QOTD: Which of These Automotive Pariahs Secretly Turns Your Crank?

qotd which of these automotive pariahs secretly turns your crank

This Question of the Day has its origin in a song, one which exists as something of a guilty pleasure. Actually, screw that, I’m a modern man (not postmodern, mind you) — I can admit it was Tiny Dancer by Elton John, which just happened to pop up on a Spotify playlist 15 minutes before I sat down to write this.

We often associate songs with a certain time and place in our lives, and that particular song — one of two by that artist I’ll admit to liking (the other being an apt description of a certain North Korean dictator) — immediately brought to mind a dark red, first-generation Chevrolet Corvair. A number of years back, nearing the end of a long road trip to Georgia and back, I found myself driving under leaden March skies in chilly Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, surely the sexiest city on the lower Susquehanna. Tiny Dancer came on the local station, and as I thought about life and mistakes, a burgundy-colored car came into view.

Resting just off a parking lot, it was, a “For Sale” sign stuck hopefully in its windshield. You never saw a more honest-looking 1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza.

Corvair. The nameplate that brought us Ralph Nader’s Unsafe At Any Speed and the subsequent revolution in consumer advocacy and vehicle safety.

The pristine Monza example for sale in Harrisburg might not be as fearful a vehicle as you’d expect. In 1964, General Motors added transverse leaf springs and softer coil springs to the infamous swing arm rear suspension, plus a front anti-roll bar, in the hopes of taming the model’s alarming rollover tendencies. For the model’s 1965 redesign, GM replaced the swing axle setup with a conventional independent rear suspension. No inside wheel tuck-under, no rollovers, no body count. Just a safe, if unconventional, air-cooled and rear-engined model with a horrible reputation.

From 1965 onwards, sales shrunk exponentially until the model’s demise in 1969. Still, the Corvair had its fans, and as a relic of an experimental era in the automotive industry it remains a quirky collector item.

This got me thinking about other automotive pariahs. The Chevrolet Vega, with its attractive design, appealing Cosworth variant, and well publicized teething troubles, looms large. Imagine finding one without the horrific early corrosion problems and sleeveless, aluminum-silicon time bomb of an engine. A nice, later example that wouldn’t overheat if you lit a match nearby.

The same goes for the Ford Pinto, what with its unfortunate gas tank placement. Actually, maybe the Pinto better fulfills the description of a time bomb.

Gas tank ruptures aside, the compact Pinto came in a cute two-door wagon variant (which didn’t suffer the fuel tank maladies of its hatchback sibling), and even offered a German-built V6 engine for those sick of winding up the company’s tepid four-cylinders. And the far-out Cruising Wagon? A National Highway Traffic Safety Administration-mandated recall eventually led to the reinforcing of the Pinto’s fuel tank, meaning increased crash performance and added peace of mind.

There’s no shortage of vehicles with bad reputations for unreliability or remarkable ugliness, but these three models, spanning models years 1960 to 1980, represent the pinnacle of automotive notoriety. Still, that doesn’t mean there aren’t genuine reasons for wanting one. For today’s question, we’re asking which of these three vehicles — any year, any variant — you’d like to have in your garage.

Try to refrain from straying outside the terrible trio listed here. What’s it going to be? Corvair, Vega, or Pinto?

[Image: Wikimedia Commons ( CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Join the conversation
2 of 119 comments
  • Pig_Iron Pig_Iron on Oct 11, 2017

    Learned to drive in a first year Bobcat wagon. It was awesome. Had a Vega - all the bad things they say are true. Our family had a a Corvair we got as a trade. It was fun, but it was gone before i got my licence. Out of the three, I'd take the Pinto wagon with the V6 and auto for every day use, and since it could efficiently tow a pup utility trailer. But for weekend fun I'd take a 1966 Corsa turbo. ;-) The greatest tragedy with the Vega was not putting in the 153 Chev four.

