Corvair: A New Way To Low Ride
A Different Kind Of Chevy

When you look back at American cars from the 1960s there was an incredible diversity to them. Almost every model was offered in several different body styles, from luxurious convertibles to family-friendly station wagons. On any given car, engine options could range from a bargain-basement six-cylinder, to a range-topping, high-displacement V8 with multiple carburetors. Even GM’s subdivisions like Pontiac and Buick had their own engine lines that were completely different from their corporate cousins. It was an exciting time.

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Yet even for all the different choices back then, American cars still largely followed the same formula. A six or eight-cylinder engine up front connected to solid axle in the rear. Even the new compact cars like Ford’s Falcon or Plymouth’s Valiant used the same design, just scaled down into a smaller package.

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That’s why it was such big news when Chevrolet introduced the all-new Corvair back in 1960. The goal with the Corvair was not just to compete with rival American compact cars, but with increasingly popular import cars like the Volkswagen Beetle.

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To do this, the Corvair employed many features that had never before been seen on an American car, and a few that haven’t been seen since. For starters, it’s flat-six engine was air-cooled and it sat in the rear of the car. It would also employ unibody construction with independent suspension all around.

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It was an extremely ambitious project on GM’s part, and buyers were initially quite enamored by the Corvair’s mix of fuel economy, interior packaging and ride quality. Motor Trend magazine awarded the Corvair the ‘Car of the Year’ title for 1960.

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But for all of the momentum the Corvair had at lunch, it would not live to see the end of the 1960s. After the debut of the second generation car for 1965, sales had begun to dwindle. A number of factors lead to this, including reliability issues and competition from other brands – as well as Chevy’s own products. Most famously, the Corvair”s safety was also called out in Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe At Any Speed. Despite arguments over the validity of Nader’s claims, Corvair sales plummeted and the model was gone after 1969.

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Despite the fact that nearly two million Corvairs were sold during the 1960s, it’s not a car that you see often on the street today. Unlike American icons like the Impala or Mustang, a Corvair will likely get a ‘Hey, whatever happened to those things?’ reaction on the street. And that’s only if the person even knows what kind of car they are looking at.

What The Hell Is That?
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When California’s Michael Plushnik takes his 1961 Corvair Lakewood wagon to a car show or just out for a cruise around town, he gets all sorts of weird reactions. Some of the most common include, ‘Whoa that’s a cool Volkswagen’ or simply ‘What the hell is that thing?’.

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Of course, Michael’s car isn’t your typical Corvair. First off, it’s the rare station wagon body style which was only offered for the 1961 and 1962 model years. Secondly, the little wagon has been completely reimagined as a frame-dragging custom cruiser.

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When he found the car in the East Bay, it – like most surviving Corvairs – was in need of some serious loving. But as soon he saw it, Michael had a vision in his head. A vision of a lowrider-custom hybrid unlike any other. With the flat-six engine barely running, he limped the car down the highway back to his garage in San Jose and got to work at making his vision a reality.

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At the heart of Michael’s idea was creating one of the lowest Corvairs in the world, and he did this with a full custom air ride setup from the Bay Area’s own #becausebags, a suspension specialist in the nearby city of Campbell.

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The suspension setup runs three seamless air tanks. Two sit up in the front cargo compartment, surrounded by a super-plush cover that you just can’t help but touch every time you see it.

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The other tank sits out back in the rear cargo area, and all three are affixed with custom-made aluminum polished hard lines.

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Along with the one-off air ride setup, the car is also running custom control arms. And because of the Corvair’s independent suspension, the rear wheels camber in nicely when the body comes down. It’s definitely not a look you’re accustomed to seeing on an American car. The dramatic negative camber contributes to many of those questions asking what sort of Japanese or European car this is.

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Rounding out the setup is a set of 13-inch wire wheels with stretched white-wall tires. Michael says he often gets asked why he doesn’t run larger wheels, but I honestly can’t think of another wheel that would fit better with this setup.

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And while the bags allow the car to be raised whenever needed, Michael isn’t one of those guys that airs down when parked but drives at a much higher and ‘safe’ ride height.

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Nope, he takes great enjoyment from scraping the Corvair right down the road. And he has several busted up oil pans to prove it.

Cool Air
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As you’ve probably gathered, this car certainly wasn’t built for going fast. Being a mechanic by trade though, Michael removed the original 80 horsepower flat-six for a larger one with dual Rochester carbs. He also swapped out the stock Powerglide automatic for a four-speed stick. No, it won’t quite pin you back in the seat, but it gets the Corvair down the highway with ease. It also sounds pretty cool with its custom dual exhaust setup.

