AMERICAN BOXER CHARMS NOVICE
Run by Martin Buckley
Owned since August 2016
Total mileage 47,615
Miles since acquisition none
Latest costs £350
The Corvair is an itch that I have wanted to scratch for years, maybe decades. The curiosity started with a book called Corvair Affair by Mike Knepper that I got hold of in the early 1980s. The idea was reignited by a group test I did on a full set of early cars a couple of years ago in LA (February 2014).
I love the shape of them, the sound they make and all the intrigue and scandal that seems to surround the poor things – I even bought a copy of Ralph Nader’s Unsafe at Any Speed, which is actually a good read. They tick lots of boxes that needed ticking. For starters, I have never owned an American car before, or anything with an aircooled flat-six and, what with 911s being so pricey, the Corvair is probably my only chance of that. They are a lot cheaper than 911s and, while they are in no way a substitute for the German car, they do make a similar noise.
It had to be an early, 1959-’1964 model and my preference was for a saloon rather than a coupe or a convertible. I missed a tidy enough one that was due to be sold out of the Calne museum collection a couple of years back. Then, about 12 months ago, my friend Fredrik Folkestad (of DKW fame) decided he was never, realistically, going to do anything with his Monza turbo convertible – did I want to buy it? “Yes” was the answer as I put my purist views to one side. The four-door saloon is the ‘important’ car, but, if you are going to plough money into a Corvair, a Monza Spyder Turbo is the way to go. The history file dates back only to 1989 and, from what I can tell, it was imported into Sweden in 2006; Fredrik brought it into the UK in 2010. He lobbed out on quite a few new parts for the engine in the first flush of enthusiasm, but, with so many projects on the go, he never quite got it running properly.
So, when the Corvair arrived with me, it was mechanically a mystery though it seemed tidy. It’s pretty much rust-free, but had rather flat paint. I’m resisting the urge to respray it beause it looks decent from 10 feet and the panels are so straight it’s clearly a nice car.
The interior tends to suggest that the 47,000 mileage is correct and UK Detailing did a great job on the trim and paint, bringing it up beautifully. To be honest, it now looks smart from five feet. The hood is in good condition and I managed to adjust the catches to get it to seal acceptably. Having said that, the Californian heat has ravaged most of the rubber seals.
Dougal Cawley at Longstone suggested a set of period-type XAS Michelins, which got rid of the whitewalls and even made the awful fake wire hubcaps look almost acceptable. Normal trims remain my preference, though. In terms of getting the Corvair sorted, it has been in the hands of Gus Meyer in Swindon, who usually works on my Mercedes but is happy to tackle anything. On his initial consultation he spent time chasing manifold leaks, sorting stripped threads, establishing that the engine had compression and then setting up the points, timing and hydraulic tappets. He got it running, though not to his total satisfaction and there was still the question of the brakes, which at the very least needed a new master cylinder. I ordered one from New York and waited until Gus could fit me in again a few weeks later, by which time it had turned up.
On the second visit, Gus changed all the belts, sorted the brakes and discovered that the poor running was down to a missing plug in the throttle body that was causing it to run too lean. He also found that some essential bits were missing from the dynamo, which is why it wasn’t charging; I have an alternator conversion kit on the way from America.
The only difficult thing was finding a battery to fit because the Corvair has a particularly long, narrow space for it. Shield Batteries’ Yeovil branch sorted me out with a correct size unit for £159. Meanwhile, I await the alternator (which Gus will come over to fit) and I might even risk putting the Corvair through an MoT test.
THANKS TO Gus Meyer
Longstone Tyres: 01302 711123
Shield Batteries, Yeovil: 01935 848661
UK Detailing, Cirencester: 01285 770090
Ian Sealy of UK Detailing did a fine job of bringing lustre back to the dull paintwork. The Corvair’s influential lines inspired NSUs and the Hillman Imp. Nader slated GM’s costcutting on design. Roomy cabin in ‘compact’ Corvair ragtop. Flat-six proclaims ‘150hp’ on the turbo. Upholstery transformed after a bit of TLC. Buckley adjusted hood and cleaned screen.