Forward Control Corvairs


1965 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier Sportswagon
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  • introduction
  • origins
  • models
  • powertrain
  • body
  • suspension
  • model year variation
  • special purpose FC's
  • production numbers
  • Sources Used
  • 1961 Chevrolet Corvair Rampside Pickup


    The Corvair FC Line

    Less familiar than the corvair cars, but equally interesting are the Forward Control (FC) Corvairs, which were built 1961-1965. They came in four body styles: conventional pickup (called a Loadside), pickup with fold down side ramp (called a Rampside), panel side delivery van (Corvan) and window van (Greenbrier Sportswagon or Corvan with window option). Forward control Corvairs were produced at Flint, Michigan and St. Louis, Missouri from parts manufactured and partially assembled elsewhere.

    The Corvair 95 name was used on FC's intended for industrial use, and was derived from their 95 inch wheelbase. These were sold as part of the Chevrolet industrial vehicle line. The station-wagon variant of the window van was called a Greenbrier Sportswagon and was sold as a car.

    Corvair FCs are popular with many Corvair enthusiasts, and there is a special interest chapter within the Corvair Society of America devoted to them: the Corvanatics.
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    The Competition The Market

    The Corvair FC's were designed to compete with the Volkswagen Transporter/Microbus/Pickup type II vehicle of the time. Chevrolet did some market research and determined that those who bought the VW products did so because they had more interior volume than a pickup based sedan delivery, were smaller outside, were more economical and easier to handle in city traffic. VW owners complained about the type II's lack of power, lack of an automatic transmission, small load rating and the relative uselessness of the pickup body.

    The Chevrolet reply to the Volkswagen is really very much like a modern minivan or mini pickup. It has 80-110 horsepower, 130-160 lb-ft of torque (depending on year and engine option), weighs 2800-3000 lb, and has similar exterior dimensions to a Plymouth Grand Voyager. Unlike the modern vehicles, though, all Corvair FC's have a gross vehicle weight rating of 4600 lb, which works out to about a 3/4 ton payload. All Corvair 95's with stock paint were delivered in two-tone: one of about six colors with a white accent stripe. A white body was also available, which came with a red accent stripe. The Greenbrier Sportswagon was available with a limited range of the Corvair car colors for that year. The same accent stripe color rule applied. See Kent Sullivan's data pages at for more information. Fleet purchases could be any color or combination by special order, and were indicated by special codes stamped onto the body dataplate on the front cowl. So if you look in the book to find the original paint color for your FC Corvair and discover that the number on the body data tag (which is located on the kick panel by the handbrake) isn't in the book, or on Kent's website, chances are your truck was factory painted in some commercial livery. These numbers are decodable by Chevrolet, should you desire to reproduce the original paint.
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Corvair 95 Corvan

    The Corvair 95 Corvan panel van (model R1205) was an industrial delivery van and was produced 1961-1964. It had a lot of volume in a relatively small package and had a loading height of only 18" above the pavement into the side doors. It could be optioned from bare-bones (no heater, no radio, single speed wipers, painted bumpers) to pretty nice (chrome bumpers and trim, dual speed wipers with washer, direct air or gasoline heater, second and third bench seats, side and rear doors with windows). Normal Corvans have six doors: two front, two on the right side, and two rear. A second pair of side barn-doors was available on the driver's side as an option. Ma Bell bought quite a few Corvans.

    The Corvan was also available with a full-window option, which made it look like a Greenbrier. But the comfort options had to be individually checked off just as with the panel van. The four square side windows didn't roll down unless you bought the "roll- down windows" option. The window option Corvan was primarily intended for ambulance and taxi use.

    Chevrolet Corvair 95 Loadside Pickup Styling Prototype

    The Corvair 95 Loadside pickup (model R1244) is a pickup truck variant of the Corvan body and was produced 1961-1962. The relative inaccessibility of the payload area made this pickup slightly more useless than a conventional front-engine truck. The original idea, as this photo of the styling buck shows, was to provide a level load floor and lockable storage underneath in the center-bed area. Unfortunately, this arrangement was never produced and the production Loadside couldn't be loaded through the side at all. As a result, they weren't very popular and only 369 were produced in 1962, which makes the '62 Loadside the least-produced of all Corvairs.

