Home » A Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Corvair Surviving Into Days Of Disco

A Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Corvair Surviving Into Days Of Disco

Topshot 52

Like a river that don’t know where it’s flowing
I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

The above lyrics to Springsteen’s Hungry Heart could well apply to my latest series here at the Autopian. Bruce was singing about a protagonist that left his wife and kids, ostensibly for a gallon of milk or something, and then never returned; he then continues on his wayward, unlikely path. For us, we’re looking at what might have happened if General Motors continued making the controversial Chevy Corvair. Such decisions, like Bruce’s, have long term impacts on the future, especially if we’re talking about a large automaker.

In case you don’t know, the Corvair was GM’s first compact, and air cooled rear-engined car that debuted in late 1959. The car ran through two different generations before being unceremoniously dropped exactly a decade later, a victim of poor sales due to public misunderstanding of the rather unique design and bad publicity due to handling issues with the earliest models.

'69 Corvair M2 Q

sources: Wikipedia/Stephen Foskett, Wikipedia/ Greg Gjerdingen, Wikipedia/SFoskett, Wikipedia/Robert Spinello , and Wikipedia/crwpitman 

A Quick Recap

In an earlier installment, we did a what-if to see what a 1970 Third Generation Corvair might have looked like. Water cooling plus trunks front AND rear were improvements that were added to the 1965-69 car, as well as a wagon bodystyle. The whole car was wrapped in new sheetmetal that echoed Chevy’s style of the early seventies in cars like the Camaro and the Alright Alright Alright Chevelle.


source: tradeuniquecars (car for sale)

The Generation IV

Let’s say it’s now 1975. Surely now GM will kill the Corvair layout by now, right? No. Again, as Bruce said, let’s just keep going.

As the disco era dawns, we see car design starting to make a change to the more angular look that will reach its peak in the early eighties. However, GM will want to preserve as much of the new-for-1970 car as possible, so for this Gen IV car we’ll keep a lot of the basic body. That really means new nose and tail sections; newly introduced 5MPH impact standards will require beefier bumpers.  Those slick sail panels will not fit the approaching ‘formal roof’ styles of the day so those will get cut back.

3 Gens

source: Shannons (car for sale),  tradeuniquecars (car for sale), and classiccars (car for sale)

Up front, just-allowed rectangular headlamps will modernize the front end (like on the real Vega-based Monza, that would never have existed in this reality).

Img20230207 20082199

Coup De Corvair

Big news for ’75, however, is the introduction of new bodystyles! First up is the Monza coupe. Here, a popular hatchback is grafted onto the tail, necessitating stylish heat exhaust vents in the C pillars. Combined with the front trunk, it would offer unmatched cargo carrying capability.

1977 Holden Hx Monaro Gts Sedan (45856453981)

source: Wikipedia Commons/Signac

A nose with partially hidden headlights like a Lamborghini Jarama sets off the front end from more pedestrian examples. There are air holes inside of those headlight buckets to provide air to the front brakes since this thing would likely be faster than you’d think and fade out the little front discs quickly.

Overall, it’s a very different look from the other Corvair models and even the earlier Gen III car despite using exactly the same doors, windshield, and quarter windows as the 1970-74 car.

Monza Nose

Brother From Another Mother

Hey, what about the Pontiac division? By 1975 they would certainly be clamoring to get in on the action, so General Motors could offer a restyled version of the Corvair called the Pomona (for the famous drag strip). While it likely wouldn’t be available in all of the Corvair’s body styles, you’d still get the mini-Trans Am hatchback Monza clone coupe with gold trimmed alloys (off of a Holden HZ, of all things) and clear covers (covered in a honeycomb pattern) over the lights that allow you a ‘flash to pass’ but drop down when the lights are on for US legality. If Sally Field needed to drive a companion car to Burt Reynold’s Firebird in Smokey and The Bandit, this would be it.

Pomona Coupe

source: GM via Monaro Club

Chevann and Truxter: Who Shrank My Bus?

Now, we’re gonna get crazy and go super ambitious.

Remember that the very first Corvair offered van and pickup body styles when it was introduced? These disappeared after a few years (and before the VW Bus got rather popular).

