Why 1969 Corvairs?
The 1969 Corvairs were officially introduced on
A prudent manufacturer
might have discontinued the car after 1967, especially in light of the
upcoming new federal safety and emission standards mandated for the 1968
models. The Corvair had become GM’s orphan, its market share taken away and
handed over to other Chevy products - Chevy II, Nova, Camaro,
In January, 1967 the Chevrolet public relations department had in fact privately prepared a statement announcing the end of Corvair production that Spring. It would have made sense to drop the car, but GM management decided to go ahead with the 1968 ( and 1969 ) Corvairs. Considering the long lead-time necessary to get new models ready, many of the parts were surely already in the pipeline. GM of course knew in advance how insignificant Corvair sales were going to be as they set the production limits. Those sales really didn’t justify any production, but GM made the conscious decision not to drop the car.
was concerned with more positive matters - soaring Impala sales, heavy demand
for the Nova models and the hot selling Camaro -
and apparently had little time for the orphan Corvair. The General Manager at
Chevrolet, Pete Estes, was a hands-on engineer and he really liked the
Corvair, but his casual management style allowed the car to linger on longer
than it really should have. A new Chevy General Manager took over on
The 6300 United States
Chevrolet dealers indicated their indifference to the Corvair by doing what
their customers told them. Chevy shoppers weren’t asking for Corvairs so dealers had no reason to order any for their
showrooms or sales lots. Not wanting to pass up a buck, they would be happy
to special order one if a customer insisted or couldn’t be steered toward
another model. In some parts of the country the traditional Corvair values
continued to sell the car. In the cold, snow climates of the Northeast and
Some dealers were simply afraid of the car and its legal battles and felt it was negative selling to try to defend it. It was soooo much easier to sell Novas or Camaros. The service department didn’t like to work on them ( though they always seemed to have a " Corvair man " back there ! ) and the Used Car Department sales guys hated them on the lot.
1300 1969 Corvairs were left unsold when the car was discontinued in May, necessitating a $ 150 rebate program. Not quite one quarter of the entire ’69 Corvair production run, it indicated how tough those Corvair sales had become. Chevy sold over two million ’69 models, but it had a difficult time clearing out a measly 6000 Corvairs.
What’s Different About 1969’s?
Thirteen new exterior colors were introduced for the entire Chevrolet range, including the Corvair. A total of fifteen were available. Tuxedo Black and Butternut Yellow were carried over unchanged. Ermine White, used since 1960, became Dover White, a much brighter shade.
A new feature
introduced by General Motors for its 1969 passenger cars did not appear on
the Corvair - the steering column mounted ignition switch & lock. An
anti-theft measure required by federal law starting
Basic models - 500 Coupe, Monza Coupe & Monza Convertible continued with the same features introduced in 1965. Engine & transmission were also the same, with the addition (introduced for the ’68 models ) of an air injection pump setup to reduce engine exhaust emissions. Minor revisions to carburetors & distributors were also done for emission standards.
On The Production Line
The vast majority of
all 1960-1969 Corvairs were built at the Chevrolet
and Fisher Body assembly facilities in Willow Run. In the sixties, Corvairs were also built in
Exactly 6000 1969 Corvairs were assembled - 2,762 500 coupes, 2,717
The Willow Run plant began building the Chevy II Nova for the 1962 model year running them on the same production line as the Corvair. As the Corvair’s production volume dropped each year after 1965, it became harder and harder to build it on the same line with Nova. By 1969, only three Corvairs per hour were coming down the line amid all the Novas and it became a serious problem to train new assembly workers on the Corvair intricacies. Add to that the basic layout differences of the two cars. The job that a worker did at a given station on a Nova may not have been the same job as needed on a Corvair. The Corvair required more work than the Nova before the powertrain and suspension were married to the body, and the Nova needed more work afterwards. This meant the Corvair was getting a free ride for a while on the line, a very inefficient arrangement.
Something had to give
and the most logical choice was to get the Corvair off the main line. On
There were five assembly stations on the line. Numbers one, three and five had hoists. Station one lowered the carrier cradle, picked up the body and returned the body truck to Fisher. Then, with the body raised, workers began installing gas & brake lines, linkages, heater, and so forth.
