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Car of the Week: 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza convertible

A love affair with Corvairs started when one owner worked on them as a mechanic back in the day.
Car of the Week 2020
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Long about 1990, Evan Hansen finally decided he was tired of admiring other guys’ Chevrolet Corvairs. He knew it was time to get one or his own.

“I worked on these when they were brand new … I was a mechanic back in Waupaca [Wis.] when they were new,” recalled Hansen, a resident of tiny Ogdensberg, Wis. “I liked these, they were the first year of this new [body] style, and I thought after so many years it was time to get one. And this was the first one I found. I found it in the Appleton paper, and the guy who owned it had cancer, so I bought it from him and took all the extra parts that he hadn’t put on it yet.”

As often seems to be the case with Corvair owners, his first one — a 1965 Danube Blue Monza convertible with white top and interior — led to more Corvairs. Hansen now has four of them: three ‘65s and a ’66. 

The interior has clean lines and is surprisingly larger than you would think.

The interior has clean lines and is surprisingly larger than you would think.

“I got one that’s turbocharged at home and I’ve got one with four carburetors at home … I got a little variety of the whole works.”

Hansen isn’t clear on some of the particulars of the blue ‘65’s history, but he says it didn’t live in Wisconsin during its early years, which saved it from snow and salt, and no doubt prolonged its life indefinitely. The car had been at least partially restored by the previous owner, but as far as Hansen could tell, that was more by choice than necessity.

“It’s a western car because it’s got an oil based [air] filter … for desert driving and stuff,”: he noted. “I think that was a dealer option."

“It was partially done when I got it ... The paint job had been put on it, but I’ve done a lot of rubbing on it since then. It was the original combination. I really liked the colors, and it was solid enough to where you didn’t have to do a whole lot. It’s got the original engine. I’m sure he had it all redone. If he didn’t, it would be leaking oil by now, and it hasn’t leaked any oil since I’ve had it.”

A look in the rear at the six-cylinder 164 cid/110 hp Turbo-Air engine

A look in the rear at the six-cylinder 164 cid/110 hp Turbo-Air engine

Hansen recalled that he used to get a lot of calls at the shop during early 1960s from new Corvair owners who were having problems with frost in their carburetors during the winter months. He also heard plenty of owners tell him the cars drove great in the snow. He’s not planning to find out in the ’65 convertible, which has about 80,000 miles on the odometer and is reserved for days with no snow in the forecast.

“It’s running really good,” he says with a smile. “It’s always run good!”

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN …

1965 was the year that could have been a big positive turning point in what had already been a good early life for the Chevrolet Corvair. The car had been an unqualified sales success its first three seasons, and for ’65 it got a cool facelift. Not only that, but GM engineers also thought that they had remedied the model’s problematic swing-axle rear with Corvette-like fully articulated independent rear suspension.

The Corvair had a completely new body for 1965 and it was beautiful. Car and Driver magazine said, “It unabashedly borrows from the best of the already established foreign and domestic coachwork without losing any of its identity as a Corvair.” The new styling was a direct adaptation of the Italian school of industrial design and highlighted smooth-flowing rounded lines; a ‘venturi’ shaped profile and a pillarless hardtop look on all closed body styles. The Corvair was also two inches wider than before, somewhat lower, and about three inches longer end-to-end. Curved side glass was another innovation. The base Corvair 500 series included Sport Coupe and Sport Sedan.

The Corvair's interior is white and black which gives it a formal look that accentuates the sporty lines of the car.

The Corvair's interior is white and black which gives it a formal look that accentuates the sporty lines of the car.

