cloud were all connected. We later learned that a hole had opened between the radiator and a transmission cooler mounted below it. The two different liquids attempted to change places and a goodly amount of each quickly escaped. The transmission stopped transmitting.

We somehow got a wrecker to tow the car to a nearby garage. There was nothing to be gained by hanging out at the garage and the friendly tow truck driver agreed to deliver us to the entrance of the concert hall. While we enjoyed the show, we managed to line up a ride home. After a few days and several telephone calls, I hitchhiked back to Oxford to get the car. While dramatic, things were not as bad as I feared. A little water may have entered the transmission but most of the errant flow went the other way. The transmission was undamaged and a flush and fill brought it back to life. A junkyard radiator replaced the one that caused the problem. The blow to my budget was painful but it could have been so much worse. If only that big tow truck had been yellow.

My Wheels – Chapter 18
1971 Vega

vega1No. That’s not my Vega and that’s not me. It’s John DeLorean in the August 1970 issue of Motor Trend where he was singing the praises of Chevrolet’s new small car. The editors were singing right along with him and even adding some verses of their own. A month later, Car and Driver and Road & Track joined the choir. In February, Motor Trend named the Vega 2300 their 1971 “Car of the Year”. All this for a car that today has a reputation just slightly better than Yugo.

vaga2I could’t find any pictures of the dark green 1971 Kammback that I bought in the summer of 1974 so I took to the internet. I didn’t have much better luck there. This black & white photo of what is identified as a 1972 model is the best I could do. The shortage of photos surprised me but so too did the abundance of early praise. I can’t explain the absence of decent Kammback photos so maybe my surprise at that is justified. My surprise at the praise isn’t. In fact, what those magazines said about the car — great handling, sporty looks, comfortable ride — is exactly what I thought of it forty years ago. I was surprised only because I had forgotten.

Of course, I had ample reason to forget how much I and the world initially liked that car. The Vega was not kind to General Motors or to me. Several problems, including fragile axles, faulty carburetors, and premature rust, plagued the Vega but the biggie was the aluminum engine block. Oh, how well I know. Within six months of my buying the car, overheating became an issue. The problem was diagnosed as a cracked head and I replaced it. That helped for awhile but the overheating soon returned. I drove the car to New York where a friend was working and he rode back with me. Well, almost back. With a few miles yet to go, the cooling system erupted and brought things to a halt.

By then, the Vega engine story was starting to be pieced together. I don’t have a clear understanding of the situation but know that the aluminum block and iron cylinder head had their differences which led to leakage from the block’s water jacket. In my case, replacing the head gasket had probably cured things temporarily but the real problem was the block. The commonly accepted solution was to put steel sleeves in the aluminum cylinders. I bought a properly sleeved short block from Jasper and, using block & tackle and a friend’s shed, dropped it into the car.

I now had the ultimate Vega but it would not last. This time it was me and not the car that malfunctioned. As noted in the Opel and red Corvair reports, this was the time of my first divorce. As the recently divorced often do, I showed a pronounced lack of restraint at a Christmas party and headed to a friend’s house less sober than I should have. I lost control on a curve and tried unsuccessfully to climb a light pole. Police were soon on the scene. They did not question my sobriety a bit so alcohol may not have been a major factor even though I’ve little doubt that it contributed along with the late/early hour.  The Vega with its new steel-sleeved block and only slightly less new head was totaled.

My Wheels – Chapter 17
1965 Corvair

65corvair1We had apparently become accustomed to being a two car family at this point so, when the blue Nova became a non-runner, I went shopping for another beater. I bought a 1965 Corvair in Kentucky. It didn’t look as ragged as the one at right (which might actually be a ’66) but it probably was. It was a full-on stripper with 3 on-the-floor, bare rubber floor mats, and no perceivable options other than an AM radio and even that might have been standard.

65corvair265corvair3It had begun life as a poor white Chevy and that was still the color of the top. The bottom had been painted fire engine red. It was a decent repaint and still pretty shiny. It was sort of a blend of these two cars minus the fancy wheel covers and all that chrome. It really didn’t look too bad from the proper distance. Up close, something of a reverse freckled look became noticeable. A few chips had appeared in the red part so that bits of the white part showed through. It was a mild case of reverse measles that gave the car “personality”. Yeah. That’s what it was. Personality.

