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1965 Chevy Corvair - Wrong way? Right way!

This Vortec V-6-Powered Corvair Is An Offbeat Idea Made Real!

Photography by Damon Lee

Most classic car fans cruising past a '65 four-door Corvair would think, "Hey, nice car." Others--Terry Byler of Rancho Santa Margarita, California, in particular--envision something special and a chance to exercise a little creative thinking. Call it "outside the box thinking," or "marching to the beat of a different drummer," but an unusual way of looking at things can bring wonderful results, especially when the thinker in question has the ability to make his vision a reality.

Byler did indeed sight a '65 four-door Corvair while out cruising around one day, and though he wasn't in the market for another set of wheels, this particular set changed his mind. "I've always liked the '65-69 body style-it was ahead of its time," he recalls. "But I didn't know (at the time) that they had made four-door models." They did, as we know, and this one was in good shape, so Byler bought it and immediately put it to work as his daily driver. The 'Vair was a trooper, but the combination of shaved cylinder heads and lowly 89-octane gas added up to pinging and several blown No. 2 intake valves. After the third valve failure, Byler was frustrated enough to contemplate selling the car, despite the fact that he really liked driving it. This affection for his mid-engined rarity made him look for a viable engine swap, but there was one major constraint Byler placed on the project: "What, and how, would GM do it?"

One thing they wouldn't do, he decided, is cut the car up and install a V-8. Many of these conversions have been done, but Byler considers it "sacrilege" to hack up a rare find like his ("you have to destroy it to do it"), not to mention the fact that V-8 machines have overheating problems and can be hard to re-sell. So, a second question emerged: "Instead of running a V-8, why not find some way of running a V-6?"

"Why not" quickly gave way to "how" for Byler, who works as a manufacturing engineer, and calls it "a hobby and a challenge" to solve engineering difficulties. He considered several factors (weight, torque, handling, fit, and finances) and wondered if he could pull it off, especially since no one had ever done it before. The verdict? "Ok, no problem; let's get started." There was one big problem, however. The only V-6 available at that time was Oldsmobile's 3.8-liter powerplant, which runs clockwise (as most engines do). To use the stock transmission (remember, Byler wanted this 'Vair to be a modern update, with as little modification as possible), the engine had to run counterclockwise.

To accomplish this, Byler had to find a reverse cam. He had no luck with the big companies, but through word of mouth he found an "old codger" who declared, "I can make you anything providing you have the money!" Byler went for it-in fact, his devotion of time and money to this project even cost him a girlfriend or two along the way. It's easy to see why. Once the cam problem was tackled, Byler had to overcome numerous other obstacles. He designed and built a flexplate to mount the new engine to the stock two-speed Powerglide and handle the added torque, adapted the main rear seal to hold back the reverse-rotation oil flow, reversed the water pump and distributor rotation, figured out the engine mounting (the stocker is slightly offset), and ensured adequate engine cooling. Byler overcame all these obstacles, and the V-6-powered 'Vair again saw daily-driver duties for five-plus years-until that custom-made, one-of-kind reverse cam broke. The old codger and his shop had passed away, so Byler sold the Olds mill and regrouped.

A reprieve for the Corvair came in 1985, in the form of GM's 4.3-liter V-6. This time the installation was relatively quick and easy. The necessary reverse rotation components were readily available (they're used in marine applications), so a new flexplate was about all that was needed to adapt the new powerplant. The new V-6 gained a 390-cfm Holley carb on an Edelbrock intake, and a Mallory ignition. The custom four-row radiator was moved from over the gearbox to the front, with 30 feet of copper tubing carrying the coolant.

At the same time, Byler decided to spruce up the 'Vair's appearance. In addition to the hood louvering and air intake work that he performed, he laid on a coat of DuPont Scarlet Red, installed new black carpet and vinyl upholstery, and new stock door panels in black with red trim. Except for two water temp gauges (one input, one output), amp, and oil pressure gauges, the interior is stock.

For his work, Byler was rewarded with the Open Modified Award at the '99 Pomona Super Chevy Show, which he rightly values. The biggest reward, however, has got to be seeing his vision become reality-and that reality is a reliable, fun-to-drive Chevy. And while we will never know what a GM-engineered '00 Corvair would have looked like, we're betting it would have had a Vortec V-6 in it. It works great in this one!

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