Chevrolet’s rear-engined, air-cooled Corvair is one of the most radical cars to come from an American automaker in a long time, and just as radically, it was allowed to carry on largely unchanged for the last five years. For 1965, however, there’s finally an entirely new Corvair, and while it’s not as much of a groundbreaker as the 1960 model was, it’s been refined and improved in many meaningful ways.
While dimensional changes are minor and two of the available engines carry over from last year, the ’65 Corvair boasts an all-new suspension design and lovely new looks for its unit-construction body. I recently spent a week with a new Corvair in Monza Sport Sedan trim to get a taste of the Corvair’s new lease on life.
|1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Sport Sedan—Driven|
|Transmission:||Two-speed automatic||Horsepower @ RPM:||110 @ 4400|
|Torque @ RPM:||160 @ 2600||Displacement:||2.7 L|
|Top Speed:||95 mph||Price:||Affordable|
|Car Segment:||Compact Cars||Size:||Compact|
|Purpose:||Family Cars||Body Style:||Sedan|
|* Voluptuous Styling Evokes Impala, Corvette, Monza GT Show Car||* Monza Trim Adds Extra Chrome, Full Wheel Covers for 13-Inch Wheels|
|* All Coupes and Sedans Now Hardtops||* Locking Front Trunk|
The new Corvair presents a dramatically cleaner and more sophisticated appearance than last year’s model. All coupes and sedans are now hardtops, and the sedan gains a more formal—and more graceful—roofline, at the expense of the excellent visibility afforded by the old Corvair’s wraparound rear window. Only the prominent beltline crease, and the still-welcome absence of any simulated grille at the front, identify this handsome new car as a Corvair.
The Corvair’s new Coke-bottle hips visually link it to the equally dramatic new full-size Chevrolets, not to mention the Corvette, as do the round quad taillights. Those lights are inset into an unusual, Kamm-style panel that evokes the 1962 Monza GT dream car, while the front of the car has a forward-thrusting speedboat look. It sounds like a lot of disparate elements, but they hang together remarkably well to create a look that is both more elegant and more sporty than the norm for this class.
This year’s Corvair is even lower than last year’s—by 0.3 inches—making entry and egress a bit challenging, especially if you’re on the tall side, and the smaller rear window openings dictated by the pillarless style impede even more for rear passengers. The opening for the front trunk still requires a higher lift to clear the lip than we’d like, but otherwise it’s large and easy to access, with the locking mechanism neatly hidden behind the Chevrolet logo on the little chrome mustache that spans between the headlights.
Wheelbase (inches) 108
Length (inches) 183.3
Width (inches) 69.7
Height, unladen (inches) 51.2
Track front/rear (inches) 55/57.2
Curb weight (lbs.) 2,564
|* Rich Two-Tone Color Scheme||* Deluxe Vinyl and Full Carpet with Monza Trim|
|* Effective Heater Includes Rear-Seat Vent||* Pushbutton AM Radio|
|* 7.0 Cubic Feet of Trunk Space||* Rear Seat Folds Down for Even More Cargo Space|
Like the exterior, the interior belies the Corvair’s low price in style—but maybe not as convincingly in feature content. The Willow Green exterior of my tester was paired with a rich-looking Fawn and Gold two-tone interior. The Monza trim level represents the top of the line for sedans (the coupe and convertible lines are topped by the sports-oriented Corsa, replacing last year’s Monza Spyder), and it adds bucket-style front seats, nicer vinyl upholstery throughout, neat loop-pile carpeting on the floors, and other deluxe bits and pieces.
Note I said bucket-style front seats; true bucket seat comfort and support are sadly absent here. The seat bottoms are squishy and the seatbacks flat. Lap belts are provided for front seat passengers (they’re optional for the rear, although they’ll be required when the 1966 model year rolls around), and you’ll want to use them if you’re doing any kind of spirited driving.
Rear seat comfort isn’t much better, unfortunately. The head- and leg room stats look competitive on paper (see chart below), but the seat cushion is mounted very low, forcing all but the smallest rear passengers into an uncomfortable knees-up position.
Cabin ventilation is very good. In addition to the front vent windows—and, y’know, that big opening when you put all the windows down—the driver and front passenger each have a control for their own fresh air intakes. The heater and defroster both work quickly and effectively, and there’s even a vent to warm rear passengers’ feet, one of the cabin’s more luxurious touches. For true luxury, a fully integrated air conditioner is optional, although be warned that its compressor forces the spare tire out of the engine compartment and into the trunk, reducing cargo space.
