September 28, 2013

Corvair stalwart keeps the faith

Lloyd Folger is a true believer in Corvairs. He remembers when the Corvair bug first nibbled at him.

Lloyd Folger is a true believer in Corvairs. He remembers when the Corvair bug first nibbled at him.

“The first Corvair I ever drove belonged to a fellow teacher who had bought one new. She let me drive it and I was really impressed with it,” says Folger, who spent 36 years as an elementary school teacher himself. He was already interested in air-cooled, rear-engined cars.

He had dabbled in Volkswagens, but he said that after that drive, “I figured the Corvair was about three times the car that a VW was. Their ride is better and there’s a lot more room in them.”

Folger was so convinced that in the late 1970s, he bought a 1963 Corvair convertible for his young daughter, who was still years away from earning a driver’s license, and put it away for her. Unfortunately, when she was old enough to drive the car, she didn’t want it because she felt uncomfortable in an open-topped car.

“I sold it to a Haysville couple, but they hit a deer with it and I’ve been looking for it ever since,” said Folger.

Once he began buying Corvairs, he couldn’t quit. He can’t put a number to how many he’s owned, but he currently counts 16 of them in his collection, including parts cars to be used in rebuilding projects.

“I’m really more of a collector than a restorer,” he notes. He likes to find cars in the best condition possible and apply the finishing touches to them so they can be driven. For example, he used a turbocharged 4-speed ’64 Corvair Spyder coupe as his daily driver for 10 years before finally putting it into storage.

Currently, a pale yellow Monza convertible is his go-to Corvair.

“I bought this one in 1994, the year I retired,” he said. Knowing his passion for Corvairs, an owner had contacted him about buying it, but the price was too high, so he passed.

He later saw the car sitting on a used car lot, where it had been traded in. He knew it was the same car because of the unique pinstriping and the price was much more reasonable.

“I thought, `Hey, a restored car, I won’t have any problems with it,” Folger recalled. “I drove it a mile to a gas station and filled it with gas and then I noticed there was gas all over underneath it. So I drove it some more to get the gas down in the tank, and I broke the clutch linkage.

“But I was able to fix both of those things easily,” he said. The car is a 4-speed, powered by the traditional 164 cubic inch air-cooled flat 6-cylinder engine mounted in the back. It produces 110 horsepower, which is plenty, considering the unibody car weighs in at a mere 2,555 pounds.

Chevy cranked out just over 31,000 Monza convertibles in the 1964 model year, at a base price of $2,492. People became leery of the Corvair’s safety after Ralph Nader mounted a high-profile publicity campaign against the car, but that has never worried Folger.

In fact, his Corvair convertible carries an “UNSAFE” vanity plate on its nose proudly.

He has done basic maintenance on the car, including some paint touch-up and minor body work performed by his friend Keith Scott. He also added a set of fender skirts he bought at a swap meet.

“Those things are pretty rare … I had never seen a Corvair with fender skirts before,” Folger said.

These days, fewer and fewer people recognize the Corvair, with some confusing the later model Corvairs with the early Camaros, he said. They are always surprised when he pops the “hood” and there’s no engine underneath.

But the car still has a devoted following among a band of car collectors, like the folks who belong to the Mid Continent Corvair Association. The local chapter sponsors workshops three times a year at Terry Kalp’s shop near Valley Center, with up to 50 people gathering to work on their Corvairs and share their expertise.

The club is also hosting the ninth annual Great Plains Corvair Roundup at the Airport Best Western this weekend. Corvair owners from at least seven states will display their vehicles, ranging from station wagons to sedans, pickups and even an 8-door shop van owned by Folger. The event is open to the public.

“Corvairs are relatively cheap to buy and maintain and we can still get parts for them,” said Folger. “Any young person interested in cars can get started in them pretty easily.”

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