Aaron DiManna
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Forget COVID-19, Prepare for ‘Corvair Vindication Day’

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A dark red 1965 Chevrolet Corvair

Photo: Dave_7 via CC

Today in automotive news, we have an upcoming rally based on a controversy that started all the way back in 1965. I’m talking, of course, about the planned “Corvair Vindication Day,” something that’s about as bizarre in its intentions as it is strange in its timing. To explain what the rally plans to accomplish — and why it plans to accomplish it — you’ll need the backstory.  

Corvair Vindication Day origins

In 1965, American consumer activist, environmentalist, lawyer, and multiple-time presidential hopeful Ralph Nader published a landmark nonfiction book called Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-in Dangers of the American Automobile. Overall, the book was a takedown of car manufacturers’ hesitancy to implement basic safety features like seat belts at the time. Today, it’s best known for its car-destroying takedown of the Chevrolet Corvair.

There’s no taking down a Chevy: Our experts make sure of it

In Unsafe at Any Speed, Nader claimed that the first-generation Corvair had a potentially fatal rear suspension design that could drastically reduce tire grip on the road and lead to a dangerous lack of stability. The issue is considerably worse on rear-engine models — of which the Corvair is still the only American-made, mass-produced example — which only served to heighten consumers’ concerns.

So, what’s the fuss?

Nader’s claims were disproved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 1972, and corroborated by College Station, Texas-based Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), and Texas A&M. All three tests indicated that the first-generation Corvair, even when put through extreme testing, posed no more danger of rollovers or control loss than competitors at the time, and in fact, matched both domestic and foreign vehicles at the time of the study.

A charming interlude

Though not directly related to the Corvair, it’s worth taking a break from 50-year-old vehicle safety studies to mention that Ralph Nader once captained a crew of seven volunteer law students to evaluate the Federal Trade Commission. They were called “Nader’s Raiders,” which has to be the only way to make an independent FTC oversight committee sound like a swashbuckling band of renegades.

 Corvair Vindication Day

The rally itself is an attempt to get Nader’s American Museum of Tort Law, which is a real thing, to forfeit ownership of a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair, or at least include the NHTSA’s correction to its display. The movement is the brainchild of Nick Gigante, whose grandfather Frank Winchell reportedly led Chevy’s R&D team while the company was trying to defend the vehicle, according to AutoBlog. For him, it’s a personal fight, as well as an ideological one.

After calling the museum’s Corvair a “prisoner,” Gigante said, “I haven’t made peace with Nader, I haven’t buried the hatchet. I can’t let that go.” Balancing his ethos with a healthy dose of logos, he also stated that the car shouldn’t be housed in Nader’s Tort Museum, because “ a tort has to be for a faulty product that hurts somebody, but there’s no actual tort on the Corvair.”

The Corvair was wrongly-accused: The Impala is rightly praised

Supposing social gatherings aren’t still heavily discouraged by the CDC on July 20, Gigante will be at the American Museum of Tort Law with bells on. Fittingly, he’ll arrive in a 1962 Chevrolet Corvair Coupe he inherited from his grandfather.