Story and photos by Brian Earnest
It’s a funny thing about Corvair owners. After they acquire their first Corvair, they usually find room for a few more.
The Corvairs certainly started multiplying like bunnies for David Fox of Marshfield, Wis. The retired farmer got his first taste of Corvairs when he was a kid. Things didn’t get really fun until the 1990s, however, when he had more time and money to play with some four-wheel toys. Now he’s up to nine Corvairs, if you count his Ultravan and Corvair dune buggy.
“Back probably when I was 14, 15 my brother had a ‘61 Corvair and we used to go bird hunting and that stuff in the woods,” recalls Fox. “And that car would just crawl through the woods on the trails … just nice as can be. Because they have a flat bottom, you can go through anything in them. And I just got hooked on ‘em. They rode nice; they had that independent suspension.
“When I got to be 16 or so I found a used ’62 Corvair and picked that up. It was the first decent car I had [laughs]. I drove that for a while. The first thing I did was get a gas heater for it because I drove that back and forth my senior year in high school. Otherwise, you got chilly. With that gas heater you had heat like right now. So I drove that to school and it would go through snow like you wouldn’t believe.”
In the years to follow, though, he went Corvair-less. He didn’t expect to ever own another one, let alone become an aficionado of the model and a well-known collector.
‘That ’62 that was the last one for a while because they quit making them in ’69 and I figured things would be dried up and there wouldn’t be anything around,” he says. “And I was farming and that took money, too, and that kind of took away from them. I didn’t have money for that [laughs]. Then probably around ’91 or so I found one just for the heck of it. I went and looked at it and picked that up. That was a ’62 Spyder [which he still has]. I drove that for a while, and that was fun. Then a couple more came up, and they seemed to keep adding up.”
These days his barn and garage house the Ultravan, dune buggy, two 1961 Rampside pickups, 1962 Spyder hardtop, 1964 Spyder convertible, 1966 Model 500, and 1966 Corsica convertible. One of the nicest vehicles in the collection, and certainly one of the most interesting, is his sweet red-and-white 1964 eight-window Greenbrier van — a rare prize these days due to their low production numbers and low rate of survival.
Not surprisingly, in a common refrain in the collector car world, Fox wasn’t even looking to buy another collector vehicle when he somehow crossed paths with the van.
“It was 15, 17 years ago. A couple guys [at a swap meet] were selling some Corvair parts and I was looking for a windshield,” he says. “They were from Rochester, Minn. … I went over and got a windshield from them, and a couple months later they called me up and asked me if I would be interested in a Greenbrier. I hadn’t seen it, but I went over and looked at it and made a deal on it and brought it back.
“Supposedly, and I don’t know what the truth there is, originally it was in Nebraska and they said it was used at an airport there for shuttling people. Then somehow it went to Iowa to somebody. I don’t know all the history. Then [the previous owners] picked it up. They were two Corvair guys, older gentlemen. I think one guy had worked at the Chevrolet garage and worked on them and knew all about them.”
Fox doesn’t know how, but the van survived for years virtually unscathed by the ravages of time, winter roads, rust and countless other threats. It was a nice, intact, running and driving specimen when he got his hands on it, and Fox hasn’t gone overboard with any big restoration efforts.
“They worked on it a little bit and got it running and decided to get rid of it,” he says. “It’s pretty much original. It’s got a new paint job on it, the front seat covering is new because that was getting worn. But the other seats are all original. I did all that. It just needed a paint job and the front seat covering and some cleaning up. It wasn’t rusted out at all. I put doors seals in it and a windshield seal. I did the paint, and it wasn’t too bad. I’m not good at it anymore, though. I painted a couple cars after this and I wasn’t too pleased with my work, but this didn’t have any metal flake or anything in it so [it was easier].
“It’s got 71,500 [miles] on it now. I think it was 64,600 when I got it.”
