1968 Molzon Corvair. Photos courtesy Bonhams Auctions.
In 1963, GM designer William “Bill” Molzon set out to build a car of his own, with some rather ambitious goals: It would accelerate faster than a Corvette, be as frugal as a Corvair, and out-handle a Lotus. The resulting one-off vehicle, the 1968 Molzon Corvair, not only met these goals but did so on a build budget of $2,000. Next month, Molzon’s remarkable creation crosses the auction block in Arizona, part of Bonhams’s 2018 Scottsdale sale.
By the time Molzon began working on his creation, he’d amassed some impressive accolades. While attending the General Motors Institute, where he studied mechanical engineering, Molzon won a second-place national scholarship in the 1959 Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild competition. The $4,000 prize money allowed him the opportunity to attend the Art Center College of Design in California, and in 1963, he graduated with a degree in industrial design.
Molzon joined GM as a designer the same year, where he’d eventually work on exterior styling for Chevrolet models such as the 1968 Nova, the 1970 Camaro, and the 1971 Vega. It was during his time at GM that the young designer began work on his Molzon Corvair, a project that would ultimately stretch across six years.
Molzon began by creating separate models for the car’s tubular space-frame chassis, its suspension, its interior, and even its body. Originally, his goal was to create a two-seat roadster with a knife-edge body, but as Molzon explained to us, such a shape would quickly go out of style. Instead, he describes the final coupe body design as “timeless,” and we’re inclined to agree.
The chassis, constructed mostly from one-inch steel tubing, was assembled with the help of Molzon’s father-in-law, who owned a fabrication shop in Ohio. Ahead of visits to his wife’s family, Molzon would cut enough steel tubing, measured per his drawings, to further the frame’s progress. Once the frame was completed, it was lashed to the top of his daily-driver Corvair and transported back to Michigan.
The fiberglass coupe body was built around the windshield, cut down from a donor GM B-body by a local shop and affixed to a wooden buck developed from the full-size drawings of the car. Next, Molzon cut and glued Styrofoam blocks – each trimmed per the drawings – to the model before sanding them smooth. Once this 3D buck was built, Molzon applied a coat of drywall mud, sanding this and sealing it to allow creation of a “female” mold. By early 1968, the body sections were molded and installed on the space frame, which now included a floor pan as a stressed member, a partial monocoque front pan, and aluminum inner panels to add rigidity.
By that summer, Molzon’s Corvair coupe was ready for its drivetrain. The highly modified Chevrolet flat-six engine came from noted Corvair racer Don Eichstaedt, built to his specifications for maximum performance and reportedly good for around 200 horsepower in naturally aspirated form. Since the engine would be spun 180-degrees, the Corvair’s transmission would deliver four reverse gears and one forward speed, so Molzon began a search for a suitable transaxle. He found it in the five-speed chosen for Porsche’s new 901, a model that would soon change its name to the Porsche 911.
Given that the entire package weighed just 1,220 pounds wet, Molzon’s performance goal of besting a Corvette’s acceleration was met; a period article on the car in Road & Track, written by Molzon’s friend and former Art Center instructor Strother MacMinn, stated, “even the usually cool Molzon confesses to being a little unnerved by the alacrity of its acceleration.”
His target for handling comparable to a Lotus was achieved, as well. Molzon’s coupe used four-wheel independent suspension, with the wheels and tires pushed to the very edge of the car’s 62-inch wide body. From front to back, the car measured just 136-inches, with a 90-inch wheelbase, and an overall height of 38.5 inches.
The car was finished by September 1969, and registered as an “assembled vehicle” in Michigan in 1970. As Molzon explained, the process was simple, requiring no more than a visit from local law enforcement to certify that the vehicle was road worthy and compliant with applicable vehicles laws. He kept the registration current until 1974 or so, and when he relocated to California to work for Rohr Industries, the car followed him west.
“The car was better suited to driving on a track than on the road,” he tells us, calling it “unnerving” to pilot in traffic due to its small size and low height. The mileage accumulated – roughly 950 miles under his care – was mostly racked up on country roads, though he did autocross the car once during his time in Southern California. “I didn’t have any autocross experience then,” he said, “but the car still finished in the middle of the Corvettes running that day.”
The “semi-monocoque” front of the car adds to chassis stiffness.
Molzon’s Corvair was garaged for over four decades, but in early 2017 he concluded that, at age 78, he wasn’t going to do anything more with the car. His intention was to donate it to a museum, and the car was sold to a buyer for a token amount with that understanding. Instead, the car’s new owner sold it soon after the transaction.
To stiffen the doors, thermoplastic panels were molded into the fiberglass during the forming of the body parts.
Molzon understands that he no longer has ownership of the car, but as its creator he’d still like to see it preserved in a museum, perhaps the best role for a car designed and built by hand some 50 years ago.
Placing a value on a lot such as this is difficult, and the concept will be offered in a no-reserve sale. It is equal parts sports car and sculpture, built by a designer with ties to GM and the Fisher Body Craftsman’s Guild, and is guaranteed to be the only such example at any show entered.
The Bonhams Scottsdale Auction takes place on January 18, 2018, at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona. For additional details, visit Bonhams.com.