volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse Reader
6/4/12 11:09 a.m.

This past Saturday, the local Greenville, SC chapter of CORSA held its first autocross of 2012. For those only familiar with the Corvair in a cultural sense, this might seem akin to getting a bunch of epileptics together and attempting to shoot apples off of their heads with buckshot. But, if you move past Mr. Nader's book and actually get behind the wheel of an American Porsche, what you'll find is a car that, in the hands of a driver who understands the difference between oversteer and understeer, is quite a capable handler.

Unfortunately, although I am both a member of the Greenville Corvair Club and a member of the board of said club, none of my Corvairs was in operational status on Saturday morning. So I drove this:

Luckily, the Corvair drivers were understanding of my plight and let me turn timed laps in my German tank. There was, though, a bit of speculation in the stands as to how the MB would match up to the Corvairs. My 450SL is a 1980 model, which as the last year for the 450 before they went to the 380 engine in the R107 chassis. It is a heavy engine, and was rated at only 160HP by the time the EPA was through with it. My particular example is a good-running, 135,000 mile, mostly-original specimen. The tires are nothing-special Michelins, 205/70R14, and the curb weight with me sitting in the driver's seat was approaching 4000 pounds. So, it wasn't quite the equivalent of bringing a gun to a knife fight, as one might expect a Mercedes-Corvair matchup to be.

It did look good on the track, though.

Every other vehicle was either a Corvair or a Corvair-powered kit car. As such, they had anywhere from 80 to 180 horsepower or so, and all under-weighed my car by a half-ton or more. Some of the Corvairs were full-on race specimens, not even street legal.

The autocross was held at Anderson Speedway, a 3/8 mile paved, banked oval. Cones were set up to create slaloms and gates, and we had an electronic timer for official lap times. Two laps around the track made one run. It quickly became evident that the Mercedes, with its low 3.0's final drive and 3 speed automatic, was going to be quickest left in first gear- even on the longest straight the engine never rev'ed over 4500 RPM. I did 3 runs, with one DNF and the other two right around a minute and a half second (1.00.500). Pretty consistent- and also very close to the top of the field.

After some discussion about the best lines around the track, I went out in the second session and turned three sub-one minute runs, all around 58 seconds or so. I DNF'd one run because of a missed gate (which, interestingly, didn't help my time at all). The MB plowed like crazy- I'd removed the rear anti-sway bar a few weeks ago due to a broken link, and still hadn't repaired it. It was an interesting contrast driving a nose-heavy, understeering front-engined car against all of the tail-happy Corvairs.

In the end it came down to me and one other car for the best time of the day. I had him beat by about a second until his second-to-last run, where he turned a 56 second time and cinched the lead. His car was a mostly-stock late model Corvair with a 140 4 carb engine and sticky autocross tires. Had I fixed the rear stabilizer bar and used better tires I'm sure I could have clobbered his time. The Michelins I was running, I later discovered, were date-coded 2000 and starting to crack. I therefore drove home very slowly and cautiously. New tires are in the works, of course. But overall, I found the 450SL to be a very capable Auto-Xer- a bit on the ponderous side, but extremely well behaved and predictable at the limit.

tuna55
tuna55 UltraDork
6/4/12 11:13 a.m.

Nicely done, Mike. Try it in the Imperial next time?

jstein77
jstein77 Dork
6/4/12 11:28 a.m.

160 hp from 4.5 liters? 3 speed automatic? We've come a long way in 32 years, haven't we?

Now what would it take to swap in a more modern drivetrain?

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse Reader
6/4/12 11:38 a.m.

The way I like to look at it, a hugely underpowered Mercedes on dry rotted tires and missing part of its suspension is almost as fast as a stock, late-model Corvair on autocross roundies.

I've thought long and hard about swapping in a 4.6 mod motor. Not only would it have more power but I'd likely do way better than the 12-14mpg this car usually averages on the highway.

bgkast
bgkast New Reader
6/4/12 1:19 p.m.

Nice. I'll have to try to get my wife out on the autocross track in her 560sl after I finish replacing the soft top. Have you considered running 15 inch wheels from a later car? In my experience those 14 inchers really roll over when you push them.

