02 1965 corvair LS3

This Custom 1965 Chevy Corvair Sports a Mid-Engine–Mounted Corvette LS3

By Brian Brennan – Photography by Dale Moreau

How do you build a mid-engine Corvair with an LS3? Patience. Modern Rodding unveils our November 2021 cover car, the RareVair—a 550hp lightweight two-seater with the heart of a Corvette. It’s the Corvair Chevrolet should have built. Read our previous two installments of how Lonnie Gilbertson crammed a modern V8 in this little Corvair:08 v8 corvair

Part 1: Building the Ultimate Chevrolet Corvair “RareVair”

Part 2:  Bodywork & Paint On The LS3 Powered “RareVair” Chevrolet Corvair

Chevrolet did build a Corvette Corvair concept in the 1950s, but this ain’t that. This is the Corvair they should have built with a V8 and 6-speed transaxle.

We could have easily titled this story “Pull Me Over Red” as that truly is the Chevrolet name of this factory color. But alas we didn’t give way and stayed the course as to what the ’65 Corvair Corsa really is–a RareVair. (The Corsa is to the Corvair what the SS is to the Chevrolet line.)

If you have followed along the past two issues of Modern Rodding, you will be aware of the construction articles penned by Ron Ceridono on this RareVair. What was once an old and tired ’65 Corvair is now resurrected into a ’65 RareVair briming full with great ideas, amazing craftsmanship, and nifty parts all from the fertile mind of Lonnie Gilbertson of Oregon.09 chevy corvair customized

A quick visit to the web and you will find Lonnie’s Place and see that this is no ordinary hot rod shop and Lonnie is something special. If the name sounds familiar then that probably means you’ve been around this hobby for some time. You see, he’s a two-time winner (1971 and 1975) of the Grand National Roadster Show’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award. He’s been inducted into the Portland Roadster Show Hall of Fame–on three separate occasions.

He is also a Boise Roadster Show Master Builder and his hot rods have graced the covers of numerous magazines. He builds for a broad list of clienteles who have recruited him to build 100-point restorations or to design and build unique hot rods.

With all the hot rods in all the world why would anyone build a custom Corvair? Yep, that was our first question and Lonnie was ready with a solid answer. He remembered his brother was into Corvairs and had a four-speed 140hp Corvair Corsa. Lonnie liked the car, especially the lines, and rapidly became somewhat of an expert on them. But he wanted more and he also enjoyed road racing so in his mind he saw it as a Yenko Stinger but for a Corvair. Being a fan of road racing and horsepower he felt the Corvair was underpowered. Back in the day there was a V-8 swap kit made popular by Crown Corv-8 that turned a rather docile flat-six–powered Corvair in a proverbial “street animal.” This planted the seed for Lonnie, and when the time came he knew what it was he wanted to do to power his RareVair.11 custom chevy seats

The mid-engine power comes from an ’09 Corvette Gen IV LS3 that’s an all-aluminum V-8 that now sports a Comp Cams kit, mild head work, and is topped off with a Holley Sniper EFI and their vintage-looking valve cover system. Because of the polished and chrome Spectre Performance air cleaner system, at first glance one would think that the V-8 is turbocharged. But it is not. It’s outfitted with a Holley EFI kit working in conjunction with a standalone PSI Engineering engine harness adapted to work with a stock GM computer while all of the wiring chores were handled by Mike Markovich.

One will also be quick to notice the full-custom exhaust effort by Tom Phillips. Lonnie, being a racer at heart, has always enjoyed the look of 180-degree headers and he knew he just had to have them on the RareVair. From this point John Keller of Keller’s exhaust built the exhaust system from the collectors and utilized a pair of polished stainless Borla S-Type mufflers.

Unlike the vast majority of hot rods, the “transmission” in this RareVair is really a mid-’70s 930 Turbo Porsche transaxle, which according to Lonnie is plenty stout enough to handle the power and shifting chores.18 chevrolet corvair rarevair

Speaking of “potency” this LS3 is pushing above 550 hp! Why the Porsche transaxle? It’s both strong and places the differential between the motor and the trans. This allows the motor to set back in the car, giving more room for the driver and passenger located in the front bucket seats.

