Porsche: Ex­cel­lence Was

New Zealand Classic Car - - Feature Car -

Poor man’s Porsche

As we’ve since come to learn, there are some dis­tinct dis­ad­van­tages to mount­ing the car’s heav­i­est com­po­nent be­hind the rear axle — such as an of­ten sur­pris­ing ten­dency to spin out, sort of like an ar­row weighted at the end. If that all sounds very Porsche like, it should be borne in mind that the Cor­vair has more in com­mon with Porsche’s iconic 911 than many peo­ple credit. Both cars share the same ba­sic rear en­gine and rear-wheel-drive ar­chi­tec­ture; both are pow­ered by flat-six en­gines and fea­ture swingaxle sus­pen­sion in the rear — the Cor­vair even­tu­ally shift­ing to a more con­ven­tional rear set-up. In fact, the Cor­vair was fre­quently mar­keted and re­viewed as the poor-man’s Porsche.

An­other co­in­ci­den­tal tie be­tween the 911 and the Cor­vair is a man by the name of Karl Lud­vigsen. Not only did Karl head up the pub­lic re­la­tions team for the Cor­vair at Gen­eral Mo­tors, he also wrote one of the best Porsche books — Ex­pected.

De­spite the neg­a­tive crit­i­cism, or just the plain fact that most Amer­i­cans sim­ply didn’t know how to drive a rear-en­gined car with a swing-axle sus­pen­sion safely, one spe­cial-edi­tion model did be­come a wor­thy com­peti­tor to the ever-in­creas­ing op­po­si­tion — the Cor­vair Corsa.

Cor­vair Corsa Turbo

The Cor­vair Corsa was launched as a spe­cial edi­tion in 1965, at a time when sales of the sec­ond­gen­er­a­tion Cor­vair were in de­cline. It boasted a 104kw (140bhp) flat-six en­gine and four sin­gle bar­rel car­bu­ret­tors, but, al­though this rep­re­sented a huge in­crease over the 71kw (95bhp) and 82kw (110bhp) base-model Cor­vair mod­els, it still wasn’t suf­fi­cient to cap­ture ad­di­tional sales rev­enue, as pun­ters wanted even more power. The an­swer: Chevy of­fered up a 180bhp (134kw) tur­bocharged en­gine with a four-speed cog box as stan­dard.

Nat­u­rally, this ad­di­tional power meant larger brakes for the flag­ship model, bor­rowed from the

Chev­elle. In­deed, brak­ing is one of the Cor­vair’s finest but most over­looked virtues; in an era of pa­thet­i­cally in­ad­e­quate brakes fit­ted to mon­strous, front-heavy con­ven­tional cars, the Cor­vair — like any rear-en­gined car — al­most per­fectly weighted its brakes evenly as its rear weight shifted for­wards. The new Corsa also re­ceived a beefed-up dif­fer­en­tial ring gear, a Del­cotron al­ter­na­tor (re­plac­ing the orig­i­nal gen­er­a­tor), not to men­tion sig­nif­i­cant chas­sis re­fine­ments — the Spe­cial Pur­pose Chas­sis Equip­ment (Z17) han­dling pack­age that con­sisted of a spe­cial per­for­mance sus­pen­sion and a faster steer­ing ra­tio. By this time, Chevro­let had aban­doned the Cor­vair’s sin­gle swing-axle rear sus­pen­sion lay­out; it may have proved suc­cess­ful in the Volk­swa­gen Bee­tle but it failed to meet to rig­ors of the heav­ier Corsa. In its place, Chevro­let spec­i­fied a new three-link in­de­pen­dent set-up adapted from the Corvette Stingray. Good­bye, swing axle!

Th­ese later Cor­vairs were loved by keen driv­ers for their ag­ile han­dling ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Their 60 per cent rear-bi­ased weight dis­tri­bu­tion def­i­nitely con­trib­uted to the Corsa’s light and nim­ble steer­ing and neu­tral feel — fac­tors stand­ing in stark con­trast to the car’s nose-heavy Amer­i­can ri­vals.

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