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse Reader
6/4/12 1:53 p.m.

In reply to bgkast:

I'm looking for a set of 15's right now, since I have to replace the tires anyway. 14's are pretty marginal on a 2 ton car. And the pickings in 14" tires are pretty lousy, too. My local junkyard sells 15" aluminum wheels for $30 each.

The 560 will be a blast. I have one, but I've got far too much $$ invested in it to risk it on a track. The bigger engine and lower first gear make for much better off the line performance.

My 560 is for sale, BTW...

SyntheticBlinkerFluid
SyntheticBlinkerFluid SuperDork
6/4/12 4:54 p.m.

Good that a CORSA (or the chapter) let you run. Hope you get a Corvair running.

iceracer
iceracer UltraDork
6/4/12 5:12 p.m.

The NECC (northeat corvair council) allows other cars. They all are ckassed as water pumpers. I have run several track days with them. A fiend has a race Corvair and often sets FTD.

kreb
kreb SuperDork
6/4/12 5:57 p.m.

Now that you've publically embarrased them, see if you get invited back! Seriously, I've been looking at 'Vairs, but the thought of hotting one up, only to be spanked by a fat Deutchsman on crappy tires kind of bursts the bubble

I assume that all the Corvairs presnet were rear-engined jobs? I imagine that one of the Crown conversions might have done a bit better.

Keith
Keith MegaDork
6/4/12 6:13 p.m.

I've often run with the local Corvette club. We run in the "metal car" class. The club has developed a selective blind spot, completely ignoring the results of the metal cars. Which is good, because they often get spanked pretty hard by the Miatas or Locosts we bring along. I think they like the extra cone wranglers.

Nice report! I'd love to see pictures of that SL navigating the cones. It likely appeared out of its element.

SyntheticBlinkerFluid
SyntheticBlinkerFluid SuperDork
6/4/12 7:51 p.m.
kreb wrote: Now that you've publically embarrased them, see if you get invited back! Seriously, I've been looking at 'Vairs, but the thought of hotting one up, only to be spanked by a fat Deutchsman on crappy tires kind of bursts the bubble I assume that all the Corvairs presnet were rear-engined jobs? I imagine that one of the Crown conversions might have done a bit better.

Crown Corvairs (and other mid-V8 setups) are turning more and more into show cars. There are still a few guys out there that run them in autocross and sometimes on the track, but they are becoming more of a rarity (at least here in the Chicagoland area)

IIRC V8 Corvairs can haul ass, but there is more weight in the car. So the stock cars can usually do better in the corners. They are usually in their own class anyways.

dean1484
dean1484 UltraDork
6/5/12 6:51 a.m.

160 HP??? You have to add BOOOOOOOOST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse Reader
6/5/12 7:00 a.m.
kreb wrote: Now that you've publically embarrased them, see if you get invited back! Seriously, I've been looking at 'Vairs, but the thought of hotting one up, only to be spanked by a fat Deutchsman on crappy tires kind of bursts the bubble I assume that all the Corvairs presnet were rear-engined jobs? I imagine that one of the Crown conversions might have done a bit better.

All the Corvairs were rear engine, I don't know if there were any turbos running. There was a turbo present, a '64 Convertible, very pretty car, but the owner (an 80 year old gentleman) declined to try it in the cones.

If you look at the results, I spanked every car there except one- and the Corvair that beat the Benz was a mostly-stock late model. The only thing he had that I didn't was decent tires. Auto-X is really more about the driver. There were cars there that I think were capable of besting my time, but the drivers were too cautious. I won't say I'm some sort of awesome wheelman or anything, but with a half-dozen or so autocrosses and 8 LeMons races under my belt, I at least have some idea of how to wring a decent lap out of a car.

Incidentally, the fellow in the late model who beat my time also won the prize for the best spin of the day- a 360 degree donut in the chicanes. And I DNF'd twice for plowing right past gates. So we were both driving our cars right on the hairy edges, and its instructive to see the differences in handling dynamics at the limit for these two very different cars.

Wish I had some video of my Big Benz in action. If anyone captured any I'll be sure to post the link here. i do have some videos of other Corvairs running I'll try to get Youtubed soon.

