by Mike Knepper
If you wanted but one book in your collection on the Chevrolet Corvair, Mike Knepper’s book would be a wise and logical choice. It is obvious that Knepper is a seasoned, professional automotive journalist, and it is equally obvious that his flair for language goes beyond many informative but dull books all too often found.
He had apparently earned the trust of General Motors who supplied the bulk of the photographs and the blessings of CORSA, the Corvair Society of America, whose members had offered assistance in vetting and review of his material.
The book works well on several levels. The background information on the genesis of the car is of interest—especially the sketch of a foredoomed project concerning a rear-engine Cadillac, and it includes a wry portrait of Ed Cole who gave a directive to the engineer Maurice Olley to “come up with something completely different.” The “something different” of course became the Corvair. Cole was somewhat of a maverick and was willing to give his team carte blanche, spend money on research and development, protect and encourage his team, and defy top management when required. And as Knepper points out, Cole was not averse to pulling the plug on the Corvair when marketing forces precluded this action.
Corvair Affair is generous in its account of the problems and solutions concerning the car. The production facts dealing with the cooperation of GM and Reynolds Aluminum to design and forge the engine and the rather humorous interaction between GM and US Rubber over tire production are enlightening. Knepper also paints a vivid picture of GM’s involvement with advertising and their network of dealerships. His reminder of how America loved new model year presentations, with the initial teaser advertisements, the flags and the banners, and the dealership windows covered in Glasswax until the day of the unveiling tenders a warm aura of nostalgia. But Knepper goes beyond this, offering hard facts, technical details, and an account of the judgment of the motoring press.
When writing an account of the Corvair, it is inevitable that Ralph Nader’s connection with the car be discussed. This part of the story is researched, balanced, and Knepper convinces the reader that Nader, however well intentioned, skewed the facts, misunderstood the context of criticism in automotive magazines, and unfairly condemned the Corvair. He goes on to say that it was not Nader alone who brought about the demise of the car—the introduction of both the Mustang and the Chevy II were major contributing factors.
This book is a good source for owners, collectors, and enthusiasts because of the detailed, year-by-year list of model changes and available accessories. Knepper also highlights the show cars, design exercises, and the Corvair’s racing history. The book has information for potential buyers; it is indexed, and it offers three appendixes: Manufacturer’s suggested retail prices, US Corvair production, and year-by-year specifications. The historic photographs, all in black-and-white, are copious and appreciated. Overall,Corvair Affair is a fine book—and not only for Corvair devotees; anyone interested in automobiles will find it a lively and interesting read.
Copyright 2011, Bill Wolf (speedreaders.info).