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When it came to the body, Michael shaved off the Lakewood’s door handles, rear license plate light and radio antenna. He then had the whole car repainted in a shade of white borrowed from the Hummer catalog.

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Another little touch that I like is chrome half-covers on the headlights. It’s a subtle change, but it adds just the right amount of custom flavor.

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And speaking of custom touches, one of the more recent additions to the car has been some custom paintwork from Vintage Lines by Mario.

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Along with the flaked graphics on the roof, Mario also lent his touch to the air tanks in the front and rear.

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Interior modifications have been kept relatively simple. The seats have been reupholstered in turquoise by Soft Tops in San Jose and the car’s also been fitted with custom billet aluminum door handles.

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The original gauge cluster has also been swapped out for an upgraded unit from a Corvair Turbo (yes they made those too).

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Because Michael drives the car so often, he wanted to upgrade the audio but didn’t want to disturb the look of the dash. Hidden away out of sight is a modern CD head unit with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity.

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I’ve been able to cruise around in some very cool cars over the years, but there was nothing quite like the reactions we got while riding around San Jose in this thing. On one hand people definitely liked what they saw, but those thumbs-ups and smiles were also matched with looks of confusion as people struggled to figure out exactly what they were looking at.

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It’s the exact sort of response that Michael was aiming for when set out to build this car. Regardless of what you think about lowriders or the Corvair itself, it’s impossible not to appreciate what he’s done here. He’s taken an innovative, but oft forgotten piece of American auto history and reinvented it with a cool new twist.

Just don’t tell Mr. Nader.

Mike Garrett
Instagram: speedhunters_mike



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Chris 'Haffy' Hafner

All the right ways of cool! And a wagon too, scores highly in my books. Awesome write up and pics Mike!


But can it take a corner without spining 10 times ?


I dig it. Definitely a nice change of pace as well.


Nice one. More, Please.


OMG!!! I live a block and a half away from where this was shot!!! Downtown San Jose :) I love this Corvair too Ive seen it around for years at all the good local car shows. Awesome shoot and write up Mike, Ive always wanted to know the specs, Thanks!


Makram but does it really matter?


Very, very cool. 
Usually turquoise makes me cringe but it rather suits this car.


This is so so so dope. I have never envisioned this chassis done in this style, let alone executed this well.


This is a really refreshing story to read.


But for all of the momentum the Corvair had at lunch, it would not live to see the end of the 1960s. 

Had to laugh at this typo. Sorry Mike.


I've been into Corvairs for almost 30 years, and thought I seen (or owned) it all until I saw Michael's slammed Lakewood. The paintwork on the roof makes it even better.
We have a '62 700 wagon (they weren't called Lakewoods in '62, just wagons) at work that is a bone stock restoration, as you would expect for a museum. And I have a semi-rough-looking '63 sedan myself. They are sweet to cruise around in on a warm day. Funny thing is, many people who were driving in the 60's remember Corvairs, but don't remember the wagon version. Out of 1.8 million Corvairs, only about 32,000 of them were wagons. And like most wagons, they were used up and beat up by families. Nice ones these days are quite rare.
Thanks for treating Corvairs with respect.


Makram Like any rear- or mid-engined car, yes. Keep the tire pressures as prescribed, and don't lift or brake after entering a turn.


There's a really beautiful teal convertible with a white top around the block from where I live. Perfect condition, real classy car those Corvairs.


The front looks like an NSU 1000 or a VW typ4.. Only slightly larger :)


The right kind of low n' slow; beautiful images!

Michelle Gambill

This car is amazing in person, Mike is doing it right!


I don't believe it....not 1 hate-filled comment....not about the car, or about how SH has "lost their way".

Love the car and the paint is killer!!!


Not only is Mike's Lakewood bad ass, he's a good dude too.  He hooked me up and ran an errand for me while I was fixing up my '64 Corvair Monza at Mel Raven's Vair Mart.  

Your car has come a long way dude!  Great job and congrats on the SH plug!  See you 'round the shows...


Really love all Corvair's but this one is truly impressive . I wonder why he didn't do the turbo upgrade also...


Fantastic, lots of traditional touches on the that splendidly rare base make this really fresh and interesting. Great taste, nicely executed and individual without being crazy or over the top, stand out car of the month I recon.....


