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August 2011 Dr. Vern

Posted in Features on August 1, 2011
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

There are a few simple rules that have served me well over the years. I’m not talking about the “Everything-I-need-to-know-I-learned-in-kindergarten” stuff, as sometimes life is easier if you simply take the other guy’s crayons. I’m talking about more important guidelines that most people don’t consider until it’s too late. For example: Don’t let your lawn grow so tall that you lose track of the dog. Another good rule of thumb is never to buy a vehicle from a teenager.

You guessed it. I indeed purchased a car from a teenager. In my defense, this teenager was approximately 50 years old, but he still came across a teen. Let me ’splain. My smoking hot wife had decided to surprise me with a new car. Not a new-new car, of course, but a new-to-me car. Other than marrying me, she’s not dumb, so she let me pick my gift. Thanks to hours of preemptive searching on Craigslist, I had already selected one of the most gorgeous automotive rarities out there: a Corvair.

The styling of early Corvairs was nothing special, but starting in 1965 new sheetmetal created a sleek car that looked fast even when sitting still. For years, I’ve wanted one of these late models to complement my Jeep fleet. Unlike Corvairs, at least half of the old Jeeps I’ve seen have had engine swaps. V-8s, V-6s, inline-sixes, Pinto engines—you name it and it’s probably been stuffed into a Jeep, with some conversions more successful than others.

Meanwhile, a Corvair with an engine swap is a rare bird. The Corvair has an air-cooled engine behind the rear axle, much like the original Volkswagen Beetle, but with six cylinders instead of four. An engine swap in a Corvair would be tricky, because similar to a VW or Subaru, the engine is low profile and horizontally opposed. (Editor’s note: Would a morally opposed one fit?) The Corvair I purchased still had the original engine, but that doesn’t stop my heart from racing when thinking about some serious aftermarket overkill. At one time, kits were offered to shoehorn a Chevy V-8 into a Corvair. This craziness is enough to earn the title of honorary Jeep. The stock Corvair was already a wonderful mix of decent power in a very light chassis, so it must have been insane with V-8 power.

Enough of that dreaming, though. Our new ’66 Corvair, even in stock trim, is a blast to drive. This baby looks and handles as if new. My poor wife, however, couldn’t understand my reluctance to purchase this particular example. The car appeared to be in incredible condition and the seller was motivated. I had to take my wife aside in private to explain my reservations about buying a car from a 50-year-old teenager.

As near as I can remember, my realm as an impetuous teenager ceased upon reaching 18 or so, although my parents might tend to disagree. My folks, bless their souls, insisted I should experience life as an adult upon actually reaching adulthood. Much to my surprise, I discovered my first apartment didn’t have the same mystical cupboards as my parents’ home. There was a steep learning curve when I learned I actually had to purchase food before it would appear in the kitchen. (As an aside, I’m not sure why our schools ignore such important lessons while overemphasizing superfluous stuff like algebra.) As a result, I learned to be somewhat practical with my money, even though this may sound a bit odd from a guy assembling a small fleet of collector vehicles.

Years ago, I turned down a car for sale because the oil pressure gauge was broken and the teenage seller never bothered to fix it. Oil pressure and the means to monitor it fall under the “somewhat important” category. I had to wonder what else he ignored, so I said no thanks and walked away. That was for a run-of-the-mill vehicle, but now I was looking at a rare, rust-free Corvair. This seller’s impulsive teen-like personality made me worry how much he’d glossed over during the restoration. The stock high-performance exhaust had been replaced with headers and glass packs, which in this application mostly made more noise but virtually no extra power. Like a teen hypnotized by a hot rod catalog, the seller had replaced the stock air cleaner with an oversized aftermarket unit. Once again there was little performance improvement, but now the spare tire would no longer fit in its designated spot at the side of the engine compartment. The $1,500 sound system didn’t mean much when I’m practically deaf from years of exposure to whining from my own teenagers.

Should I stick to my convictions? My wife was nearly in shock as I suggested I was ready to walk away. Then the seller mentioned that he had hired out the work professionally and had done almost nothing himself. If you heard a strange rushing sound a few months ago, that would have been my sigh of relief.

Between a new Corvair and a couple of old Jeeps, I’ve been a bit slack with duties around the homestead. As I write, it’s a beautiful day, just perfect for a quick ride, but I know it’s more important to keep up with my chores. I’d better fire up the mower and attack the jungle in the backyard. Hopefully I won’t need to spend too much time looking for the dog.

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