GOVERNMENT TESTS PROVE THE CORVAIR DOES NOT
HAVE A HANDLING OR STABILITY PROBLEM
By Bob Helt
In his 1965 book, Unsafe at any Speed, and several preliminary articles in the national magazine, The Nation, Ralph Nader charged that the 1960-63 Corvairs had a defective rear suspension that made them prone to roll-over and dangerous to drive. He claimed that they were prone to roll-over and loss of control. Although his facts were meager, his charges were hard-hitting and were picked up by all news covering organizations. Although only the first chapter of his book was devoted to the Corvair, that is the thing most remembered about his book, and most associated with Nader. As a result of his charges and subsequent U.S. Senate hearings there was a growing national concern about automobile safety, with the Corvair the center of attention.
Due to Nader’s wild charges about the Corvair and the national concerns for automobile safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was authorized to run a series of comparative tests during the Spring and Summer of 1971 to demonstrate the handling of the 1963 Corvair against four contemporary competitive automobiles. Involved in the tests were The Ford Falcon, Plymouth Valiant, Volkswagen Beetle, Renault Dauphine, the 1963 Corvair, and a 1967 Corvair for reference.
The test program was quite comprehensive and detailed. It was divided into four parts:
a comprehensive search and review of all related General Motors/Chevrolet internal letters, memos, tests, reports, etc. regarding the Corvair’s handling
a similar search and review of all related public technical literature
a review of all national accident data compiled by insurance companies and traffic authorities for the six cars selected for these tests
a series of actual driving and handling tests designed to evaluate the handling and stability under extreme maneuvering conditions; and to push the test vehicles to their limits
The Corvair Is Exonerated
At the conclusion of these tests, the NHTSA released its 134 page report. It exonerated the Corvair from Nader’s charges, and said things such as: "The 1960-63 Corvair compares favorably with contemporary vehicles used in the tests," and, "The handling and stability performance of the 1960-63 Corvair does not result in an abnormal potential for loss of control or rollover, and it is at least as good as the performance of some contemporary vehicles both foreign and domestic." The complete report, PB 211-015, can be obtained from the National Technical Information Service (NTIS)*.
An Independent Panel Agrees
Because the NHTSA wanted to be as sure as possible of their approach, tests and conclusions, they then contracted with a three man advisory panel of independent professional engineers to review the scope and competency of the NHTSA tests. This review panel then issued their own 24 page report (PB 211-014, also available from the NTIS*).
In their report, the Panel drew even stronger conclusions in support of the Corvair than the NHTSA. They said, "It is the opinion of the panel that the Corvair quantitatively meets or exceeds the standards set by contemporary cars in stability tests, cornering tests, and rollover tests," and, "for this reason the panel concluded that the 1960-63 Corvair does not have a safety defect, and is not more unstable or more likely to roll over than contemporary cars."
Nader is Proven Wrong
Wow, go back and read that again. No safety or handling defects in the Corvair! But does anybody know this? The news media all but ignored these conclusions. They apparently thought that Nader’s charges were of greater news value than the fact that his charges were all proven wrong. Even today, of those who know of Nader’s charges against the Corvair, few if any know that his charges were false and were proven wrong. No, the fact that the Corvair was exonerated of all of Nader’s charges was hardly publicized. It received little or no attention from the media.
It is ironic that these false charges concerning the Corvair’s handling and stability are all anyone remembers, and are the only story ever told in the Press, even though they have been fully refuted by actual tests. Nader, of course, built his career on these false charges.
*National Technical Information Service, 5285 Port Royal Road, Springfield, VA 22161