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Vintage Video Double Feature: Careening Corvairs and K-Cars

I love old crappy cars. I love watching drivers perform feats of derring-do. And if I can find a film that combines both, I’m in heaven. Today, I found two!

The Corvair in Action (1960)

It’s possible you’ve seen this already, as it’s probably one of the better-known classic car videos on YouTube—a demo piece from Chevrolet intended to show the world just how tough its new rear-engine Corvair was. The scene of the hapless Corvair rolling over has been widely seen out of context—truth was, the car was rigged to roll, as the film explains—but there is far more entertaining stuff in this video.

This short film starts out sedately enough, with beauty shots, tepid footage from Lime Rock and a slalom course marked with a big banner that says “HANDLING”. My favorite bit from this section is when the announcer urges you to “watch how the Corvair stays under control” as it spins out on a dirt road. Keep watching, because soon it gets even better—they take the Corvair off-roading, plowing over berms, racing through what looks like a cornfield, and cruising through the middle of a stream—basically, everything you and I would do if given a brand-new car in a consequence-free environment. And then come the crashes: Corvairs into full-size Chevys, full-size Chevys into Corvairs, and the infamous rollover scene. Would Chevrolet have put out this film had it known what the Corvair’s future would hold? No way. Just remember: The Corvair is tough! It can take it!

The Hell Driver Formula (1981)

Ted Kochmann’s Hell Drivers were state-fair staples from 1942 until Kochmann’s retirement in 1989, with an appearance at the 1964 World’s Fair that really put them on the map. Kochmann used Dodges exclusively, and that meant that in the early 1980s the Hell Drivers were stuck with the Dodge Aries K-Car—true hell for the drivers, I imagine, but a real win for Chrysler, as front-wheel-drive was a novelty and many Americans (and Canadians) still didn’t trust it. For a modern audience, this 16-minute film proves that a good driver can do amazing things with the saddest of cars. The driving is brilliant, the interior shots of these largely-stock K-cars is nerdy-neat, and the vintage-1980 crowds, rides and game-show soundtrack adds extra awesomeness.

Some of the stunts are pedestrian, some are corny, and some are downright cool—like two cars each driving a lap on two wheels, then stopping nose-to-nose. Me, I’m partial to the reverse J-turn; having briefly owned an ’81 Aries with a stick-shift, I know how tough it is to find first gear in a hurry. And the announcer is brilliant: “Lady Luck on the one side, Grim Reaper on the other!” Incidentally, Dane Tonny Petersen, featured here beneath a terrific mop of hair, drove his last stunt just last year at the 2019 Erie County Fair. I won’t write any more—just watch. If you’ve never seen a clown juggling while standing on a K-car driving on two wheels, you’ll thank me… when I see you in hell.

BONUS TRACK: More Corvairs slipping and flipping

Still stuck on the Corvair rollover thing, eh? A quarter-hour of clowns and K-Cars weren’t enough to distract you? OK then—here’s an hour of GM (and some Ford) test-track footage showing Corvairs rolling, skidding, and spinning, all set to the type of music that works equally well for ’90s-era porn movies and mall jewelry store commercials.


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