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New Illinois museum honors the Chevrolet Corvair

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A turbocharged 1962 Corvair Monza Spyder heads a line of performance Corvairs. Photos courtesy Corvair Museum.

Beloved by its fans, but criticized–perhaps unreasonably–by its detractors, the Chevrolet Corvair may well qualify as the Rodney Dangerfield of 1960s American cars. In its struggle for post-production respect, America’s rear-engine, air-cooled production car has a new ally–the Corvair Museum, maintained by the Corvair Preservation Foundation (CPF) and housed within the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum in Decatur, Illinois.

Corvair limousine

A Corvair limousine–something you don’t see every day.

With 9,000 square feet of floor space, the Corvair Museum currently houses 14 vehicles, plus a range of automobilia that includes everything from experimental wheels through a forward-control Corvair scale model used for wind-tunnel testing. The models on display cover the gamut from the ordinary, like a 1960 Corvair 500 sedan and a 1962 Corvair Monza station wagon, to the truly bizarre, including a 1962 Rampside pickup converted into a tow truck, and a custom-built 1965 Corvair five-door limousine. High-performance production models are also represented, and the collection includes both a Fitch Sprint and a Yenko Stinger.

Corvair Super Monza

Corvair Super Monza.

There are historically significant Corvairs in the collection as well, including the 1960 Corvair Super Monza, designed and built for Bill Mitchell and driven by his wife, Lynn. The last Corvair convertible built, a 1969 model carrying serial number 5997, is displayed, as is a 1969 Corvair coupe with serial number 5999, thought to be the last-produced surviving example.

Last Corvair body

The Fisher Corvair body shell, which carries a designation of XXXXXXX instead of a production serial number.

While serial number 6000 is the last complete Corvair built, the Olympic Gold 1969 Monza coupe has been lost to history. Even this may not be the last Corvair body built, as the museum also owns the Corvair XXXXXXX body shell, assembled by Fisher but never finished by Chevrolet. An important piece of Corvair history, the museum identifies the shell as the only example of a complete, as-delivered-to-GM-but-never-assembled Fisher body known to exist, making it a unique bit of American automotive history.

The G/production record-setter (left), and an 1962 Corvair prepped for SCCA Solo competition.

Corvairs aren’t typically associated with land speed record attempts, but a heavily modified 1966 Corvair Corsa coupe on display was driven by Tom Schwabe to a G/production class record of 139.2 mph in 1973. Tom’s first record attempt at Bonneville, in 1968, used the Corvair’s stock engine, but his average speed of 119 mph wasn’t enough to best the 125-mph class record. By 1973, he’d upped displacement to, adding strengthened internals, an Iskenderian camshaft, modified cylinder heads, and 46mm Weber carburetors to achieve his goal.

1964 Corvair Greenbrier window van

A 1964 Corvair Greenbrier window van (front) and a custom-built 1962 Corvair tow truck.

While some of the vehicles displayed–five, to be precise–are owned by the CPF, the remainder are on loan from museum supporters. We asked Mike Hall, CPF president, if the museum had any specific vehicle requests, to which he replied, “a Corvair Ultravan motor home, and a Greenbrier with the camper option.” Of course, donations of any kind relating to Corvair history are always appreciated, and as with any museum (and most non-profits), cash donations are both needed and welcomed.

A Corvair display powertrain, part of the museum’s automobilia collection.

The museum opened its doors last August, though it’s yet to hold its grand opening. This is slated to take place–complete with a ribbon-cutting ceremony, celebrity guests, a car show, and Corvair product vendors–from May 18-20, 2018. Monthly car shows will be held in warmer weather, likely promoting both the Corvair Museum and the Chevrolet Hall of Fame Museum.

For the latest details, visit the Corvair Museum’s website, hosted by CORSA – The Corvair Society of America.