Try this question on your friends who think they know their car facts: “What car am I describing - it’s over 40 years old, has an aluminium, air cooled flat 6 behind the rear axle, IRS, 4 speed stickshift, turbocharger, 4 seats and 2 doors?”
Most will either have no clue, or answer “An early Porsche 930 turbo, right?”
And they’d be wrong. The answer is the Corvair Monza GT coupe/convertible of 1965. Porsche didn’t even make a turbo until the early 1970s. Chevy was there a decade earlier with the first turbocharged Corvair offered in 1963.
And Porsche 930s didn’t have IRS - you can’t call veedbub style rear swing axles truly independent. Yes - the Corvair started out with the same setup, but moved to a Corvette inspired true IRS with the 1965 model.
People still talk of the Corvair as a huge failure - a lemon. Nothing could be further from the truth. The 1965-69 Corvairs was arguably the best cars made in America during those years. They out handled anything - even a Stingray with twice the power had to work hard to beat one on a tight, twisting road. They were economical, good looking, had excellent braking, a large front mounted boot (trunk), plenty of room for 4, even 5 at a pinch. They were cheap to run and fun to drive. No other American car offered all this during the 1960s - none came close.
Customisers knew how good the Corvair was. A whole industry sprung up around the car almost from its' release in 1959. Companies like IECO and EMPI offered a complete package - owners either took their Corvair in, or they could buy one new with all the additions: handling options, custom manifolds and carburetors, shift linkages, exhausts, wheels, body and suspension kits.
In short, people who loved to drive, loved the Corvair. They didn't listen to the nonsense in the press about them being death traps, or read Ralph Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed beat up (years later, even Nader expressed regret at the impact his book had on the Corvair)
Sure, the early swing axle cars oversteered at the limit, but car journo after car journo tested car after car and all came to the same conclusion - you’d have to be an idiot to drive a Corvair so fast on a curve that the rear would slide out on you.
The reality is, bad publicity killed the car - and it was grossly unfair. It was the best handling car made in Detroit and yet it was pilloried mercilessly - go figure.
Chevrolet quietly killed off the Corvair in 1969. Interestingly - Ford also killed off their Corvair competitor the same year - the Falcon. But the much less interesting, poor handling Falcon never got the bad publicity of the Corvair.
Kudos to Chevy’s GM Ed Cole for having the guts to back the rear-engined compact in the first place. To this day - the most daring car ever made by an American manufacturer. Even if he did back the wrong horse: it was another radical new design that would lead the way to the future - but it wasn’t designed or made in Detroit. The same year the Corvair was released, across the pond in Great Britain - BMC released the first viable, mass selling compact front wheel drive - the Mini. But that’s another story.