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The Corvair Up There

Roughly 300 miles north of New York City, in the northeastern United States, this chopped and bagged 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza hot rod is so rusty, it’s right.

John Ludwick Jr's 1965 Chevy Corvair Monza

The Chevy Corvair is a serious enigma in the car world. The first-generation Corvair (1960-1964) was ugly, confused and seriously problematic. A young politician by the name of Ralph Nader would come to criticize American automobiles in his book Unsafe at Any SpeedMost notably, Nader called out the Corvair’s swing axle suspension, which was susceptible to “tuck under” during driving, essentially making the car unstable. A $15 antiroll bar could’ve probably solved the issue. Nader also pointed out that improperly inflated tire pressures could lead to extreme cases of oversteer. While many people suggest the book killed the Corvair, it was a turning point in American manufacturing and ultimately progressed the industry.

 

With its rear-engine flat six, a new independent suspension and a totally revised exterior for the second generation, the Corvair squashed the problems laid out by Nader and influenced many to love its very unorthodox styling and engineering. Hell, Jay Leno calls it “the poor man’s Porsche”! The Corvair has influenced countless people, including John Ludwick Jr. of New Hampshire, who has taken a way different approach to the typical restoration of a classic.

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Rusty Roots

CLICK HERE TO SHOW HOTSPOTS
*Build progress photos courtesy of John Ludwick Jr.*

 

After getting his hands dirty in the Volkswagen scene with older MK1s and MK2s, Ludwick began scouring Craigslist for a four-speed Corvair that would fill the void left by his childhood influencer. “I really wanted a four-speed, and those were becoming harder to find,” Ludwick confirms. “Most people restore them and want upwards of 20 grand.”

 

While the Corvair sold more than 1.8 million cars in roughly a decade, it’s not a car that most people associate with anything other than what Nader laid out. However, the Corvair has all the ingredients of a proper driver and a looker with a bit of upgrading and TLC. Ludwick, however, opted to go for an outlier example in the “car scene,” turning his 1965 Corvair Monza into a road-going, tarnished example that still prospers.

 

PQ: “Luckily, it was parked on the pavement, so it didn’t rot out. It aged like a West Coast car would—it rusted in all the right spots.”

 

Taking the proverbial leap on a car that had been sitting for decades, Ludwick drove to Massachusetts, where the car had been rotting to hell on the sidewalk since 1973. “When I got there, it was in rougher condition than I thought,” says Ludwick. “It [had] been sitting in the rain, and you could tell there was patina, but I wasn’t really sold on it and thought it wasn’t for me. But then I started to walk around it a few times, and I could see where I was really wanting to go with the car. This thing would look really cool as a patina hot rod!”

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Chop Top

With his mind set that the Corvair would fit his childhood dreams, Ludwick picked up the 41,000-mile car for a song and a dance, with the owner knowing the car was headed out as scrap soon enough. Ludwick admits, “Luckily, it was parked on the pavement, so it didn’t rot out. It aged like a West Coast car would—it rusted in all the right spots.”

 

In a bit of serendipity and clairvoyance, Ludwick admits that the car was waiting for him. “It was sitting decades before I was even born; it was essentially waiting for me to come down and pick the thing up,” Ludwick emphasizes. Though the car was rustier than a trombone left in the ocean—literally sinking into the pavement almost up to the rockers—the bones were still structurally solid. And being an air-cooled motor, there was minimal work required to get it running again, so he and his father dove in.

 

Chopping the roof of the Corvair became priority numero uno, because as Ludwick saw it, that’s how the Corvair should have been designed from the factory. Having never attempted the surgical requirements to remove, fit and essentially redesign a roof before, Ludwick and his father had to learn how to do it. Though his father—a self-taught mechanic who owned a shop for 35 years—knew a thing or two about wrenching, both father and son needed to figure out a solution.

 

Living in the 21st century has its perks. Instant access to almost anything ever constructed or dreamed of by humans is essentially available via a cell phone. Chopping a windshield—though they did most everything in the shop—still presented some challenges so they searched for tutorials online. “We watched YouTube videos on my phone before we started cutting [the glass], seeing how professionals did it,” Ludwick admits as they had never attempted the glass cutting before.

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Patina Machina

They then set out by essentially building an autoclave and using the factory rear window as a template for the 16-gauge Plexiglas that would take its place. Cutting the C-pillars was also much easier thanks to rust acting like acid and eating through them.

 

PQ: “As far as what I’ve seen, this is the first late-model Corvair that’s both roof chopped and on air suspension that lays out.”