    Chevrolet Corvair 95 Rampside Pickup

    The Corvair 95 Rampside pickup (model R1254) is a Loadside with a big ramp on the passenger's side where the side barn doors would mount on the van body. It was produced 1961-1964. The ramp folds down from a piano hinge at the bottom of the bed and has a rubber edging on top to save the paint when the ramp is folded down. This is probably the cleverest addition ever made to the American pickup truck: It allows you to roll or slide most any object into the bed without lifting. The Bell Telephone company bought a bunch of these because they could roll cable reels right in and out of the bed.

    1965 Chevrolet Corvair Greenbrier Sportswagon

    The Corvair Greenbrier Sportswagon (model R1206) was basically a fully optioned window-option Corvan with roll-down side windows. It came with two-tone interior paint, color coordinated interior floormats, a full-width bench seat, chrome bumpers and trim, and one of a subset of the Corvair car paint colors for that year. You could add more options to a Greenbrier however: The trim and convenience package (R.P.O. Z01) added two speed wipers with washers, a passenger side rear- view mirror, day-night mirror, and extra brightwork on the dash and exterior. Rarer and plusher was the Deluxe option package. This added a two-tone vinyl interior (seats and side panels) that made the inside of your Greenbrier look pretty much like a deluxe Corvair car of that year. The front bench seat got more comfortable, too, because of a different frame and padding. Like the Corvans, Greenbriers were also available with eight doors as an extra cost option. An eight door deluxe Greenbrier is quite a prize today. Greenbriers were built 1961-1965 and were the last FC's to be built.
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    Forward-Control Corvair Powertrain

    FC engines were the same size as the Corvair car engines of that year: 145 c.i. from 1961-1963, and 164 c.i. in 1964 and 1965. In all year models they have a special oil filler/dipstick tube location: a 1" hole on the right rear of the crankcase. This allows the engine oil to be checked and adjusted on an fc without raising the rear cargo deck, which is normally screwed down and is raised only for maintainance items like changing air cleaners, synchronizing carburetors, or overly-intrusive concours inspections at CORSA meets. FC's also have a special low-height version of the 1961-1963 car air cleaner system to make the drivetrain fit under the deck.

    Early Corvair 95s and Greenbrier Sportswagons were only available with one engine: a heavy-duty truck rated version of the 80 hp base car engine. Compared to the car engine, the FC version had exhaust valves of tougher metal, exhaust valve rotators, reduced compression, and richer carburetor jetting. As with the cars, the 1961-62 Forward Controls came with the highly efficient "folded-fin" oil cooler. 1963 models were equipped with the 8-plate cooler.

    The 1964 and 1965 standard engine was the 95 hp base sedan engine with the same modifications mentioned above, except that they use the "heavy duty" 12-plate oil cooler. Greenbriers were also available with the 110 hp engine as an option. 1965 Greenbriers (and therefore all 1965 FC's) have alternators, all other years and models have generators.

    All years and models came with a 3-speed manual transmission as standard equipment, with optional 4-speed manual and Powerglide automatic transmissions. Three final-drive ratios were available: 3.27:1 (default with '61 four-speed Greenbriers--good for highway cruising), 3.55:1 (default for all other FC's) and 3.89:1 (for heavy towing or mountain climbing). Manual transmission FC's had different gear ratios than the cars of that year to better match the power curve of the engine to the larger tires and greater weight of the vehicle. Powerglides were equipped with a special external fluid cooler under the battery box.
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    The body construction of the Corvair FC is a semi-unitized assembly which is both bolted and welded together. The body was partially welded together from stampings in alignment jigs at the stamping plant. These body segments were then loaded into train cars and shipped to the two final assembly plants. There, the segments were bolted together, aligned as necessary, then welded together to form a unitary structure. There is a recognizable load carrying chassis beneath the vehicles, but it is an integral part of the structure, and a "body off" restoration would involve major surgery with a cutting torch. The subframe is necessary because of the large side-ramp/side-door opening on one or both sides of the FC body, depending on model, which would allow excessive flexing in a true unitary structure.
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    Forward-Control Corvair Front Suspension Forward-Control Corvair Rear Suspension