The fun began before I even had it registered. In order to transfer the title of an out of state car, it has to be physically inspected. The inspection has nothing to do with the condition of the car. Someone with the proper authority has to verify that the title matches the car. At that time, and maybe still, most car dealers had one or more properly authorized people on staff. The seller allowed me to take the car with his plate on it (I may have eventually mailed or taken it back) and I drove the car to a dealer. A properly authorized person looked it over and denied the transfer. The car’s VIN, which was inside the engine compartment, did not match the VIN on the paper Kentucky title. It was easy to see why but knowing didn’t help.

The proper VIN had a ’13’ in it. At some point in the past, probably because of grease and crud on the number, it had been written down as a ‘B’. It was definitely a “we’ll laugh about this later” situation. We both knew that the car and the paper belonged together and that the paper was wrong but the inspector was not authorized to fix it. All he could do was say yea or nay and he wasn’t about to say yea.

I tried another dealer without success and came within one county of returning the car. The error, I eventually learned, had occurred two transfers back. As long as the car stayed in Kentucky, no physical inspection was required and the error was simply propagated forward. I bought the car from a guy in Campbell County who had bought it from a guy in Kenton County. Or maybe it was the other way around. In any case both counties were close and once I got the right one, it was fairly easy to get a corrected title issued.

We were once again a two car family but not for long. The two cars, the ’69 Opel and ’65 Corvair, held up just fine. It was the family that fell apart. When my wife and I divorced, we sold the house and split the trivial amount of money that resulted. About the only things I wanted from the house were my clothes and some LPs (“No way you’re getting that copy of Hard Day’s Night I bought in high school!”). There wasn’t much property to divide and the division went pretty smoothly. She got the Opel and I got the Corvair. I also got the canoe. Because these three things are titled in Ohio, they had to be listed in the divorce decree and titles transferred. The first line of the decree was something like “Dennis L Gibson will have as his sole possessions the canoe and the Corvair.” I believe the intent was to establish that I was the sole owner of these two opulent vehicles but it read as if they were the only things I owned which was, Beatles albums aside, pretty much the truth.

The end of my time with the Corvair was at least somewhat interesting. It naturally continued its decline but served me reasonably well for many more months. When the starter went out I decided it was time to move on. But not immediately. My credit rating at that point was the opposite of good and it took a couple weeks to arrange a purchase. During those weeks, the Corvair did its job. I was living in a trailer park with enough of a slope to the driveway to get it started in the morning. The far side of the parking lot where I worked had an even better slope for getting it going at the end of the day. When I needed to stop somewhere else, such as at the grocery, I just left it running. No one was going to risk an auto theft charge for that measly car.

My Wheels – Chapter 16
1962 Chevy II

chevyii1962This car came and went while the Opel served as primary transport. I believe it was a 1962 model but it might have been a ’63. It was powered by a straight 6 mated to a two-speed Powerglide. It is the only car I’ve ever owned that I made money on.

This was my work car for several months. I got it from my mother-in-law who bought a new Chevelle (which will appear in a future installment) about the time the Barracuda expired. It spent its entire life outside and, in all the time I knew it, never looked half as shiny as the car in the photo. Somewhat surprisingly, there was no major rust although there were some small spots and there were dings everywhere. As I recall, transmission failure was what ended its mobility but the wheezing engine probably wouldn’t have lasted much longer anyway. It had not been pampered.

One day on Madison Road (Which wasn’t on the way to work so I must have been out joyriding.) a fellow pulled out in front of me. I couldn’t quite stop and hit him, at fairly low speed, with the right front. The fellow admitted his error and I believe he was cited. I got an estimate or two on the damage and that got me a $150 check. Investing in this car in any way did not seem wise and investing in bodywork doubly so. A little work with a crowbar got the headlight aligned properly (for day time driving) which gave me a 50% return on my $100 purchase price. Plus I think I got another ten bucks at the junk yard.

My Wheels – Chapter 15
1969 Opel Kadett

opel1969When it came time to replace the Dodge, we opted not for another American sedan but for a small import. However, since this was to be the family car, we made it a small import wagon, a 1969 Opel Kadett B Caravan. The family had, in fact, grown and there were now two young boys to fill the back seat. I don’t recall the purchase price but do remember that we bought the car from a couple professing to be witch and warlock and that the sickly Suzuki motorcycle was part of the deal.

The engine was an inline four which online sources indicate would have displaced something between 1.0 and 1.9 liters. Since I believe the car had something like 60 horsepower, the most likely power plant seems to be the 1492 CC unit rated at 64 HP. The transmission was a four-speed manual. What set this car apart from other Kadetts was the after market air conditioner hanging under the dash.

