As the 1960s began, a lot of compact cars started to swarm the American highways and byways. There were American compacts like the AMC Rambler and the Ford Falcon, and, of course, there was the Volkswagen Beetle, a popular import.
The Beetle was powered by a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine. Car manufacturers have never had a problem lifting successful ideas from one another. The Chevrolet division of General Motors must have been inspired by the Beetle when they rolled out the Chevy Corvair as a competitor in the compact space. It was the first mass-produced American car with an air-cooled engine mounted in the rear.
The Corvair was introduced for the 1960 model year, and it was reasonably successful from a sales perspective, but it didn’t have the mass appeal that the company was expecting. Over a quarter of a million units (253,268 to be exact) were sold during that initial model year.
At first the car was offered as a four-door sedan, with two different options: the base 569, and the 769. During this model year the engine was the Turbo Air 6, which was rated at 80 horsepower. A three-speed manual transmission came standard, but you could upgrade to a two-speed automatic.
Later in the year Chevy added another option to the Corvair line: the Monza Club Coupe. It was quite a bit more powerful, with the 95 horsepower Super Turbo Air engine providing the kick.
The Chevy Corvair was designed to be a low cost option for budget minded consumers, and they priced the first base model Corvair at just $1,984. Though it was conceived as an economy car, the Corvair actually had a rather sleek and sporty appearance. It was eye-catching on the road.
Chevrolet certainly won some bragging rights with the 1960 Corvair when it was named Car of the Year by Motor Trend magazine.
Some additional body styles were added to the Corvair lineup for the 1961 model year, including a station wagon, a van, and a pickup truck. The Monza took off in popularity during the 1961 model year with a sales total of over 140,000 units. In all, there were 337,371 Corvairs produced in 1961.
The Chevy Corvair remained in production through May of 1969. It was an interesting car that made its mark on the industry during the turbulent decade of the 1960s.