What could be so bad? In many ways it was similar to the Porsche 911. It shared a basic rear-engine, rear-wheel-drive architecture, was powered by a powerful flat-six and had a swing-axle suspension. You certainly couldn't knock it for its styling either. It was gorgeous.
But General Motors should have known better than to launch the Corvair without a front stabiliser bar or rear transverse leaf spring -- two terrible omissions in the name of cost cutting.
If that wasn't bad enough, GM believed owners would maintain a required 15-psi difference between the front and the rear tyres -- a must to keep the little Chevy from over steering. The top brass must have known it would be a handful for the vast majority who bought one.
They were asking for trouble as soon as it launched in 1960. And, once Ralph Nader got his pen out, trouble is what they got.
His Unsafe At Any Speed book -- a consumer safety campaign -- basically killed the car. Born to compete against smaller European imports, the Corvair's early years couldn't have been worse.
When the popular comedian Ernie Kovacs died after crashing his Corvair in 1962, the writing was on the wall. Then came Nader's book accusing car manufacturers of resistance to the introduction of safety features like seat belts, and their general reluctance to spend money on improving safety. He also wrote that the Corvair's single-piece steering column could impale the driver in a front collision. It wasn't a surprise when buyers boycotted Chevy dealerships.
Splashing out on the 'poor man's Porsche' -- which could roll over if the swing-axle suspension "tucked under" -- was enough to put them off. And, putting the vehicle's heaviest component behind the rear axle gave it a distinct tendency to spin out. No, handling wasn't its greatest asset, but during that era, no cars from the US could boast about sticking to the road at speed.
Many feel the Corvair was dealt with rather harshly and that other models were even more dangerous.
But in spite of its much publicised shortfalls, it had other problems, namely leaking oil like there was no tomorrow and a heating system that would often pump noxious fumes into the cabin. Even though the far-improved second generation went some way in eradicating these issues, the damage had already been done.