The Chevrolet Corvair
Manufactured by Chevrolet for model years 1960–1969, is still the only American-designed, mass-produced passenger car with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine.
Initially, the innovative Corvair was manufactured and marketed as a 4-door sedan.
The compact Chevrolet Corvair was designed to compete with Volkswagens in the US market.
The 1960 Corvair went on sale on October 2, 1959, and was the first American compact sedan with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine, unit-body construction, three-across seating, and the availability of an automatic transmission. Only four-door sedans were available at first, then came the 2-door coupe, convertible, 4-door station wagon, passenger van, commercial van, and pickup truck body styles.
Though inspired by Volkswagen’s four-cylinder engine, Chevrolet engineers used Porsche engines as a guide.
To stay competitive with the VW Beetle, the new Ford Falcon, and Plymouth Valiant, Chevrolet chose to cut corners right where it showed: on the interior. The base model 500 was particularly drab. Everything inside was gray, both the fabric and vinyl upholstery and black rubber floor mats. The 700 models came with three interior colors from which to choose. Extra-cost options on both the 700 and 500 models included things we take for granted today, like sun visors for both driver and passenger, armrests, or a cigarette lighter.
The Corvair sales took a significant upturn when the Monza coupe debuted at the 1960 Chicago Auto Show. Though the Monza would rewrite what everyone's idea of a Corvair was an alternative to the typical front-engined American family cars of the period.
The death knell for the Corvair came when Ralph Nader’s 1965 book “Unsafe at Any Speed” claimed that the car’s design that incorporated swing-axle suspension created a far greater risk of the vehicle rolling, which he described as 'the one-car accident.' Even though the suspension had been redesigned for much better handling and safety, the damage was done. Nader’s book became a best-seller, but in the consumer’s mind, the reputation of the Corvair was tarnished forever. Chevrolet ceased production of the Corvair with the 1969 model.