Market Spotlight

Carbureted or turbocharged: which Corvair is right for you?

by Kyle Smith
20 April 2023 3 min read
Kyle Smith

If you’re a car enthusiast or merely of a certain age, you’ve heard of the Chevrolet Corvair. The car’s safety at any speed is a well-trodden conversation, as are the design differences between the model’s two generations. Among Corvair collectors, though, conversations about the car’s merits are more nuanced, and rightfully so: The Corvair could be had in a swath of flavors throughout its life.

Perhaps chief among the influencing factors of your Corvair experience is what engine you pick. As with the rest of the car, there were several options. Which air-cooled six-cylinder engine is best? Coming from a Corvair owner, the answer is simple: It depends. 

Chevrolet gave buyers a surprising amount of variation for the rear-engined Corvair, but those in the know seek out two configurations more than any others: The turbocharged engines, making 150 or 180 horsepower; or the naturally aspirated versions, cranking out 140. 

Kyle Smith

The 150-hp turbo was introduced in the 1962 model year as the new “Spyder” option. It was the first time Chevrolet put a turbocharger on a production car, and it was an admittedly rudimentary system by today’s standards. The Carter YH carburetor was placed before the turbocharger as a draw-through arrangement. This limited boost only to what air could be pulled through the relatively small Carter carb and then compressed into the long intake runner that spanned the aluminum cylinder heads on opposite sides of the flat-six engine. 

As such, a turbo car is known for not being able to take advantage of its boost until third or fourth gear, even when it’s perfectly tuned and set up. This can make these Corvairs a little lackluster in stop-and-go traffic, but they come on strong once rolling and spooled up.

The Corvair’s 150-hp turbocharged engine. Kyle Smith
The four-carb, 140-hp naturally-aspirated Corvair flat-six. Kyle Smith

On the other side of the coin is the 140-hp engine that came out in 1965. The turbo cars may have been literally breathing through a straw, but the 140-hp engine had to drink from a fire hose. A quartet of Rochester carbs—HV-model primaries and H-model secondaries—are operated with a progressive linkage that gives a second kick in the pants as the driver presses the throttle to the floor, opening up all four throttle blades.

Each Rochester is capable of roughly 100cfm airflow, which is a whole lot of carburetor—400cfm total—on a relatively small 164-cubic inch engine. It’s a tried-and-true system, though, and the theory that an engine will only pull what it needs comes from situations like this. Just like the turbocharged engines, the 140-hp models have their weak points. The 140-hp engines had the largest valves of any Corvair engine and thus the valve seats pressed into the head have a tendency to drop out and cause chaos in the combustion chamber.

Both have similar power and some compromise on performance and reliability. So why choose one over the other? 

Having spent over 16 years in the Corvair community myself, and owning the white, naturally aspirated ’65 Corsa you see here for six of them, I think the answer comes down to two factors: drivability and history. 

Buyers of “driver” cars often shop for the 140-hp cars due to their motor’s flatter torque curve and easier tuning compared to the mills of the turbo cars. This leaves the boosted engines for those who want to own a milestone of unique tech that was cutting-edge for its time. Even if they are choosing the comparatively boring engine, like I did, the Corvair is still a great driving car with character and history to spare.

Fortunately, cost is not a significant factor for those weighing their Corvair engine choices. In order to be as apples-to-apples as possible, we took a look at values for 1966 Corvairs in the same Corsa trim, with the engines being the only major difference. An Excellent, #2-condition, 180-hp turbo car only carries a $1200 premium over its same-condition, carbed sibling, while the delta shrinks to only $500 between #3 (Good) condition, driver-quality cars. 

Corvairs have long been the affordable little brother to the heavy-hitter big-body cars of the 1960s, though that doesn’t seem to have endeared them to younger generations looking for an entry point into American cars from the ’60s. The lion’s share of quotes sought from Hagerty for Corvairs comes from boomers, and that percentage outstrips their overall position in the market. Gen-X's interest is about evenly spread across both generations of the car, but interestingly, millennial and Gen-Z generations have shown more love for the first-gen Corvair.

Those who count themselves among the Corvair faithful are drawn to its history and misunderstood nature. Their die-hard enthusiasm and taste for intricate and unique details is a big part of what’s kept the community for this outcast Chevrolet thriving. The choice between turbocharging or carburetion merely adds another layer to how the Corvair is appreciated.