Gorgeous paint work on the roof!


another great choice of feature Mike Garret ,loving your posts


All I can think of when I see the front of a Corvair is Hillman Imp!


That paint is amazing. All of it.


TidalMAz Damn your right, I would never have noticed that.


Great car and article!


DaveT Yeah, I saw the car before the graphics and it looked cool, but the addition of the flake really sets it off.


TidalMAz It's cool that it can pass for a lot of different cars.


Paddy McGrath Thanks Paddy!


ianklb Thanks a lot.


zephoto Yep, not too over the top - but the perfect amount of flash.


T dice Yeah, those are the sort of things that drew me to Michael's car in the first place.


greenroadster That would be cool to see sometime down the line.


Roman64 Yep, very down to earth!


I make a lot of momentum after lunch too...


Spaghetti Haha, sometimes the cars speak for themselves.


earmenau Thanks!


AdamBezzegh That's what cool. Unless you specifically know about Corvairs, it's hard to pinpoint this car.


ToneDiez Nice!


Censport Thanks for the kind words!


3nigm4 Now I'm getting hungry haha!


3nigm4 Now I'm getting hungry haha!


@zz Thanks a lot.


HLB It's a good example of making a vision a reality.


@FlushPoke Thanks for the kind words.


MatsKarlsson Same here!


Makram It wasn't built for cornering obviously, but it seemed to make the turns just fine when I road in it. :)


Larry Chen Thanks boss.


Chris 'Haffy' Hafner Thanks Chris.


13" Daytons?


That roof is awesome. I see Corvairs all over the place here, but never the wagon. I like how that looks, and lowered it looks even better.


This car belongs to one of my customers. It's also REALLY low, but totally at the opposite end of the spectrum to the feature car(it's a turbo as well). Cool feature!


Awesome car! I love the graphics!


Lets all send this article to Nader


See, this is the type of build I like to see. Looks good, and ready to last.


Mike Garrett TidalMAz It seems rear engine cars can be more similar than you think :)


This thing was really really nice. (Saw this at Wekfest, which I assume is also where you guys saw it?). So many sweet cars their.


i'ts just cool cuz i'ts a wagon


So sick in every way! Great feature.

Peter the Tax Guy

That's wonderful!! My parent's first new car was a 61 Corvair wagon, bought not too long after I was born. They still had it 15 years later, and I learned to drive in that car. Lots of memories of family road trips in that Corvair wagon. The turquoise on this build is very reminiscent of the stock turquoise color on their car.

I still remember dad's warning: If the alternator light comes on, the fan belt has broken or slipped off. Stop right away or the engine will overheat and melt.


I've been into Corvairs for 34 years now, ever since buying one, a 4-speed 1965 Monza coupe, as basic transportation in 1980. It took me all of ONE DAY to get hooked on it. Decent economy,sprightly performance, decent interior room for my 6'3", 240+ lb self, all in a great-looking package... What's not to like? Since then, I've owned more than a dozen "vairious" Corvairs, including a '61 700 Lakewood (I still want another wagon!). I'll admit right here, I'm not into lowriders. a friend of mine from another website put me onto this particular thread on here. I gotta say, this is one sweet little wagon! I'm a little concerned about the wear on the U-joints, but other than that I'm all for it. I assume it's bagged so that It doesn't usually run with that extreme angle to the half-shafts, right? OK, it might not be the way I would have done it, but it's the way the owner wanted it, so it's just fine in my book. Any Corvair that attracts positive attention is good!


To elaborate on my first post:
I'm impressed by the reception this car has received here. I hear a lot of negativity about Corvairs, mostly due to mis-information. Thanks, guys, for giving a cool car a fair shake! They really ARE great cars, especially if you're looking for a fun car that's sort of off the beaten path. They're still fairly common and parts are readily available from sources like Clark's Corvair Parts ( They have major club support through the Corvair Society of America (CORSA for short, If you're intertested in learning more about these fun little cars, please take a few moments to do a web search on them. You'll be surprised to find out about such things like the 1962 Corvair Monza Spyder being the world's first successful turbocharged production car, or the 1966 Yenko Stinger being Don Yenko's beginning in the C.O.P.O. business.


Great article and a bitchin car! Just one thing though, slammed Corvair's have been around since the 60's! They were very popular amongst the lowered car guys because of how easy they were to install Hydros into! Check it out :)


Awesome beautiful  car!