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|Not Found on eBay: A Crazy Half Breed, the Torvair|
|Written by Jim Brennan|
|Friday, 12 June 2009 06:18|
What began as a simple web search ended as the discovery of the mother of all mongrels.
I was trying to find "Corvair Wheels" when I came across Larry Boardman's website Classic Wheels, LLC. Along with promoting his business as a certified classic car appraiser and listing his credentials, he also showcases his current crop of collectible iron. One car in particular, the Torvair, has to be the mother of all mongrels.
In the sixties, General Motors produced some of its most innovative designs. The 1960-1969 Corvair, with its air-cooled, rear-engined flat six was not just innovative, it was revolutionary. The Toronado, which in 1966 was Motor Trend's Car of the Year, brought both a V8 and front-wheel-drive to the personal-luxury-coupe class populated by Ford's Thunderbird and Buick's Riviera.
This particular car piqued my interest as it was basically a Corvair coupe with an Oldsmobile Toronado drivetrain tucked under the stylish body in a mid-engined format. There were many Corvair V-8 conversions, but marrying the two most innovative GM creations of the sixties was a stroke of genius. So, after looking at this wonderful beast on his site, I contacted Larry to find out what the Torvair is all about.
I met with Larry at his home in a bucolic neighborhood located deep in a wooded section of the Simsbury Hills of Connecticut. It's one of those suburban enclaves in which there are homes of various styles surrounded by mature timber like white pine, oak, and rock maple. I could barely see the neighboring dwellings because of all the foliage. The weather was almost perfect, with just the right amount of sun and shade to set the mood for the inevitable photo shoot. When I drove into his driveway, I noticed the only thing that every red-blooded, car-loving male wants: a four-car garage. I don't know about you, but I could live in a garage that size as long as I have access to a bathroom and maybe a kitchenette. It was then I met up with Larry, as he was working on his other pride and joy, a 1966 Corvair Monza convertible. Imagine that, a real Corvair in the same garage with the Torvair.
We exchanged pleasantries as I just stared at the two similar, yet very different vehicles stored in that man cave. Once I came to my senses, I started asking Larry about how he came to own this particular piece of rolling history. Being in the classic car business, Larry comes across a large number of unique and interesting vehicles, but the Corvair seems to be the vehicle that he is most fond of. So, in late 2006, he sold off his '31 Ford street rod on eBay, and not 2 days later, bought the Torvair from another eBay listing. He explained it to me this way: "I was looking for a beast that was different. It had to be a V8, yet something that you don't see everyday".
The car began life as a 1967 Corvair 500 Coupe before receiving the heart transplant from a 1966 Oldsmobile Toronado donor. It was built outside of Toronto by a fabricator named Bryan Owen. It seems that Mr. Owen had quite a reputation within the V8 Corvair community. Not only did he build this masterpiece, he also built another one called the Firevair, mating a Pontiac Firebird with another Corvair. Anyway, the Torvair used the Oldsmobile 425-cu-in V8 bored out to a 430 mated to the unique front-wheel-drive General Motors Turbo-Hydramatic transmission and Toronado drivetrain using a Cadillac Seville engine cradle. The Seville piece was a lot more compact than the standard Toronado cradle, which made it adaptable to the Corvair's compact dimensions. Cadillac disc brakes all around, a Corvette power booster , and an upgraded dual-channel master cylinder are used for surer stops. At the rear a set of torsion bars from a Nissan pickup are used to help with the rear weight bias of the car. To keep the big V8 cool, Owens fabricated a rather unique cooling system with an over-sized radiator, twin thermostatically controlled electric fans, and a lot of coolant. The front end utilizes two different Cadillac grills as well as a custom-fabricated front bumper. The monster V8 grabs air through Fiat X1/9 side vents with "bilge" air extractors if the engine compartment gets too hot.
The vehicle's transformation was begun in 1998, and after many fits and starts, Owen completed the Torvair sometime around 2004. Unfortunately, Mr. Owen never really had the opportunity to enjoy his creation. He passed away shortly after its completion, and it sat idle for a few years. It was purchased by Larry from Owen's son in October of 2007, and Larry picked the car up outside of Toronto to bring it to its new home in the countryside of Connecticut. All was not rosy, as the car had handling problems from the outset. Larry had to tame "The Beast" as the car was aptly named for its wild handling characteristics. When he first drove the car, it had a tendency to over-steer severely, so Larry set out to cure that problem fast. The car was also equipped with a Ford-Mustang-style "T" bar shifter, and Larry swapped it out with a B&M Shifter. Other enhancements performed by Larry include larger front wheels, a custom center control stack, and finished luggage compartments front and rear.
I asked Larry if there was a quiet setting in which I could photograph the car, and he said he knew the perfect place if we took advantage of the daylight. He got into the driver's seat, turned the key, pressed the "start" button, and the Olds Rocket V8 rumbled to life. The exhaust system is just a set of resonators, so there is a very deep, throaty, growl coming from the engine. When it settles to idle, you can tell that deep inside the engine there resides a mild cam, and the engine has a serious idle lump, like she is ready at anytime to take off. Riding in the passenger seat the noise level wasn't all that much different than a standard Corvair. The ride was compliant, and the seats--harvested from a mid 80's Dodge Daytona--were exceedingly comfortable. We had all of the windows lowered, and the one thing I noticed that's missing in modern coupes is a characteristic of all pillar-less hardtops: an open, airy feel at speed, without any buffeting, because there is no B-pillar. My first impression was very positive.
After I took several dozen photos, Larry offered to let me drive the Torvair, and I eagerly took him up on his offer. The engine roared to life and settled down to its lumpy idle. There is no power steering, but once the car started to move, it wasn't any more difficult than the power assist of any modern car. There is an aftermarket tachometer directly in front of the driver with period instrumentation consisting of a speedometer and a fuel gauge. Aftermarket coolant and oil temperature gauges have been added. There is also a fan override switch just in case. Overall, it was the near-perfect blending of form and function. With the comfortable and supportive seats, it didn't feel like the car was more than 40 years old.
The throttle was linear and the brakes--without ABS, of course--were controllable and progressive. The ride was extraordinary, with very little bucking over pothole-encrusted country roads. Acceleration was pretty good, though I didn't really explore the limits of this most unique of Corvairs. It could be a beast, with the roar of that Oldsmobile V-8 behind you, but it could also be as docile as any modern car in traffic. The car tracked straight and true, with no noticeable handling problems. Larry says that fuel mileage has been averaging around 13 MPG.
It was a thoroughly enjoyable drive, albeit all too short. The Torvair would be a great addition for anyone looking for a one-of-a-kind cruiser. Why is it for sale? Well, Larry wants to build a large cruiser from the 50's or 60's with all the modern conveniences like A/C, power windows, cruise control, ABS, power seats, lots of room for storage, and enough comfort for long trips. The Torvair is many things, but it doesn't have A/C, cruise control, or any of the other conveniences we take for granted today. Larry is reluctantly putting it up for sale, and has the Torvair advertised on his website. As stated in the ad, this is not the car for someone who's shy. I can attest to the fact that this car draws attention, and at a little over $18,000, it's a lot less expensive than a lot of blue-chip collector cars that never draw a second glance.
Be sure to check out all the photos Jim took of the 1967 Torvair in the Automotive Traveler image gallery.