- - Thursday, November 8, 2012

By the time Jim Simpson was between his sophomore and junior years at Washburn University in Topeka, he very used Plymouth Valiant had developed an ominous death rattle.

He was an autocross fan and with that sport in mind he began shopping for a car that was affordable. He noticed a lot of rear-engine Chevrolet Corvairs at autocross events.

Well equipped new Corvairs had sticker prices in the neighborhood of $3,000 which was too pricey for a college student.

Then the clouds parted and on the used car lot of Jim Clark Chrysler Mr. Simpson found a top-of-the-line 1966 Corvair Corsa two-door hardtop with 27,660 miles on the odometer. The relatively high mileage on a two-year-old car didn’t faze him. ‘They were probably easy highway miles,’ he figured.

In the time honored tradition of college students everywhere, he quickly made a withdrawal from the ‘Bank of Mom’ and still has the receipt from Jim Clark Chrysler for the $1,648 he paid for the Corvair.

He recalls the sporty marina blue car with positraction was well prepped by the dealership. The first thing he did was drive his new used car to the parking lot of the Menninger Clinic where he had a part-time job. Everyone there had to take a look at the Corvair, even Marolyn, a young lady in the research lab. The two dated until he graduated in 1970, and joined the U.S. Navy and drove off in his 180-horsepower Corvair to his first assignment in Newport, R.I.

After a few months the Navy reassigned him to Vallejo, Calif. Driving his Corvair coast to coast he stopped by Topeka to see Marolyn. Next the Navy sent him in his trusty Corvair to Idaho Falls, Idaho. With that duty completed, he was assigned to New London, Conn. Naturally, he drove his Corvair via Phoenix to see his mother and Topeka to see Marolyn.

Between two assignments to Norfolk, Va., sandwiched around one to Portsmouth, N.H. the young couple managed time to get married.

In October, 1972 he shipped out on an attack submarine for six months. Before he left, the new Mrs. Simpson was given instructions that every Sunday night she was to fire up the Corvair and drive it on a prescribed route to keep the car limber for the eventual return of its owner.

By the mid-1970s Mr. Simpson left the Navy and the couple bought a house in Bowie. One requirement was that it had to have a large garage.

In 1978 the clutch started slipping and the decision was made to restore the Corvair.

In 1979 he had dropped the six-cylinder air-cooled engine out of the car and had begun stripping it. ‘Taking it apart is easy,’ he says.

The engine and transmission were quickly rebuilt and then progress came to a halt in 1981. The stumbling block was the realization that the next step involved the nasty, messy job of cleaning and scraping the bottom of the Corvair. Years passed before Mr. Simpson constructed a wooden rotisserie on which the car could be twisted and turned in order that the bottom could be cleaned with the laborers standing upright.

‘This is where I come in again,’ Mrs. Simpson volunteers.

The bottom was quickly cleaned and then progress ended as the Simpsons spent the next two years preparing for the 1991 National Corvair Convention which their local group hosted.

With that task out of the way, work resumed on the Corvair. The Simpsons set a date to have the car completed. In June 1997 the National Corvair Convention was going to be at Lake Placid, N.Y. They wanted to show their car there.

Paint the color of the original was applied and completed in March 1997 and a new blue tinted windshield was installed.

So obsessed with authenticity, Mr. Simpson spent a cold wintry day in a Pennsylvania Corvair junk yard in search of five special screws to hold the air intake by the engine.

On June 14 the engine was bolted together.

Mrs. Simpson stood guard with a fire extinguisher and a camera as her husband fired up the engine in the freshly restored Corvair.

Monday and Tuesday were spent travelling the 550 miles to Lake Placid on backroads in the rain on 7.00x13-inch bias ply tires.

After cleaning the rain-soaked Corvair Mr. Simpson decided to enter his Corvair for judging to learn how good his restoration had been and what areas need improving.

Imagine his surprise when his Corvair was awarded a gold medal in the senior division. It’s a positive memory he recalls everytime he slides behind the leather-wrapped genuine simulated wood two-spoke steering wheel.

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