    All FCs have fully independent front suspension based on other full-size Chevy models of that year. The rear suspension is a heavy-duty version of the 1960-1964 Corvair car rear suspension with coil springs and swing axles. Brakes are the same as Chevrolet 1/2-1 ton truck. FC's ride on five-bolt 4 3/4" circle 14"dia. x 5" wide wheels. Originally they came with a special low- cord angle 7" bias ply tire which improved handling over the common bias ply tires of the day and was similar to a modern radial. The FC's unusual suspension, good weight distribution, and low center of gravity are responsible for its excellent handling characteristics (for a utility vehicle). Corvair Society of America has two autocross classifications specifically for FC Corvairs.
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    Model Year Variation:

    The Forward Control Corvairs were produced in year models just as the cars were, but most of the variation is in the drivetrain and in the badgework on the front doors. There was only one major change in the construction of FCs during their production run, and this occurred in the middle of the 1963 model year. FCs can be divided into "early" and "late" types just like the Corvair cars can, but at a different date.

    The major areas of difference are manual shifter, clutch linkage, engine access door, cowl vent, and front suspension.

    The manual shifter on the early FCs is a little unusual: It is mounted on a vertical panel under the front bench seat and is operated with a different motion (up-down instead of forward-back) than is common. The linkage is mounted very low on the frame and can be damaged when the vehicle is high-centered. Late FC's have a conventional floor-mounted shifter, and the linkage is relocated through a tube in the middle of the fuel tank to get it out of harm's way. So almost no linkage parts interchange between early and late shifters. The fuel tanks are different too, but a late tank can be used on an early FC. Powerglide FC's don't care what kind of fuel tank they have, since their (never revised) shift linkage is a flexible cable following the frame rails.

    The clutch linkage could also be damaged if an early FC dragged bottom. On the late FCs it was relocated up. The cable and pedal system are the same for all, but the rear linkage is different.

    The early engine access door is a metal stamping with the license plate in the middle and two protruding lamps to illuminate it. The lamps kept breaking off and the latch handle was often bent when climbing in the back of the vehicle or hooking up a trailer, so Chevrolet changed to a molded fiberglass door with the license plate recessed on the driver's side. The latch handle was changed to a sturdier, lower profile shape.

    Early FC drivers in cold climates complained of air leakage from the cowl vent. The vent intake is mounted at the very front of the vehicle in between the headlights, and has the highest possible airflow pressure on it. It makes the FCs pleasant to drive in summer, but hard to seal up in winter. Late FCs come with a large lever operated door to seal the intake, as well as the two cable-operated foot well vent doors common to all models.

    The front suspension on early FCs is mostly borrowed from the 1960- 61 full size Chevy station wagon. Late FCs come with front suspension from the concurrent Chevy pickup truck.

    The only FC's produced for the 1965 model year were Greenbriers. They were all built in late 1964, and were assembled because a steelworkers' strike delayed introduction of the water-cooled one-box design Chevrolet van meant to replace the Corvair FC line. Chevrolet needed something to sell in the one-box window-van market, and built about 1500 '65 model Greenbriers to fill the requirement.

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    Special Purpose FCs:

    Since the Corvair FC was produced for fleet and utility applications, there are several unusual GM or third-party factory produced variations. In no particular order, they are:

    1. The Bell System Corvan: These are corvans with half a window option. There are only windows in the rear doors and on the right side behind the driver's seat, and the left side is a plain panel van side. These were built specifically as lineman's trucks and would've been painted in Bell system gray originally.

