The most dangerous car ever made by GM.

I've borrowed a friend's Corvair on a Sunday afternoon to go pick up someone. I'm riding along on a four-lane road and it begins to sprinkle rain. I'm going around 40 MPH, and a stop light up ahead turns red. I gently put on the brakes, and -– I swear to God -- I'm immediately going in the opposite direction.

Luckily, I turned exactly 180 degrees and there was not a lot of traffic. I just acted as if I had changed my mind about my destination, but it scared the bejeesus out of me.

I was interested to learn from Pingouin's discourse that this was the car which killed Ernie Kovacs. What a shame. I bet it was sprinkling rain the day he died.

The Chevy Corvair was indeed inspired by the popular VW Beetle. The rear-mounted engine used a six-cylinder horizontally opposed engine with dual carbs. It had a long fan belt that popped off on occasion, and when it was running it sounded like a six-cylinder Hoover.

I owned a 1961 Monza version of the Corvair, which had the dangerous exposed split rear axles. Replacing the starter motor required an hour just to remove the engine shroud that ducted cool air around the engine, which did not have a radiator.

The dangerous part was not that it had problems when it rained, it was the rear axles. Should one of the tires drop about four inches, like off of the paved part of a highway, that whole tire assembly would collapse, causing a spin and (in most cases) a rollover.

This is the car that made Ralph Nader famous, after he wrote a book called Unsafe at Any Speed.

Many of the Corvairs were stripped of their bodies and converted into a six-cylinder dune buggy.

to correct rancid pickle, the early models of the corvair had what is known as a swing axle rear suspension, which is the same as used in the original, and very succesful Volkswagen Beetle.

A swing axle is a type of suspension where both halfshafts have a u-joint just outside the differential. When a swing axle car hits a bump, the load pushes in on the differential, tending to lift it. This is referred to as a jacking effect, and in effect raises the car's center of gravity. This makes the car less stable in turns, and more prone to flips.

The reason Chevrolet engineers chose a swing axle design, is that it is a cheap way of isolating the engine and transaxle from bumps. Without the u-jointed halfshafts, the engines would have moved along with the bumps, greatly increasing unsprung weight and harming reliability. The rear end would have bounced around. Dr. Ferdinand Porsche made the same decision in designing the Beetle and early Porsches, for the same reasons. However, the six-cylinder Corvair is a much more powerful, and heavy, car than the Beetle. The supercharged Corvair Spyder and Yenko Stinger models were very fast indeed. A few are still raced today.

Later models of the Corvair replaced the swing axle design with a fully independent suspension. This eliminated the jacking effect, and allowed for much better camber control, ride and reduced body roll. Ralph Nader actually noted this in his book Unsafe at Any Speed . His criticisms were confined to the early Corvair models, but the media impression was that they applied to all the cars. The later models are actually quite refined for the day.

Another unsafe characteristic of the Corvair is the design of the heater system in all but 1960 models, which had an optional direct gasoline-burning heater. Vehicles with water cooled engines use a heat exchanger known as a heater core and blow air across it either with a vent or a blower motor (usually with a squirrelcage fan) in order to heat the cab. Vehicles which are air-cooled do not have this luxury. To provide heat the corvair had heating ducts which wrapped around the exhaust manifolds, the hottest part of the car (if you discount the exhaust valves themselves.) Over time the exhaust manifolds can (and sometimes do) develop leaks, either through rusting, cracking, or gasket failure, and the exhaust leaks lead directly into the heating system. From there, they naturally lead directly into the seating area of the car. Carbon monoxide is generally nothing you want to be breathing as it is extremely toxic and carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for thousands of accidental deaths worldwide each year - in fact, in the US, there are more deaths yearly from carbon monoxide poisoning than from any other kind of poisoning - about six hundred of them.

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