Chevrolet Corvair – 1959
Chevrolet was always the brand most willing to push the envelope, not only among the GM stable but the Big Three more widely. A case in point is the Corvair, to this day America’s only mass-produced rear-engined and air-cooled car. It was the brainchild of Ed Cole, chief engineer and later general manager of Chevrolet who spotted that with the literal growth of American cars during the 1950s, there were no longer any compact and more affordable models available for American families.
While Ford and Chrysler effectively shrunk their full-sized models and fitted them with underpowered fours and sixes, Chevrolet got radical with the Corvair. With monocoque construction, a largely aluminium horizontally-opposed air-cooled flat-six mounted at the back of the car driving the rear wheels and latterly all-independent suspension the Corvair would be radical for Detroit today. Heck, it didn’t even have any tail fins or a chrome grille. Sold as a saloon, coupe, convertible, estate van and pick-up truck more than 1.8 million Corvairs were sold in just under a decade. Unfortunately the Corvair is best remembered today for being the subject of the book Unsafe at Any Speed, an excoriation of the US auto industry’s then approach to safety by consumer rights advocate Ralph Nader.