Sometimes a challenge is just that and no more. Not practical maybe but fun nonetheless. I owned at the time, a small shop repair shop where I would tinker with cars and motorcycles and make a few dollars as well. One afternoon during a bull session with some buddies, one of them said it would be neat if we could put a V8 motor in one of my Corvair cars. I had several of them and loved to tinker with the Monza model which was Chevy’s souped up version of this rear engined car. The Corvair had no independent frame and was one of the first uni-body cars on the market. Extremely lightweight, the six cylinder motor with the factory blower made the car zip right along. It really was a silly looking car in the first years of production, kinda boxy and square. Later models became more streamlined but suffered the same engineering problems of the early years and quickly the car faded into obscurity. I had one car with no motor and the body was not in the best of shape. I remember saying I could put the V8 in that car and the guys quickly put me to the challenge.
My shop had a pretty good assortment of tools, torches, welders, jacks and power hand tools that allowed me to make just about anything in metal. A big drill press, a good vise and tons of nuts and bolt
assortments put most of what I needed at hand. After the guys left the thought of doing this V8 conversion nagged at me and I found myself checking out the car to see if it was really possible. Putting the motor in the car could always be done but I thought how about doing it so you could not tell from the outside that the car was altered? At least until you started it up. There was no way I was going to be able to make that V8 motor sound like the wimpy six cylinder factory motor.
The first item on the agenda was to remove all the factory drive train components. Since the motor was already gone, the rear end, including the wheels were a snap to remove. I had a Chevy V8 short block that I could use for test fitting the engine into the trunk. The trunk of a Corvair was in the front of the car. A major amount of sheet metal had to be removed to squeeze the engine down into the truck compartment. I had to mock up the motor with some heads and intake manifold to assure the trunk lid (hood) would close after the engine was in place. Once I managed to get the engine into the trunk and was satisfied with it’s location, motor mounts became the next item to complete. Since there was no frame under the car I had to fabricate a partial sub-frame that was able to accept bolt-on motor mounts. I had several transmissions to choose from including a used manual three speed Chevy unit. This was a direct bolt-on to the V8 so in it went. Making a tail mount for the trans was nothing more than some three inch channel iron that spanned from one side of the car to the other. So far with the doors and hood closed the car looked stock. I purchased a used small pickup truck rear end and began altering it to fit under the Corvair body. No easy task I can say. Concealing fourteen inch wheels where thirteens were before required even more modification to the cars sheet metal including new wheel wells and interior wheel covers.
With the three major components of the drive train now mounted in the car, I was able to start on all the smaller items that a car needs to run. The drive shaft had to be custom made as it was less than three
feet long and needed a mid-point universal to offset the different heights of the transmission and the rear end. The radiator was made from an old V8 Chevy unit but had to be altered to be able to lay on its side. A friend of my Dads owned the local radiator repair shop and was more than wiling to do the alterations at almost no cost as he too thought the car was pretty neat. Wiring the car in those days was a simple task as there were none of the bells and whistles in cars today. No computers, no special sensors for this and that. Just whatever a car needed to run and work the lights and so on. I retained all the Chevy factory lights, turn signals and so on and really just needed to wire the engine components and battery. I placed the battery in the rear of the car as even then I realized the car was going to be light in the rear. What an understatement that was.
The conversion took about four months to do as I remember. There were a few bugs to work out of course as I had no engineering staff to advise me what I was doing wrong but all in all the bugs were pretty minor. The first time I started the car the thrill of hearing the motor growl under that hood cannot be described. The first time I put the car in gear and drove it around the property was a real kick. I purchased license plates for the car and drove it for a couple of weeks to work out the kinks and have time to complete some type of interior. I added only one other bucket seat as the car was not a touring car but would certainly be fun at the local drag strip. I clearly remember the first time I actually drove the car to my buddies house to show him the V8 motor in the car and take him for a ride. On a back road, holding one foot on the brake pedal and punching the gas with the other, I was able to smoke the tires with no effort at all. From a slow roll or moving at 40 MPH, punching the gas pedal would squeal the tires and create tire smoke instantly. The car was a real gas.
I drove the car that summer and had a ball taking it to Stewart’s drive-in in Paramus, New Jersey on Friday and Saturday nights. It was fun to have other guys laugh at the car and ask to race for papers. After a few races the laughter stopped. I didn’t take their papers but my little Corvair was a hit that summer with all the custom car guys. I sold the car that winter to a young fella who wanted to complete the interior and exterior paint. He drove the car for quite a while and then I lost track of it’s where abouts. I had already moved on to another project but I had proven that you could squeeze a V8 motor into a stock Corvair body.