This 1963 700 coupe held up well after being hit by a train and
flipped onto the tracks in a Feb. 14, 1969, crash. The car’s battery
is visible under the hood.
If ever there was an automobile that defined a decade, it’s Chevrolet’s Corvair and its 1960s lifespan. The ’60s are remembered as a decade of turbulence (think JFK and RFK assasinations, Vietnam, “Easy Rider”). And the Corvair’s 10-year existence was equally frought with a roller coaster-like ride from peaks to valleys, being named Motor Trend magazine’s “Car of the Year” in 1960 to falling from grace as both competiting automaker Ford’s Mustang in mid-1964 and Chevy’s own Camaro in ’67 pushed the Corvair into neglected child status.
Launched in the fall of 1959 as a 1960 model, the last Covair, a gold Monza coupe, rolled off Chevy’s Willow Run assembly line on May 14, 1969.
Unconventional in design for a domestic car, the Corvair more closely resembled the Volkswagen Beetle with its air-cooled, rear-mounted engine. In addition to its unconventional design, the Corvair was also saddled with the stigma of being “Unsafe At Any Speed,” based on Ralph Nader’s book of the same name that was both a scathing review of American automobile safety and his political ambitions-launching pad.
Having more than four decades pass since the final Corvair was produced has allowed a more balanced review of the car and its rightful place in automotive history. It has a loyal following of enthusiasts and remains an affordable collector car. But as the images on this page show, when Corvairs collided with trucks, trains and even motorcycles, they crumpled in the same manner as every other car would in a similar mishap.
The images are courtesy of Patrice Offenhauser. They are from the 1950s through ’70s accident scene photo collection of her father, Rodman Bingham, who was a private investigator and photographer in Menlo Park, Calif.
A new and dressed-up 1960 500 sedan flattened a California
Highway Patrol motorcycle in this Sept. 6, 1960, accident. Note
the Corvair’s aftermarket “ladder” grille and wide whitewall tires.
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