1964 Chevrolet Greenbrier Front

sources: Bring A Trailer and Wikipedia/Mr Choppers

We’ll bring them back! The same rear drivetrain, three rows of seats or large cargo space; it’d offer the space efficiency of the VW Type II but with more adequate power and a real HVAC system.

For the styling, I can’t think of a better inspiration than the Beetle-based Brubaker Box:


source: The Autopian

However, when you push and pull the Brubaker Box shape to the size and proportions of the Corvair chassis, it looks totally different and doesn’t really work. Still, there is another inspiration I can see.

One could imagine the designers assigned to the Corvair van hanging out in the GM Tech Center Cafeteria in Warren and, out of their cloud of cigarette smoke, seeing Michael Lathers walk by and striking up a conversation. Lathers is one of those names you probably don’t know, but as a designer of the landmark 1973-78 GMC Motorhome you probably should. He was also the man who penned the 1977 GM RTS bus.

If you don’t know the GM RTS bus, you need to know it right now. One of the only urban transit buses to offer curved side glass, it was incredibly futuristic when introduced in 1975 and still looks good to this day. I mean, Mercedes Streeter likes the design so much that she bought one of her own, despite not necessarily having the space or need for something that carries 40 people. It’s a shame that municipalities got such a cool machine, and civilians offered nothing like it. JUST LOOK AT IT!:

Screenshot (354)

source: Mercedes Streeter

Let’s pretend that somehow, some way, Lathers was able to collaborate with his lunch buddies and the RTS design got to be translated into our Corvair MPV, the Chevann. We wouldn’t see something even remotely this cool until the Toyota Van a decade later. This would have been the first (US) minivan and could have been a game changer for the General.


source: transitsales (bus for sale)

We could also offer other versions of it as well, including a partially panel sided cargo van and a little pickup called the Truxter. Note that the Truxter would have a flat bed floor but there would a huge pass-through sealed cargo space accessible through locking doors above the rocker panels (sort of the like the cargo area on a Greyhound bus):




Inside Chevann and Truxter, you’d get an instrument panel sort of similar to the controls in the fabled RTS bus. Since the engine and cooling system is all in back, I did a ‘backwards’ climate control where the heater core and A/C unit (if equipped) are in back with the engine and pump air through ceiling ductwork (and possibly floor) to up front, even to blow on the windshield for defogging:

Interior 3

There’s a little bit of something for everyone in the Generation IV Corvair family, provided to you in a way only the world’s largest automobile maker could.

Is It Done?

As strange as this full lineup of rear-engined cars in the era of Boogie Nights seems, the possibilities seem rather intriguing. These would be tremendously space efficient cars with massive cargo capacity, and if people could get used to nose-heavy-understeering crap with hilarious torque steer, couldn’t they have adapted to driving a car that with a layout that many enthusiasts swear by? We’ll never know, but there’s no use in stopping this bizarre alternate reality path now.

What will the eighties bring?


Our Daydreaming Designer Imagines The Ultimate Autopian Tour Bus – The Autopian

A Trained Designer Imagines What American Motors Corporation Would Have Been Like If It Had Survived – The Autopian

A Daydreaming Designer Images An iMac G3 Inspired 2001 Apple iCar – The Autopian

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66 Responses

      1. Please do!
        I like it a lot as well, though I do wonder how such a boxy thing would have been received in the era of Personal Luxury Coupes with 12’ hoods

        1. TOSSABL- I actually think it might have done pretty well, considering:
          1.) The VW Bus was selling rather well even though it was slow, had no decent HVAC, and was relatively pricey
          2.) There was a van craze going on, despite the energy crunch
          3.) Companies were introducing things like the Pinto Cruising Wagon that attempted to ‘van style’ little cars, ostensibly proving that there was market for little vans that didn’t exist.
          4.) Companies like Ford were ready to launch a small van and likely would have launched it, but it was rebuffed by Henry II, and his last name was on the sign at the top of the building.

          On the other hand, it coulda been a flop. Who wants a scaled down city bus?

          1. Okay, now I REALLY want the Chevann. Make mine yellow with flames!

            No!! Black, with a guy on a horse and a nearly naked girl on back and a wizard’s tower in the distance surrounded by clouds and lightning!!

      2. Yes I want the camper version. Can we use the trukster side panel to house our kitchen? I expect to see this by next weekend, so get to it! (Please) By the way is this the supercharged engine?

