Corvair 2005-2009. Bought for wife and I to cruise. She liked yellow.

Another Convertible At Last

I have had an on again/off agin thing about convertibles. My first two cars (XK-150s and MGA) both had drop tops. Since then I have had quite a number, the most recent being the 1967 Pontiac Grand Prix bought at the Pontiac national convention in Denver 1986. The me that was then really wanted a Grand Prix convert and I spent qute a few hours on the phone with my wife convincing her of the necessity, continued on a business trip to California, maxed out a credit card and rerouted my return to Oklahoma to pick it and title up, then set out at 9 pm on Friday hoping to make I-10 and the gulf coast (and sub-100 degree temperatures) before 90 the next morning. At first gas stop I managed to get petrol on my contact lens and had to continue with layers of glasses thereafter. Trip was ueventful but long and was back in Orlando at 10 am on Sunday after spending Saturday night in a motel.

Its tenure with us only about ten years, First it was our trip and around town car until it became evident that 8-11 mpg of 93 octane was a bit pricy. Linda got a new Bonneville in 1990 and it became evident that our lives had moved beyond a collection of 400 cid daily drivers. First it was relegated to the back garage, then sold for about what I had paid for it. I always have difficulty selling cars.

I had a sucession of coupes after, a couple of Fieros, and then in 2001 bought the Reatta which is really a bigger Fiero. It has a sunroof which is great for ventilation when parked on a hot day but is not the same.

In 2005, I sold the last Fiero and had an available bay in the garage (part of my agreement with Linda is that I will not have more cars than bays. Since the back garage is configured for three cars, that is the limit and the Judge and TranSport occupy two of them that meant there was space for one more and I had a "tag credit" with the state of Florida to avoid their import tax.

So the possibility was there but was constrained by my "hobby fund" (another nuptual agreement) to about the same as I had paid for the GP convert twenty years earlier. Looked at a lot of cars, came closest to a Miata but just was not right, found I cared more about whether the a.c worked than how easily the top went down. Shelved the idea for a while but itch remained. Wife suggested something new would make more sense and looked at the Pontiac Solstice but again was just not right.

Hadn't looked at the "cars of my yout" since all of the prices I had seen for Camaros/Firebirds/Corvettes were astronomical. Also have always liked 6 cyl engines, possibly a relic of the Jags I had years ago. Considered a FIAT 124 spyder (had a 124 spyder for years and really liked that car) but again, just not right.

Then I remembered 1970 and my return from SEA. Was working for Delco-Remy and a GMI student. Was also racing a B/P Corvette in SCCA and a 65 Corvair Corsa Convertible in autocrosses. And winning. Eventually had several Corvairs including a van (FC in Corvair-speak) and a modified production car called a Fitch Sprint (which is quite valuable today).

I really liked that car, it won me a lot of trophies and started to look. And began to find. Many Corvairs have survived. Of course this time I wanted something different. Years ago I would not have considered an automatic since they were not as sporty as the 4-speeds but after a few rounds of the Old Town cruise in the Judge (close ratio 4-speed, not very good at idle speeds) so seemed right today. Same-same for the 140 engine with 4 carbs, todays world requires few passing manoevers, and I have never cared for turbos. Turns out the automatic was never offered in the Corsa so that meant a Monza. Keep in mind that Covairs are separated into two groups - the "earlies" 1960-1964 and the 'lates" 1965-1969. I have always been a late person and 68-69 were smogged which meant a 65-67.

Once I began to look, it became evident why Corvairs had not appreciated much:
1) Rust is a serious problem
2) Many are "code red" - do not run.

Over the next few months I looked at a lot of cars. Most ran well but had other problems (drove several hundred miles to look at a "nice" car but on examination I could push my finger through the rocker. Another had spent most of its life about two blocks from the ocean. Even the radio showed rust. Yet another had no rust but was an assembly kit otherwise. None felt right. A number of people (by this time I was on the Internet forum, Virtual Vairs, which is very active) opinioned that what I was looking for did not exist, at least not on the east coast.

When I am looking for something I do not make a secret about it and finally one bore fruit in an e-mail from Maryland, a 66 Lemonwood (Yellow) Monza convertible with 110 hp engine and automatic. I was a bit skeptical since Maryland is a Salt State (salt is used on the roads in winter and salt and Covairs soon result in holes. I can fix many things but not rust and fortunately can garage my cars in Orlando which is far enough from the cost not to get any salt air) but 25 megabytes of picures, mostly of the underside of the car, showed that while there was some surface corrosion, any issues had been repaired at least 20 years before and it had been garaged since.

A car in this excellent condition (interior and power top are both very nice and cosmetically it is eminently cruisable) would normally be well above my budget except for one thing, it did not idle properly and apparently had not idled properly for several years. It was said to run OK but would stall at a stoplight. This presented an immediate problem in that it was in Maryland and I lived in Florida. And a dollar-a-mile transporter was Right Out. Then I found the answer: Amtrak

For quite a few years Amtrak has been running an AutoTrain from Lorton, Virginia (about 40 miles from where the car was located) to Sanford, Florida (about 40 miles and within my AAA plan from home. If I could get the car to Lorton, Amtrak would take care of the 900 miles in the middle. It also turned out that if I could be flexible with the dates, it was surprisingly inexpensive. And meals were included.

Thus an offer was made and accepted, a really cheap seat on Airtran to BWI and money and title exchanged hands. In Denver I had at least seen the '67 GP before, here this was my first introduction. It ran sweetly at 60-65 all the way to Virginia but its nature became evident at the stoplights (I became slightly lost and missed the station turn) in Lorton. It did behave nicely for the loader once I showed her how to release the parking brake (few people today are familiar with an automatic that has no parking gear).

Thanks to a discussion with the reservationist, I had requested a lower compartment seat which is a dead end so there is little traffic at night and the ride is smoother.

This is a no-cost option. As usual when my wife and I fly to the UK, I wound up stretched out on the floor despite having a row to myself - just as a note, AutoTrain seats are larger even than first class airline seats which I cannot sleep in either.

Eventually we arrived in Sanford and I watched car after car come off the giant rail cars (the AutoTrain only operates between Lorton and Sanford because the cars will not fit under obstructions further on) but no Corvair. Finally after almost an hour of unloading the last car came off and there it was, running nicely.

The trip home was uneventual except for having to shift into Neutral at every stop light and with great relief I pulled into our driveway. Once I had it home, just about anything could be fixed. Over a month had elaped from that first e-mail. Even longer was it going to take to have a stable idle.

I spent quite a bit of time over the next month and a half examining and adjusting but nothing seemed out of order. Had not taken the carbs apart because had been assured that they had been rebuilt since the problem began. Finally Ed from down by St. Cloud came over and showed me that while the carbs were very clean and one was in fine shape, the other had a blocked idle vent and was missing the power enrichment (PE) needle. The other issue we found was that the valves had been adjusted too tight. Once the carb passage was blown out and the valves reset to 1/4 turn from clack warm, the car began idling properly. Eureka.

So once again we have a convertible for those occasions when appropriate. Still have some more work to do but is eactly what I wanted all along. A Corvair is also a very simple automobile. I like simple.

The end of the matter.
Contents copyright (C) 2005 by Padgett except where held by others. Notary sojack.