A lot of you reading this know that I’m a devoted Corvair owner. But you may not know how I came to be involved with one of America’s most infamous vehicles. It all goes back to the early 1970’s, when I was just 3 or 4 years old. Our next door neighbor at the time worked for the drug company Eli Lilly and had just taken a transfer to England. My dad was a plumber (not named Joe) and our only vehicle was our old 1968 Chevrolet Bel Air station wagon. Throughout most of the early to mid 1970’s, work was hard to come by and dad worked many construction jobs that were quite a distance from home…..as far away as Cincinnati as I recall. He was working about an hour north of Indy and driving the Bel Air every day was eating him up in fuel costs. The transferring neighbor had to sell a lot of stuff for the move and one of those things was his 1964 Corvair Monza. It was a 4 speed with a basic 110hp engine. Dad didn’t know a thing about Corvairs, even though he’s always been the type that could figure out what he didn’t know….usually by taking it apart! He ended up buying the Corvair for a few hundred bucks and before long it paid for itself in gas savings.
All five of my brothers learned to drive on it…..except me. Before I learned how to drive, brother #5 bought it from my dad for his first car. The result was I got stuck learning how to drive on a ’75 Ford Maverick. The experience driving a Corvair caught on for 3 of the 5, and before you knew it…..we had a lot of Corvairs! Brother #1 had a ’66 Monza, #2 had a ’64 Monza, and #5, as mentioned, bought dad’s ’64 Monza. I bought my first car in February of ’87, and yup, it was a ’68 “500” model, which was the bare bones model. I paid $1500 cash for it from a car lot in Greenfield, Indiana and loved it for the 2+ years I had it.
I had it painted, but after awhile, there were signs of bodywork coming through, so I decided to put it up for sale, since I was in college and had just a part-time job. I sold it in the fall of ’89 to a 16 year old kid for $2000 and I bought my oldest brother’s ’78 Chrysler Cordoba, which to this day was one of the best cars I ever owned.
Ten years passed and I had looooong moved on from Corvairs. Dad has two Model A Fords and I’d go along with him to car shows & cruise-ins. That’s where I got the bug to maybe buy some sort of car of my own to take. After going through a somewhat bad personal experience with someone, the need to get my mind off of it is what pushed me to get serious about getting a car. My brother Jeff & his wife were coming home from his in-laws in Ohio one weekend and happened to take US 40 back home instead of I-70. He spotted a ’65 Corvair Monza at a used car lot and called me that night to tell me about it, knowing that I was in the market for “something”. Just so happens it was a car lot in….Greenfield. Talk about karma! Hadn’t really thought about getting another Corvair, but after listening to his description of it, I decided to take a look at it. It was a little higher than I wanted to spend ($4500), but I figured if I it was worth buying, I’d walk up with $4,000 to see if they’d bite (they did!).
At the time I got it, it was just the tonic I needed. It got my mind of her….errrr……that bad personal experience I had. In the nearly 10 years I’ve had it, it’s been a source of joy, frustration, debt, and ego, especially when someone pulls up next to me at a stoplight and gives me a thumbs-up. One of the first things I did after I bought it was take it to Southeastway Park for a few photos. Some 11 years prior, I had done the same thing with my red ’68 and thought I’d recreate from the same location, and here was the result:
And yes, those are the same trees 11 years later!
My dad’s always been my chief mechanic when it comes to some major repairs on it, especially engine work. I just don’t have the sense for it, but I try to pick up whatever I can from him. Dad hadn’t had a Corvair since 1983 and his helping on mine kind of gave him the bug to get one as well. Some friends of our’s had a ’64 Spyder coupe that had been sitting in an abandoned airplane hangar for 16 years that he was trying to sell. So in the fall of ’99, dad bought it for $800 and towed it home and put it in his shed until he figured out his plan of attack:
Sitting for 16 years was not kind to it. Mice had taken up residence in several parts of the car, including the engine. The stinch of it when tearing out the shag carpet (you read that right!) is something I can still smell to this day. It needed a lot of bodywork, more than he anticipated, and he decided to take every last part off the body and have the body “dipped” in a tank of acid for about a week. This process removes all the paint, body filler, everything except the metal. He had built his own car rotisserie to work on it, and when getting it back from being dipped, this was the result:
He started collecting parts and storing them in his basement for when he’d need them. He was sidetracked in 2002 when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, but after his surgery (still cancer free 6 years later!) he resumed working on it. $20,000 later, he finally got it completed in the Spring of 2005.
Well, with all these Corvairs back in the family (Dad has since bought another ’64 Monza as a “beater”), my oldest brother was at a car show in ’04 and ran into Tom Miller, who is in our Corvair club. Tom preached the gospel to him good that day and Mike soon got bit again by the Corvair bug as well. The next day he sent me an e-mail at work and was asking about my Corvair. I knew something was up & he told me he might be looking for one. He found a black ’66 convertible on ebay and so we (Mike, dad, me, and my nephew Preston) made a trip to southern Tennessee to check it out. Mike had me drive it so I could compare the drivability to mine. We ended up going home without a deal, but that week Mike & the owner reached an agreement and Mike got a fine car for a lot less than market value.
All told, we’ve had some 10 Corvairs in our family over the years. They’re just a fun little car to have and for a classic car, they’re fairly affordable. Plus, when you’re at a car show, it’s nice having something that no one else at the show will have, unlike your typical Mustangs, Chevelles, Novas, Camaros, etc. I always get a kick out of the little kids who walk up to it and see the engine in the rear and watch as their eyes light up in amazement. Plus, it’s good having something someone else in the family can help you work on too. 😉