He Could Have a V-8
Although the body was essentially the same from 1965 to 1969, the introduction of the beefier Saginaw trans is what made possible converting to the V-8 that is nestled inside this Corvair. The radiator and shrouding now takes up much of the front trunk.While some people might be satisfied with the stock flat six engine in their Corvair, John Pritchard was not. He wanted a V-8. Now he’s well on the way to seeing his desire fulfilled.
It all started a couple of years ago when he heard of a ’65 Corvair for sale that included an unused Crown V-8 conversion kit from the ’60’s. John knew that it wouldn’t work in any Corvair older than 1966, but was willing to buy the car and use it for parts in order to get the ultra-rare kit. When he got it, he found it was a Corsa model with a performance instrumentation. Next came finding a car for the kit. Rather than tear apart one in good condition, John located a rough ’66 Corvair for a good price. The owner said it had ‘a couple of rusty spots.’ After he got it, John found he had to rebuild the windshield frame and door jambs as well as repair the rust under the vinyl roof. Chevy had done no real rust prevention on Corvairs and it showed. That was the easy part. He removed the engine and used the kit to alter the Saginaw 4-sp trans and the 3.55:1 differential to put the engine in front of them instead of behind. The only reason the engine can be mounted on the opposite side and everything still work is that the Covair six runs counter-clockwise instead of the conventional clockwise. During his work he discovered some of the kit had been designed by ‘Bubba,’ so he manufactured better parts for the problem ones. Since the stock engine was air-cooled, John had to create a front air intake and mount a Griffin four-core aluminum radiator in the front trunk, as well as plumb the cooling system by running stainless steel pipes through the floor in front of the engine and up to the radiator. The kit had shown the pipes running right through the car, which would not have looked too good. For the engine, he bought a 300 HP 5.3 liter mill from an ’04 Chevy pickup that came with the complete wiring harness and the computer. Rather than buy a wiring harness kit, he modified the stock one for his use. Now John can see the light of day on his project, but says the kit’s claim of it being a 40-hour job to install is a little off. “400, maybe,” he says. He’s glad he had some help in machining, welding and such from fellow Roamin Angels Larry, Don, Dennis, and Tom or it would have been even more. But some of the time might also be because John does meticulous work and is always improving the car. Like giving it four-wheel independent suspension and adding front disc brakes. Certain things John will not be adding, however. The radio opening will house more gauges and he’s not planning on heat or air conditioning. It’s not really a long-distance cruiser. Oddly enough, it will have cruise control since that is simple to hook up. So if you see a Corvair getting on the freeway ahead of you a few months from now and it seems like it has a lot more get-up-and-go than the 180 HP that the hottest flat-6 would have, it well might be John having his V-8.
About a year ago, John’s ’66 Corvair was featured in this column as a ‘work in progress.’ Now it is featured as a work completed. And a lot happened in that year.
John had already installed a 300 HP 5.3 liter mill from an ’04 Chevy pickup, using a now-unavailable kit designed to convert the pancake-six rear-engined Corvair into a mid-engine fire-breathing V-8. While doing so, he discovered the many inadequacies of the kit. John’s skills as a mechanic, fabricator and engineer were challenged many times in a project that, ‘the kit says you can do in forty hours. Maybe if you have ten people helping.’ And John did it almost all by himself, so do the multiplication for how many hours it took him.
Since the previous article covered the nightmares John encountered in mounting brackets, cooling system and such, this one will stick to new challenges John faced. One example of John’s ingenuity and skill is the ‘doghouse’ he built to cover the engine where it now replaces the back seat. He fashioned it from pre-painted aluminum sheets using borrowed break and shear. It looks like it was professionally made. Maybe even better. Another case in point is the gas tank. Originally, it was in the front trunk and had a filler door on the front fender. Since moving the engine from behind the rear axle to in front of it left an empty area where a front-engine car’s trunk is, John moved the gas tank to the rear and filled the old gas door so well that it is invisible. After doing all the rust repair and body work necessary to bring the almost half-century old body back into better-than-new condition, John painted it Summit White. Then came the interior.
Since John had installed a dash from a Corsa model, it had openings for a speedometer, tach and four other gauges. John decided he needed three more and, since he had decided to go without tunes, he fabricated a flat panel to fill the radio slot with three gauge openings. Then he hit another problem. The angle was all wrong for reading the gauges from the driver’s seat. So he remade it, this time tilted at an angle. John says, “One thing about doing a car like that is you’re always having to change things.” Then he painted all the interior metalwork. Next he installed new carpets and headliner. He opted for late-model Toyota seats since they fit the car and were much more comfortable than the stock ones. In place of the flimsy vinyl-covered cardboard door panels the car came with, John cut out aluminum ones and covered them with the original vinyl. Finally, he installed all new weatherstripping to keep out the water.
Although his Corvair is basically finished, there is one issue John plans to address. The car came with 3.55:1 rear end gears. With so much power in the light Corvair body, John would like taller gears to give better highway speed, like 3.08:1. They were made for Corvairs, but John found that they were part of a Federal economy testing program and never available for the public. However, there is now an aftermarket source. It will be a job to make the change, but that’s what hot rodding is all about. Meanwhile, John is enjoying his ‘killer’ Corvair.
Although he has only put on a couple hundred miles since he finished it, driving this Corvair is a blast. Things it doesn’t have, like heat, a/c and a radio, aren’t missed. Moving the engine forward from the original rear-mounted position gives better handling and the boost in horsepower ups performance dramatically. If Chevy had done this change themselves, we might still be seeing new Corvairs made. Instead, John is driving around in one of the very few ‘killer’ Corvairs on the road.
Ron Cherry, former club member and past president, wrote a column over several years in the Union about vintage cars, their owners and the history of the vehicle. ‘He Could Have a V-8’ and ‘Killer Corvair’ is one of those stories (circa early 2000’s). www.rlcherry.com