Dan Rattiner's Stories

Time Warp: A 1969 Corvair Finally Bursts into Flames

An old Chevrolet Corvair caught fire on Main Street in Southampton last Saturday afternoon. It was parked directly across the street from the restaurant 75 Main at the time and the diners there, many of whom were seated out on the sidewalk, saw the trunk start smoking and then burst into flames. In just minutes, the fire department came with hoses and put out the blaze.

Many thought something strange must be in the trunk to catch fire like that. And indeed, when some of the diners wandered over and came back, they reported it was true. The engine was in the trunk. It was the engine that had caught fire.

The Chevy Corvair, and this was a 1969 model, came built with the engine in the back. When it was first introduced in 1960, Motor Trend Magazine declared it the car of the year for having the motor in the back. Whoever thought you could have a car with the motor in the back? With its weight back there, it would improve traction. All car manfacturers should consider having the engines in the back of their cars.

In 1965, the existence of the now popular Chevy Corvair started a chain of events that many today believe brought the nation into the perilous state that it is in these days. [expand]

In that year, a young activist named Ralph Nader wrote a book called Unsafe at Any Speed. The book flew off the shelves, selling millions of copies, and its main idea swept the nation. The book, in its entirety, was about the Corvair and how, through some flaw in its engine design; it would sometimes, at random inconvenient moments, burst into flames. You could never predict when that would happen. Many people died from Chevy Corvair fires. As a result of this, GM, which made the car, tried for years and years to modify things so the engines would not burst into flames, but they never succeeded. Eventually, in 1969, the car was taken off the market.

How this car affected things today took place in the run up to the Presidential election of 2000. Say what you want about Bill Clinton, but with high taxes on the rich during his tenure, he left office after eight years with the country’s finances in surplus. But could it continue?

In the fall of that year, Clinton’s vice president Al Gore was nominated to run as a Democrat. And George W. Bush, the Governor of Texas was nominated by the Republicans. According to the polls, Gore would win by several percentage points. But then, quite suddenly, Ralph Nader announced that he would run for President on a third party ticket.

Nader had remained very active between his sensational 1965 book Unsafe at Any Speed and the year 2000. He waged war against businesses that produced unsafe products. He and his “Nader’s Raiders” got many of them pulled off the market. He was always in the news.

Nader’s entry into the Presidential Race created groans from the Democrats. Practically all Nader’s support would come from the touchy-feely wing of the Democratic Party. As a result of that, polls now showed the race for President too close to call. People urged Nader to endorse Gore and withdraw, but he wouldn’t do it.

As we all know, George Bush won that election by a whisker, perhaps better known as a “hanging chad” in Palm Beach County where the matter was finally decided. It was the closest Presidential race in history. Indeed, Gore even got more votes, though he got fewer electoral votes.

Yes, without Nader, things would have gone very differently in this country. Shortly after taking office, Bush, a businessman, announced massive tax cuts for the wealthy. The cuts would be in place on a a year-by-year basis, because such tax cuts would throw the country into a deficit. But he never did repeal them and the deficits continued. They were still not repealed when the financial collapse came at the very end of Bush’s Presidency in late 2008, and these tax cuts continue to this day. Now, the deficits are even bigger, with dire credit consequences facing us if we don’t either stop spending or repeal the tax cuts or both.

Blame all this on the Chevy Corvair and its ability to catch fire at unexpected moments.

As for this one, the owner soon appeared and made proper very sad noises and said not only was his very valuable antique car ruined, but so were a bunch of Ralph Lauren towels in the back that he had just bought for $100 each and which had caught fire too. Later, the car was towed away.

It’s very rare to see a Corvair today. I say to this one just having caught fire—what took you so long? [/expand]

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