Speaking of which, even without the spare up there, the front trunk remains small and a bit oddly shaped. There’s a reasonably wide, deep well toward the front, which will easily accommodate a weeks’ worth of groceries for a small family, or perhaps two small suitcases if they’re soft, and a shallower area at the rear, over the gas tank. Monza sedans and coupes still have a standard folding rear seatback, too, which adds quite a bit of useful space inside the cabin, though obviously at the expense of being able to carry those passengers. One quirk of its operation is that both rear doors must be open to lower the seat in the sedan—it won’t clear the armrests if they’re closed!
In true Chevrolet fashion, the options list is long. You can choose to spec the folding seat on the base 500 model for an extra $27. In addition to the air conditioner, comfort options include a telescoping steering column, a tinted windshield, and an assortment of radios, including a pushbutton AM/FM model. Optional safety gear includes a padded dash, two-speed windshield wipers, a day/night interior rearview mirror, and a door-mounted side-view mirror, the latter three of which can be bundled into a Comfort and Convenience option group.
Even with a modest option load—our tester had the Comfort and Convenience group, deluxe front seatbelts, and a pushbutton AM radio—the Corvair Monza’s interior is warm and inviting. We just wish it also provided more support when the going gets fun.
|Headroom, front/rear (inches)||37.6/36.4|
|Leg Room, front/rear (inches)||41.1/35.4|
|Shoulder Room, front/rear (inches)||54.3/54.3|
|Hip Room front/rear (inches)||56.1/56.1|
|EPA Passenger Volume (cubic feet)||89.1|
|EPA Cargo Volume (cubic feet)||7.0|
|* 2.7-Liter Flat Six in Four States of Tune||* 180-Horsepower Turbocharged Engine Exclusive to Corsa Trim|
|* Dual-Carburetor Engines Produce 95 and 110 Horsepower||* New Four-Carburetor Engine Makes 140 Horsepower|
|* Three-Speed Manual is Standard||* Four-Speed Manual and Two-Speed Automatic are Optional|
|* Rear-Mounted, Air-Cooled Engines||* Rear-Wheel Drive|
Three versions of the aluminum-intensive, air-cooled 2.7 liter Corvair flat six are available in the sedan. The base 95-horsepower and optional 110-horse dual-carburetor versions are both carryovers from last year; a 140-horse version with an exotic four-carb setup is a new and exciting addition. The Corsa coupe and convertible come standard with the 140, and also offer an exclusive turbocharged version, good for 180 horsepower.
All engines come standard with a three-speed stick, with a four-speed optional. A special, Corvair-specific version of the two-speed Powerglide automatic is available on all models except for the Corsas, and is likely to remain the most popular choice. As in the past, gear selection on the Powerglide is done via an unusual dash-mounted lever—and there’s no Park setting, so use of the handbrake is not optional!
Our tester came with the 110-horse six, which differs from the 95 only in its higher compression ratio (9.25:1 compared to 8.25:1), mated to the Powerglide automatic. Smoothness is the hallmark of this team, with a sewing machine hum accompanying the surge of acceleration when you step on it. Plentiful low-end torque helps the Corvair keep up in the stoplight derby—although dipping deep into the modest power reserves can cost you at the gas pump. While highway mileage can crack into the 20s, around-town driving means fuel consumption in the low-to-mid teens, only a modest improvement over a full-size car with a V8.
|Engine||2.7 L flat 6, dual Rochester single-barrel carb|
|Horsepower||110 @ 4,400 RPM|
|Torque||160 @ 2,600 RPM|
|Optional Transmissions||4-speed manual, 2-speed Powerglide automatic|
|Fuel Economy||12 / 20 / 15|
|Top Speed||95 mph|
Don’t let the Corvair’s modest stats fool you into thinking it’s all show and no go. While other American sedans might back up their exuberant styling with big V8 power, the Corvair’s jewel-like elegance and practical size on the surface provide a good hint that its priorities are different, and one pass on a twisty road will show you exactly where they lie.
It’s no secret that the Corvair’s rear-engine layout was chosen for the original 1960 model because that’s what the Volkswagen used and Chevrolet wanted to build a Volkswagen fighter. Like the VW, too, early Corvairs could be a bit squirrely in high-speed cornering situations, and required a level of finesse to drive that an average American sedan didn’t. There was some improvement to the Corvair’s suspension design over the years to correct this, but this year’s changes are a revelation.
In effect, the ’65 Corvair has adopted the Corvette’s fully-independent rear suspension, finally doing away with the old swing axle. This translates to a much more planted feel and much greater adhesion of the traction-rich rear tires at speed. The Corvair’s steering, as before, is unassisted, and provides incredibly direct feedback and admirable precision. This is, hands down, the most fun American sedan when the going gets curvy, with the steering, suspension, and powertrain finally all working in concert. “Sports Sedan” might be so much marketing mumbo-jumbo (in Chevrolet-speak, it just means a four-door hardtop), but this Corvair truly earns the label.
