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Corvair felt impact of Ralph Nader’s 'Unsafe at Any Speed'
While one Corvair in Bath has quite a history, the first rear-engine, air-cooled production car made in America has a broader history in the automotive arena.
Chevrolet unveiled its new compact in the fall of 1959 for the 1960 model year. General Motors executives wanted it to compete successfully with new small cars, the Ford Falcon and the Plymouth Valiant.
According to automotive journalist Dan Jedlicka, the Corvair would also go head-to-head with two imports, the Volkswagen Beetle and the Renault Dauphine. An early Corvair could be had for as little as $1,984. Some souped-up later models such as the Monza Spyder would command $2,636, and the convertible of that model $2,846, Jedlicka says on his website, danjedlicka.com.
But in the mid-1960s, a Washington lawyer who would become an internationally known consumer safety advocate published his landmark work, “Unsafe at Any Speed,” in which he named what he considered the most hazardous vehicles being driven in America.
In it, he singled out the Corvair for deficiencies he said made it more likely to roll over than other cars of the time.
The impact was immediate. Corvair’s sales dropped from 220,000 in 1965 to 109,880 in 1966. Though the Corvair line would continue through 1969, its death knell had sounded.
Although a Congressional study exonerated the Corvair in 1972, finding it no more prone to roll-over accidents than other cars, GM had pulled it off the market three years earlier after total sales for 10 years of 1.7 million.
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Bob Hookway may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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