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse Reader
6/5/12 7:01 a.m.
dean1484 wrote: 160 HP??? You have to add BOOOOOOOOST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've thought about that, too- 8.5 compression sure makes that possible. Of course, my awesome 12mpg average fuel economy might take a hit.

spitfirebill
spitfirebill UltraDork
6/5/12 7:16 a.m.

I had no idea CORSA had a club in Greenville. I've always had a hankering for a Corvair since I first drove one in 196x. Let me know when and where you guys meet.

volvoclearinghouse
volvoclearinghouse Reader
6/5/12 9:20 a.m.
spitfirebill wrote: I had no idea CORSA had a club in Greenville. I've always had a hankering for a Corvair since I first drove one in 196x. Let me know when and where you guys meet.

Second Tuesday of every month (Except December). This month it will be June 12th. We've been meeting at the Fried Green Tomatoes off Congaree Rd. near Haywood Mall. We usually get there around 6PM, meeting usually starts at 6:30 or 7, we're done by 8.

website for the club: www.corsasc.com

kreb
kreb SuperDork
6/5/12 9:37 a.m.
volvoclearinghouse wrote: All the Corvairs were rear engine, I don't know if there were any turbos running. There was a turbo present, a '64 Convertible, very pretty car, but the owner (an 80 year old gentleman) declined to try it in the cones. If you look at the results, I spanked every car there except one- and the Corvair that beat the Benz was a mostly-stock late model. The only thing he had that I didn't was decent tires. Auto-X is really more about the driver. There were cars there that I think were capable of besting my time, but the drivers were too cautious. I won't say I'm some sort of awesome wheelman or anything, but with a half-dozen or so autocrosses and 8 LeMons races under my belt, I at least have some idea of how to wring a decent lap out of a car. Incidentally, the fellow in the late model who beat my time also won the prize for the best spin of the day- a 360 degree donut in the chicanes. And I DNF'd twice for plowing right past gates. So we were both driving our cars right on the hairy edges, and its instructive to see the differences in handling dynamics at the limit for these two very different cars. Wish I had some video of my Big Benz in action. If anyone captured any I'll be sure to post the link here. i do have some videos of other Corvairs running I'll try to get Youtubed soon.

You make a good point in terms of pushing cars to the limit. That's why few "kill stories" hold much water. A lot of people who have high performance and/or cars with unique handling characteristics (any rear-engined car) are a little scared of their cars. I remember running a Lotus club event at Laguna Seca and marveling at the fact that most of the Elise owners seemed to be driving at 80 percent for fear of spinning the things (Ironically my sevenesques day ended with a bent rim from... a spin out).

The mid-engined 'Vairs can be super fast, but you also loose the back seat and gain a ton of noise and heat. I've never liked the idea of having to work on an engine that you have to climb over the front seat to work on either.

benzbaronDaryn
benzbaronDaryn Dork
6/5/12 12:13 p.m.

The rear sway links are like 30$ and an hour job so get those fixed. Then check the front sway bar rubber mounts for worn out bushings, I was surprised how much better my car felt with fresh front sway bar bushings. Be sure to check your front and rear flex disc as failure of either car wreck both the driveshaft and transmission. Also be sure to check the drive shaft support mount and bearing. Other things to check are the front subframe bushing and motor mounts. Mercedes actually has a recall on the front subframe due to cracking so it is important to have that checked. Mercedes should do this for you for free and either weld in gussets or replace the subframe if it is cracked. The subframe cracks where the lower control arms bolt to the subframe, mine cracked at the front subframe mounting tab. Catastrophic failure will leave one side of the car on the ground so it is worth checking.

One of the best size rims for these car is 16x8 et11 with 225/50/16 tires, 55 profile are suppossedly too tall. I'm waiting on tires to get my Rial basketweaves installed, if you keep an eye out 16in rims aren't hard to find under 400$. Too bad there aren't any good 14in options but it is what it is.

Good luck!

BBsGarage
BBsGarage HalfDork
6/5/12 3:37 p.m.

Was REALLY looking forward to seeing pics of the car with its wheels turning in anger out on course. I am sad

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