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Birth of the Chevrolet Corvair Name

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The birth of the rear engine Corvair, which was air-cooled, like a Porsche engine, began ironically as a regular I-6 car in Chevrolet's 1954 prototype lineup. Looking for a new and innovative design, designers used the new Corvette model as the basis for the new Corvair. Some called the car the "Corvette Corvair". The 1954 Corvair and the 1960 Corvair have nothing in common but for the name. Depending of the story, the name "Corvair" was originally the name for the original Corvette in 1953, but later discarded for "Corvette" and used in production. Corvettes were fast WW2 attack boats. In another version, Ed Cole, who was the 1960+ Corvair designer, originally called it "Corsair", after the WW2 fighter aircraft. However, key personnel mistook the S for a V and Corvair was used instead. If true, Ed apparently did not have an issue with the mistake!

The 1954 Corvair car was a 2-door fastback (something not revisited until the Ford Mustang in the mid-60s), 2-passenger coupe.

This Corvair used the Corvette front end, had ribbed air intakes on the hood that for fresh air to the interior and fender vents to allow heat to escape the engine compartment. It had a wrap-around windshield and the fastback roof swept into a chrome-trimmed licensed plate housing. The rooftop seems to have simply been inserted upon a Corvette body as there was no storage behind the rear seats. The chassis and power train of the Corvair was Corvette 100%. Its windshield had a 53-degree slant. The interior of the car was really a 54 Corvette.

This brings up the question, why? Why have a new car being showed at the major car shows in 1954 that was really a Corvette fastback instead of a convertible? The Corvette sales were sluggish, and to try to bring another car that was a near twin seems like a waste.

The asking price for a 1954 Corvette was $2,774.00 without options, more than a Cadillac which featured a V6 engine and a top that did not leak. On the sports car side, there was the Jaguar which also cost less than the Corvette AND featured a sophisticated, more powerful engine along with a four speed transmission. This tranny was standard for most sports cars. Had the Corvair gone into production, the cost would probably be the same. It would most likely have a two speed automatic with a 150 hp engine as did the 54 Corvette. In 1960, when the rear engine Corvair came out, it had a 95-110 hp engine.Both cars had only a six cylinder engine.

In 1954, only 3600 Corvettes were made, GM had hoped for 10,000. Of the 3600, only 1200 were sold at the asking price, the remaining were sold by dealers at less than the price. Thus, it was a good thing Chevy decided not to begin Corvair production because there really was nothing unique about it and most likely would have failed.

The Corvair specifications are:

  • Wheelbase: 102"
  • Car length: 167"
  • Height: 33"
  • Road Clearance: 6"
  • Width: 70"
  • Weight: 2500 lbs.


Bottom: Corvair, Middle: Nomad, Top: Corvette

Bottom: Corvair, Middle: Nomad, Top: Corvette

Corvair front in 1954

Corvair front in 1954

Corvair is on the left, a Corvette on the right

Corvair is on the left, a Corvette on the right

The Fastback

The Fastback

The Chassis

The Chassis

The Engine

The Engine

The Interior

The Interior

The last of the 54 corvair

The last of the 54 corvair


Brett Henderson on September 20, 2011:

Let's finally set the record straight. Until now, I have not spoken on the net about what really happened.

The actual truth is that Bob Mangold and I made the molds for the car. The owner of the finished car was given a mold as well. Nothing was stolen from anyone. Molds were made for Bob Mangold, Brett Henderson and the owner of the finished car.

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I am currently building two fastbacks from the molds. I do not need prints. They do not exist anyway. The roofline has been modified and is the correct height and dimensions. No problem at all.

Brett Henderson cut ties with the other party after dicovering unethical issues and did not want to be associated with the individual. This was more than two months AFTER the molds were made. Anything that was inn my shop was loaded onto ta flatbed and dumped in the other party's driveway. Yes it was that ugly but it had to be done.

This enraged the other party and he vowed to ruin Henderson buy slandering him. He states that I build fake 53 Corvettes. My work and reputation is solid in the Corvette community and has been for over 30yrs. I have been an NCRS member for nearly 20 yrs, NCM member and SACC member.

I'm sure more will be said by the other party but I cannot conrol those statements. All I can do is live on my merit in the Corvette community.



Mico on June 03, 2011:

French make the best engines it is a good idea to develop their style in a Chevy engine.

roy on May 10, 2011:

this is not the one from G.M. either! the show cars have a different profile on the top of the rear window, they are taller at the back! and this car is not being restored, if it is real, it was never finished. the backlight(rear-window) has never been cut out! how can you "restore" something that was never done? it looks more like a molded on custom top to me. sorry just my observations.

Roger on November 30, 2010:

If you contact me I will send some updated photo's of where the cars are in present form and how we are doing on them. Back to the Future is selling retro rods of the car which the molds they are using are incorrect, but they are somewhat close and will give a pretty good look. Neither Brett or Bob were able to get the prints from me, so there dimensioning of the car is off. As far as Henderson, yes things got ugly when he decided to steal from me, but it was his loss not mine. In the car hobby there are lots of losers and Brett and Bob are just two of them.

blanchae on November 14, 2010:

I've talke to both parties involved in the dispute: Brett and Roger. Too bad it got ugly. There's a 3rd company creating finished cars out of Washington: Back to the Future Products:

perrya (author) on August 27, 2010:

I seem to recall someone selling such a replica on Ebay in the past.

Rusty on August 27, 2010:

The car picture you have is a significant one, Two enthusiast have actually even stolen part of this car two make molds so they can sell a hot rod version. Brett Henderson was able to make a average mold copy of this car and has been in a fight with the actual owner for the past 2 years. The owner basically said to hell with Henderson because he only wanted to degrade the owner and build up a business when Brett lost his job for threatening his fellow co-workers and the owner of this car. If you contact the owner of this car I believe he has made a lot of ground on finishing it, but won't share anything because of losers in the hobby like Brett.

Corvair Heaven on June 20, 2010:

The bottom car is NOT one of the real Motorama cars. it is a copy, not worth a ton of money. This same car was listed on the Corvair Forum site. You are being mis-lead.

Michael on December 04, 2009:

Is the bottom car (Roger) done yet? How did you find it? Really cool!

Michael on November 05, 2009:

Wow!! That is SOOO cool!!! How did you come across it? Do you ever display it?

perrya (author) on September 23, 2009:

Very cool and you have a car worth a ton of money! I wonder where the others are?

Roger on September 23, 2009:

Nice post, but there is more information, actually they made three cars maybe four, each were different in ways, some significant changes others not. The reason I know this is I own the bottom car you showed a picture of and have done 3 1/2 years of research on this car alone. The cars are being build back up and the car pictured at the bottom is in the process of being restored.

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