My First Corvair, Part 1
Published April 2014

I bought my first Corvair, sometime around 1968. It was a red 1964 Monza Coupe, 110 HP engine with a three-speed transmission. At the time I was driving a 1959 Ford Fairlane Galaxie 500, and I was always having transmission problems with the Fordomatic. It got to the point where AAmco would not honor its warrantee for me. I was an engineering student at University of Illinois at Chicago and I needed a more reliable mode of transportation. Besides, I had hit a number of things with the Ford and a number of things had hit me.

The guy who was going to marry the girl next door mentioned he had a car for sale. His main car was a 1968 Camaro but he had bought this other car to go to work. He worked for Chicago's Streets and Sanitation as a construction worker. He didn't want to drive his Camaro to his work locations, for fear it would be stolen. However, he could not afford insurance on two cars. This other car happened to be a 1964 Corvair.

I didn't know anything about Corvairs, but this one had a manual transmission and a gear shifter on the floor! Great—no more dealing with AAmco. I bought it for $200.

I quickly learned that a Corvair was no Ford. This was good and bad. The engine was air cooled and it was in the back. It was easier to access than the Ford engine, except for those two spark plugs under the carburetors. But, with the U-joint socket adapter that I never had to use on the Ford, I found I could change all six spark plugs.

The first repair (of many) that I learned to do was to put the gear shifter ball back into the socket on the shifter tube. Being a three-speed with really worn linkage, I had to reach all over inside the car to shift gears. I learned there is a tunnel under the car where the shift linkage lived. After reseating the shifter socket a number of times, I eventually welded up and redrilled the holes in the shifter clevis where it attached to the transmission shifter shaft, and shimmed up the guides for the shift tube. I eventually replaced the shifter clevis pin with the largest diameter bolt that would fit thru the hole in the transmission shifter shaft and tightened it up to remove all slack. The net result was that the shifter ball didn't come out of the shifter tube socket quite as often as before.

The following year during summer break from school, I packed a tent, some camping gear and a lot of tools into the Corvair and set out on a Western adventure. I stopped in Des Moines, Iowa, and met some of my father's distant family. They were surprised to see me, since they thought my father had died in WWII, and didn't know he had been a POW in Germany, had returned to the States, and started a family in the Chicago area.

From Des Moines I headed west on I-80 to Colorado. I had heard of the Pikes Peak hillclimb race and I wanted to drive the course. The course was simply the normal public road to the peak, closed off for that one race day. The road is blacktop paved half the way up, and gravel and dirt the rest of the way. My Corvair had no problems on the way up, except that it was annoying that I had to stop the car when ever I wanted to downshift to first gear. The three-speed didn't have syncros for the second to first downshift. I had to adjust the engine timing at the ranger station halfway up but otherwise I had no problems. The summit is 14,100 feet up and I discovered the air is different up there. There isn't as much of it as there is in the plains. At the top I parked and shut off the engine. It made a tink-tink sound of something that was overheating. I let it cool a while before making the descent.

Did I mention I had brakes on only three wheels? Somewhere along the line (well before I began this adventure) the left rear brake cylinder had frozen up. I had become accustomed to slightly turning the wheel when I had to cram on the brakes, so I was not worried. Halfway down the mountain there is a ranger station where they check the brakes of cars coming down from the peak. Cars with overheated brakes are told to park for a while. The ranger in my case happened to put his hand on the one wheel of my Corvair that didn't have working brakes, so he smiled and waved me thru. I still pulled over to park because I had to re-readjust the engine timing I had changed on the way up.

Next month: Continuing my Western adventure thru the Black Hills of South Dakota and my introduction to steam trains.

My First Corvair, Part 2
Published May 2014

Last month I told you of how I came to own my first Corvair, a 1964 Monza Coupe, with a 110 HP engine and a three-speed transmission. I also explained how I began my great Western adventure, which took me and the Corvair on a summer vacation camping trip across the country, to Des Moines, Iowa, to surprise distant relatives and then on to the top of Pikes Peak. Remember also that I mentioned the car had only three wheels with working brakes.

