Could you believe anyone would give a car such a negative name? No, neither could we, but appropriately enough, it was the moniker given to a… wait for it… Chevrolet Corvair limousine! Richard Heseltine explains all…
From here to Obscurity Richard Heseltine’s weird and wonderful American cars from the past.
What’s in a name? Well, when it comes to cars, quite a bit. They convey a lot about what a car is meant to represent. Either that, or they impart a sense of wonder in potential customers. They’re meant to be evocative. The car pictured here, by contrast, was burdened with a name that foretold its fate. The Lost Cause was precisely that; a Chevrolet Corvair-based limousine that was doomed from the outset.
It wasn’t without its good points, however. The Lost Cause was dreamed up by Charles Peaslee Farmsley who, during a jam-packed life, was variously the mayor of Louisville, Kentucky, a member of the House of Representatives and, depending on whose sources you credit, a sometime car designer. He had long harboured an ambition whereby he would revive American coachbuilding artistry to its rightful place, and collaborated with the once-famed Derham Body Company of Rosemont, Pennsylvania in his bid to make this happen. Contrary to what had been written elsewhere, however, he didn’t own the business, nor was he a shareholder.
The name of the car was meant to conjure thoughts of old world craftsmanship, and there was no denying it was well-appointed. Billed as the ‘world’s most expensive small car’, the Lost Cause broke cover at the 1963 New York International Auto Show. For an eye-watering $12,116.52, punters would receive a four-door Chevrolet Corvair loaded to the gunwales with every conceivable luxury item, and quite a few you might not have thought of.
According to Autocar magazine: “All factory decoration and nameplates are removed, and the coachwork is finished in hand-rubbed cellulose. The rear window is enlarged and the roof and rear quarters down to the engine cover are covered in padded leather. Chromium-plated wire wheels – there are two spares – replace the more mundane objects.”
Inside, the regular Corvair’s austere cabin made way for pure opulence. Black leather abounded, while the window bases, door cappings and facia were trimmed with burr walnut. Additional instruments were also added. These encompassed everything from a rev counter to an eight-day clock. For reasons that were never fully explained, there was even a stopwatch. There was also a VHF radio, while a picnic hamper and travel rugs nestled snugly in the trunk (which was held in place with leather straps, just in case the regular lock mechanism decided not to work).
Predictably, such luxuries meant more weight. While the exact increase in heft wasn’t mentioned in the PR bumf, it did state that the Corvair’s air-cooled ‘six’ would be tuned by legendary racer/innovator John Fitch to produce around 120bhp. Top speed was said to be in the region of 115mph, which was perhaps a little optimistic. That said, the Lost Cause was never meant to be a road burner, more a luxurious motor carriage for the wealthy and discerning, if only in the mind of its creator.
Farmsley intended creating no more than 100 Lost Causes. However, despite the car receiving plenty of media coverage, he hadn’t sold any by 1965 when the scheme was quietly axed. It would appear that the super-rich didn’t want to be ferried about in the back of a Corvair with a comedy name, no matter how extravagant the specification.
The prototype was retained on the Farmsley estate, ultimately being used as a grocerygetter before it was parked under a tarpaulin.
Predictably, it soon fell into disrepair, but the car has since been restored to its period splendour.