Kennedy Engineering supplied the adaptor and clutch assembly while Patrick Motorsports supplied the cable-operated shifter. The powertrain uses a Wilwood clutch hydraulic cylinder while the brakes and its corresponding master cylinder are from Baer. The pedal assembly is a modified Corvair system. Cooling is supplied by a conventionally front-mounted, custom-fabricated aluminum radiator by Mac’s Radiator (based on the core size of an ’09 Corvette for an LS3 motor) fitted with a SPAL electric fan. Next there are two 1-1/2-inch stainless steel tubes that move the water back and forth between engine and radiator. Also, up front is the windshield wiper motor and fluid container, Baer brake master cylinder, and the Wilwood clutch cylinder. 16 chevy rollcage corvair

Read More: Racing History: Record-Breaking Race Team, Filmmaking, and Legacy

The custom Corvair wheels are the ET Mag Wheels Sebring (popular with sporty and hot rods types alike) that feature a pin drive knock-off, thereby following along with the desired road race theme. The wheels are based on 16-inch diameters and mounted to them are Toyo Proxes R888Rs (205/55ZR16 and 255/50ZR16). The narrative behind selecting the wheel-and-tire combo isn’t all that uncommon of a story.

What you see on the front was originally intended for the rear but after closer evaluation Lonnie realized that this wasn’t enough rubber to hold the powerful RareVair to the ground. So, they became the fronts. The problem was he couldn’t get enough tire under the back so next came one of the more interesting body modifications in order to get extra rubber under the sheetmetal. I’ll let Lonnie tell us this part of the story.

“Jeff Lindsay was added to the team to handle all of the metal fabrication with his first assignment to repair the rust that was found here and there. Next, we tackled the tire and wheel issue in the rear. When the rears were too small and the new rears wouldn’t fit, I was beside myself as I didn’t want to mess with the sheetmetal and the bodylines. We ended up cutting the inner wheel well totally free.17 ls mid engine radiator front mount

And then, just above the rocker sail from the wheel opening we cut it straight and forward to the door, and we cut the back at that same level all the way to the rear bumper. And then we put a Porta Power (a compact modular hydraulic tool) inside and “pushed” the fender out. It made an awesome adjustment with a little bulge in the back and now it’s 5-1/2 to 6 inches wider than a stock Corvair, but those fenders came out enough about 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 inches on each side. That allowed the new larger tire to go up in there and now we just had to fab everything back together. So that was the biggest body mod on the back of the car.”

Read More: The guys at Killer Hot Rods & Custom built this beautiful ‘37 Chevy Coupe…

The Corvair’s front fenders were customized and pulled out just a bit at the rear of them in order to assist with the cosmetics and the flow of the new bodylines resulting from the widening of the rear. A word on the bumpers, which are stock. The rear bumper had to be widened and curved to compensate for the widening of the rear quarter panels and fortunately Lonnie realize this before the bumpers were sent out to be re-chromed. It should be noted that Mastercraft was responsible for all of the chrome work on the RareVair.

Look again and you will notice there are three distinct sets of scoops on the rear section of the RareVair. There’s the Ford GT 40–style low and in front of the rear wheels, which are plumbed and serve to scoop air in for the intake. Next the pair of small scoops at the rear of the side quarter windows and just above the tire brings in cool air that helps move warm air out of the doghouse where the engine resides. Lasty there are the pair of large scoops at the base of the rear window and above the stock decklid, which also help air to move in and out of the engine compartment.21 mid engine scoups

Another nifty piece of custom sheetmetal work is the use of what appears to be six taillights, ala Chevy Impala. In reality the outer four lights are just that, taillights. The inner two are really the exhaust pipes and when the engine is running there’s a bright red ring that is lit. These came from a parts car and they too were at one time two taillights. Lonnie kept the new taillights and sheetmetal in order to maintain the factory body stamping is a distinctive shape.