        1. My1994Saab900- the engine is optionally turbocharged (like on the real Corvairs) but likely just on coupe models. However, the vans would all be sixes; I mentioned a four cylinder motor option that I would not want to be available on the vans (VW could get away with a slow bus as ‘charming’ but not GM).

  1. I like this strange forking of the GM universe.
    The carryover panels game parallels what they were doing at that time, the 74 to 75 Nova body comes to mind, but I also have seen weird carryovers with minimal change in other models.
    The bus/van rocks, Ann is not amused though.

    1. CSRoad- that’s exactly right. You can see that the doors and center section are nearly the same as the earlier car but front and rear clips change the look. Classic move for not just GM but any US maker in the seventies.

  2. I would love to see the future of the Chevan, when Chevy partners with Toyota at Nummi to make Chevan/Previa (gen 2). Could we have gotten supercharged mid engine Chevys? Higher performance Previas that are easier to work on? I may never know, but maybe The Bishop can make my dream real on the internets.

    1. Hopefully it wouldn’t end up with vanagon performance and reliability with Toyota engine access. SADS would be more than an auxiliary power take off acronym.

        1. Maymar- without giving the story away, likely yes. You just know I’m going to latch onto technologies that GM pioneered or perfected and then didn’t do shit with.

    1. The cars that were designed from scratch for 5mph bumpers usually integrated them pretty well, it was the older designs that had to be retrofitted that looked awkward

        1. Which reminds me: as a second-gen F-body fanboy since summer 1977 (no fair guessing why; it had to do with a certain movie about beer), pleasepleasepleasePLEASE do a “what if” for the 5th-gen Camaro, if it had been a throwback to the second-gen instead of the first. And naturally, there must be a Pontiac counterpart in black and gold SE “Bandit” livery, screaming chicken and snowflake wheels and all.

          1. Joe The Drummer- I’m glad it’s not just me. When I heard they were reviving the Camaro, I couldn’t believe they did the Generation I! I mean, I never hated it, but it’s too much of a me-too Mustang and the spirit of Camaro/Firebird is fastback in my mind.

            I mean, when you hear the Dead Milkmen song “‘Bitchin’ Camaro” what is the car you see? A beat up 1978 Z28, right? It sure isn’t a 1967 Rally Sport.

            1. Trouble with the throwback Camaro was they didn’t throwback enough. They almost got the ’69 grille thing right, then deviated from that into… I dunno, copying the Challenger throwback?
              They shoulda put the lines over the wheel wells, the louvers in the quarter panels, and big round headlights in a direct copy of the ’69 grille. Instead, they’re fading back into the Gen 4 Camaro again.
              And speaking of Camaro, if Chevy had so much to do with the Buick Avista being killed for fear of eating inro Camaro sales, why not straight up steal the Avista and call it a Camaro?

            2. I mean, I’M seeing my very own 1978 Camaro, my first car in 1988, which yes, was dubbed the “Bitchin Camaro” by my friends. With a 305/2bbl boat anchor under the hood, she was slower than a tax refund, but boy was she pretty.

  3. The Gen IV is a sexy car, maybe even more so than the real Gen II?

    I wonder if GM would have bothered with the Vega-based Monza in a world where the Corvair saw a 4th generation, or if that platform would have died a quick death?

    1. Ranwhenparked- in this world there would be no Vega and therefore no Vega-based Monza. The Vega replaced the Corvair as the smallest full-series Chevy in 1970 ( full series means not counting the later T car Chevette).

          1. I never realized the vents on the coupe were functional, always thought the Kammback was the only one that got flow-through ventilation for some reason (as little sense as that would have made)

  4. Well, you can tell by the way I wear my hair
    I’m no ladies man ‘cause I drive a Corvair
    My music’s loud, my engine’s not, I’ve been kicked around
    On the road a lot
    And now it’s alright, it’s okay
    And you may drive another way
    But you’ll never understand
    A Corvair’s effect on a man
    Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother
    You’re just tryin’ to drive n’ stay alive
    The swing axle’s breakin’ and everything is shakin’
    And we’re tryin’ to drive n’ stay alive
    Ah, ha, ha, ha, tryin’ to drive n’ stay alive
    Ah, ha, ha, ha, tryin’ to drive
    I should just walk

  5. Just want to say how much I’m enjoying this particular bit of alt-history design. The Corvair Truxter is my new favorite alt-history vehicle! This is actually my second time through the post. The first time around I didn’t have enough coffee and thought the advert said “Different Times, Same Excrement”, which my groggy little brain immediately translated as a play on “Same Shit, Different Day”, and I really wondered where this was all going for a moment.

