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HomeCar CultureVideo of the Day: Corvair tested for deadly handling flaw

Video of the Day: Corvair tested for deadly handling flaw

Hagerty’s Larry Webster explains the controversy and flings Ralph Nader’s own car around a wide-open airport runway

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Corvair owners hate Ralph Nader, for obvious reasons.  In his 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader blasted the auto industry in general for its cavalier attitude toward passenger safety and took special aim at Chevrolet’s rear-engine compact, which he called “the one-car accident” because of perceived hazards of unpredictable handling.

In this video, titled Will the Corvair kill you?, Hagerty’s Larry Webster takes a borrowed Corvair – which actually was once owned by Nader – onto a wide-open runway, where he subjects it to abrupt maneuvers to unsettle its handling, just to see how dangerous it really is. 

Webster lived to tell the tale, and here’s his video report, in which he concludes that Corvair was Nader’s “sacrificial lamb” in pushing for needed safety enhancements by the auto industry.  

Bob Golfen
Bob Golfen is a longtime automotive writer and editor, focusing on new vehicles, collector cars, car culture and the automotive lifestyle. He is the former automotive writer and editor for The Arizona Republic and SPEED.com, the website for the SPEED motorsports channel. He has written free-lance articles for a number of publications, including Autoweek, The New York Times and Barrett-Jackson auction catalogs. A collector car enthusiast with a wide range of knowledge about the old cars that we all love and desire, Bob enjoys tinkering with archaic machinery. His current obsession is a 1962 Porsche 356 Super coupe.

2 COMMENTS

  1. EDITED COMMENT: People respond the best they can with where they are at the time; keeping acceleration in the forward direction is important (an unexpected loss of acceleration or cut in horsepower is detrimental as it can be in other vehicles) and the Corvair was used in a manner that did not “readily” [use of Nader’s Corvair is indicative] show hazardous flaws in the design and belief of right in other vehicles (in many videos it looks like the shock absorber broke or it is a scenario that other vehicles would not have faired better), even those produced at later dates, which perpetuates corporate propaganda, military industrialism, and sociological problems that led to and continued our involvement in the Vietnam War (one may wonder if ECM data and dependent programming is being monitored to show that there may be common “detuning” that is inconsistent and not fixed at dealers causing loss of acceleration in the wanted direction). Corvairs continue to be vehicles that are unique, enjoyable, and liked; adding aircraft cable to the arms and connecting it to the frame and/or adding a sway bar is a good idea (we have added both).

  2. I think that this does not address one of Mr. Nader’s major complaints about the Corvair and that is under emergency braking circumstances the rear end would break loose and swing around in the direction that the car was moving. I am a car nut who grew up in a large family of car nuts in Southern California. Along the way we had 2 used Corvair’s, one was a 1961 Monza automatic in pristine condition and the other was a 1964 Monza Spyder in good condition. There was a huge difference in the way the 2 cars handled and I must say I felt unsafe in the 1961.
    I was returning from a friends house one day, they lived at the top of a hill that had a driveway that had been cut in the side of the hill with a steep drop on one side. I was going a bit too fast on the way down but nothing crazy. As I braked near the bottom to slow down for the transition from driveway to street, the rear end started to sway wildly almost sending me to the bottom of the ravine. I immediately let up on the brakes, the rear end fell into line and I just hit the transition very hard, knowing I might damage the car but at least I wasn’t at the bottom of the ravine. Now I had navigated that driveway many times in various Volkswagens (2 Beetles and a Variant squareback) along with my mother’s 1965 Nova wagon and nothing remotely like that ever happened. I had noticed before this incident that the tail of the car felt very heavy, although the Spyder exhibited none of that behavior. Based on my experiences I have to say that Mr. Nader was right, at least on the early models.

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