As you’ve probably guessed, sixty-four (or possibly less) horsepower wasn’t really enough to run the AC compressor and move the car too. The AC was pretty much useless in city traffic, where it would have been appreciated, and even on the highway it demanded a certain amount of awareness. It was fitted with a thermostat controlled clutch so that the compressor was only driven as needed. If it happened to be “needed” when climbing a hill or passing another car (Oh yes I did.) the climbing or passing was severely attenuated. One soon learned to switch off the AC when starting a pass and keep a hand near the controls in any situation that taxed the engine. Even at a steady pace on level ground, the compressor kicking in was an event that couldn’t be ignored. We joked that we should probably be wearing helmets when running the AC because the abrupt jerk might slam our heads into the windshield.

Unlike most of the vehicles that preceded it, the Opel was undamaged and running when we parted. This time it wasn’t a wreck or blown engine that ended our time together. The motor didn’t fail. The marriage did. The Opel went with the wife.

My Wheels – Chapter 14
1965 Barracuda

barracuda1965A white Plymouth Barracuda became mine after the Suzuki disappeared from the roadside and I think it was still running when the purloined motorcycle returned. I bought it from a co-worker for $300 or maybe $350. Though barely a half-dozen years old, the slant-6 3-speed had accumulated more than its share of miles and developed an appetite for oil in the process.

Of course, the Barracuda was my main ride while the wife drove the “good” car. I often took the bus to my downtown job and even when I did drive it to work, the car’s oil burning tendencies were kept in check by the fairly low speed route. Then a job change inserted about twenty miles of expressway into my workday drive. Some carpooling helped and I drove the wife’s car when I could. Sedate right-lane travel, frequent looks at the dipstick, and an ever present case of cheap oil in the trunk held off the inevitable.

I was still in a band and that was the job where the Barracuda’s oil consumption became something of an issue. Actually, it was just one particular gig. This gig was in Napoleon, Ohio, near the top of the state. We played there multiple times and each was a three night, Friday through Sunday, deal. I was working about 150 miles away in South Lebanon, Ohio. With looser schedules,  the rest of the group drove up on Friday afternoon. I headed north as soon as I could slip away. This freed me from lugging in and setting up equipment but meant I had some real time constraints and basically walked through the door and started playing after a non-stop drive. Or maybe a one — or more — stop drive. At 50 MPH or less, the Barracuda could squeeze a few hundred miles out of a quart of oil. At 65 MPH, the rate was closer to 100 MPQ and at 75 or 80 it was noticeably worse. More than once I found myself trying to mentally calculate whether I would get there sooner by rocketing onward and making a high-speed dump-in-a-quart pit stop or slowing down and saving the oil. I don’t recall ever getting that worked out satisfactorily.

It’s probably not surprising that other ‘Cuda stories are also band stories. One involves having my drums loaded in the car. It was actually pretty good for that. With the rear seat folded down, there was a goodly amount of space under what was the largest piece of glass ever used in a production car at the time. Details escape me but we had stopped somewhere to see another band play. The others wanted to stay longer than I did so, after hearing a few songs, I went out to the car to sleep. Maybe I had to work in the morning or maybe I was just tired. By moving some things to the front seat, I dug out enough room to snake around what remained and fall asleep. I awoke when the light of a thousand suns hit my face. My head was toward the rear with that big rear glass just inches away. I eventually figured out that there was just one light, not a thousand, and that it was white and probably not the sun. I couldn’t look directly at it, of course, or see around it and I felt completely helpless and pretty darned scared. The car was locked but if someone wanted to smash a window and drag me out by my feet I certainly couldn’t have stopped them. At last the light pulled back and I could see that it was held by someone in a uniform. There was another person beside him and in time I could make out badges and realized that it was a pair of police officers. They chatted with each other and, although I couldn’t make out what they said, they apparently decided I was harmless and moved on. I went back to sleep. With long distance hindsight, I’m thinking that those cops may have glimpsed a horizontal body in the car and hit the light for some parking lot picture window porn. Sorry to disappoint. Wish I could have obliged. Really.

