01 Eric Black_s artwork previews the Corvair build
Eric Black’s artwork is a preview of what Lonnie Gilbertson’s RareVair will look like. It’s simple, clean, and packed with V8 power.

Part 1: The Corvair Chevrolet Should Have Built

By Ron Ceridono – Photography By Lonnie Gilbertson

When Chevrolet introduced the Corvair in 1960 it was revolutionary in many regards. The rear-mounted, air-cooled engine arrangement was not unusual for European cars (Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat, and others) but for GM to try it didn’t just push the contemporary American design envelope, it tore it apart.

02 1965 Corvair Corsa found as the starting point for the RareVair build
It required some searching but Lonnie found a solid 1965 Corvair Corsa, which was the top of the line that year, for the foundation for the RareVair.

The new Corvair was well accepted by the automotive press, in fact, Motor Trend magazine named it car of the year, however, the public was less enthusiastic and sales were slow. The new Ford Falcon, also introduced in 1960, outsold the Corvair by a considerable margin. Then came Ralph Nader, the Corvair’s most notable detractor. In his book, Unsafe At Any Speed, Nader described the car as “The Sporty Corvair–The One-Car Accident.”

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Among other issues, Nader claimed the Corvair was swing axle rear suspension and could cause the outside rear wheel to tuck under during extreme turning maneuvers, causing the driver to lose control and the car to roll over (claims a later safety commission report found to be untrue). For 1965 the Corvair’s swing axles were replaced with a Corvette-like Independent Rear Suspension system. Along with other suspension upgrades, the handling characteristics were now thought by many enthusiasts to be first-rate. But it was too little too late; the public didn’t trust the Corvair, so production came to a halt in 1969.

03 The rear floor section needs to be removed for the new engine and transaxle
With the rear floor section removed the engine and transaxle were installed from below. At this point, there was no turning back.

Over the years there have been several impressive examples of modified Corvairs: the Yenko Stinger that retained the original horizontally opposed 6-cylinder engine modified to produce 190 hp and several V8 swaps, the most notable being the Crown conversion kit in the late ’60s. But what we have here is what we think is the ultimate Corvair, Lonnie Gilbertson’s RareVair.

Lonnie has a long history as a hot rodder. He’s campaigned a Buick-powered dragster car, been involved

04 We plan to power the Corvair with an LS specifically this LS3
Where the back seat once resided, a Corvette 6.2 LS3 that packs considerably more punch than the original 164ci, 140-horse flat-six.

in circle track racing, and is a two-time winner of the AMBR trophy (America’s Most Beautiful Roadster) in 1971 and 1975. Over the years Lonnie has built a variety of cars, but this latest effort was inspired by the 1965 Corvair Corsa his brother had in the late ’60s. As Lonnie explains, “ I have always liked the style of the 1965-1969 car; as it happened, I found a 1965 Corsa that was good enough to build. I wanted to build the car with a Yenko Stinger flavor (they were built to compete on the road race circuit), instead of a hopped-up flat-six I thought a mid-mounted V8 would be cool and satisfy the hot rodder in me.” And so the RareVair was born.

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05 Paired to the LS3 is a 930 Turbo Porsche Transaxle for mid-engine application
Transmitting power to the ground is a 930 Turbo Porsche transaxle that had been modified for a mid-engine application. Kennedy engineering supplied the adaptor and clutch assembly.

As might be guessed, dropping a LS V8 and transaxle in the backseat of a Corvair is not without challenges. There were such things as reinforcing the unitized chassis in all the critical areas to consider, where to mount the LS swap radiator, how to deal with shifter and clutch linkage, and that’s just the shortlist. There were also a host of chassis modifications that would be required, which we’ll get into in Part II of the RareVair build. In the meantime, take a look at what it took to create the Corvair that Chevrolet should have built. MR

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