  • Islander800 Islander800 on Oct 12, 2017

    No doubt, it's Corvair. The second gen Corvair is the closest any American brand came to an American Porsche. The only thing missing was rack and pinion steering, disc brakes (though the Chevelle drums did great) and radial tires. GM had an experimental overhead-cam version of the pancake six engine in development. Ralph Nader, and the Mustang, put an end to that. Ironic, in that the Mustang was created in response to demand for sporty cars, thanks to the success of...Corvair Monza). Anyone who has thrown a 2nd gen Corvair into perfectly-controlled power slides through twisties knows what I mean. Feeling the growl of a 140 four-carb through free-flow dual exhausts, hood jumping as the secondaries kick in, is "unique".

  • MaintenanceCosts A bit after that experience, my family ended up owning an '88 Accord and an '87 Taurus--Detroit's big triumph--at the same time. The win for the Accord wasn't total; the Taurus's engine was better and it was quieter. But the difference in build quality and refinement can't be overstated.There were no rattles in the Accord, the materials are to this day some of the best in any car I've ever owned, every control operated with precision and just the right feel, and the ergonomics were perfect. By contrast, the Taurus was full of rattles from the day we got it, had hard plastic and slapdash fits all over the interior, had mouse-fur upholstery that showed wear by 60k miles, some parts of the control layout were nonsensical, and my car had a number of obvious assembly defects (including silver front bumper paint that all peeled off within five years). The cars' records in service also contrasted dramatically; the Taurus's lower purchase price (as a used car with similar mileage) was totally offset within a few years by higher repair costs.The thing that really puts an exclamation point on the contrast between the two cars is just how much better the Taurus was than its Fox-based predecessors.
  • Art Vandelay I am sure somewhere, somebody is saddened by this.
  • Dukeisduke It's becoming the norm for cats to be moved out of state for sale, and even out of the country. The thieves are looking for the easiest places to get rid of them, as laws tighten down in some places. Here in Texas, catalytic converter theft became a felony last September 1, so the stakes are going up.A couple months back, an off-duty Harris County (Houston) sheriff's deputy leaving a grocery store was murdered in the parking lot by a thief that was in the process of stealing the cat from his truck. As far as I know, they're still looking for the suspect, who would be charged with capital murder, and subject to the death penalty.
  • Dukeisduke Here's a real horror story: A friend of mine that's a commercial wallpaper installer owned an '09 Tundra, and had his cat stolen while he was working on a job in Dallas. He would normally have driven his work truck (an '03 Silverado with a zillion miles on it, and one engine replacement), but it was out of commission that day.At the end of the day when he got in the truck and started it, he noticed the noise, *and* saw smoke and flames. The thief had somehow cut or nicked the fuel line, causing gas to spray out. The truck burned to the ground in just a few minutes.He replaced it with a '19 Tundra, and the dealer installed a steel plate attached to the frame rails below the cats, and it's riveted (or maybe security bolts?) to the rails (I only saw it after dark, so I didn't get a really good look). He said the plate cost $750 to install. He says he'll never take the new one to work.
  • Dukeisduke I'll probably own some kind of EV someday, but I don't see it happening in the near future. Any kind of really large scale production is going to be hindered by the availability of rare earth minerals, so I don't see EVs taking over anytime soon, despite the wishful thinking of some folks. Instead, people in urban areas will be "encouraged" (shamed) into riding public transportation, and for people that live further out, or in the country, will still mainly drive ICE vehicles.I don't have anything against EVs, I just think the hype is overblown.Speaking of Dodge, I was watching the "Roadkill Nights" stream on Motortrend+ on Saturday, and Tim Kuniskis was interviewed live, and said there was a huge announce coming about the future of Dodge muscle, at the Woodward Cruise this weekend. I assume it'll be something about EVs. By the way, it was mentioned after the interview that Kuniskis started his career working as a service technician at a Dodge dealership. I'd never heard that before.