Drag Race Central - NHRA
Tue, 21 Jan 2020, 08:18 AM

Nader's Real Nightmare- The Corvair Funny Car
By Steve Reyes
Photo copyright 2020 Steve Reyes

In 1960, the Chevrolet folks released their newest compact car to compete with the VW Beetle and an onslaught of Japanese compacts; this compact car was the Corvair. This mid-engine stovebolt was to be the USA's warrior against the foreign invasion of small cars. Well, Motor Trend Magazine made the Corvair it's car of the year in 1960. The first generation of the Corvair (1960-1964) had great success with the public. However, the second generation starting in 1965 stumbled badly in its first year. This was because political and consumer activist Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at Any Speed came out. The author aimed his book at the U.S. car companies but singled out the Corvair as the un-safest car on the road. Because of Nader's book, the Corvair suffered a fifty percent drop in sales for 1966.

While Nader was battling the U.S. car companies, drag racing's newest nitro burning class saw an influx of racers adopt the Corvair body for their funny cars. Most well-known of these racers was header manufacturer Doug Thorley. Thorley wasn't the first to race a funny car with a Corvair body, but he became the premier funny car owner/driver with his Doug's Headers Corvair funny car.

In 1967 Thorley towed his mighty Corvair from Los Angeles to the Indy NHRA Nationals and made a statement with the car by putting away every Ford and Mopar in the SS/X class and taking home funny car gold. He also ran an unheard of 7.69 ET while putting everyone on the trailer.

Yes, there were other "stars" in the SS/X or funny car class that raced with a Corvair body, but for me, Thorley's Corvair was the king of those early funny car years. Oh, Chevrolet did continue to put out the Corvair until 1969 with a final production of 6,000 units which was a far cry from its introduction in 1960 when they sold 26,000 units in the first two days on the market. With Nader leading the charge to make the car the "un-safest" car ever built, he had single-handedly sealed the fate of the Corvair in 1969. However, funny car owners and fans still loved the car.

If you wish to purchase prints of the photos below or any others, they may be obtained by contacting us at breyes@reyesontour.com. Other photos for purchase may be viewed by following the links at www.reyesontour.com.

The first Corvair bodied funny car I ever saw was this slick powder blue Fiberglass Trends/ C&O Automotive Corvair
at Irwindale in December of 1966. Rusty Delling drove that day and I never saw it again. Rumor had it that it
ended up in Iowa owned by Bob Skukert racing in the AA/A class.

Early in 1967, I had three Corvair sightings. Lee Jones and his Tack Corvair at Fremont, California;
Tom Sturm's Just 4 Chevy Lovers Corvair at Riverside, California; and Terry Hedrick driving
Pete Seaton's Super Shaker Corvair at Fremont, California. The Super Shaker was Seaton's
fourth funny car and was built by the Logghe Brothers.

At the end of 1966 Hayden Proffitt built himself a nitro burning injected Corvair funny car
to race during the 1967 season. The car started out with a roof but when it was discovered
that the roof caused the car to lift in the lights, Hayden cut the roof off and raced a "topless Corvair."
The Corvair was parked at the end of the 1967 because Proffitt was offered the Grant Rebel SST
funny car deal from AMC. In 1967, while on tour in Puyallup, Washington, I came across this Corvair "funny car".
The Lil Stinker was mainly a stock bodied steel car with a 426 cubic inch engine on nitro in the rear.

For me this was the baddest Corvair on the drag strip.
Doug Thorley parked his Doug's Headers Chevy II and debuted an all
new blown nitro-burning all Chevy Corvair SS/X a.k.a. funny car for 1967.
Thorley and his Corvair set the funny car world on fire with a 7.69 pass while
mowing down many a factory backed SS/X at the 1967 NHRA Nationals at Indy.
Nader should have seen this Corvair run!

In 1968, Thorley built two funny cars; a Corvair and a rear-engine Javelin.
The Javelin was a sponsored car from or by AMC. The Corvair was raced
by Earl Wade and Dick Bourgeois as Thorley stayed home to manage his
header business. Well, the Corvair never lived up to its potential.
The Corvair came home from tour in 1969 to be replaced by an AMC Javelin body.
The back-motor Javelin flew at Irwindale in 1969 and was not rebuilt.
Driver Bob Hightower escaped injury in the rather spectacular crash.

Ronnie Runyan traded in the Blue Hell Corvette funny car for an all-new
1968 Corvair Blue Hell funny car. Runyan was one of the true independent
funny car match racers who had great success with his Corvair bodied
funny car until switching to a Vega body.

If Randy Walls' Corvair looks familiar, that is because it was Hayden Proffitt's ride in 1967.
Here in 1968, Walls was racing his new/old Corvair because of the Pisano Brothers Corvair
driven by Frankie Pisano. Pisano ran into the side of Walls' Super Nova at Irwindale, California.
The crash occurred at the finish line sending both cars tumbling over the guard rail totaling
both cars. Walls and Pisano both walked away from the accident. Walls needed a car to
finish the season so he called Proffitt for a replacement. The car that Pisano had crashed
was the former Doug Thorley Corvair purchased by Joe Pisano. The Pisano's would
put another Corvair on the drag strip.

Tom Sturm owned and raced three different Corvair funny cars. Sturm, Clyde Morgan, Bob Smith,
Mark Bullett, and Mike Van Sant all drove Sturm's line-up of Just 4 Chevy Lovers Corvairs.
Sturm raced the only Corvair with a vinyl top.

Coming out of Colorado in 1969 was the Assassination Corvair of Roger Guzman and Art Ward.
This beautiful Corvair ran as good as it looked. Art Ward vacated the driver's seat for John Dekker
later in 1969. When Guzman built a new 'Cuda for 1970, The Southern Brothers bought the Corvair,
named it Bodacious, and raced in their home state of Ohio.

Northeast funny car fans had a Corvair to cheer about in Jim Maybeck's Screaming Eagle Corvair.
In 1969, Maybeck posted a 7.32 ET at 194 mph making him the unofficial quickest and fastest
Corvair bodied funny car. On the West Coast in late 1969, Barry "Machine Gun" Kelly was getting
his Corvair ready to tour for the 1970 season. Kelly was one of three black men to race in funny car
with Corvair bodied cars. Malcom Durham in Washington, DC, had two Corvair funny cars and
Northern California's Lee Jones had his Tack Corvair on tour in 1967.

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