The back end of that car really could hold a lot. A Hammond organ, for example. It wasn’t a line topping B3 and it wasn’t completely pure but a real Hammond did get transported inside the compact Plymouth. It was an M3; Noticeably smaller than a legendary ‘B’ but still a potent music maker with two keyboards. In the interest of portability, the organ’s “guts” had been removed from its finely finished tall wooden cabinet and placed inside a sturdy but far from finely finished black plywood box. The desired playing height was achieved by screwing legs made of pipe into brackets on the bottom of the box. A similar box held the volume pedal and the bass pedals were simply left at home. I have absolutely no memory of why it became necessary to carry the organ in the Barracuda but things like that seem to happen fairly common in the music world. The big black box went in and out the passenger door and I recall that someone had to force that seat forward and down while the organ was squeezed over it. Apparently once was enough. We henceforth put enough effort into planning to avoid a “Hammond Under Glass” repeat. Sure wish I had a picture.

My Wheels – Chapter 13
1966 Suzuki

suzuki1966Dates from this period are a little fuzzy but I think it was not long after the Falcon Futura breathed its last that I acquired the Suzuki X-6 Hustler. A friend had bought it new then gave me a good deal on it when he went to New York to work his way to Europe as he had done once before. The working passage never quite came together and he returned after a few months and I offered to return the bike. He declined and I’m pretty sure part of the reason was pure kindness as he knew how much I was enjoying it.

The X-6 was a rather advanced and interesting motorcycle. The ‘6’ in the name referred to the unusual for the time 6 speed transmission. The engine produced 29 HP from only 247 CCs. It was a 2 cycle but had an oil injection system so that fuel did not have to be pre-mixed as with most 2 cycles. A top speed of 90 MPH was advertised and, while I never quite reached that, I did have mine above 80 MPH.

A friendship that continues today was started partially by this bike. John Nawrocki and I worked at the same company and he had an X-6 Scrambler. The Scrambler was an almost identical motorcycle with up-swept exhaust and a few other modifications for off-road use. It seemed natural for the two of us to ride our Suzukis together despite the fact that John’s bike was bright red and mine a sedate black.

I worked downtown and parked the Suzuki on the sidewalk in front of the building whenever I rode it. After work one day, I stepped outside to see a policeman checking parking meters or something similar. Although I had reason to duck back inside, I quickly decided it was too late and nonchalantly mounted the bike. Either helmets were not required at that time or they were and I had one. Either way, I was not in violation of a helmet law. Before I could start the bike, however, the officer approached and asked, “Where’s your eye protection?”

I don’t think I even knew about eye protection being required but I sure didn’t have any and my unsatisfactory response to that first question led immediately to another. “Let me see your license.”

The license thing was what had made me think about ducking back in the building. A law requiring a motorcycle specific endorsement on drivers license had been passed some time back and I didn’t have one. I was cited but got my endorsement before my court date. That plus a promise to wear sunglasses got me off with just court costs.

I rode the Suzuki quite a bit although the longest trips were probably several sub-100 mile rides to Darke County. One day the drive chain broke and I pushed the bike just a little over a mile to a Honda dealer. I doubt I could push a dead motorcycle much more than a yard today. I bought the needed replacement link but had no money to pay for installation. I did it on the sidewalk beside the shop with tools that a mechanic, careful not to actually hand me anything, laid just outside an open door. Kindness like that is remembered a long time. Then one day the engine just died.

This time it stayed by the side of the road while I hitched a ride home then went with the band I was in to audition an organist. Once that was over, we could pick up the bike. The audition did not go well (He was much better than us.) and we couldn’t muster the energy to unload the equipment so we could fit in the bike until the next day. By then, the bike was gone.

About a year later, at something like 2 AM, the phone rang. It was a policeman calling to tell me the Suzuki had been found. I was pretty sure that, after the bike being gone for a year, I could have waited until daylight for the news but the police were so excited about recovering a stolen motorcycle, which NEVER happens, they just had to call me immediately.

I think I got the bike started — I remember something about the coils — but I don’t think it was ever quite right again. Before long, it was one of the pieces involved in a car purchase.

My Wheels – Chapter 12
1961 Falcon

falconfutura1961The 1961 in the title is something of a guess. I know for sure it was a first generation Falcon Futura. The first generation of Falcons ran from 1960 through 1963 with the bucket-seated Futura introduced in 1961. I believe mine was a ’61 but I guess it’s possible it was a year or two newer. If, however, you judged the car’s age purely on its condition, you would be challenged to believe it was a maximum of ten years old when I bought it in 1971 for $35.

