In the late 1950s, America’s ‘big three’ car makers, General Motors, Ford and Chrysler, watched the growing success of the compact Rambler and the inroads being made by European compact cars, and knew they had to get into that market. Ford and Chrysler took the conventional road with the Falcon and the Valiant, scaled-down versions of their full-sized cars. General Motors took a different route with their first offering.

Ed Cole, the highly respected Chevrolet Chief Engineer and later General Manager, liked the rear-engine concept and was impressed by the Volkswagen Beetle. He obviously had that car in mind as the new compact model took shape on the company’s drawing boards. He developed it as a Holden model because he expected opposition from his superiors, and went so far as to use Holden stationery and part numbers. The first running prototype was badged as a Holden before Cole finally confessed. The time was right, and the new Corvair was given the green light.

The Corvair shared the Volkswagen’s basic layout, with an air-cooled ‘flat’ engine mounted at the back and driving through a trans-axle with swing-axle independent rear suspension. The main differences were that the Corvair had another two cylinders and was available initially as a four-door sedan, soon joined by a coupe, wagon, van and pick-up. The engine was the world’s first air-cooled flat-six car power plant, pre-dating Porsche’s 911 by several years. The Corvair represented another milestone for Chevrolet, being the brand’s first unitary construction model, and Motor Trend magazine named it car of the year in 1960. A convertible was added to the range in 1962, along with the 120kW Spider Coupe and Convertible, both featuring turbocharging.

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