At station two the carrier stayed in the air and the body was prepared for marriage with the front & rear suspensions and engine-transaxle assembly. At station three, the carrier was lowered by hoist and electrical, wiring, steering column, dash and interior parts were installed. At station four, the carrier was raised up again where the engine and chassis components were brought from their own miniature line and raised up into the car from underneath. Gas tank, bumpers and tires were installed here as well. At station five, the car was lowered to the floor for fluids, headlamps, aiming, bezels, wipers, etc.
Most workers there felt they were privileged to work in the area, feeling it was the best place to work at Willow Run. And they all liked the Corvair. The line ran smoothly. Despite continual parts shortages, those who were there feel the best built 1969 Corvairs were those completed between November 15th and April 21st when all hell broke loose. Production during this period totaled about 2600 cars.
The original schedule for the Corvair room assembly was to build out through July, but orders for Novas had backed up and dealers were screaming for more. This could only be done if Corvair production was finished, adding that manpower to the Nova line. On April 21st, Corvair production was doubled to 51 cars a day, making the last day of production May 14th. The goals were met and the weekly rates did indeed double to over 300 Corvairs each week. In the first week of the new program, 318 were built, up from 145 the week before. It accelerated for two more weeks, hitting 341 and then 364 cars. The very last work week of Corvair production was only two and one half days long, but they still cranked out 141 Corvairs. How did they do it?
Three ways. The first was to put the entire Willow Run work force on a six day, overtime week, as union rules prevented the Corvair workers from being the only ones to get Saturday overtime. Second, the number of workers doubled. The third and most important change that allowed the rapid build out of ’69 Corvairs was the violation of GM’s steadfast rule against stockpiling cars. A car was never built unless there was a dealer order on hand, and cars were never built ahead of orders. Leave it to the Corvair to be the exception, and all those unsold Corvairs began to pile up outside the plant. They just couldn’t be sold as fast as the speeded up line was churning them out. The rush complicated an already critical parts shortage problem and many of these very last Corvairs were let go to dealers short of parts.
After the dust settled, 6000 Corvairs had indeed been built by May 14th - 2194 on the main line with the Novas and 3806 in the Corvair room. Of those 3806, 1164 were built during the last three and one half weeks. Novas total 1969 model year production was a whopping 283,000. In retrospect, it seems incredible that so much effort went into assembling such a small handful of Corvairs. It once again proved that the Corvair was always the exception rather than the norm.
The Associated Press, United Press International, and local TV stations were requesting to photograph the last Corvair as it actually came off the assembly line that Wednesday. No plans had been made to have the press at Willow Run and even the ever-present GM Photographic Department wasn’t going to be there. All GM needed was smug, gleeful reports in the media that the Corvair was finally dead.
With all the requests to see the last Corvair being built, GM relented. A small ceremony would be allowed, which probably assured better treatment by the press than if they’d been shut out. The Corvair room was a high security area at Willow Run and very few outsiders had ever been in it. So it must have seemed strange when newsmen began arriving after lunch on Wednesday, May 14th. The line had been running all morning so the very last cars could be ready for them.
The tone of the day was very informal, with no speeches or statements by anyone from GM. It was a sad day for the assembly workers, foremen and their supervisors who had grown fond of the Corvair and their little team. It surely was no day of celebration for them. Instead, it was a funeral and they were the pallbearers.
The last Corvair, an Olympic Gold Monza Coupe (# 6000), was in its overhead carrier and was pushed closer to the waiting newsmen The car in front (# 5999) was lowered to the floor, on its wheels for the first time. After receiving its ration of gasoline, this Lemans Blue Monza coupe quickly became as famous as # 6000 itself. 5999 wouldn’t start. A loud backfire, and then silence. Some sentimental workers and reporters felt the Corvair was stubbornly holding up the line, refusing to die.
All the evidence points
to a "service" or replacement engine, one that would normally be
ordered for customers’ cars. Due to the extreme shortage of parts at Willow
Run for the last Corvairs, a service 140 was
probably ordered. This was then installed in # 5999 as its original engine.
Engines shipped directly to Willow Run from the
With # 5999 now pushed out of the way, at #6000 was easily started and driven a few feet ahead where the Olympic Gold Monza coupe stopped for photographs by the press. At , # 6000 was driven out of the building, followed by the newsmen, and down a ramp onto the loading dock area. Nearby was a long string of tri-level railroad cars filled mostly with Novas and a few Corvairs. More photos were taken here by the press and plant personnel. And that was that, the Corvair production decade was over.
information is reprinted from 1969 Corvair Finger Tip Facts by Mark Ellis
and Dave Newell, available exclusively from Clark’s
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