A word on the paint–yep, named by Chevrolet as “Pull me Over Red.” Ben Connally handled all of the body- and paintwork but there’s also an interesting story to the color, which for the RareVair was mixed by Glasurit.

According to Lonnie, “In 1972 two guys prepped a ’68 Corvette to race Le Mans but couldn’t get accepted as you had to be part of a team. Goodyear Tire sponsored them but was also sponsoring Ferrari at the same time. So, in 1972 a ’68 Corvette ran Le Mans under a Ferrari banner and the car was painted red with the red, white, and blue stripes. That’s why I chose that color theme. I looked at lots of reds, but this stock Chevrolet color I really liked and the name of the color is truly Pull Me Over Red.26 ls swap chevy

“Phillips, the guy who built my headers, was a serious road racer and knew most Corvair Yanko Stingers were white with the blue racing stripes as that was the American colors. But I’m not fond of white cars. He knew about this Corvette, red with blue stripes, and then another friend of mine did a little research and found out what the story was and that the Corvette that ran in 1972 actually did have the Ferrari logo (prancing horse) painted on the side of it. You can’t make a story this good up!”

Onto the mid-engine Corvair’s suspension. As it turns out Lonnie and Brent VanDervort are friends based on their common hobbys, airplanes and hot rods. After a conversation where Lonnie was telling VanDervort about the RareVair he told Lonnie, “Well, I make an IFS for that car.” So, guess what’s under the front: a Fatman Fabrications IFS. The front suspension carrier bolts into position as a stock Corvair. QA1 coilover shocks are used at the corners and in back the stock Corvair trailing arms were retained after Lonnie boxed them for strength. Next up are custom half shafts and lower strut rods to finish off the rear suspension. Steering is handled by a mint-condition factory quick steering box that’s used in conjunction with an E Power Steering (electric power steering) unit. The modified stock column is topped with a factory sport steering wheel.27 custom mid engine suspension

Onto the interior. The seating most assuredly grabs your attention and it should be noted that the twin buckets are ’69 Chevy Camaro and the seat tracks from the early Corvair will bolt to the first-gen Camaro seats and, voilí they bolt right in. Dan Leisy of Dan’s Auto Upholstery is responsible for the upholstery and he obtained a Camaro bucket seat kit with side bolsters and stitched them onto the what is now Corvair seating. Leisy took control of the interior knowing what Lonnie wanted and after looking at Dino Ferrari seats his inspiration came from them. The Ferrari seats had the similar red with black stripes the vent grommets positioned. After this everything else was Leisy’s immigration and he scratch-built the entire interior. He did the seating, carpeting, door panels, headliner, and all.

Initially the seats were bolted into the car and you can see a center console that runs from the firewall to the back flowing between the seats. Initially Lonnie sat in the driver’s position, and while holding a gearshift ball in his right hand and resting his arm as if he were in a comfortable driving position measurements were taken. It was at this point that the exact height of the console was determined. It also allowed for the positioning of the Patrick Engineering cable shifter in the position that he thought was most comfortable. From here Marty Strode and Lindsay hand-formed the custom center console out of aluminum; they also hand-formed the dog house out of aluminum.19 corvair rear taillights

Lonnie felt it would be hard to improve on the Corvair Corsa dash so he kept it but had new lenses made and retained the conical shape, all the while Dakota Digital was designing and making custom instruments. The A/C is a combination of Old Air for the underdash unit along with a Vintage Air dryer.

The Corvair’s glass was another project of rather large proportions. Every piece of glass in the RareVair is curved. He was able to find a great deal from one supplier but the rear glass proved to be an impossibility and until he found Ball’s Rod and Kustom it wasn’t looking good. As it turns out they have a custom glass service. Lonnie then sent the old rear glass to them and they used it to make a mold and make a fresh piece of glass.06 custom corvair

There’s lots more to tell but you get the picture. I bet Ralph Nadar would be impressed with this Corvair! Whether you call it a RareVair or Pull Me Over Red this is one Corvair that will pull its weight at any hot rod event. MR

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