From Colorado I headed north to the Black Hills of South Dakota, to see Mount Rushmore. Near there, in Lead City, there is a working steam train line. I took a ride and noticed that the engineer would sound the whistle whenever he crossed a road where cars had gathered to see the train go by. After my ride, I found that road and joined the crowds waving to the train at various crossings. Because there were a bunch of us racing to meet the train at its next crossing, there was a lot of dust kicked up. Suddenly, I heard the train whistle and saw something large coming out of the dust cloud. I crammed on my brakes and slide off the road. Now you must remember, I am from the Midwest, and I don't know how mountains work. Turns out we were passing near a rock outcropping and the train whistle was echoing off the rocks. The actual train crossing was about a block away (using flat-lander measurements).

My Corvair was hung up in the dirt along the side of the road and I could not move. A local with a four wheel drive and a tow cable came along and pulled me out. However, we were up on a hill and the Corvair began to chase him down the hill once it was pulled free, since I was not in the car at the time (I never said we really knew what we all were doing). He floored it and the tow cable fell off my front bumper. He kept going. My Corvair hit a bump in the road, made a sharp right turn, went down an embankment and came to rest out in a meadow. After finding my keys (they had been set on the roof of the car) in the tall grass, I was able to drive around in the field until I found a spot where I was able to get back on the road. I spent the night in a campground, pounding the dents out of my tunnel cover, using a carpenter's hammer and a tree stump as an anvil.

Next month I will tell you why you should never get dirt in your early model axle bearings, especially when you are a thousand miles from home, and the trials and tribulations of converting an early model from a three-speed transmission to a four-speed.

My First Corvair, Part 3
Published June 2014

Last month I told you about my 1969 great Western adventure, travelling around the country in my first Corvair, a 1964 Monza. I also told of touring near Mount Rushmore, chasing after a steam train and running off of a dirt road. This month, I pick up the story on my way home from South Dakota.

I headed for home, making my way to I-70 thru Kansas. About that time I was hearing a squeek-squeek from my rear wheel bearings. Must have gotten dirt in them from running offroad in South Dakota. I eventually made it to Salina, Kansas, where I had to buy some Corvair early model rear axles from a junkyard. While there, I purchased an early model Corvair four-speed transmission ($50), complete with input shaft. I put it in the trunk to bring home. I swapped the axles in another campground and eventually made it home.

When I tried to install the four-speed transmission, I learned there is a difference between a three-speed early model Corvair body and a four-speed body. On early models that came with factory four-speed transmissions, there is a depression in the rear cross-member to clear the slightly longer four-speed trans. A friend of mine, with an oxyacetylene welding set, came over and "modified" my rear cross member to look like the one in the shop manual. The trans I purchased in Kansas was a 1961–1963 model, with the higher ratio first gear. However, the input shaft was of smaller diameter, making it necessary to use different seals in the throwout bearing differential snout. No problem. We broke that as soon as we tried to pull the engine. I took apart the diff, replaced the throwout bearing snout, used the earlier seals, and simply guessed at the shim settings for the pinion shaft bearing. Never had a problem. Lesson learned: Never listen to a friend who says you can pull a Corvair engine and leave the transaxle in the car. Pull them as a unit, then separate them.

Summer vacation was over and I was back attending classes. I was taking a lot of computer classes and one of the other students mentioned he also had a Corvair. It was Bill Kowalewski and he had a 1963 Monza. He told me about a new Corvair club that met out at a GM training facility in Hinsdale. I went to the next meeting and eventually joined. That was 42 years ago, and now I am still in the club and I am the editor of the Airhorn.

My next Corvair was a 1965 red Monza four-speed with a 140 HP engine, factory installed. Some lady on Chicago's north side was getting divorced and it was her husband's and she wanted it out of there. I think I paid $250 for it. That was the car I drove to the Seattle CORSA Convention. But, that's another story.

I eventually sold the 1964 Corvair to a guy who needed a 1964 differential. I sold him the diff on the condition he takes the whole car. I had put over 100,000 miles on it and the front left fender was so rusty the only thing holding it on was the gas filler. That Kansas-purchased four-speed trans had locked up, and I had parked it.