    2. Mixed Door Option Corvans The windowless corvan is as dark as a mineshaft inside with the doors closed, and there's no rear view out the back doors. Fleet purchasers often selected fixed panes in the rear and/or side doors to brighten things up a bit. Likewise, I have heard of at least one example of a window option corvan (large quarter-window panes and rear door panes) which was delivered with windowless side doors. This particular vehicle is an 8-door van, which makes it even odder.

    3. The Dual-Ramp Rampside: Dual-Ramp Rampside Pickup Q: What do you get when you make a rampside from an 8-door corvan chassis? A: The dual-ramp rampside. I have seen only photos of this one. Supposedly this was available as a factory option, though I have seen no official record of it. The frame flex must be terrible. I have no information about it beyond what you see here.

    4. The Camper Option Greenbrier: Camper Option Greenbrier As the Chevrolet competition to the microbus, the Greenbrier Sportswagon was also available with a factory assembled, dealer installed camper conversion sold through Chevrolet dealers as a production option. The 1961-1962 Custom Camper Unit (Chevrolet part 985103) featured wood interior fitments, vinyl floor, removable upholstered pads, Coleman cooler, LP gas stove, and color-coordinated drapes. The revised and rearranged 1963-1964 camper (part 985654) added a pump sink with 14 gallon water tank, and replaced the cooler with a 25 lb ice chest. These are pretty decent campers by the standard of the day, and could be optioned with such things as a roof-mount tent (985102) and child's front-seat bunk (985359). There were also third-party factory camper conversions sold; these vary widely in quality. Here's Mike Kellstrand's informative page on the Greenbrier Camper Option. Also see Ben's Bus Pages for an excellent overview of all the Greenbrier-based campers.

    5. The Drop-in Rampside Camper: Rampside Drop-in Camper As with most American pickups of the time, there were drop in campers made specifically for the Rampside. What makes these unusual, however, is that the ramp is normally removed and the entrance to the camper is through a door in the side-ramp area, which makes entrance and egress a much easier proposition than usual. The low floor height of the center bed also means that the camper need not be so high above the road to give adequate interior headroom as in a conventional pickup, which improves both handling and fuel economy. Rampsides which have been modified to carry one of these campers will usually have some holes cut in the bed, wiring added to power the camper, small holes along the top of the bed where the mounting strips attached, and heavy duty rear springs to give normal ride height with the camper in the bed.

    6. The AmbleWagon Greenbrier: This was a factory produced ambulance conversion of the Greenbrier Sportswagon. Only three are known to exist. It was built by Automotive Conversion Corporation of Birmingham, Michigan.
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    7. Assorted other Corvan Oddities: It is apparent that Chevrolet would assemble any desired arrangement of body panels into a Corvan for a fleet order (see the Bell System Corvan above as an example). Some Corvans have a full window option except for the windows on the left side opposite the right side doors. Some 8-door Corvans were delivered with one rear side-window but not the other. We also have reports of more than one Corvan/Greenbrier hearse. The giveaway her is a full-width single rear door in place of the dual barn doors, as seen on other hearses. If you run across any of these and are sure it came from the factory that way, or was a commercial conversion, send us a picture!

    Production Numbers:

    (source: The Corvair Decade Author: Fiore, Anthony LCCN: 80-66713)

    Total Production: 127,221 (7% of all Corvairs)

    Quantity Produced by Year and Model:

    Year Rampside Loadside Corvan Greenbrier Year
    Model R1254 R1244 R1205 R1206 Total
    1961 10,787 2,475 15,806 18,489 47,557
    1962 4,102 369 13,491 18,007 35,969
    1963 2,046 --- 11,161 13,761 26,969
    1964 851 --- 8,147 6,201 15,199
    1965 --- --- --- 1,528 1,528

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    Sources Used:

    The shop and assembly manuals and the SAE tech paper are available reprinted from various Corvair parts vendors. The Corvair Decade and the CORSA Communique are available from the Corvair Society of America.


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