Corvair Buffs, Meeting Here, Buoyed by New Report
By Hank Plante
GAITHERSBURG—In light of a government report that suggests Ralph Nader may have been wrong about the Corvair, more than 400 devotees of that small GM car met here over the weekend for their second annual "Corvair Society of America" convention.
The Corvair loyalists were in high spirits here, as their weekend of meetings, banquets - custom car shows and obstacle courses was called to order. Two days earlier a government study was released backing the small car's handling and stability.
The two-year study by the Department of Transportation's National Highway Transportation Safety Administration concluded, "The handling and stability performance of the 1960-1963 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic."
Ralph Nader, whose career as a consumer advocate was launched after his attack on the car he called "unsafe at any speed," called the federal report "a shoddy, internally contradictory whitewash."
Corvair Club enthusiasts have long thought their cars were both safe and a joy to drive.
"I used to hate Corvairs," said club member David Goldstein of Wheaton. "I believed all this stuff that Nader had written. I used to hassle my friends about having them, but then I drove one. It handles better, it corners better than any car I have driven except possibly a Porsche. It has excellent rear vision, excellent braking distribution, no radiator hassle. The car is a fun car to drive."
Goldstein admits the car can have engine fumes leak into the passenger compartment under certain conditions, but says that, and other problems are correctible.
Over the weekend, the club members invited a top Nader aide to address their group. Dr. Carl Nash, of the Public Interest Research group, told a Saturday audience
of Corvair owners that many of their early models should be recalled by General Motors because of a "heater defect" which can permit carbon monoxide to enter the passenger compartment if certain seals wear out.
Nash also called the government's study a "whitewash," and was reportedly given a polite reception by the Chevy buffs.
The reception became less polite, however, during the showing of a film Nash brought which showed steering and handling problems of a Corvair compared to a Ford Falcon of the same year.
Club members watching the showing called it "Mickey Mouse," and said of the film's authenticity, "I don't think it would even fool a congressman."
The government had studied the same film exhibited by the Nader group and said it believed the filmed tests were biased in favor of the Falcon and that the Corvair driver apparently was intentionally trying to get it to spin. It noted that all the spins took place right in front of the cameras.
The film was made by the Ford Motor Co.
The Corvairs were built by General Motors for nine years beginning in the 1960 (Actually 10 years, beginning in 1959. Ed.) There are an estimated 600,000 to 900,000 Corvairs still on the nation's highways. Members of the national Corvair Club believe their small cars will be around for a long time because of their adaptability to customizing. They do not, however, get much help from the car's creator.
"I guess we felt a little cheated when GM stopped production of the car. It was following GM's stop of advertising and design changes that they simply let it die, they wanted to see it as a quiet phasing out," enthusiast Goldstein says.
"We're not exactly friendly with GM," Goldstein adds. "They haven't helped a bit. We've asked for displays, etc., but we get a lot of friendly talk and no action."
Goldstein says GM did fly out two films late last weekend, however, to counteract the Ford film that Nader's office supplied.