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HomeCar CultureHistory professor wows students with classic cars

History professor wows students with classic cars

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When David Dean boots up his computer to start class, his students know what they’ll see: a photograph of his 1965 Corvair hot rod.

“It creates a dialogue,” said Dean, an assistant professor of history at Grand Canyon University. “And then I can talk about the 1960s.”

Students have taken an interest in his cars. Some have attended car shows that showcased his Cactus Corvair Club. Engineering students ask about the mechanics. Others just love to talk to him about it, he said, because they miss spending time with dad in the garage or are nostalgic about cars of yesteryear.

It led a former student to ask Dean to appear at Thursday night’s Lopes Fair, where his beautiful champagne Corvair was a hit. The Canyon Activities Board event at Juniper Field included rides, games and food, and Dean’s car and two others from his club — a 1963 red Corvair Monza convertible and a stock original 1966 Corvair Coupe — fit with fair’s “Grease” movie theme.

History professor wows students with classic cars
David Dean loves the European styling of the Corvair.

Dean bought the car a few years ago when he was looking for a way to connect to memories of tinkering with cars, growing up with a mechanic dad. He wanted a car more affordable than the classic Camaro, and Chevrolet Corvair fit the bill.

True to his profession, he studied its history. Corvair was known for its sporty, unique body styling. “It’s the most European design American auto manufacturers ever produced,” he said, yet faulty consumer product safety reports led to ending production in 1969.

He did the restoration work in his garage, from interior to motor.

“As a professor you’ve got all these demands. To me, the garage is a Zen place,” he said. “I can be satisfied with the work I’ve done.”

He won National Car of the Month for the Corvair Society of America in 2019. He often joins members of its local chapter, Cactus Corvair Club, at car shows and is the president.

History professor wows students with classic cars
David Dean says engineering students are often interested in the car’s mechanics.

There’s a GCU connection to the club’s history, too.

Salesman Lou Grubb helped start the oldest continually active Corvair club in the world in 1963 at the  Ed Rudolph Chevrolet on 27th Avenue and Camelback, now part of the campus. For more than 20 years, the club met monthly at the dealership and planned car shows, road rallies and even national conventions in 1976 and 1984.

Dean, who has worked at GCU nine years, also is restoring other cars, including a street racer with the noteworthy Buick 215 V8 engine and wide tires.

Students love to talk about the cars.

“I want to have conversations with students and connect with them. If a car is the ice breaker, sometimes that leads to praying with them, talking about their families or their career choices,” he said.

This article, written by Mike Kilen, was originally published by Grand Canyon University.

3 COMMENTS

  1. A History Professor ought to have known better than “yet faulty consumer product safety reports led to ending production in 1969”
    That is not what happened.

    There were questions about the safety of the first year and a half of production, but those issues were resolved. The Corvair was only ever planned to go through 1966 (or was it ’67?). The court case begun by RN which was eventually won by GM actually extended the life of the Corvair project through 1969 although there was no research and development done to support the extension. The Corvair went on to become the only auto ever proved safe in a court of law.

    The incredible popularity of the Ford Mustang led GM through development of the Camaro and it was decided that the conventional drivetrain was the way to go.
    This the Corvair was ended. And a pity it is!

  2. “yet faulty consumer product safety reports led to ending production in 1969” Not true. It was a claim (later proved false) by Ralph Nader in Chapter 1 of his book that the 1960 Vair was prone to oversteer. Later tests showed it was the equal of similar cars sold. “The Corvair was only ever planned to go through 1966 (or was it ’67?).” Also not true. Corvair sales for the late models in 1965 were string, 250,000, but the Mustang took out the Corvair sails, dropping to 125,000 in 1966 (Corvairs could not compete on the Mustang’s V8 power) so GM brought out the Camaro and cancelled the Corvair. However, to show that Nader hadn’t won, they kept it in production to a slow death through 1969.

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