While interviewing retired Willow Run Corvair auto workers, I met a former employee who shared a secret about our Corvairs. Conley Phillips, commonly known as “Alabama”, worked at the Willow Run Assembly Plant from September 1959 until 1990. He started at the Fisher Body side of the plant in the Body Shop as a spot welder and moved on to various jobs including hi-lo driver, tow motor driver, and maintenance oiler. He is proud of the fact that he is the one who welded up the underbody of the first made Corvair convertible.
During my interview, Conley revealed a secret known only among the workers at Willow Run which I asked him to reveal at the “Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair” event held on May 14, 2015. The secret applies only to Corvairs that were built at Willow Run. For those who have such an air-cooled wonder, open the trunk lid and rub your fingertips over the wheel housing surface area on the driver or passenger side . You may be able to feel one or two small “dimples”. A few have reported no dimples being found, however, most Willow Run Corvairs have them. Corvair mechanic Mike McKeel reports most of the dimples he has found on customer cars are on the driver's side. Mike often wondered what the meaning of those mysterious little bumps were for the last 40+ years he's worked on these little gems.
Conley explained that these dimples were placed on the car body shells with a dinging hammer by the buy-out man at the end of the Fisher Body line before the car went over to the Chevrolet side of the plant for final assembly. One small dimple indicates that your Corvair body shell was a first shift made car, while two dimples signifies a second shift made car. While relaying these facts to the audience, Conley didn't share the “rest of the story” which I did on stage and am doing here with more details. The purpose of the dimples was to ensure that should someone come back and claim there was a screw-up on the car, they would know which shift was responsible.
There was also a competition that existed between the first and second shift workers (which I will not go into details here as to all the whys). It was common knowledge within the plant that second shift workers made better Corvairs than first shift. I was told by confidential sources that there were occasions when, if there was a screw-up on a first shift Fisher Body car shell, an extra dimple was purposely added to blame the second shift. This competition also extended over to the Chevrolet side of the plant where it was also known that second shift cars were better made than first shift cars.
The Chevrolet side did not assemble the Fisher made bodies immediately, and not necessarily in order. So don't assume if you have one dimple on your Corvair that you have a first shift completed car. You could have a one dimple/first shift body shell made by Fisher with a second shift completed car made by Chevrolet; or, you could have a two dimple/second shift body shell by Fisher with a first shift completed car by Chevrolet; or, a same shift car for both sides. This is due to the banking of hundreds of car shells on the Fisher Body side of the plant waiting to go over to the Chevrolet side for final assembly.
After Conley left the stage and I had explained the rest of the story, I jokingly told the audience that, “Conley must be a first shift worker,” implying that he might be one of those who added an extra dimple to blame the second shift. This was due to all the previous antics and tomfoolery he confessed to during his speech as a former employee at Willow Run. Conley, who is now affectionately known as “The Dimple Guy” among Corvair owners, delighted some of the audience members by demonstrating which shift a Willow Run Corvair body shell was made on some of the cars brought to the show. Detroit Area Corvair Club members Kerry and Jan Borgne brought their 1963 Spyder convertible to the event. They were grateful that they didn't remove the dimple when they restored their car because they initially thought it was a small dent inside the trunk that needed to be repaired.
Now that you've learned this secret, anyone who currently owns a Willow Run built Corvair, or buys one in the future, might consider keeping the dimples in place knowing the history and story behind them.
Copyright 2016 Eva McGuire