How to put a V8 engine in a Corvair

Sometimes a challenge is just that and nothing more. Maybe not practical, but fun nonetheless. At the time, I owned a small repair shop where I was tinkering with cars and motorcycles and also making a few dollars. One afternoon during a bullfighting session with some friends, one of them said it would be great if we could put a V8 engine in one of my Corvair cars. I had several of them and I loved playing with the Monza model, which was Chevy’s upgraded version of this rear-engined car. The Corvair had no separate chassis and was one of the first uni-body cars on the market. Extremely lightweight, the six-cylinder engine with the factory fan made the car slide right away. It really was a silly looking car in the early years of production, a bit boxy and boxy. Later models got more aerodynamic, but suffered from the same engineering problems of the early years and the car quickly faded into obscurity. I had a car without an engine and the body was not in the best shape. I remember saying I could put the V8 in that car and the guys quickly put me up to the challenge.

My shop had a pretty good variety of tools, torches, welders, jacks, and power hand tools that allowed me to make just about anything in metal. A big drill, a good aim, and tons of nuts and bolts.

Assortments put most of what you needed on hand. After the guys left, the thought of doing this conversion to V8 bugged me and I found myself checking the car to see if it was really possible. You could always put the engine in the car, but I thought, what if I did it so that you couldn’t tell from the outside that the car was altered? At least until you got it going. There was no way I could make that V8 sound like the weak six-cylinder factory engine.

The first item on the agenda was to remove all components from the factory drive train. Since the engine was already gone, the rear, including the wheels, was very easy to remove. I had a Chevy V8 short block that I could use to test the engine installation in the trunk. The trunk of a Corvair was in the front of the car. A large amount of sheet metal had to be removed to push the engine into the truck compartment. I had to simulate the engine with some headers and the intake manifold to ensure that the trunk lid (hood) was closed after the engine was in place. Once I managed to get the engine into the trunk and was satisfied with its location, the engine mounts became the next item to complete. Since there was no frame under the car, I had to make a partial subframe that could accept bolt-on engine mounts. It had several transmissions to choose from, including a used Chevy three-speed manual unit. This was a direct bolt on to the V8 so it went in. Making a rear mount for the transmission was nothing more than a three-inch iron channel that ran from one side of the car to the other. Until now, with the doors and hood closed, the car looked original. I bought the back of a used small pickup truck and started modifying it to fit under the Corvair body. I cannot say an easy task. Hiding fourteen-inch wheels where thirteen once were required even more modifications to the sheet metal of cars, including new wheel wells and inner wheel covers.

With the three major drivetrain components now mounted to the car, I was able to start with all the smaller items a car needs to function. The driveshaft had to be custom made as it was less than three

feet long and needed a universal midpoint to compensate for different drivetrain and rear end heights. The radiator was made from an old Chevy V8 unit, but had to be altered to be able to lay it on its side. A friend of my parents was the owner of the local radiator repair shop and he was more than willing to do the modifications at almost no cost, as he also thought the car was pretty clean. Wiring the car in those days was a simple task as there weren’t any of the bells and whistles in cars today. No computers, no special sensors for this and that. Everything a car needs to run and turn on the lights, etc. I kept all the Chevy factory lights, turn signals, etc., and really just needed to connect the engine and battery components. I put the battery in the rear of the car, as even then I realized that the car was going to be light in the rear. What an understatement that was.

The conversion took about four months to do what I remember. There were some bugs to work out, of course, as I didn’t have engineering staff to advise me what I was doing wrong, but overall the bugs were pretty minor. The first time I started the car, you can’t describe the thrill of hearing the engine roar under the hood. The first time I put the car in gear and drove it around the property it was a real kick. I bought license plates for the car and drove it for a couple of weeks to troubleshoot and have time to complete some kind of interior. I only added another bucket seat as the car was not a touring car, but it would certainly be fun at the local drag track. I clearly remember the first time I drove the car to my friends house to show them the V8 engine in the car and take them for a ride. On a back road, holding one foot on the brake pedal and pressing the gas pedal with the other, I was able to smoke the tires without any effort. From a slow turn or moving at 40 MPH, pressing the accelerator pedal would squeak the tires and create tire smoke instantly. The car was a real gas.

I drove the car that summer and had a lot of fun driving it to Stewart’s drive-in movie in Paramus, NJ, on Friday and Saturday nights. It was fun that other guys laughed at the car and asked to participate in a race for the papers. After a few runs, the laughter stopped. I didn’t take his papers, but my little Corvair was a hit that summer with all kinds of custom cars. I sold the car that winter to a young man who wanted to complete the interior and exterior painting. He drove the car for quite some time and then I lost track of where it was. He had already moved on to another project, but had shown that you could fit a V8 engine into a Corvair body.

Pete ackerson

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