When the Dodge went off to get its transmission fixed, I needed transportation for a couple of weeks. A friend of a friend had a friend with a car for sale that might make it that long. No guarantee, of course. At some point in its life, my car must have looked like the dark blue ’61 in the photo but it wasn’t on my watch. There was no evidence of a major collision but there had obviously been plenty of small ones and rust was a major player in the color scheme. The interior was a trifecta of torn, shabby, and faded. I remember that all or most of the fancy Futura console was present but it was not actually attached to anything and sort of bounced around the drive shaft hump as it saw fit.

The first problem I had was getting the title transferred. The seller was a college student from Louisiana. He had lived in Cincinnati for a few years but, because license, taxes, or something else cost more in Ohio, had never transferred the title. When I went to a title office in Ohio, I was turned away because of some time limit. Then someone suggested that if we got the title notarized out of state, we might get away with claiming it was done while the guy was on the way to Ohio to deliver the car. We found a cooperative notary in Kentucky then got a new title in Ohio without a hiccup.

The Falcon did its job until the Dodge came back then stayed around in a part time role. At that point in my life, I knew lots of people with cars that were not 100% dependable and who might need a loaner now and then. The Falcon was almost perfect for this since it did provide the desired function but did it in such a way that no one was tempted to delay the repair of their own car any more than necessary. The car met its demise while on loan.

One of the car’s many quirks was a temperamental ignition interlock. The transmission was a column shift automatic. Like most cars of the day, the Falcon’s transmission had to be in “park” in order to start the car. More often that not, it had to be extra deep in “park”.  ‘P’ was all the way to the left; reached by pushing the lever up. When I got the car, the cast metal casing was already cracked from all the shoving on the lever to get the starter to engage. The crack grew. The car’s last driver had the lever come off in his hand as he pressed it upward. I retrieved the plates, left the signed title in the glove box, and waved goodbye to the best $35 car I ever owned.

My Wheels – Chapter 11
1967 Dodge

1967_dodge_coronet2The crumpling of the Corvair was just one of several major events occurring within a few months time. Wreaking the Corvair led to purchasing another car and one of the other events led to purchasing a house. That event was my wife’s announcement that she was pregnant. We lived in a small one-bedroom apartment and immediately started looking for something larger. We looked at multi-bedroom apartments and a few rental houses. The owners of one house we looked at were considering renting as a last resort. They had already moved to a fancier place and were paying two mortgages. The financial strain coupled, I believe, with a little sympathy for the growing young family, resulted in them selling us the house on a land contract; a form of owner financing. So, in fairly short order, we became expectant parents, bought a three-bedroom house, and moved across town. Somewhere in there, we also bought a car.

We bought the car at one of those shady looking lots that can be found lined up on certain streets in every city. That’s not our car in the picture. Some of the paint looks really dull on the car in the picture and that wasn’t the case with our car at all. Otherwise, it’s a pretty close match. The lot where we made our purchase wasn’t a “buy here, pay here” place but it was barely one step removed. I’m sure the lot owner and the guy from the finance company were good friends or maybe related. The Dodge Coronet was no more than two years old but had obviously just been retired from some sort of fleet work. I don’t remember the mileage but doubt it was accurate, anyway. Other than the 318 V8 and automatic transmission, the car was completely devoid of options; not even a radio. But the salesman was slick and the dark blue four-door did look the part of a family sedan for our developing family image. I hung an 8-track player under the empty dash and used the new car to bring our new son to our new house.

Here are a couple of stories involving this car.

Our house sat on a hillside with a small almost unusable garage in the back at the level of the walkout basement. The driveway sloped sharply beside the house. The normal parking spot was about even with the front of the house at the top of the slope. One night, at just about the same time as I heard my wife at the door, I heard a loud bang. Half joking, I said something about the car rolling. She was only part way through the door and, looking over her shoulder, assured me that the car was still there. We laughed and forgot about it — until morning. When I headed off to work, there was no car in the driveway. Most likely left in “Drive”. it had rolled down the slope and halfway over a low stone wall at the top of a steeper and longer slope. It took a tow truck with a long cable to winch the car from its perch atop the wall.

During the time we had the Dodge, I was in a band and occasionally towed a trailer full of equipment. That wasn’t at all good for the transmission which I’m sure wasn’t treated particularly kindly in its previous life. It eventually died and was sent off to some shade tree mechanic for a rebuild. It seems likely that what he did was swap in an oldie from a junkyard but the car once again became mobile and I was happy. Before long, however, the transmission started slipping again. This happened while I was visiting my friend John and he was pretty sure the problem was merely a clogged filter. After we pulled the pan off of the transmission, we realized we needed some technical information so we took out our smart phones and looked up the specifications for a ’67 Coronet. Actually we did the 1970 equivalent and drove to the library to copy some information from a Chilton auto repair manual. Before leaving, we placed the transmission pan on some trash cans beside John’s house. I’m sure our jaws really dropped when we got back from the library and realized that the trash man had come and gone in our absence. Our panic was short lived, however, as John’s wife pointed to the pan lying beside the door. The trash man had started to cart off the detached piece of my car then had second thoughts and knocked at the door to see if it might not really be part of the week’s trash. Saved from myself by another unnamed hero.