Chevrolet launched its ground-breaking — many would argue iconic — Corvair for the 1960 model year, and a year later followed up with a light truck line. The Corvair 95 Series, as the trucks were called, was Chevrolet’s answer to the Volkswagen van. There were driver-forward models built on the Corvair platform with a rear-mounted, air-cooled engine and transaxle. Dual headlamps, a small front grille with Chevrolet emblem, and concave, sculptured contrast panel along the front and sides were among the styling characteristics.
The 95 Series van — so named because of the 95-inch wheelbase — was Chevrolet’s version of the Volkswagen microbus and clearly designed to provide the iconic VW hauler with direct competition in the air-cooled, rear-drive utilitarian people hauler segment. With twice the horsepower on tap and a smoother ride thanks to better swing axel independent fear suspension, the Corvan was in many ways superior to the VW microbus, even though it never gained the same popularity. The experiment lasted until 1965 at GM, when the company went back to more traditional engine-forward designs to challenge new offerings coming out from Chrysler and Ford.
The 1/2-ton Corvan panel van model had steel sides in place of the three side windows. There were two-side-loading doors and double rear panel doors on the panel truck. The pickup added a cab-panel back and was missing the sheet metal at the rear. It had a cargo box that was 105 inches long and 43 7/8 inches wide. The pickup was called the Loadside, but a Rampside version was also available that had a unique door in the side of the box that dropped to the ground for use as a cargo ramp.
Standard equipment on all Corvair 95s included: an air-cooled six-cylinder engine displacing 144.8 cid and producing 80 hp; a three-speed synchromesh transmission; electric wipers; directional signals and five tubeless tires. Chrome hubcaps, chrome bumpers and a customer appearance package were among the options.
The 1961 Corvans carried an introductory price of $2,289 in 1961, when 15,806 were reportedly built. That price actually dropped to just $2,212 for 1964, when only 8,147 were produced for the model year. The vans were virtually unchanged during their four-year run. A few new paint colors were added and positraction became available, but otherwise the 1961 models were the same as the ‘64s, which ended the production run.
The basic Corvan had no rear or side widows. The Greenbrier model had windows all the way around and had either six or eight doors. There was an available third seat that could grow the seating capacity from six to nine. A camper was available for outdoors-minded buyers. Other options included a heater that ran off of gas from the gas tank; a roof-top luggage rack; tent shelter; bed cushions; couch; door-mounted table; and Coleman stove.
Fox’s van is one of the Greenbrier eight-door models. If features two swing-out doors on each side and also has swing-out doors in back.
THE ROAD LESS TAKEN
Fox likes pretty much everything about his flashy and fun Greenbrier, especially its relative anonymity. He doesn’t have to worry about showing up to a show or cruise in something that won’t get noticed or strike up a conversation.
“A lot of people have never seen anything like it before [laughs],” he says. “It’s unique that it gets that kind of reaction, but it does. I don’t see any others. It’s all mainly cars. [The other owners] are all car guys. It’s the same with the Rampsides.”
Fox has racked up about 500 miles a year, on average, in the Greenbrier, and it's one of the more pleasant vehicles to travel in among his sizeable fleet of collector cars — he has others besides Corvairs. The Greenbrier has seating for his four grandchildren and other family members, plenty of space for other stuff, and a comfortable ride on the highway with great visibility.
“It doesn’t have too much for options, but the Greenbriers pretty much had all the bells and whistles on them,” he notes. “You could get a gas heater, but this one works on air, and it works good, too. The [AM] radio was standard. It’s got the automatic transmission, which was standard. It’s a two-speed Powerglide with the shifter on the dash. I think the radio was standard; it's just AM. It drives nice, rides nice, that’s what I like about it. It’s just smooth and rolls down the road. It doesn’t have power steering, but you don’t have a big old motor hanging off the front end, either. So that helps a little bit.
“I don’t have any big plans for it, just taking it to shows and that kind of thing. You get a lot of compliments, and being that it’s an eight-door [model], it’s rare. It’s fun to have something different.”
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