Five Things: May 27, 2021

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Why The Rear-Engine 1960-1969 Chevrolet Corvair Failed | Pete Dunton

A few weeks ago I threatened you with an issue dedicated to cars, and what better time than when my subscriber list doubled between issues and this is the first one going out to a bunch of people I don’t know? Hello, welcome, and apologies in advance!

I’ve always had a casual interest in cars, from youthful obsessions with Mustangs & Pacers and a stint in the Army as a Light Wheel Vehicle Mechanic (63B1P), to a pandemic-inspired revival of collecting diecast cars and my recent acquisition of a 1965 Chevrolet Corvair. As the saying goes, I know just enough about cars to be dangerous, but there was something especially appealing about owning a really old car that’s completely analog and, coincidentally, quirky as hell.

I didn’t know anything about Corvairs when I found mine on Craigslist last fall—35k miles, unmodified, drivable condition with DIY restoration potential—but when I saw it in person it was love at first sight. I’d watched this video beforehand and was aware of its history, but after taking a test drive I was firmly in the “F**k Ralph Nader!” camp. Dunton’s monotone delivery is an acquired taste, but his channel offers a wealth of great information about cars, and I just now realized he has a standalone website with articles if you’re not into videos.


Curbside Classic: The Best European Car Ever Made In America: 1965 Corvair Monza | Paul Niedermeyer

“The 1965 Corvair was the best European car ever ever made in America. And if that alone doesn’t explain the Corvair’s inevitable failure, lets just say that in 1965 Americans were eating a lot more Wonder Bread than baguettes.”

When I get into something new, I tend to dive deep until I find the bottom or get bored. My Corvair journey has seen me go deeper than ever, and has reinforced two of my fundamental beliefs: there’s an audience for everything on the internet; and, if there’s an underdog in a fight, I’ll instinctively gravitate towards it.

The thought of owning a classic car was daunting at first, especially one with the Corvair’s history, but I’ve been amazed by the vibrant online communities, including a few dedicated businesses, sharing information and resources about how to take care of them, and happily expounding on why they’re so special. There’s also a network of in-person communities I can’t wait to start engaging with when that kind of thing isn’t also potentially life-threatening.

Chevrolet’s air-cooled, rear engine experiment remains as unique today as it was in the 60s, but it’s also a fascinating part of automotive history you can appreciate even if you’re not a fan. Driving my 1965 Corvair Monza Sedan around, whether for the hell of it or local errands, has been an unexpected personal pleasure in this shitstorm of a year, and a professional reminder that niche / enthusiast media will always be my favorite underdog.


A Response to Gentrification’s Attack on Car Culture | Chris Rosales

“So in spite of the damage the automobile has done to marginalized communities (the most overt of which being the interstate system), car shows, car gatherings, and cruises all happen to be powerful social vectors for community building, for individual agency and creativity, and as a means to generate much-needed money and stability.”

Where I live in Northern New Jersey, what I’ve seen of old car culture so far makes it seem like an old white guy activity, but broadly speaking, it’s a pretty diverse community with a lot of distinct and not always overlapping subcultures. Of course, that means it’s not immune to the many systemic issues that plague society, and there’s no such thing as “stick to cars!”

When we bought the car last fall, we had to drive through parts of central Jersey (yeah, it exists) that were pure Trump Country, and the guy we bought it from was a lowkey anti-masker. I attended an outdoor Corvair Swap Meet at the beginning of May about an hour from our home, and felt bad that I was surprised by the lack of MAGA hats in the mix.

I’m still hopeful that I’ll find an engaged, diverse community of car enthusiasts nearby before long, but reading Rosales’ essay on gentrification and car culture struck a bunch of chords for me.


Inside the World of Hot Wheels Rally Car Racing | Zaron Burnett III

Last year, a month into the pandemic and about a week after my father died from COVID, I discovered the insane world of diecast racing via this article at Mel Magazine. It focused on 3DBotMaker, arguably the biggest name on the scene then and now, but it led me down an amazing rabbit hole of video creators who put on racing tournaments with diecast cars.

Quarantine birthed a bunch of new creators, some of whom have steadily improved the quality of their productions to be on par with 3DBotMaker’s ESPN-level efforts, while others have remained delightfully low tech, just a dude with an iPhone and basic track layout entertaining his kid. There’s even a bi-weekly SportsCenter-style recap called DSPN Diecast Racing Report that offers recaps of races from a variety of creators.

Because I don’t do anything halfway, I also started collecting diecast cars again and, “thanks” to Ebay, have nearly 200 cars waiting for me to make space and build my own track. I doubt I’ll go so far as to make my own videos, but I’ve learned to never say never!


Subaru, Red Bull and Rabbit Holes—How I Got Sucked into Rally

Closing with a a flashback to 2.5 years ago when my historically casual and fluctuating interest in cars finally hit 5th gear, and I fell face first into the rabbit hole that eventually led to this entire issue focusing on cars. To connect the dots to professional interests most of you presumably share, it’s also a lesson in long tail discovery and the power of really good content marketing.

Last January [2018], thanks to the fickle magic of YouTube’s algorithm, I stumbled upon Donut Media’s “Up To Speed” video about the Subaru WRX, a car I’ve inexplicably lusted over for years and have spent many, many hours driving virtually in Forza Horizon 1, 2 and 3. That video was later followed by one about Group B—”the most insanely dangerous racing series ever known to man“—and eventually the algorithm uncovered season 6 of Launch Control, a series documenting Subaru Rally Team USA’s run at the 2018 American Rally Association championship.

After binge-watching that season, I was hooked and wanted to attend a rally event in person, hitting Google to learn more. And more. And more. And so much more!

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