    Also, “Pomona” kicks ass as a Pontiac vehicle name. The first time I ever heard of that place was while listening to my dad’s vinyl copy of G.T.O. by Ronny and the Daytona’s.

    1. Boulevard_Yachtsman- I actually thought this thing shouldn’t be named after a dragstrip (since it’s really not a 1/4 mile car) but all the other racetrack names are taken!

      Glad you like it and read it through twice. I pack a lot in there, maybe too much.

      1. Pontiac’s “Gran Turismo Omolgato” seemed to be much more suited for dragstrip duty than being anything close to a Grand Touring cruiser, so I’d say naming their new touring-style car after a drag strip yings that yang rather well.

        Too much? Nah, your never-let-up writing style is great!

  6. Hey, if the Autopian crew manages to find a way to go back in time to alter history, would you mind looking up 8 year old Misfit and tell him not to pick a fight with Robbie Stephano? At least not while he’s carrying his bookbag?
    My nose and I thank you.

  7. Some of the best counterfactual writing and designing this side of WWII alternate realities.
    Having dealt with selling parts for the Malaise Era GMs, performance parts sales took a huge hit with emission controls. I have no doubt this line of vehicles would have kept interest alive for hobbyists for a decade or two, at least for body parts sales. Hell, who knows? The tuners may have embraced the Corvair tech long before the imports took over.

  8. Frankly, if you had faked that Gen IV notchback into an as sheet in Portuguese and told me it was the 1978 refresh from Chevy in Brazil (and still air-cooled!) I’d have believed you.

    The Chevyvan and Truxster are excellent. Nobody really liked the Rampside except the phone company, they bought a bunch because you could roll a cable spool into them.

  9. Once again thanks for this series. You have expanded my mind with possibilities.

    I consider the first gen to be a design of its time. The 2nd gen is a timeless design to me. Your third gen has some of-its-time elements but has timeless components that would make these classic, sought-after cars even today. I’m not sold on the 4th gen fastback, but that notchback coupe delivers the goods. I get an early Mazda vibe off of it. But OMG, am I in love with that pickup! Fill my veins with it and the van.

    No wagon render for the 4th gen? Would the van replace the wagon in your lineup?

    And you tease gen 5? You are a design animal of the best kind. Keep it flowing. Dare I declare my love?

    1. BigThingsComin-
      Once you say the ‘love’ word first in a poster/commenter relationship you can’t take it back! So much pressure now- I’ll try not to do you wrong.

      There IS a sedan and wagon version that for whatever reason did not get in the post! Did I forget to drop them in or were they edited out? Regardless, I will include them in the recap that goes with the Gen V that is in the works as we speak.

  10. Biggest question is would a Chevair have occurred? Would it have rwd or would they trans axle the front and flip the motor around to keep it near the middle for good weight distribution.

    1. JDE- I think FWD would be a possibility; I think the rear motor gives more options for cargo space on wagon/hatchback versions and still have a frunk.

      At the auto show last weekend I noticed that Soobies REALLY do NOT take advantage of the flat motor since there is much space above in front for at least the tire (if not on run flats) or a shallow trunk.

    1. Laurence- as I’ve said before, Holden got so many cars that were far cooler than what we were given here by GM. They seemed to take the same styling cues but ended up with better, smaller cars.

  11. What no rampside?

    Speaking of random vehicle portals, I’d love to see what your take would be on a 21st century Americanized seven seat Isetta CUV would be. Or maybe a jacked up off road Messerschmitt.

    1. Andyindividual- good question. I think I had read somewhere (but can’t find it) that buyers really valued a flat bed floor over the ramp to an area that was a bit small. However, for the next one I’d like to find an easy way to do a lifting floor or easy way to give you both options in the same truck for the best of both worlds. We’ll see.

