Volkswagen sold their first Type 1 in the U.S.in 1949. Ten years later, General Motors offered their retort. In contrast to the more traditional compacts from Ford and Chrysler, the Corvair appeared a radical departure. That’s because GM intended their compact to directly compete with the imports that they saw as a threat to their market share. The largest selling of those was the Volkswagen whose rear-mounted and air-cooled engine the Corvair emulated, albeit in larger, six-cylnder form. If only GM had considered the mid-fifties’ second-best selling import, the Nash Metropolitan, things would have been vastly different.
Instead we got what is arguably one of GM’s most unique and interesting cars, as well as a series that offered features—four-wheel independent suspension, turbocharged engines—that were almost unknown amongst the domestic competition. As we all know, it was the unique design that proved to be the Corvair’s greatest attraction as well as its undoing as the car’s rear-engine swing axle design demanded adaptation in driving style. Ralph Nader used that as prima facia example of what was wrong with automotive safety at the time and permanently tarred the Corvair as “unsafe at any speed,” which didn’t help the car win sales. In the end, the inability to transfer platform engineering to other models, and the need for a proper competitor to Ford’s wildly successful—and Falcon-based—Mustang led to the Corvair’s demise.
Long before that however, GM produced this film on the model’s development and attractions. Seeing as this is the last week of the year, let’s look back even further and see the hope s and dreams GM poured into the Corvair. And remember, you can’t win if you don’t try.