Monzas now represented the mid-price Corvair models, as the Corvair 700 line was dropped. The Corsa was the fanciest model, while the 500 was seen as the entry-level version. Standard equipment on the Monzas included all items found on the lower priced cars plus full wheel covers; rocker sill moldings; front bucket seats; carpeting; courtesy and glovebox lights; front armrests; rear armrests were not standard (nor available) on two-door coupe styles; back-up lights; and folding rear seats on Sport Coupe and Sport Sedan. As in the past, a Monza badge, consisting of a vertical bar passing through a V-shaped horizontal ornament, was seen on the lower front fenders behind the wheel opening. Whereas the Corvair 500 had only red, aqua or fawn interior color choices, the Monza had no aqua, but blue, black, saddle, slate, and white available with aqua or black accents, depending on exterior color.

The rear panel, to which the engine lid latched, was outlined with a chrome molding. A convertible was also provided in this series and came standard with a manual top and top boot. A handsome new feature of all Corvairs was a slanted-back instrument panel with deep tunnels containing the gauges. On Series 500 and Monza models they housed a speedometer, gas gauge, warning lights and, if ordered, an optional electric clock.

Three-speed manual transmission was standard, although more than half of all Corvairs built for ’65 had Powerglide automatic, which was $157 extra. A four-speed floor-shifted manual transmission was also available for $92. Monza and 500 six-cylinder 164 cid/110 hp Turbo-Air engine ($27). Monza and 500 six-cylinder 164 cid/140 hp Turbo-Air engine ($81).

More than half of all the Corvairs built for ’65 had the automatic transmissions. The Corvair 500 and Monza each carried the base 164-cid horizontally opposed six, which was rated at a modest 95 hp. For about 80 bucks, buyers who wanted a little more giddy-up could opt for the 140-hp turbo version.

Hansen’s Monza convertible was one of 26,466 that rolled off GM assembly lines for the model year at a base price of $2,440. Things seemed to be rolling along with more than 235,000 Corvairs built for the model year. At the start of ’64, there seemed to be no reason to believe Chevy’s rear-engined gem wouldn’t travel happily well into the future.

But that was before two knockout punches arrived together. The first was Ralph Nader’s famed book “Unsafe at Any Speed” investigative book, which crucified the Corvair for its terrible handling that Nader claimed made it prone to deadly rollover accidents.

An even bigger hit came off the Ford assembly line in Dearborn, Mich. It was called the Mustang.

Instead of charging ahead, Chevrolet’s likeable combination sports car-pony car saw its sales sink by more than 100 percent for 1966. The death spiral was swift: 27,253 cars in ’67; 15,400 in ’68, and a paltry 6,000 in ’69 before the nameplate was euthanized, never to be used again.

SCRATCHING THE ITCH

Hansen didn’t care much about Ralph Nader’s opinion of Corvairs. Or anybody else’s opinion for that matter. He had worked on enough of them, and driven enough of them, that he knew he wanted one.

And as he found out at the time, Corvairs remain one of the best bargains and bang-for-your-buck cars on the collector market. There are still plenty of them around, and some guys — like Hansen — find out they can afford more than one if they want.

“I liked them. They had the motor in the back and they were kind of a sporty little car,” Hansen says. “Yeah, they got a bad rap. They are a good little car.”

“It was all kind of mix-and-match when you bought one of these new. This has got a Kleenex holder under the dash, and I put an FM converter in it so the radio will work decent. The seats and stuff are what was in it when I got it. I think the front had been redone, not the back. They get sunburned when they get old. And it’s got a manual top.”

Hansen says the only real mechanical work he’s had to do on the blue convertible in the past 30 years was some tinkering on the starter. Otherwise, it’s just been keeping the paint looking good and keeping his baby clean.

Last summer, Hansen was again showing off the ’65 ragtop at shows around Wisconsin, including the Iola Car Show. Ironically, one of his other Corvairs was one of the original handful of cars to appear at the first Iola Car Show 50 years ago.

He insists that he won’t be buying any other Corvairs. Of course, he admits he’s said that before.

“Four is my limit. I don’t have any more room in the garage!” he chuckles. “It’s like a disease. You keep adding them. I had to build a garage to house them all."

“This would be the last one I’d sell, I suppose. This is a good parade car.”

Hansen and his drop-top Corvair

Hansen and his drop-top Corvair

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