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Corvair Handling and Stability

"Didn't these things roll over?" There it is again, that question. Corvair owners know it well, and many have nearly worn themselves out answering it. It's the Nader question, and most people have heard something about Nader and the Corvair, but few truly know the facts.

Bob Helt, a well known and longtime member of the Corvair Society of America (CORSA) is a tireless defender of the Corvair. After one of his visits to this site, he sent me a message encouraging me to present the facts about Nader and his charges against the Corvair. His comments appear below and are accompanied by some technical drawings and a few of my own remarks on the subject of the Corvair's handling characteristics.


By Bob Helt

Nader's Charges

In his 1965 book, Unsafe at any Speed, and several preliminary articles in the national magazine, The Nation, Ralph Nader charged that the 1960-63 Corvairs had a defective rear suspension that made them prone to roll-over and dangerous to drive. He claimed that they were prone to roll-over and loss of control. Although his facts were meager, his charges were hard-hitting and were picked up by all news covering organizations. Although only the first chapter of his book was devoted to the Corvair, that is the thing most remembered about his book, and most associated with Nader. As a result of his charges and subsequent U.S. Senate hearings there was a growing national concern about automobile safety, with the Corvair the center of attention.


Thorough Testing

Due to Naderís wild charges about the Corvair and the national concerns for automobile safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was authorized to run a series of comparative tests during the Spring and Summer of 1971 to demonstrate the handling of the 1963 Corvair against four contemporary competitive automobiles. Involved in the tests were The Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault Dauphine, the 1963 Corvair, and a 1967 Corvair for reference.

The test program was quite comprehensive and detailed. It was divided into four parts:

  • a comprehensive search and review of all related General Motors/Chevrolet internal letters, memos, tests, reports, etc. regarding the Corvairís handling

  • a similar search and review of all related public technical literature

  • a review of all national accident data compiled by insurance companies and traffic authorities for the six cars selected for these tests

  • a series of actual driving and handling tests designed to evaluate the handling and stability under extreme maneuvering conditions; and to push the test vehicles to their limits


The Corvair Is Exonerated

At the conclusion of these tests, the NHTSA released its 134 page report. It exonerated the Corvair from Naderís charges, and said things such as: "The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests," and, "The handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." The complete report, PB 211-015, can be obtained from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS)*.


An Independent Panel Agrees

Because the NHTSA wanted to be as sure as possible of their approach, tests and conclusions, they then contracted with a three man advisory panel of independent professional engineers to review the scope and competency of the NHTSA tests. This review panel then issued their own 24 page report (PB 211-014, also available from the NTIS*).

In their report, the Panel drew even stronger conclusions in support of the Corvair than the NHTSA. They said, "It is the opinion of the panel that the Corvair quantitatively meets or exceeds the standards set by contemporary cars in stability tests, cornering tests, and rollover tests," and, "for this reason the panel concluded that the 1960-63 Corvair does not have a safety defect, and is not more unstable or more likely to roll over than contemporary cars."


Nader is Proven Wrong

Wow, go back and read that again. No safety or handling defects in the Corvair! But does anybody know this? The news media all but ignored these conclusions. They apparently thought that Naderís charges were of greater news value than the fact that his charges were all proven wrong. Even today, of those who know of Naderís charges against the Corvair, few if any know that his charges were false and were proven wrong. No, the fact that the Corvair was exonerated of all of Naderís charges was hardly publicized. It received little or no attention from the media.

It is ironic that these false charges concerning the Corvairís handling and stability are all anyone remembers, and are the only story ever told in the Press, even though they have been fully refuted by actual tests. Nader, of course, built his career on these false charges. 
*National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA  22161

By the time the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a press release dated August 12, 1972, setting out the findings of the NHTSA, the Corvair had been out of production for more than three years. While the press may have been reluctant to publicize the good news about the Corvair ("Good news doesn't sell papers!"), it was fitting that the NHTSA accompanied its press release with a letter addressed to all Corvair owners, so they would hear of the good news and put to rest any insecurities about the safety of their cars. In its letter, the NHTSA indicated:

"The Corvair handling and stability compared favorably with the other contemporary vehicles used in the NHTSA testing programs. Vehicle rollover did not occur in any of the comparative tests for the Corvair, Falcon or Valiant. The Volkswagen and the Renault did rollover in some of the comparative tests."

On the following pages, we'll have a look at some drawings of the 1960-63 Corvair rear suspension as well as the 1964 suspension upgrade and the 1965 redesign.

Click the road sign for more.

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