A conventional, and thus unconventional, Corvair

Grilles added to the face of this 1960 Corvair have a functional purpose.
   THE CORVAIR owner smiled as he saw me crossing the airport parking lot with camera in hand.
   "¿Petróleo o gasolina?" I asked, my usual opener, though fully expecting the answer to be gasoline. I don't know of any diesel powerplant that could be an easy substitute for the Corvair's rear-mounted, flat-six gas engine.
   But the owner replied, "Diésel, Toyota," his smile broadening as he watched my expressions of surprise and then, realization. I pointed to the front of the car and he nodded.
   Could I see? Obligingly, he lifted the hood to reveal the four-cylinder Toyota oil-burner nestled in the former luggage compartment as if Ed Cole and Eiji Toyoda had intended it to be there.

Inside the one-time luggage compartment, a diesel four-cylinder.
   Chevrolet built the Corvair from 1960 until 1969. This, almost certainly, is a 1960 model, one of the last American cars to reach Cuba before the supply was cut off (initially for reasons as much economic as political).
   It was a radical design, and not just for the aircooled rear engine that would have seemed more at home in a Volkswagen or Porsche than a Chevrolet. It had unibody construction and fully independent suspension – again, rarities for an American car – and its ungarnished, all-of-a-piece styling stood in elegant contrast to the fins and chrome of its domestic competitors.

Toyota donor car also provided dash, steering column and other parts.
    I didn't need to ask my new friend why he, or someone, had put so much effort into a project that would have required countless changes – the fabrication of a transmission tunnel just one of them – to accommodate the new drivetrain. With private ownership largely restricted to pre-Revolution vehicles until as recently as 2011, this was a way to keep an old car on the road with the benefits of more modern components and, especially, a cheaper-to-run diesel engine.
   But I wish we could have gone for a ride – a brisk one!
 – so I could gauge the effect of the changes on the Corvair's Nader-notorious handling (never so bad as the safety advocate claimed, but frisky all the same).
   He, unfortunately, had a passenger to collect, and I had a plane to catch. So I took a last look at this unconventionally conventional Corvair and we shook hands and parted, both of us smiling.

Vents once helped cool a horizontally opposed six-cylinder gas engine.

See also:

Contrary Compact: The Life and Death of the Chevrolet Corvair: Aaron Severson offers the definitive history of 'one of the most daring cars GM has ever built.'


tonyhavana said…
I remember seeing one like this, but it didn't look like this...back in the early 2000s near 23rd and Malecon. When it comes cars to in Cuba, nothing surprises me!
Caristas said…
Cuba has more Corvairs than you might expect, given that the Chevy compact didn't hit the market until October 1959. It could be that someone on the island specialized in converting them to front-mounted diesel engines. Here's one from Sancti Spiritus:


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