By Travis Mitchell
Imagine it’s a mid-summer day in July, early 1970’s something. The sun is beaming rays of delight onto the cornfields in Iowa. The sea of green and gold meets the horizon, the colors dancing in the breeze. A white rail-fence corrals a John Deer tractor and a storybook red barn with white trim perched on a slight knoll down the dirt driveway. A horse whinnies, kicks its back legs, and gives an agitated nod to a truck as it sputters by. Off in the distance a dog barks his warning to anybody who will listen. All around the smell of country is in the air. A few miles away are the neighborhoods of “Small Town, USA”. In one of those neighborhoods, a young seven year old boy scurries excitedly from the front door of his home with his two sisters in tow. They pile into the back seat of the family car, a 1963 Chevy Corvair. He’s energetic, bouncing about, enthused about the upcoming ride. Today is a rare day, one of the few times the lad and his family will visit the local Dairy Queen, and ice cream will be the treat of the day..
Similar memories were swimming in the mind of a Civitan Car Club volunteer, August 16, 2014, during Cars and Coffee Las Vegas. The club member said his mind raced there when he saw a 1965 convertible Chevy Corvair Monza glide into a parking spot at the weekly car show. The memory landed him in a distant place near Council Bluffs, IA, where he, a young Tom Schnitker, now Civitan Car Club Board Member, had one of his first memories about their Corvair. It was his mom’s first car, still owned by the family today.
Times were a little simpler back then and so were the cars. The luxury of dining out or taking a trip to the local DQ for ice cream was fairly uncommon, as were luxury options and upgrades for cars, especially the popular Chevy Corvair. That’s why, when Tom found out this Corvair had every factory option available: convertible; automatic transmission; air conditioning; window tint; wood telescopic steering wheel; and the expensive and rare AM/FM Radio, he had to select it as the Civitan Car Club Members’ Choice “Car of the Week”.
Tom isn’t the only one enthused about the Chevy Corvair. In fact, the car’s owner, Bob Soliday, has 3 of them. His “red one” is even modified to accommodate a 350 Chevy small block. Bob says that particular car scares him a bit, even though he’s owned a number of fast cars during his many years of driving. He noted that it drives like the old electric slot car racers, though he smirked when he said he’s never fishtailed in it.
This week’s members’ choice pick is a rare find, especially since, according to Bob, it’s 100% all factory and all original, sporting the crocus yellow paint color. Bob purchased the car in 2011 with a reference book type of understanding of the car’s history. He noted, as he discussed the car with its new admirer, Tom, that the vehicle was ordered by the owner of a Chevrolet dealership in Hampton, VA, and that the dealer was insistent that he have every option possible.
The 1965 Corvair saw a substantial change in body style from the earlier Corvair models, influenced by the Corvette Stingray and the 1963 Buick Riviera. Other changes that year were substantial and the timing couldn’t have been better. In 1965, attorney and consumer protection advocate, Ralph Nader, published his scathing book on the US automobile industry, “Unsafe at Any Speed”. The first chapter highlighted the earlier Corvair models which were known to over steer as a result of the swing arm suspension design and the lack of an anti-sway bar. The book propelled Nader to the national stage and is credited as being a catalyst of the National Traffic and Motor Safety Vehicle Act in 1966. Unfortunately, though many of the criticisms of the book’s first chapter specifically about the Corvair were addressed in the 1965 model, Corvair sales fell from 220,000 in 1965 to 109,880 in 1966. By 1968 production fell to 14,800.
Improvements in the 1965 year included a new fully independent suspension, similar to the Corvette, an improved heater system, larger brakes (borrowed from the muscly Chevelle), a stronger differential ring gear, Delcotron alternator (replacing the generator), and significant chassis refinements. Other new options for the 1965 model year included many of those noted in this car’s description, mainly the AM/FM stereo radio, “in-dash” all-weather air conditioning, telescopic steering column, and a special purpose chassis (“Z17”) handling package which included a special performance suspension and quick ratio steering box. The changes in 1965 were so inspiring that Car and Driver magazine’s David E. Davis Jr. showed magazine love for the 1965 Corvair in their October 1964 issue stating:
“And it is here too, that we have to go on record and say that the Corvair is — in our opinion — the most important new car of the entire crop of ’65 models, and the most beautiful car to appear in this country since before World War II.”
When the car was announced at Cars and Coffee Las Vegas as winner of the Members’ Choice “Car of the Week”, enthusiasts from throughout the show showed similar enthusiasm, jockeying to get an up-close glimpse and to discuss the car with the owner. There were a number of comments related to its horizontal condenser, the lack of an engine oil leak (something the 110HP air cooled Corvair engine appears to be famous for), and the fact that it had an AM/FM stereo as well as the in-dash A/C. Its all-original condition was reviewed by a number of the show attendees, seemingly passing by any skeptic rather quickly. During conversations I overheard Bob state that people have mentioned alterations he should make to the car – chrome this, change that, etc., to which Bob’s standard reply is that his desire is to keep the car 100% original.
To Bob, Civitan Car Club Las Vegas says thanks for sharing your car with us during Cars and Coffee Las Vegas. It was great to connect, to get to know you a bit, and to hear of your passion about this venerable American classic. We’ll look forward to seeing your other cars in Vegas after they complete their circuits in California.
Oh, and be on the lookout for the Schnitker Corvair to debut soon at a Cars and Coffee Las Vegas or other local car show event. The car is being transported from Florida to Las Vegas and is due to arrive at some point in September. Tom is now the car’s full-time caretaker and, though he and his dad have replaced the engine twice in its nearly 50 years of being in their family , he’s hoping any repairs needed now will be minimal and that his own young family will soon be making their own drive to the local Dairy Queen. I guess some things still can be simple even in this complex world we live in today. Ice cream anyone?