When General Motors first moved to produce the Chevrolet Corvair, the idea was to catch the eye of people on their way to buy Volkswagens. It seemed like a sound sales theory at the time, but the company found, as did other U.S. car-makers, that VW customers are not really a market group but more of a religious cult. In the years since, the car and the theory were completely reworked—and when the 1965 Corvair Corsa appears this week there is every prospect that this time Chevrolet is going to catch the right eyes. This is the sports car set in general and, in particular, people who might be on their way to buy Ford Mustangs.
"The theory behind this new car," said GM Vice-president S. E. Knudsen, "is to combine European flair with a feeling of American prestige. There is a marked difference between a sports car and a sporty car. The Corsa is a sports car."
In calling this new creation a sports car, GM's Knudsen is no further off base than Ford's Mustang people. Both camps, in fact, may be prescient. Their automobiles are different—which is not surprising in an era that has seen the lines around "pure" sports cars become fogged. And if the Corsa does not come close enough to satisfy some sports car purists (it seats four people, for one thing), it will clearly come close enough to please those near purists who want speed, stick shifts, bucket seats and status.
Chevrolet's Corsa will appear in two models at the top of the Corvair line—there are five other Corvairs, sporty but not sports—in soft and hard top. Technically, it will replace the Monza Spyder ("The name Spyder," sighed Knudsen, "somehow never caught on with the American public"), and there is only a reflection of last year's car in the new one. The Corsa is longer, lower, wider than the Spyder; center pillars have been removed from the middle of the car for a cleaner line and side windows and windshield are now rakishly curved. In the right light the Corsa looks like a preshrunk 1964 Buick Riviera, but the styling tends more to what makers have come to call Detroit International. "That is," confided one GM official, "a touch of Ferrari, a dash of Pinin Farina, a bit of Karmann Ghia...."
The Corvair chassis has been stiffened and the suspension comes from the successful Corvette Sting Ray. Thus the new cars will hang from fully independent rear-axle suspension, a factor which will delight road-rallyists and those who drive cars fast and hard. On test runs at GM's Michigan proving grounds the Corsa started and stopped with no dipping, and it cornered—even at wild speeds—with smooth intent and no sign of sway. To fire it along, Chevrolet has stuffed the rear-engine compartment with a four-carburetor engine rated at 140 horsepower as standard, and offers a turbo-charged model kicked up to 180 hp.
Inside the Corsa cockpit, instruments have been regrouped and recessed. The bucket seats are well molded, and the back-seat area, while small, will do nicely for short trips. Everything is functional—there are no false louvers and the air scoops really scoop air.
The result of all this is a new American sports car that will be eminently acceptable at rallies but that can, in the American manner, double at church picnics. Now a model-cycle behind Mustang in introduction, Corsa will seek to catch up fast at a competitive price and production pace. It is certain, says Knudsen, to be "a terrific showroom traffic-getter.
"And we are like Ford in one respect," he adds. "Once we get them in, should they decide a sports car is too much, well, we'll sell them a bigger car."