Despite its alluring style and exotic engineering, the Corvair is still one of the better bargains out there. In fact, this year, it adds a new feather in its value cap: the 500 is the lowest-priced hardtop sedan available, at just $2,405. Stepping up to the Monza will add $60, while the 110-horse engine is an extra $27 and the Powerglide automatic is $157, bringing the basic package tested here to $2,649.
Options on our tester included a tinted windshield for $13, a pushbutton radio for $59, deluxe front seatbelts for $8, white-sidewall tires for $29, and the Comfort and Convenience group for $29. This last option, in particular, adds several worthwhile safety features and we consider it a must-buy—although it really ought to be standard equipment. A rear-mounted radio antenna is a no-cost option.
All in, our Monza Sport Sedan rang up at a very reasonable $2,787. Big spenders might consider the 140-horsepower engine, which adds $81, a four-speed ($92), or the $350 air conditioner, but we thought our tester was very pleasantly equipped.
Ford’s Falcon really competes more directly with Chevrolet’s more conservative Chevy II series, but it compares to the Corvair in size and price and offers a package that might appeal to a more cautious, less sport-oriented buyer. It’s not dramatically new, with only minor detail changes separating the 1964 and ’65 models, and while it may not be as striking as the Corvair, its more upright appearance (it’s over 3 inches taller) gives it a higher seating position that many may find more comfortable, and slightly greater headroom. Cargo space, too, is an advantage, with its more conventionally-shaped trunk capable of swallowing 12.2 cubic feet worth of stuff to the Corvair’s skimpy 7.0.
The Falcon offers two inline sixes and a V8 option, ranging from 105 to 200 horsepower. A three-speed manual is standard and a three-speed Ford-O-Matic automatic is optional with each engine; the 289 V8 can also be paired with a four-speed stick for a slightly sportier experience. Handling is frankly primitive in comparison to the Corvair, but fuel economy is slightly better with either of the sixes and only fractionally worse with the much more powerful V8.
Prices for the Falcon sedan start at a low $2,038, with the deluxe Futura series—comparable to the Corvair Monza, although no Falcon four-door hardtop is offered—starting at $2,146, both hundreds of dollars lower than even the most basic Corvair.
The Corvair feels much closer in conception to a European sport sedan than an American economy sedan, and the Volvo 122S is one of the best examples of the former. Its dated exterior, which looks like nothing so much as a short, narrow, and tall 1956 Chrysler, hides a stout powertrain and a roomy, comfortable cabin. Like the Falcon, its extra height over the Corvair—a whopping 6 inches in this case—gives it a more upright, more comfortable seating position, more than offsetting its 6-inch shorter wheelbase. The Volvo’s seats are among the most comfortable out there, and rear passengers even get a pull-down center armrest.
Only one engine is available in the Volvo, a 90-horsepower, 1.8 liter inline four driving the rear wheels. This year, the familiar four-speed stick has been joined by an optional three-speed Borg Warner automatic. Despite its small power disadvantage to the six-cylinder Corvair, lower curb weight helps the Volvo hang with the Chevy in the 0-60 sprint, finishing just half a second behind at 14.9.
At $2,630, the Volvo’s base price is higher than the Corvair Monza’s, but in many important ways the basic Volvo is a more comprehensively equipped car, and few optional extras are needed—or indeed offered. Safety features not found on the Corvair at any price, such as front disc brakes or three-point front safety belts, are standard equipment on the Volvo.
The Corvair has always been different from other compact American cars, but the new ’65 model finally makes crystal clear what the Corvair’s distinct value proposition is. No longer just different for the sake of being different, the Corvair has evolved into a sparkling sports sedan with a forgiving, easy-to-drive character and excellent dance moves—and elegant style to boot.
Better still, the Corvair offers all of these virtues at a price that remains fully competitive with other, less compelling American compacts. When cross-shopping with the European sedans that feel like the Corvair’s more natural competition, its value proposition looks stronger yet, although it also becomes apparent that the Corvair, like most American cars, is behind the curve on safety features.
Still, the Corvair’s excellent handling characteristics may be its most important safety feature of all, and on that score, there’s little to complain about. That marks a bigger transformation from the old Corvair than appearances might have led any of us to believe!
|Love It||Leave It|
|* Sexy new style||* Less than supportive seats|
|* Sophisticated engineering||* Mediocre fuel economy|
|* True sports-sedan handling||* Some options should be standard|
|* Good value for money|
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