corvair lineup with earlies
Allan V Lacki

Allan V Lacki

Corvair 95 Design

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Ken Genest speaking at Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair event (May 14, 2015).

by “Corvair Lady” (Eva McGuire)

Meet Mr. Ken Genest, former General Motors Senior Designer who worked at GM Styling from 1951 to 1998.  He worked on the first and second generation of Corvairs and contributed to the Corvair truck design.  Mr. Genest happened to be the one who coined the phrase “Corvan” and the name stuck.  What you are about to read is a speech given by Mr. Genest at my “Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair” event held at the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, Michigan, on May 14, 2015.  He spoke about his employment at General Motors and his work on the Corvair project.  Since the event, Ken and his wife have become very good friends of mine.  I'm privileged to say that Ken autographed my Corvan, the first Corvair truck he ever signed.

Ken Genest: “After I was honorably discharged from the army in February of 1957, I resumed the career that I had already started at General Motors Styling in 1954.  I was assigned to Advanced Design Studio Number One this time, along with Russ Russinoff.  We were a couple of rookies with tons of design training and no experience at that time. At least I was.

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Ken Genest & Eva McGuire in front of Eva's Corvan (Oct. 2015).

Ned Nickles was the Chief Designer in charge of our studio.  He was the guy famous for designing the portholes and bombsight hood ornaments on the Buicks of the 1950's.

We also had a technical stylist there who had previously worked directly for Henry Ford senior.  His name was Bill Block.  He told us about Mr. Ford pulling a soybean cookie out of his pocket, lint and all, and handing it to somebody, saying, “Here, eat this, it's good for ya!”  That was Mr. Ford.

Shortly after we started out in that studio, the Corvair design project was given to us with the statement that it was a “Holden” for General Motors of Australia.  I was even commissioned to do a 20 foot long illustration of our so-called Holden, which was a Corvair, parked in an Australian gas station with road signs pointing to Adaminaby and Wollongong...no kangaroos or koala bears.  GM didn't want it leaked out that they were working on a compact car at that time.

I can't point to any particular thing on the Corvair and say “I designed that”.  But I surely worked on plenty of designs for it during the months it was in our studio.  All the sketches have been trashed.

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Ken Genest's autograph on Corvan door.

I didn't work on anything else during that time period, but how much influence on the Corvair design that I had is hard to say.  It's certainly not the kind of a car you can hang things on, clean and simple as that design is.  The front end is pretty much from the same people who did the front end of the 1959 Oldsmobile that dipped down between the headlights.  Probably Mr. Earl brought that into our studio.  The rest of it was, I think, pretty much directed by Design management.

At one point, the full size clay model split into two complete full size clay models because Mr. Earl, our Design Vice President, wanted a rounded bullet-shaped design that I think Russinoff referred to.  But Mr. Ed Cole, GM Vice President and head of Chevrolet Division, wanted a crisper and more stylish look.  So we modeled both of them, two full size clay models, side by side.  We called one the “Cole” car and the other the “Earl” car.  Those of you that are my age get it.  The final Corvair looked more like Mr. Cole's version.

At one point, we were asked to contribute ideas for a Corvair van.  I made a sketch in a front three-quarter view showing a protruding peak beneath the windshield that went across the front, over the headlights, dipped down and wrapped around the headlights, and then went straight back to the rear of the vehicle.  It was related to the Corvair car front end, but different.  That sketch disappeared one day, and three years later the van came out with that design on the front end.

Design management would pick ideas, usually at night, from whatever studios they found them in, probably going through the studios after work hours and bringing them into the grist mill where they were applied.

That Corvair 95, in its Corvan and Greenbrier versions, was developed in a full size clay model somewhere else in the Design building, I don't know where, probably Truck Studio.  I never saw the clay model.

That wraps up my involvement with the design of the first Corvair.  Thank you for listening.”

Copyright 2015 Eva McGuire

Pilot Line Memories

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Cecil Cole holding his Corvair Pilot Line name badge.

