Welcome to the Hooniverse Obscure Muscle Garage, a regular feature which aims to expand the notion of what a muscle car is, and to throw all conventional wisdom out the window. The compact Corvair, which Chevrolet introduced in 1960, had an aluminum, horizontally opposed (flat), air-cooled engine in the rear, and four-wheel independent suspension. Could this be the basis for a muscle car? Lets find out together with the Turbocharged Corvair Spyder and Corsa. Having a rear mounted, air-cooled, flat six cylinder engine, put the Corvair way out of the mainstream of an American auto industry dominated by big cars with front-mounted, cast iron V-8s driving through a solid axle. The Corvair was inspired by the top-selling German Volkswagen, and along with cars like the Ford Falcon, Chrysler (later Plymouth) Valiant and American Motors Rambler, it was meant as an import fighter. But if the Corvair wasn’t different enough already, Chevrolet took it even farther off the beaten path in 1962 when, along with Oldsmobile, it pioneered turbocharging in production automobiles. A turbocharged engine was a very radical idea during the early 60′s, but GM thought it was needed to “boost” horsepower ratings in smaller engines that had no room to grow (Like the flat-six, or the small 215 Cu.In. Oldsmobile V-8). By inserting a small turbine in the exhaust system, and using it to spin an air compressor to pump more air into the engine, significant horsepower increases can be achieved. Some hot rodders and racers were experimenting with turbos during the 1950s, but it was not until the ’60s that they would be fitted to production cars. In the spring of 1962, both Chevrolet and Oldsmobile introduced turbocharged models. Oldsmobile put a turbo on its 215-cu. in. aluminum V-8 F-85 intermediate model and called it the “Jetfire.” The turbo increased horsepower to 215, or one horsepower per cu. in., from the best non-turbo figure of 185. Chevrolet applied turbocharging to its Corvair to increase its power and enhance its sporting image. The Ford Falcon and the Valiant, the Corvair’s direct competitors, had conventional front-engine designs, so they could easily be fitted with larger engines. Although the Corvair’s air-cooled six could be increased in displacement from its original 140 cu. in., there were definite limits on how big it could be made. It would be increased to 145 cu. in. in 1961, and 164 cu. in. in 1964, but that’s as far as it would go during the Corvair’s 10-year life span. Chevrolet engineers therefore chose turbocharging as their route to substantially more power. In 1962 the Corvair’s normally aspirated base engine developed 80 horsepower, or 84 when fitted with the optional “Powerglide” 2 speed automatic transmission. When the turbocharged Corvair Spyder was introduced it had 150 horsepower, or almost double the power out of the same displacement. This improved performance significantly. Car Life magazine tested a pair of Corvairs in its August 1962 issue. One was an automatic-equipped Monza coupe with the 84-horsepower engine. They recorded a more than modest zero to 60 m.p.h. (96 km/h) time of 21.6 seconds, and a top speed of 90 (145). Then they tested a Spyder coupe, fitted with a four-speed manual transmission, this 150 horsepower turbocharged Corvair would sprint to 60 (96) in 10.8 seconds, and reach a top speed of 105 mph (170 km/h). According to the testers, the turbo completely changed the character of the car, and “puts this compact into a class by itself.” It behaved more like the Porsche 356 than anything else. While Oldsmobile would stay with turbocharging for only a couple of years, 1962-63, before succumbing to bigger engines as the easier, less complex route to higher power, Chevrolet would keep its turbo until 1966. Horsepower of the Corvair turbo was increased to 180 in 1965. Remember, all this power from a 164 Cu. In. flat six! Unfortunately for the Corvair, 1965 was the year in which Ralph Nader published his book Unsafe At Any Speed. In it he savaged the Corvair for alleged unsafe handling due to the rear swing axles fitted to the 1960-64 models. Ironically, by the time the book appeared, Chevrolet had replaced the swing axles with a fully articulated rear suspension. The damage was done, however, and the Corvair went into a steep sales decline; it was discontinued in 1969. Although the Corvair came to a sad end, it and Oldsmobile managed to pioneer production-automobile turbocharging and demonstrate its potential. It would be another decade before it would return, this time from Porsche in the 1975 Turbo Carrera, ironically equipped with a Turbocharged Flat Six engine. So, could a Turbocharged Flat Six 2 Door Sport Coupe (or Convertible) ever be thought of as a Muscle Car, and does it deserve a place in the Garage, or is it just an American interpretation of a European Sports Car? Remember, with this rudimentary early turbocharger, this 164 Cu In engine produced 180 HP, or more than one horsepower per cubic inch, which was the standard for the muscle car era. In it’s favor, it would out handle any domestic car, with the possible exception of the Corvette. So what do you have to say? I look forward to hearing from each and every one of you. [poll id=”206″] Please Note: All Images are screen grabs from around the web. If you want credit for any image, please let me know in the comments section. Thank You!