By Matt Wolfe
It would be hard to imagine a more ironic request than Ralph Nader asking you to help sell a Corvair, but that is precisely the situation that Peter Koehler found himself in at our 2016 Induction Ceremony. Koehler, a noted Corvair collector, had displayed one of his many Corvairs at our 2016 Induction Ceremony for Nader’s Induction (you can read that story here). After the ceremony, Nader presented Koehler with a very surprising request.
“I came to pick up my car and Ralph approached me”, Koehler said during a phone interview. Nader then asked Koehler if he could help him sell a Corvair. “That was the first I’d ever heard of (the car),” Koehler said. “I don’t think anybody in the (Corvair) hobby had a clue that Ralph Nader had a Corvair to sell!” Koehler wasted little time jumping on the chance to purchase the car. “Nobody else had ever been given the opportunity to buy the car. It was really just by happenstance that I was able to purchase it.”
The Corvair in question is a 1962 Monza 900 Sedan. The car’s first owner bought it brand new in 1962 at the age of 77. After she passed away, her daughter inherited the car and kept it until her death in 1984 at age 90. It was through the daughter’s estate that the car was donated to the American Museum of Tort Law, of which Ralph Nader is President.
“The previous owner was a fan of Ralph and his consumer advocacy”, Koehler said. “(The museum) picked the car up and hauled it up to Winsted, Connecticut, where it sat in a garage unused for a dozen years.” Following the Induction Ceremony, the two parties negotiated a fair purchase price for the vehicle and arranged for Koehler to come get the car. “I drove out there with my trusty Chevy pickup and flatbed trailer; 1,600 miles and 58 hours round trip”, Koehler said. “The car was not really able to move under its own power. Luckily my trailer has a winch, so I was able to hook up a chain and push a button to get it on the trailer and bring it home.”
After bringing the car back to Michigan, Koehler set about making it road-worthy again. According to Koehler, the car was already in need of service when it was put into storage, and lying dormant for years didn’t do it any favors. “They don’t get any better sitting around”, he said. “It’s not like a fine wine. The fuel system was total junk, the brake system was non-existent, and it did run, but it ran pretty badly.” Koehler enlisted the services of a fellow Corvair Club member to help him put the car back into service, which took a bit more time than he had originally planned. “We didn’t have time to do any body-work to it, so it still has all the ugliness that it had when I picked it up, but it’s structurally sound and (now) safe to operate.
Koehler hopes the car will help promote the Corvair hobby and its history. “I think because of the prominence, the car really should be displayed in a museum”, Koehler said. “It’s a unique vehicle, I think it’s good for the hobby and it’s good for the Corvair name.” The Automotive Hall of Fame happens to share Mr. Koehler’s opinion, and as such we have agreed to display this Corvair in the Hall of Fame during the coming winter. Look for it in the Hall starting in early November!