This is the fifth in a series by Howard LaPlante on his early experiences with cars.
There I was, a small country road, late at night, a flat tire, the TR 3 up on the jack, the knock off hub off. BUT the wheel would not come off! The reason? I had neglected to grease the wheel splines on a timely basis. I pulled and pulled to no avail! Finally, I thought of a solution. I walked along the fence line of the pasture that was alongside of the road until I found an old fence post. I dragged it back to the car. Lowered the car until the wheel just cleared the ground. (had to dig a bit of dirt away!) Then I pushed the post under the car and up against the wheel and ponded! Had the wife turn the wheel as I pounded! Finally the wheel came loose! It was an adventure, at least the night was pleasant, not raining!
The next car was to a large extent determined by the fact that my son was eight-years-old and growing, and the back seat of the TR 3 no longer fit! The car that seem to fit the requirements and was affordable was the new 1963 Corvair Monza convertible with a flat six of 2.4 L displacement and producing all of 95 HP! Four-speed manual with floor mounted shift lever! Metallic blue with blue interior and white top, white sidewall tires and AM radio. A trade was made. Drove the car home; ah! New car smell! It was the next night that was the surprise. After work and dinner, time to go for a drive! Problem was it was windy, very! Well what did that matter? Drove out on to a major highway, what was going on?? The car did not want to go down the highway in a straight line! It wandered all over! Had a hard time keeping it going straight! Side wind was the problem! Directional stability? What was that?
This was my first exposure to an air cooled car. However it was Chevrolet's second attempt. The first did not turn out so well! It was in 1923 that they introduced the "Copper Cooled". Production consisted of 759, but only 300 were released to sales. Only 100 were actually sold to customers and all but 2 of those were bought back by the factory! Those 2 still exist, one is owned by the Ford Museum and one by a museum in Reno. Fortunately the Corvair did not have the problems with over-heating as did the "Copper Cooled"!
It is interesting to look back at automobiles and air cooling. In 1903 the American company, Franklin produced air cooled automobiles. They were very successful until the depression stopped them, but they went out with a masterpiece, a V 12 air cooled! Mercedes also had a go at air cooling and a rear engine in 1934 with the model 170 H. It was produced in very small numbers until 1939. But it was Tatra that produced air cooled cars the longest, from a two cylinder 1056 cc. A six cylinder of 1930 cc and finally a 3.0 L, V 8 in 1934. (The Lane Museum in Nashville has the largest collections of Tatra automobiles in the USA.)
After 1940 air cooling became quite poplar. VW of course, but also Citroen, Panhard, Fiat, BMW, Steyer-Puch, DAF, NSU, and of course our own Porsche! But lest we forget, there was an American company that did their best to go with air cooling, Tucker. The Corvair production lasted only from 1960 until 1969 due in large part to the influence of consumer activist Ralph Nader's book, "Unsafe at any speed". Published in 1965 when the suspension had already been changed and much improved. Also of interest is that Nader did not have an engineering degree, or for that matter a drivers license! How does the saying go? "Don't bother me with the facts, I have my own prejudices!"
However Congressional hearings were called where Nader claimed that the Corvair is" The leading candidate for un-safest-car title". Mechanix Illustrated reviewer Tom McCahill tested a 1963 Corvair and did his best to get the car to flip, at one point sliding it side ways into a curb, but was unable to flip the car. Interesting that there were many cars on the market at this time with the same type of suspension, engine placement, and per cent of weight on the rear and front of the car. Yet, perhaps fortunate they were never mentioned. Public response to the hearings and the book played a role in the passing of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act of 1966.
In 1972 Safety Commission Report conducted by the Texas A & M University concluded that the 1960 -63 Corvair possessed no greater potential for loss of control than its contemporary competitors in extreme situations. Also in 1972 the department of transportation issued a press realease confirming the same findings. But the damage was done, Corvair was all done by 1969. Innuendo, rumor, and of course the Mustang spelled the end. Regardless our Corvair was fun and enjoyable, dependable and gave many miles of enjoyment, at least after the first year!
It was a trip to Colorado in 1964. We were headed north out of Durango on highway 550. We had reached the peak of the road overlooking Ouray and stopped to take pictures. When I got back into the car, it would not start! What to do?
To be continued!