By “Corvair Lady” Eva McGuire

Cecil Cole is the Chevrolet worker who hand-assembled the very first Corvair in 1959 in what was dubbed the “Green Room” or "Pilot Line".  This was just before Corvairs went into mass production at the Willow Run Plant in Ypsilanti, Michigan.

Cecil had a special Pilot Line name badge which gave him access to this secret area.  He was led by guards to a room and was locked inside with armed guards posted outside the door due to the confidentiality of the project.  Cecil was given blueprints for the Corvair and instructed to hand assemble the vehicle without the use of any power tools.  He said he was in there by himself, and for several days worked on hand assembling the car.  He did put the car together by himself and told me that he didn't even need to look at the blueprints stating that, being a southern boy, he knew how to tinker with cars.

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Cecil Cole at Willow Run in the 1960s.

Once finished, he was praised for completing the job and was then told to take the car apart and put it back together again.  This was repeated several times until they figured out when the vehicle was ready to be put to the assembly line.  Afterwards, other workers were brought in the Pilot Line to work with Cecil on the Corvair.  He also helped set up the assembly line and assisted with selecting and training the workers.

Mr. Cole was scheduled to appear at my “Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair” event on May 14, 2015, however, illness prevented him from attending.  Instead, his daughter, Pam Cole, spoke about her dad's Corvair hand assembly stories at the event.  I wanted Cecil to be a part of the celebration so I had the idea to call and put him on speaker phone while his daughter was on stage.  We had everyone in the audience give him big get well cheers.

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Close up of Pilot Line name badge.

Prior to the event, I had interviewed Cecil by phone and he had mentioned that he still had his Pilot Line name badge, which I believe is the only one in existence at this time.  I asked him if he could try and locate it and take a photo of it.  Cecil didn't know where the name badge was and had his wife looking for it.  This became a running joke between us about him finding the elusive Pilot Line name badge.

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Cecil Cole wearing his Corvair Pilot Line name badge.

After the Meet the Makers event, Cecil's wife eventually found his name badge, and I asked her to take photos of it with Cecil holding it.  The badge was issued on May 20, 1959.  In one of the photos, and to my delight, Cecil is wearing it which is the first time he put it on since hand assembling that first Corvair in 1959!  Cecil had his daughter travel down south from Michigan in order to hand-deliver the badge to me because he was too afraid of trusting it in the mail.  The badge is currently in my possession.  I will be donating it to the Corvair Preservation Foundation.

Cecil began his employment at Willow Run in 1955 at the Truck Plant.  Prior to that, he worked on the very first Corvettes being made in Ohio as a finisher of the bodies.  He relayed a funny story about how they tested the Corvette doors.  They would drop the doors on the floor, and if they didn't separate, splinter, or break...they were fine.

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Cecil's daughter donating the badge to the Corvair Preservation Foundation.

I had also interviewed Cecil's wife, Pat, who was asked what it was like to have her husband come home from his job in 1959 with him being sworn to secrecy about the Corvair project.  She said he never said a word about what he was doing at the plant and kept the well guarded secrets about this air-cooled rear engine compact car being made at Willow Run.  I found Cecil to be a man of strong faith and high integrity about how he worked on the Corvair. The workers who worked for and with him also spoke very highly about him with respect.

This has been my experience with a lot of the Corvair workers, engineers, and GM designers I've interviewed.  They are truly a wonderful group of people who built a very special and unique vehicle.

Copyright 2016 Eva McGuire

Meet the Makers

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'Corvair Lady' Eva McGuire inside the GM Willow Run plant where Corvairs were assembled.