  • chet says:

    Back in the day (college student days) , I owned a succession of Corvairs…..a ‘62 coupe was the first one, and the last one was a ‘65 convert…. they were interesting and fun cars back then, and I think GM was mimicking VW and Porsche, with their rear engine placement. I recall my early Corvair kept blowing its head gasket, creating oil leaks, and I was constantly getting the head gaskets replaced. Boring, and pricey. The ‘65 was much better, and a good value overall.

    • Arthur B says:

      I own a 66 180 turbo corsa convertible. It’s a concourse restored beautiful car. I’ve owned it for 8 yrs. now and drive it on regular outings in the summer months. Very dependable and trouble free. However it doesn’t appreciate today’s ethanol fuels. With a few hot starting tricks it’s manageable though.
      This model seems to be the holy grail of corvairs under the Yenko Stinger of course.

  • George Devol says:

    Actually, the 1962 Olds Jetfire had the first Trubo, a few months before Covair. I have a 1965 Corvair Monza Convert. It has the 110 hp Powerglide. I’ve had it for almost 9 years and it has been trouble free and now fully restored. It is a fun and easy car to drive. I’d like to find a similar ’65 coupe, more for a daily driver. I’m tired of all the computer crap in new cars which, in 95% of the cases is not needed – only something to go wrong and have to pay ridiculous dealer prices to correct.

    • Larry Claypool says:

      Although the Jetfire was *introduced* first, numerous production delays held back delivery to Olds dealers while actual retail customers were driving their new Spyders off of Chevrolet lots in early April of ’62. At the end of the model year, 3,765 Jetfires were produced versus 9,468 turbo ‘Vairs.

  • Tom Austin says:

    Would love to see maintenance, repair, and restoration shops in Massachusetts with a strong reputation for honest, quality Corvair work!

    • Dennis McGillis says:

      There are Corvair-friendly mechanics around. I found one in my small Washington State town. The local Corvair club probably knows one.

  • MrKnowItAll says:

    I think the reason for lagging values is that the engine is relatively expensive to rebuild, unique, and is excluded from any engine swap. SBC’s are easily put in everything else Chevy made at the time, from Chevy II to trucks. Furthermore, everybody “saved” Corvairs decades ago, because the were going to become “valuable collectors items”, similar to Edsels being hoarded. There’s plenty out there.
    BTW, I own one, but understand the conundrum

    • Frank says:

      People could and did modify Corvairs with V8s and there were a few kit cars back in the day that used Chevy V8s with Corvair transaxles and yes the transaxle was reversed due to the Corvair engines reverse rotation compared to the V8 Chevy. I have a Fiberfab kit car built that way. Another way to put a V8 into a Corvair would be to use a subframe assembly from any front wheel drive car. Toronado’s were popular swaps, etc.
      GM also built a V8 prototype

  • PT says:

    Having owned over 20 since 1962, sadly none now, I can speak confidently in saying the Corvair was one of GM’s greatest lost opportunities

    Great styling, especially the second generation, creative engineering and one incredible driving car

    I raced. Yenko Stinger in SCCA from 1969 to 1976 and it was fantastic

    It is also one of the largest classes at vintage racing events today, that speaks volumes to the car it was and could have been

    CORSA of which I was a founding member is one of the loyal car clubs that exists today

    Anyone one looking for a wonders experience in ownership should venture into the Corvair world

  • Roy K Evarts says:

    Back in the day I had a Fitch Corvair driven and built by the venerable (RIP) John Fitch. One of the finest gentlemen of the car world. That car would outhandle everything on the road!! What GM should have done and marketed as a performance version.

  • Gary says:

    I bought a 1964 110 HP carb. Drove it trouble free for a long time. GREAT little car, trouble free. Bought a 1965 Corsa 140 HP carbs and had trouble! Head gaskets, belt coming off, just a bad car. To bad because I loved the style and the KILLER gauges.

  • Steve Hooper says:

    I bought my third one in 2015 1966 Corvair Monza 110 Powerglide I have a friend that’s willing to help me work on it when I need to but so far it’s been running good. My first Corvair was a 1969 Monza 110 4 speed my second one was a 1964 Corvair Spyder wish I still had them.

