The Corvair's First Road Trip

The farthest it has travelled in over 20 years.

12w ago

After being gifted this cool and quirky 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Lakewood over a year ago, we have done a lot to get it back into a traveling state.

We first went though the fuel system and changed all the fluids to see if this old wagon would even run.

The engine sounded smooth and seemed strong with the refreshed carburetors and new gasoline. Now that the car could move on its own power, it needed to be able to stop as well. As such, the braking system was given a thorough refresh.

After the triumph of a hard fought battle with rusty bolts and seized brake components, I was then able to start driving it around a little bit and blow out some of the cobwebs. As the Lakewood got it's old bones moving like they used to, things still seemed a bit floppy. Pulling back the carpet revealed a floor that was more air and iron oxide than it was steel. No wonder the wagon was seeming a bit flaccid.

I took the opportunity of the COVID lockdown to tackle this project with wonderful results.

The Lakewood now has floors that are thicker, stiffer, and stronger than what came from the factory. I think we have a pretty solid station wagon for some leisurely travel. However, despite being my daily driver for two summers, the Lakewood had never traveled farther than 70 miles in one day. If my wife and I intend to pack our dogs in the rear, the camping gear in the frunk, and head off into the wilderness, it needed to be proven a trusty steed.

The pandemic has put the kibosh on a lot of 2020 plans for us. My wife and I had forgone our travels and limited our social interactions for the safety of those we care about. When the pandemic has waned and we can gather again, we do not want anyone to be missing.

Yet, one of our cancelled plans could not stay away. I have been wanting a solid Kei van for some time to replace my daily driver and to serve as a fuel efficient, all around traveler. One popped up a days trip away and I promptly put the Benjamins down.

Yet, this cool, microscopic van was missing something. It was in desperate need of new tires and the 12 inch steelies were not doing it for me. The little van needed new shoes something fierce. I scoured the local classifieds for the right wheels to no avail. After widening the search, I was able to locate a set of wheels from a Datsun 280ZX for a great price. They were a bit out of the way for me. But, since they were in the quaint and picturesque hometown of U.S. President, Ulysses S. Grant, Galena, Il, it would be a great early fall trip.

Whitney suggested this would be the perfect first test of endurance for the Lakewood. With a round trip of 350 miles and 7 hours of road going, it would definitely prove its metal.

We planned our route to leave our home in central Illinois and cut over to the roads that border the mighty Mississippi and into the hills of Northwest Illinois.

The day we set out was a little chill, gloomy, and with a spattering of light rain. The forecast showed that things would clear up by the time we rolled into Galena. As such we set out. Within the hour, the Lakewood revealed it's first fault. The heater was non-functioning. The motor had burned out and the hoses running the comforting warmth from heat exchangers on the engine to our feet and faces, had crumbled into dust. We slogged on with a mild chill for the next two hours.

Things heated up, but just barely, when we reached the Mississippi and the sun gave a coy peek at us from behind the clouds. We got to see a bit of color from the leaves and great views of the river.

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We then started to climb the hills into Galena. Another fault appeared with the old wagon. This Lakewood was equipped with the much maligned GM Powerglide. While it is a very sturdy and long lived automatic transmission, it left much to be desired. It has two speeds, "Are you sure?" and "I guess." Meaning the Lakewood took hills at a donkey's pace. You know it is bad when a fully loaded 18 wheeler has to pass you up on the steep grades.

None the less, we reached a promontory that overlooked the little town. We had to pull off and take in the view.

Whitney, the Lakewood, and I were thankful that it was all down hill as we rolled into town. We passed through Galena's signature flood gates that protect part of the town from flood waters supplied by the river that runs through downtown. Most of the area is closed off for outdoor dining. A necessity in the time of COVID. We pulled off near the old train depot to let the dogs stretch their legs and snap a few more photos.

When we were done getting our steps in, we piled back into the Lakewood and went on to claim the prize of the journey. A set of Datsun 280ZX wheels.

Though not pristine, they could be cleaned up and the price was fair. We talked with the seller a bit about his 260Z projects, but kept things brief. We wanted to get home before it got dark. I hate breaking down in the dark.

Fortunately, the drive back was uneventful, thought still a tad frigid. Cookie even seemed at ease with the journey.

After 350 miles of interstate, highways, little towns, and big hills, the Lakewood did not give much of a fuss. It did not leak any more oil that usual and no fluids had to be topped up during the journey. The only casualties were the heater, a degree or two of our body temps, and the oil pressure switch. Most of which were mended with hot tea and a spare switch. I will work on the heater over winter or the next COVID lockdown, whichever happens first.

The Lakewood had proved itself to be a decent day tripper. It took me so long to find out and I found out. We even managed to get a few more miles per gallon than usual. 20mpg as opposed to the usual 17mpg. On the interstate, I settled the old wagon in at 65mph and it floated across the pavement. Most definitely the smoothest riding car that we own. We are excited to start getting the Lakewood out to scenic locales and add more stories to the years this old car has been doodling around.

~ Stay Ambitious

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Comments (8)

  • My favorite GM car!!!! I love the Corvair Lakewood, too bad it was completely ruined by that awful book! My favorite is one of those all red Lakewoods. Keep up the fabulous work

      2 months ago
    • Yea. However, it was a very good book and did a lot to improve vehicle safety. The Corvair was no more dangerous than any other car of the era. Which Nader did discuss. He just chose the Corvair as the example of the lack of safety concern in the...

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        2 months ago
  • Nice write up and a great, weird car!

    This made me look forward to my first proper road trip in my wagon even more!

      2 months ago
  • The best car GM ever built and then killed it! Loose collection of imbeciles called management refuse to modify suspension in order to save money. Instead it became known as "Dangerous at any speed", not to mention lawsuits. Brilliant, as usual, decision by GM. Well done! By the way, there are plenty of the being auctioned on BaT, coupes, vans, station wagons, convertibles even turbos. They are mostly manuals and come at reasonable prices. I think suspensions can be modified to make them safer.

      2 months ago
    • I agree. Brilliant car. GM can design amazing cars. But when they put them in practice, they always half ass it. Really though, the Corvair was no more dangerous than any of its contemporaries. Mine handles just fine. The consensus in the...

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        2 months ago
  • Thanks!

      2 months ago
  • Nader should be buried in used crude oil.....such a whiny little bitch.

      2 months ago
    • I would have to disagree. The work he put into improving public safety within the auto industry has saved countless lives. If killing the Corvair saved even one life, it was worth it. I would happily destroy my own Corvair to save a life. Lives...

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        2 months ago