A Historical Preservation Project
by: “Corvair Lady” Eva McGuire

In 2014, I created the “Meet the Makers of the Chevrolet Corvair” historical preservation project which involves documenting (by film and audio interviews) first hand stories of former GM designers, engineers, and auto workers who helped make this air-cooled automobile that I love so much.  Due to the fact that I drive a Corvair every day (including my winter cars) and live in the town where they made most of them (Ypsilanti Township, Michigan), I've been approached throughout the years by former auto workers who would tell me what they did at the Willow Run Assembly Plant in helping to make that car.  That prompted me to get the idea to capture these stories in order to share them with others for future generations of Corvair enthusiasts to enjoy.

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State of Michigan Proclamation for Chevrolet Corvair Appreciation Day.

Since then, I have interviewed over 135 former Corvair makers.  On May 14, 2015, a special tribute event was held at the Yankee Air Museum which included having 16 guest speakers and presentations to pay homage to these fine folks.  Edward N. Cole's eldest son, Dave Cole, was my special guest of honor.  We had a big audience turnout, and everyone was treated to a “meet and greet” with these former makers along with a Corvair car show which included a historical reunion of the last made Corvair convertible (car #5997) and last surviving coupe (car #5999).  These two cars hadn't seen each other since the last day of Corvair production at Willow Run on May 14, 1969.  I also wrote a proclamation which the Governor signed declaring May 14, 2015, “Chevrolet Corvair Appreciation Day” for the entire state of Michigan.

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Eva McGuire in front of the Rotunda (Fish Bowl) at Willow Run.

What you are going to see on this web page are some of the stories and photographs I've captured from this on-going project.  I am honored and privileged to say that, as an outsider, I was voted in to become a member of the several groups of former GM designers, Willow Run salary employees, and hourly auto workers.  This enables me to attend their private meetings and continue with my interviews.

I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much as I've enjoyed meeting and getting to know these wonderful makers, and hearing what took place during that golden era of car making which included our one of a kind air-cooled friend called “Corvair”.

Copyright 2017 Eva McGuire

Unsafe at Any Speed?

Are Corvairs "unsafe at any speed"?  Ralph Nader said YES in 1965.  In 1972, after reviewing Nader's evidence and conducting it's own tests on Corvairs, the United States government said NO

Many people are aware of Nader's contention that Corvairs are unsafe, but few are aware that, after an exhaustive investigation, the government arrived at a different conclusion.  Naturally, the Corvair Society of America (CORSA) welcomed the results of the government study as soon as it came out.  The following is an editorial that appeared in the October 1972 issue of CORSA's "Windmill" magazine.

Corvair Exonerated!  On Friday, July 21, 1972, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) - a branch of the federal government - issued a report on its two year investigation of the 1960-1963 Corvair.  The report concludes: "The handling and stability performance of the 1960-1963 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 NHTSA investigation proceeded along four fronts:  (1) a comprehensive search and review of all related General Motors/Chevrolet internal letters, memos, tests, reports, etc. regarding the Corvair’s handling, (2) a similar search and review of all related public technical literature, (3) a review of all national accident data compiled by insurance companies and traffic authorities for Corvairs and four other brands compact cars, both foreign and domestic, and (4) most importantly, a series of actual driving and handling tests designed to evaluate the handling and stability of Corvairs and the other cars under extreme maneuvering conditions.  The driving and handling tests were conducted for NHTSA by the Texas Institute of Transportation at Texas A&M University.  Click HERE for a pdf copy of NHTSA's "Evaluation of the 1960-1963 Corvair Handling and Stability".

To ensure the credibility of its findings, the results of the NHTSA investigation were then evaluated by a panel of three automotive experts (Raul Wright, Edwin Resler, and Ray Caldwell) who concluded the investigation was "adequate in scope and depth" and agreed that the Corvair "did not have a safety defect and is not more likely to roll over than contemporary automobiles." Click HERE for a pdf copy of the "Panel Evaluation of the NHTSA Approach to the 1960-1963 Corvair Handling and Stability".