  • Ralph murray says:

    Had a 61 than a64 (new) 4 speed 110 hp added dual exhaust bigger jets and a few goodies Great cars and enjoyed them all through college until went into Air Force in 1967
    Great memories

  • John Howell says:

    My first Corvair was a 1961 Monza, 80 hp engine and a 3-speed manual transmission. It was traded in on a larger new Pontiac by an old man, said he had trouble getting in and out of it. It was one of the best driving cars I ever owned, it was trouble free. I first learned that to keep it trouble free I had to work on it myself. I found out the worse thing you could do to it was take it to a Chevrolet Dealer to have it worked on, they would really screw it up! So I got a shop manual and learned how to take care of it myself. I am 83 years old now and still have Corvairs, trucks, cars and vans. I have a 1966 Corsa 140 Convertible and a 1965 Corsa Turbo Coupe, 1964 Rampside, 1962 Rampside, and 1960 Monza Coupe plus other Corvair trucks, vans and cars. I own them because they are a fun vehicle and I enjoy working on them.

  • Paul S. says:

    I got lucky and found a one owner, unmolested 62 102 hrsp 4 speed in 2016
    After doing all the basic maintenance I’ve put on about 6000 miles taking it to shows and just driving it . The smiles per gallon are incredible.

  • CYRIL GOLLOP says:

    Ralph Nadler was right. Never interested in this car never will be.

  • paul s murray says:

    I suppose if you’re so inclined. However buying a car that was a companies first and only attempt at an air-cooled flat six and then they decided to shove hot air down the carb makes me a little leery. Then add the penny pinching that was done to keep it profitable. I can envision myself pouring bags of Igloo in the back trying to cool the transaxle because that’s what Smokey Yunick did. Besides Ernie Kovacs died in a Corvair and I’m a fan. While that’s just superstition Paul S left a comment and so did Ralph Murray. Why tempt fate.

  • Rick Labuda says:

    I had one of the first Corvair coupes back in late 1959 or early 1960, Black, stick. Didn’t want it but my father wouldn’t sign for me to get a 1957 Black Vette with Silver Coves at $2400. What a Bummer. Did end up with the Corvair.

  • Pete S says:

    “Carbureted or Turbocharged?” Does anyone proofread?

  • william phillips says:

    Owned and restored a few. Those selling parts and servicing are flakes most of the time. Struggled to find many honest who work on them

  • Gary Bechtold says:

    I don’t understand why Hagerty duplicates articles. Having said that I will duplicate my response because the Corvair is such a fun car. I think I would want the non turbo motor for the reasons you have mentioned. I like the Corvair, when I see one at a car show I always try to talk to the owner.

  • paul s murray says:

    Pete S – Why proofread when there’s spellchack?

  • Kpar says:

    I currently own 4- a ’64 Monza Convert (110HP-4spd), a ’66 Corsa Convert (140HP-4spd), a ’68 Monza Coupe (140HP-4spd, and (the wife’s) ’69 Monza Convert (140HP-Powerglide). I’ve had Corvairs for 50+ years, and can attest to the article as written. I’ve also had (and blown up) turbos, 140s, etc. The valve seat issue is common to both 140s AND turbos, due to the heat generated by the high-performance engines, combined with a cooling system originally designed for an 80HP motor. Interestingly, in a straight up competition, a 110HP motor will match a 140HP motor up to about 45-50MPH, and is MUCH more reliable.

    Corvairs are ENORMOUS fun to drive, which is why I still have them.

  • James MacDonald says:

    I enjoyed a 65 /110 3 speed convertible one winter in Ma. I purchased it from the back of a Al’s Gas Station with a bad clutch for 65$. 1972 price and Al’s jokes. Took it to the Voc shop, swapped the clutch and good for a month. Towed back to school another clutch as I managed to shear the spline bushing from the disk. Running again with the top down and throwing snowballs at all. And as for drifting before the term existed! I could fishtail it 200 yards. Late one afternoon with plenty of snow on a city side street it got away from me. During a long drift I went and tagged a left side of the street light pole with my right fender. Now in the passenger seat doing a 360 till I shut off the key. Oh well. Pulled the fender out finished out the winter and sold it for 100$. My 65 2+2 was saved from my winter bad manners that year. They were all fun rides back then.

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