 

When all was said and done, the roof was two inches lower than the factory height. “We had never [chopped a roof], but I would say we should go one direction and [my father] would suggest something different that worked,” Ludwick says. “When we went down two inches, the roof got five and a half inches longer and about two inches wider, so it really changed the overall look of the car. It looked a lot longer, especially once we bagged it.”

 

“As far as what I’ve seen, this is the first late-model Corvair that’s both roof chopped and on air suspension that lays out,” Ludwick boasts. And this is no gloating matter. The fact is that because of the Corvair’s extreme angle, Ludwick resorted to Heim alignment joints to allow the custom air suspension—with a Viair compressor and Universal Air Aero Sport and Air House 2 bags—to lay the car out, but also to rest at factory height.

 

“We took the springs and shocks out first and set the car down to see how far it would go and what would hang up,” Ludwick explains. He continues, “The control arms and the overall factory design only allowed the car to go down so far and still wasn't laying on the ground.” He cut the ends of the front subframe off and built a custom setup to get the car all the way to the ground. Then he “modified the lower control arms with custom bag plates mounted lower through the arms, with lower dropouts under them for the lower shock mounts. We also raised the upper bag mount and the upper shock mounts about 2-inches to gain more height out of the front end.” As for the rear of the car, well, that’s just as unique featuring custom upper and lower mounts for the bags to get the car touching the ground. Ludwick, who candidly admits that they were their own R&D department, says a few errors here, and a few missteps there, happened but they finally got the car on its belly.

 

It’s this range that allowed him to drive the car 1,100 miles for its first car show at Southern Wörthersee, in Helen, Georgia. While the license plate may allude to a certain claim, the fact is there are enough reinforcements made to make sure the Corvair is structurally sound.

 

The numbers-matching flat six might look like a tosser, but Ludwick confirms it’s in proper order. He threw around the idea of a late-model 911 Turbo donor motor but knew certain monetary restraints would keep that dream just that. Having caught the air-cooled bug from his earlier experiences in Volkswagen, he chose to rebuild the motor to factory spec, replacing all the rubber and anything else that the elements got to. The drivetrain was all rebuilt as well, replacing the front and rear drum brakes, too.

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Finely Aged

PQ: “People always ask what kind of car this is, and it’s cool educating people in the European scene [about how] Chevrolet made a rear-engine, air-cooled car.”

 

“I knew the Corvair was the perfect air-cooled car because everyone forgets about them,” Ludwick says. “People always ask what kind of car this is, and it’s cool educating people in the European scene [about how] Chevrolet made a rear-engine, air-cooled car.”

 

This Corvair is unapologetically cool. It’s nowhere near perfect, and you’d probably get more money for it in scrap metal than you would on Craigslist, but that’s not the point. It’s a statement against conforming. Hell, it’s just plain cool—look at it! Fortunately, this isn’t the end of the Corvair and its declaration to be cool without being perfect. Ludwick is now working on his ’52 Cabover to pair with the Corvair.

 

That’s right, there will be a matching 1952 Chevy Cabover with a modern drivetrain toting the Corvair around on a custom-made bed. Right now the Cabover is sitting on a 2WD Dodge dually chassis mated to a 12-valve Cummins Turbo Diesel and a five-speed tranny. With bags, frame, and suspension work coming, it’s a rush to make it to SEMA 2015, but we’re optimistic Ludwick will pull through.

 

No doubt this is one of the more unique cars out there for both the guts it took Chevrolet to build a rear-engine car (granted, it was kind of a mess during the first generation) and for Ludwick to take on the challenge of getting a car four decades removed from the road back to the eyes of automotive enthusiasts. We’ve all seen the beautiful, perfect, meticulous and obsessively manicured cars out there, but once in a while, it’s good to see a car that is just fine with the way it is.

 

John Ludwick Jr.’s 1965 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Specs

 

Engine/Drivetrain

Factory 6-Cylinder Air-Cooled 110hp Model

Pair of single-barrel Rochester carburetors

4-Speed Manual

Custom Dual Exhaust

Rebuilt Factory Drivetrain.

Drum Brakes Front and Rear Factory Spec

 

Body

2-inch Quartered Roof Chop

Custom Glass

First Gen Camaro Lip

Natural Patina

 

Interior

Overhead Toggle Switch Panel/Fuse Panel

Rotten Leonard Aluminum Bomber Seats.

 

Suspension

Custom Air Suspension

Custom Control Arms/Tension Rods/Subframe

Universal Air ‘Aero Sport’ & ‘Air House 2 Bags

Viair Compressor

Asco Electronic Valves

5-Gallon Tank W/Onboard Air

3/8-Air Line

 

Wheels/Tires

Cragar S/S

Front 15x6 et-38 with 165/50s

Rear 15x7 et-44 with 195/50s

 

 

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