  12. I’d like to think that in this reality the Corvair vans also continued, with a cheap facelift to give their front a resemblance to the single-headlight Gen 3.
    By the time the gen 4 was this far along they’d still sell decently but it would be apparent to all that their basically early ’60s styling was aging fast so the mini-RTS would be greenlit. It would however carry the old names – Corvair 95 for the series, Corvan for the cargo van, Greenbrier for the wagon/bus, Loadside for the flat-floor/storage locker pickup and don’t forget the Rampside pickup which would, of necessity, continue to use a stepped floor.

    The founding editor of another site once commented that the Greenbrier was like a mini-New Look bus – and he had experience driving both.

    1. nlpnt- that might have worked but don’t forget that the vans were dropped after the first generation, and they did have (I think) the swing axles. Admittedly vans often continue to be produced alongside newer cars with the same older technology (often for twenty years or more).

    1. Saltier- I think so too, but remember that by the time the Chrysler vans appeared this would have already been in production for eight years or so and ready for a new or facelifted version which I now have to waste more evenings after nine hours of a real job to come up with.

  13. Read as far as seeing that Monza front end and a horrible chill swept over me. I had hoped to never see any image of that horrible car ever again, even a sketch. I may be sick…

    1. Finally shook the chill and went through the whole article, love the ideas, especially the Chevann and Truxter. Really enjoy these exercises and hope to see more!

      1. The Mike Lane- glad you read it through! The Monza face always kind of scared me too so I tried to tweak it a bit to be less frightening. Unless you actually owned one and will then be reminded of dropping/tilting the motor on a V8 model to get to the rear spark plugs.

        1. You nailed it, I owned one. Tried like hell to make it into something decent, but it kept falling apart. Too poor at the time for anything decent, but thought this might be a better version of the Vega. Wrong. Almost the worst car I’ve ever owned, but that’s reserved for a LeBaron convertible.

    2. Good. That means you won’t beat me to the punch when and if I find a reasonably clean Monza Spyder candidate for the Buick 3.8 Turbo/T5 swap it so richly deserved. I would say “LS swap,” except that I’d like to be able to change spark plugs without an engine hoist.

  14. The Chevann and the Truxter are the sex, even though they look more modern than late 70s. I also like the Monza-like take on the mid-70s. That one feels quite believable and is also attractive relative to the Chevrolets of that time period.
    Any worries about the wraparound slant on the Chevann dash interfering with legroom for the middle passenger on a bench seat? It seems like the radio protrusion would be hitting a right knee.

    1. OrigamiSensei- yes, that radio likely should not curve in that sharply, unless the bench is split and we can move back the center and right portion.

      I totally agree on these seeming to look too modern- but look at the RTS bus. GM started taking orders for this bus in late 1975 so this design did exist then, and obviously did years before this in house. So it could have been possible. We were indeed robbed, as always.

  15. Cool as hell, Bishop. Had this happened, I would certainly have a beat-to-shit 200k+ version of either the Chevann or Truxter in my driveway now. I even like the Pomona even though I’m not a fan of Pontiac’s over-fussy styling of the time. The only quibble I have with that one is the rear quarter: there doesn’t seem to be enough metal between the top of the wheel well and bottom of the quarter window. Maybe it’s how low that strake is-or could just be a function of the large greenhouse (which I approve of, btw).

    I heartily endorse this extrapolation, and hope you keep daydreaming about the Corvair: looking forward to see how you will bring it into the 90s & beyond.

    1. TOSSABL- glad you like it. I think there is enough metal, especially when compared to contemporary cars. However, yes, I do have an inch or more of black paint below the greenhouse to give the illusion of larger greenhouse, and at the back of the Monza to hide the more curved rear quarter window from the Gen III car.

  16. I like where you’ve gone with the Gen IV Monza and Pomona. I think the fastback look works pretty good. The Chevan and Truxter also look great. (I’ve always wanted to have the money to restore a Jeep FC 170) Of course modern crash standards and crumple zones would require the van/truck bodies to be massively rethought in the upcoming Gen V I hope we get to see. Just don’t overdo the boxiness we got in the 80’s…

    1. GTB- you might be right, but the new-for-1980 Type 2 Vanagon surprisingly didn’t have much more than the old bus in the way of crash protection up front! However, it wouldn’t be a bad idea.

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