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Once Controversial, This '65 Chevy Survives

Once Controversial, This '65 Chevy Survives

Once Controversial, This '65 Chevy Survives

Christian Mejia, 35, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., out on the road in his 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza coupe.
Christian Mejia, 35, of Thousand Oaks, Calif., out on the road in his 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza coupe.
Photo:

Ian Spanier for The Wall Street Journal

Christian Mejia,

35, a property manager from Thousand Oaks, Calif., on his 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza, as told to A.J. Baime.

My grandfather,

Dean Haskell,

had a Corvair. When I was in preschool, he would take me to school in it. I thought it was the coolest car. When he passed away, he left it to my mom and when I got to high school, she gave it to me. It was my first car. That’s when it all started. I have been obsessed with Corvairs ever since.

Chevrolet launched the Corvair in 1959 and it was unlike any car an American manufacturer had ever made. The engine was in the trunk, behind the driver. At the time, Volkswagen Beetles were very popular and the VW had its engine in the rear. Chevy wanted to tap into that market—affordable, rear-engine cars. Soon there were Corvair coupes, sedans, station wagons, vans, even a pickup.

In the early 1960s these were popular cars. In 1964, however, the Ford Mustang came out, at about the same price, and that basically killed the Corvair. Also, at about that same time,

Ralph Nader

published a book called “Unsafe at Any Speed,” about how unsafe American cars were. The book made a special case of the Corvair. Ever since, the Corvair has had an infamous reputation.


Photos: The Chevrolet Corvair’s Biggest Fan

A California collector shows off his favorite Corvair from among the dozen he owns

 
 

When Christian Mejia was a toddler, his grandfather drove him to preschool in this 1965 Chevy Corvair Monza. Today, Mr. Mejia owns this Corvair and 11 others.

Ian Spanier for The Wall Street Journal
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[Nader wrote that the car’s rear engine and suspension combination made it easy for drivers to lose control. Chevrolet changed the car’s suspension setup due to Nader’s book.]

I think that reputation is false because, to me, these cars handle so well. I am not alone. Today, there is a passionate community of Corvair people. These cars are unique and affordable, and people still use them to compete in vintage racing.

I have owned 26 Corvairs and currently own 12, including two rare Corvair race cars, and I have my own private shop where I restore them. I have bought Corvairs in Arizona, New Mexico, Indiana and California. Once I was pulling a Corvair on a flatbed and I met a guy at a gas station. The next thing I knew, I was at his house in Barstow, Calif., and I bought five Corvairs for $3,000.

The car pictured here is my first Corvair, the one that my grandfather used to take me to preschool. I did some work on it: souped up the engine, did some body work, removed the door handles for a cleaner look, and swapped out the automatic transmission for a four-speed manual.

I know my grandfather would be proud, knowing his Corvair is still on the road.

The Corvair on ‘the Snake’—a famous slice of roadway in Southern California.
The Corvair on ‘the Snake’—a famous slice of roadway in Southern California.
Photo:

Ian Spanier for The Wall Street Journal

Contact A.J. Baime at Facebook.com/abjaime.

Published at Tue, 24 Apr 2018 13:17:02 +0000

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