Whitewash?  A day before this report was released, Ralph Nader released to the press a copy of a letter he wrote to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee.  In it he called the government investigation a "whitewash" and urged a congressional investigation.  He said the testing procedures had "numerous defects" and was "rigged" in General Motors' favor.  Nader further complained the government conclusions were contrary to the evidence he had previously shown on Corvair rollovers, statistical highway data or Corvair accidents, and cash settlements paid to Corvair victims by GM.

A statement from General Motors said only that the NHTSA report "confirms our position concerning the handling and stability characteristics of the 1960-1963 Corvair."

GM and the Feds.  Your Windmill editor has purposely avoided the Nader/Corvair controversy.  My feeling has been that CORSA members want to enjoy their Corvairs without constant reminders through news clippings in The Windmill of the car's supposed defects.  Now that an unbiased government report has been published, the time has come to speak out.

Mr. Nader may call this report a whitewash if he wishes, but does he actually expect us to believe that the government would bias it in favor of GM?  After more than five years of ever tougher federal safety and pollution laws, does Mr. Nader expect us to believe the government has suddenly done an about-face just to please GM?

During the seven years since Nader's Unsafe At Any Speed was published, we've been subjected to a continual barrage of anti-Corvair material.  In this period, not one court case has been decided against GM.  Now we have a government report declaring the stability of the car "at least as good" as its contemporaries.  If Mr. Nader is the hard-hitting, factual consumer advocate he claims, he would retract his whitewash charge and openly admit he is wrong in his Corvair stability findings.

About the Corvair Direct Air Heater.  In related actions this past winter, the NHTSA issued a bulletin on "potential health and safety hazards" of the 1961-1969 Corvair heaters, citing preliminary findings of carbon monoxide concentrations in some Corvairs.  This was merely a bulletin "inviting current consumer experience" and was in no way a final report.

Concurrently with the NHTSA bulletin, Chevrolet mailed certified letters to all registered Corvair owners notifying them of the NHTSA findings (Of 292 Corvairs tested, six were found to have sufficient amounts of carbon monoxide in the passenger compartment to cause a loss of driver alertness over a period of eight hours or more).  The letter urged that owners have their Corvairs inspected by a Chevrolet dealer.  It further stated "Chevrolet does not agree with the initial determination of a defect which was made by the NHTSA.  It is Chevrolet's position that there is no such risk if the Corvair has been regularly inspected and properly maintained and is in good working order."   Click HERE for the text of Chevrolet's certified letter.

Although an automobile heater is usually not considered a regular maintenance item, the system used in the Corvair necessitates periodic inspections.  Your editor supports Chevrolet's position on this subject.

The Ford Film.  CORSA members attending the '72 convention in Maryland may well remember seeing a film supplied by Dr. Charles Nash.  Dr. Nash, representing Mr. Nader, spoke briefly at the business meeting and presented this film as conclusive proof that the 1960 Ford Falcon was superior to the 1960 Corvair in handling tests.  The film, entitled "1960 Falcon- Corvair Handling Comparison", was an official Ford Motor Company project, and was made in the summer of 1959.  The tests were conducted on a circular track with a center radius of 150 feet.  Tire pressures on both vehicles were varied for different phases of the tests; in all phases the Corvair followed the Falcon.  The Corvair continually spun-out.

The NHTSA investigated this film and their findings appear in their Corvair investigation report.  They conclude "that the film......is not a valid evaluation of the handling characteristics of a 1960 Corvair."  NHTSA observed, "As the vehicles come to the end of the second curve with no apparent problems the driver of the Corvair can clearly be seen turning the steering wheel to the inside of the radius of the curve, for no logical reason, just as the vehicle passes the camera.  At this point in time the vehicle starts to skid."  Their analysis further states: "The test was conducted so that the Falcon was always the lead car when the two cars were driven in the same scene.  It was the conclusion of the analysis that this gave the Falcon a distinct advantage.  The drivers could not be monitored in their steering, throttle, or brake activities.  The drivers did not use any visible crash helmets or other safety equipment; apparently rollovers or accidents of this nature were not anticipated.  There were skid marks and dirt on the track at several points, where the driver ultimately left the road, which were there prior to the filming.  This indicated that some practice runs may have been performed before the filming.  It was interesting to note that the driver generally got the car to skid in about the same location, at a point where he was in front of the camera.  The driver also got the Corvair to go straight off the circular test track both forward and backward in the same spot."  Clearly the tests were rigged to make the Corvair look bad. No surprise - the film was produced by Ford Motor Company.

