Corvair: A lifetime project
September 20, 2013
Since Jim Dal Bon's first car was a new (at the time) 1960 Corvair, he was familiar with these air-cooled, pancake-six-cylinder engined cars. He knew the good and the bad.
They "handled like a dream in the snow" on his trips to Tahoe due to their rear-mounted engine. But they had a tendency to leak oil; his first Corvair lost its engine due to blowing out the oil seals.
With dramatically shrinking resale value, it wasn't worth rebuilding. So he knew what he was getting into, yet damned the torpedoes and went full speed ahead.
Why? For one thing, Jim had finished restoring his other three cars and needed a project. Secondly, he says, "They're fun, cute cars."
Once he selected the make and model of his next car, Jim opted to go for the second generation Corvair, made from 1965-1969. He considered it less boxy and had fully independent suspension, like the Corvette.
Then came the matter of finding a rust-free one. After traveling all over the U.S. for about a year looking for one, he decided to lower his standards a bit.
"I decided I'd better buy one before I died looking," he said.
Earlier this year, he did just that. Bought, not died. It had very little rust, none of it showing, and good paint. The interior was all either good original or replaced, including the convertible top and boot. Even the chrome and stainless was in pretty good condition.
Plus the 110 HP engine, Powerglide auto trans and brakes had been rebuilt. On the downside, the suspension was original and barely kept it on the road.
Unless you took it over 40 mph. Still, it was the best he had seen and was a convertible, something he'd never owned. So he bought it.
Once he got it home, Jim rebuilt the suspension from the front of the car back, including A-arms, tie rods, steering box and rear suspension. Then came something all too familiar to car restorers: the unexpected problem.
Because certain unibody convertibles had a structural weakness in their bodies, Chevrolet mounted special vibration dampeners at all four corners of the body. Those convertibles were only first generation Camaros and second generation Corvairs. Jim only found out about this because one of the four was still on his.
When he saw the vibration dampener, it took some research to even find out what it was: a cylinder filled with lead and oil.
Finding replacements was even harder.
Not many cars had used them and no replacements were made.
Remembering a "Corvair guru" he had met while checking out convertibles to buy, Jim called him. The guru had exactly three extras sitting around.
The price was reasonable, but they cost as much to ship as to buy because of their weight.
While replacing them, Jim also rebuilt the headlight buckets.
He also powder-coated the wheels when he put on new tires and redid the weather-stripping.
Although he still has a few more things he wants to repair, such as the heater, the clock and the window channels, his Corvair is on the road again.
One thing Jim said he remembers when he drives his Corvair is that "these were bottom-end cars."
He'd almost forgotten that fact since it had been 50 years since he last drove one. There's no power steering or brakes and the Powerglide has no "Park."
Hopefully, the emergency brake is good enough to hold it on a hill, of which there are many around here. Still, he says he gets more thumbs-up in the Corvair than his beautiful '70 Camaro RS and '71 El Camino.
While he knows he has much more to do and always will, he says, "Buy a Corvair and you've got a lifetime project. But it's fun."
For more about Ron Cherry, go to http://www.rlcherry.com. For more information about the Roamin Angels Car Club, go to http://www.roaminangels.com, call 530-432-8449, write to Roamin Angels, P.O. Box 1616, Grass Valley, CA 95945, or stop by IHOP on Taylorville Road some Friday at 6:30 a.m. for breakfast.