My Wheels – Chapter 10
1964 Corvair

1964 Corvair adThe replacement for the ten year old Austin Healey was a three year old one owner Corvair. I really can’t remember where the money came from for this major upgrade. Possibilities include a “distribution” from my grandparents like the one that enabled my sister and me to buy that 1959 Chevy or some money from my wife’s family. It is for certain, though, that we didn’t buy it with money saved from the wife’s secretarial earnings or my halftime co-op job.

Our 1964 Monza, with 110 HP engine and 4 speed manual transmission, looked pretty much like the car in the ad at right. Although seat belts were showing up quite a bit in the first half of the 1960s, they were not required in new cars until the 1965 model year so that the double entendre of the ad was perfectly legit even if it was’t exactly responsible safety wise. The car remains one of my all time favorites. It looked great, was fun to drive, and even handled snow better than most cars of the day.

It’s tough to write more than a paragraph or two about the Corvair without mentioning Ralph Nader. There is a common misconception that Nader’s 1965 book, Unsafe at Any Speed, killed the Corvair. The marketplace killed the Corvair. Americans just were not ready to embrace the unconventional rear-engine design. On the other hand, Nader’s criticism of the car’s handling had some basis in fact. The earliest Corvairs had no front stabilizer bar. To compensate for most of the weight being in the rear, Chevrolet specified a huge difference between front and rear tire pressure (15 PSI front, 26 PSI rear). In practice, that unusual specification was probably not adhered to very well. It didn’t even apply to my car since, for the 1964 model, a front stabilizer bar and transverse-mounted rear spring were added. The suspension was completely redesigned for 1965.

1964 CorvairThat’s not our car in the photo but, with the possible exception of that chrome trim around the gas lid, it could be. I believe we had the Corvair for about two years and during that time the incompatibility of our small and spotty paychecks with the need to eat and pay rent became rather clear. This was the car I drove to my first full time job and it was on the way to that job one morning that I tested the car’s crumple zones.

I was the third car on the I-75 entrance ramp when the lead car started to accelerate for the merge. I looked at the traffic on the expressway and decided there was a sufficient gap for all three of us. When I turned my attention back to where it should have been, I discovered that the lead car had decided that there wasn’t even enough room for one of us and stopped. Car #2 hit car #1 just a moment before car #3 (me) hit car #2. I don’t know if either of the other drivers was charged with any thing or who paid for their damage. I wasn’t and didn’t. After looking things over and talking to everyone, the policeman handed me a citation listing my offence as “having an accident”. There was no fine or other penalty and I was responsible only for the damage to my own car. That was enough.

The badly wrinkled car was soon sold. Normally that might be the end of the story but I sold this car to a friend and it wasn’t just any friend, the buyer was Dale, the lifelong buddy who has appeared in other posts including the Whizzer and the 4CV. I contacted Dale and got a bit of a memory refresher. The yellow Corvair made it to Darke County where it was fitted with the front end of a non-running green Corvair (1960 I think) that Dale already owned. The front end was painted to match and Dale drove the car to St Louis where he then lived. A blown head gasket revealed itself on the trip. “…about gassed us out”, Dale remembers. “Bad headache for a couple days.” In St Louis, he got a cylinder from a junkyard only to find that the replacement would not clear a crankshaft counterweight. So Dale, “with hacksaw in hand, made a relief in the cylinder and it worked.” Ah, those were the days.

Dale drove the car for quite awhile including a year or so around northern Indiana’s Fort Wayne. Dale’s green Corvair had a gas heater. There was a little burning odor and people looked at the car warily when they first heard the heater burning off excess gas after the engine was turned off but it sure worked good for keeping you warm. 1963 was the last year for the gas heater, even as an option, so the yellow ’64 had only “direct air” heat. Dale’s last comment on the yellow convertible sums it up pretty well, “Sure was a fun car but a crappy heater.”

My Wheels – Chapter 9 — 1965 Honda 65