Notes:

Regarding the scope of the NHTSA investigation:  Due to Nader’s 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.

You Shop at Amazon. Amazon Gives to CPF!

by Rod Murray, Western Pennsylvania Corvair Club

Hello Chapter Members & fellow Corvair Enthusiasts,

I want to pass along some important information for anyone who uses Amazon for their online shopping. Did you know that Amazon offers a charitable program that donates money from every sale back to designated 501c3 charity groups? It's true, it's easy to use, and it's no cost to you! It's called Amazon Smile, and it works just like Amazon, but uses a different access link and only requires users to designate their select charity.

The link is https://smile.amazon.com/ if you want to take a look and/or pre-load your designated charity...may I suggest Corvair's own 501c3 non-profit arm, the CORVAIR PRESERVATION FOUNDATION?!

To be fair, Amazon Smile's donation of .5% for every sale may seem small, but every penny adds up, and the greater the level of participation, the greater the value to the CPF!

So far, this opportunity to help raise a few much-needed dollars for the CPF has been only lightly-promoted but I don't expect that to last. I encourage chapter officers, webmasters, and newsletter editors to actively promote Amazon Smile within your respective groups. And be sure to share with your family and friends. Again, every penny adds up, and this is an opportunity to do some good for the Corvair Preservation Foundation.

Establishing a New Chapter

Chapter Benefits.  CORSA provides several benefits to its Chapters and Special Interest Groups, such as:

  1. Free advertising of Chapter events via the CORSA Communique, CORSA website and CORSA social media.
  2. Free liability insurance for meetings and events conducted by Chapters based in the United States. (Excludes racing events).
  3. Free server space for Chapter websites.
  4. Discounts on Chapter purchases of CORSA merchandise in quantity.
  5. Administrative guidance in the organization and running of the Chapter.
  6. Sanction and support for certain regional events sponsored by Chapters.
  7. Standards for conducting, judging and scoring of competitive events.
  8. Availability of lists of CORSA members with contact information residing in the Chapter's area, for membership recruitment and event announcement purposes only.
  9. Information packets for recruiting new members.
  10. Special Interest Groups receive priority in scheduling meeting space and time at CORSA’s annual convention.

Establishing a New Chapter.  Are you interested in establishing a new CORSA Chapter or Special Interest Group?  You can do it!  There are some requirements, of course.  You have to apply to the CORSA national office.  Your application needs to include:

  1. The names and addresses of all the members of the proposed Chapter.  The membership list must include at least ten CORSA members and the CORSA members must account for at least half of the total members of the proposed chapter.  In Alaska, Hawaii, and foreign countries other than Canada, this minimum requirement is three.
  2. The names of club officers for the proposed Chapter.  A majority of the proposed Chapter's executive officers (president, vice-president, et al.) must be CORSA members.
  3. A copy of a constitution, or articles of incorporation and by-laws for the proposed Chapter.
  4. A name for your Chapter.

There are some additional administrative requirements, too.

Once your group has been awarded Chapter or Special Interest Group status by CORSA, you'll need to do certain things every year to maintain your group's status.  Among other things, your officers will need to submit an annual report providing names of its officers, members, and a basic description of its activities for the year.  There is a small annual processing fee, too.

Full details for establishing and maintaining CORSA Chapters and Special Interest Groups is provided by CORSA's Chapter Plan Procedure, which is available to CORSA members on this website.  Log on, click on Documents, and click on CORSA Governance (or similar).  And if you need help, feel free to contact the national office or any of your local Division Directors.

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