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An affordable classic: Chevrolet’s second-generation Corvair

Published in blog.hemmings.com

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa convertible. Photo by Jeff Koch.

Chevrolet’s redesigned-for-1965 Corvair debuted to high praise from the automotive press, with Car and Driver’s David E. Davis, Jr. declaring it “the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II.” American consumers agreed, buying 23-percent more ’65 Corvairs than they did the year before. Trouble, in the form of the Ford Mustang, was brewing, and Corvair sales began a slide in 1966 from which they’d never recover. Today, the second-generation Corvairs, model years 1965-’69, represent a relatively affordable point of entry into the classic car hobby. Is the time right to shop for one?

1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible

1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible. Brochure images courtesy of The Old Car Manual Project.

The 1965 Corvair differed from its predecessor in more than just bodywork. Underneath, a new articulated-link rear suspension replaced the swing-axle setup used on first-generation models, while softer front springs improved ride quality. Four engine choices were available, all based upon the 164-cu.in. air-cooled flat six, with outputs of 95 hp, 110 hp, 140 hp and 180 hp (in the range-topping turbocharged variant, available in 1965-’66 only). Depending upon the engine selected, buyers could opt for three- or four-speed manual transmissions (available with all engines) or the two-speed Powerglide automatic (with all but the turbocharged six).

Chevrolet shuffled the model lineup for 1965 as well. Base models now carried the Corvair 500 name, while midrange models were the Corvair Monza and high-end models the Corvair Corsa (discontinued after 1966). The Corvair 500 was available as a coupe or sedan, but not as a convertible, while the Monza models could be ordered as a coupe, sedan or convertible. Corsa models, with their sporting intentions, came as coupes or convertibles only.

The 1965 Corvair brochure highlighted the differences between the second-generation cars and their predecessors.

Though second-generation Corvairs shared their 108-inch wheelbase with earlier models, they were larger overall, gaining 3.3 inches in length and 2.7 inches in width. The stunning redesign hid this well, with both coupe and sedan models boasting hardtop styling with narrow A-pillars and slim C-pillars. Advertising emphasized the new Corvair’s “international flavor,” “longer, lower” silhouette, and “body-length streamline” as highlights, hinting that Chevrolet was attempting to broaden the model’s appeal. Further proof of this came in the restyled interior, which used higher-quality materials on Monza and Corsa trims.

For 1965, Chevrolet sold a total of 235,528 Corvairs to U.S. buyers (excluding the Greenbriar van, which carried over into 1965 largely unchanged and was discontinued for 1966), making the model a success. At the same time, Ford’s new sporty car, the Mustang, doubled these numbers (and then some), forcing Chevrolet to take a step back and rethink the Corvair. Its air-cooled, rear-engine design was too different for some, and in its most powerful form, the Corvair produced 180 horsepower. By comparison, a 1965 Mustang could be ordered with a 200 hp 289-cu.in. V-8, or for those willing to spend a bit more money, with the K-code 289 V-8, rated at 271 hp.

1966 Chevrolet Corvair Monza sedan

Even Chevrolet’s advertising admitted the Corvair was unusual. Advertisement courtesy Lov2XLR8.no.

In April 1965, an internal GM memo halted further engineering development of the Corvair, driving another nail into the model’s coffin. While Ralph Nader’s book, Unsafe at Any Speed, is often associated with the Corvair’s demise, it wasn’t published until November 1965, roughly seven months after  GM had effectively made the decision to discontinue the model, opting to turn its attention to Camaro development in order to combat Mustang sales.

Opinions differ as to why the Corvair remained on the market into the 1969 model year. Some believe that Chevrolet continued Corvair production as a direct response to Nader’s book, and that dropping the model (no longer the same as the swing axle variant discussed in Unsafe) would have been an admission of guilt. Others take a more pragmatic view, believing that retooling for the second-generation Corvair was an expensive proposition, one that warranted production as long as the public was willing to purchase the model.

1965 Chevrolet Corvair coupe

Following the success of 1965, Corvair sales dropped in ‘66 to 103,743 cars and plummeted thereafter. Just 27,253 Corvairs were sold in ‘67, followed by 15,399 in ’68 and 6,000 in ’69. The most popular second-generation Corvair model was the Monza coupe, which represented 36-percent (or more) of total production for each year of second-generation sales. Today, that likely makes it the easiest model to find, while the Corsa convertible (built in a total quantity of 11,405,  during 1965-’66 only) would probably be the most difficult to track down, excluding specialty versions like the Yenko Stinger or the Fitch Sprint.

Though second-generation Corvairs have risen in value in recent years, they remain a relative bargain when compared to pony cars of the period (which, in fairness, appeal to a broader audience of buyers). An average-condition ’65 Monza coupe, without a high-performance engine, carried an NADA value of $6,250 in 2015, while today the same car is valued at $7,700. Moving to ’67 production, a comparable Monza coupe carried an NADA value of $6,025 in 2015, compared to $7,400 today. Looking at the final-year models, 1969, a Monza coupe had an NADA value of $6,600 in 2015, versus $8,100 in 2019.

1965 Corvair 500

The Corvair 500, in coupe or sedan, was the entry-level model.

The rarest of second-generation production Corvair models, the 1966 Corsa convertible, carried an average NADA value of $8,950 in 2015, compared to $10,850 today. Finding one in any condition would likely be a challenge, but at the high end of the scale, a restored and show-ready example would have been valued at roughly $20,800 in 2015, while today the model would be valued at $26,600.

A quick look in our current classified turned up a trio of second-gen Corvair offerings, including a ’68 Monza coupe with the 110 hp engine and Powerglide automatic transmission, priced at $10,000; a ‘65 Monza coupe with the base 95 hp engine and Powerglide, priced at $12,250; and a 1966 Monza convertible with the 110 hp engine and Powerglide, priced at $14,000.