A Subaru WRX-powered Corvair | Low-Buck Tech

By Staff Writer
Dec 2, 2021 | Chevrolet, Subaru, WRX, Low-Buck Tech, Covair | Posted in Features | From the June 2021 issue | Never miss an article

Many people race Lemons for the cheap track time, others in an earnest attempt to win, and some as an excuse to build a silly car. Texas-based team Nader H8Rs probably falls (at least in part) into all three categories, but when you’re racing a Subaru WRX-powered Corvair, there’s a bit of bias toward the third. 

Internet car forums are full of swap ideas like this, where a particular feature of a car and a particular feature of an engine make them seem like a good match. Both the Corvair and Subaru share a horizontally opposed engine design, so they’re theoretically compatible–but not that many people have turned this idea into reality. With a Lemons race as the deadline, however, the Nader H8Rs had to get off the forums and into the garage to make it happen.

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The team, made up of self-described “old-fart hotrodders, motorcycle racers and general knuckleheads,” admired the Corvair design–especially the elegant shape of the updated 1965-’69 version. But they had no particular allegiance to the stock air-cooled flat-six, which turned out to be fortunate because the $300 1965 shell they found rotting in a Texas field didn’t have an engine (or, for that matter, floors). 

After considering a V8 swap, the team came across a wrecked mid-2000s Subaru WRX complete with a running 2.0-liter turbo boxer-four. With that on-paper similarity between the WRX and Corvair layouts in mind, the team set out to combine the two. 

It wasn’t quite a bolt-in proposition. In the rear, a custom engine cradle was fabricated using stock Corvair lower control arms and custom uppers. The engine was placed much farther forward than in a stock Corvair–much of it wound up in what used to be the back seat. The stock Subaru transmission was modified for two-wheel-drive-only use.

Up front, the Corvair retained most of its stock suspension, but the team continues to struggle with bumpsteer and alignment issues. As each Lemons race is effectively an extended R&D session, they hope the car will be a little better every time they show up. 

A competition fuel cell was added up front, and with the WRX engine sitting toward the middle of the car, the radiator and intercooler were installed behind it. Cooling has been an issue–with a maze of coolant pipes and the radiator sitting nearly flat, the team figures it isn’t using nearly the full capacity of the radiator. The elaborate tube routing also affects the turbo system–with several feet of pipe running through a probably-too-large intercooler, at one point the team figured there was 15 seconds of turbo lag. Just another couple of minor items for the “things to improve” list. 

A build like this is clearly a tougher path than bringing, say, a stock Miata, but Lemons is one of the few venues in road racing where unusual builds like this are encouraged. And in the end, many aspects of the car hobby are about setting up unnecessary challenges just to solve them.

Although the team is the first to admit that the car is still a work in progress, one initial drawback has definitively improved with time: “For the first 20 laps, there was a constant stream of rust particles flying around the entire interior,” says team captain Jim Tharp. “The flow is diminished now.”

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View comments on the GRM forums
Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
6/11/21 11:04 a.m.

This makes so much sense. There are a bunch of guys who are all about mid-engined V8 Corvairs, but the engine ends up practically pressed into the drivers back -  it's loud, hot, and not much fun to drive.  Whereas sicking something more compact in there with a proper transaxle makes sense. Kudos!

RichardSIA HalfDork
6/12/21 12:17 p.m.

Corvair transaxles are improper? devil

mspeedP5 New Reader
6/12/21 6:28 p.m.

Total Awesomeness!

aircooled MegaDork
6/12/21 9:56 p.m.
RichardSIA said:

Corvair transaxles are improper? devil

Yes, they are strangely fragile when you bolt an engine with triple the torque  to an un modified one....

They are surprisingly strong when you put a 4 spider setup in them.  The trans (66+) was a Saginaw that is very similar to the full size car version.

I find the engine swap interesting, and it was one of convenience.  Dropping a FWD drivetrain in the back seat is a good way to go.  I happen to know a Speed 3 has almost the exact wheel track as a late Corvair...

noddaz GRM+ Memberand UberDork
6/14/21 7:15 a.m.

Nice to see a Corvair racing.

Just speculating of course, but here I go.

Pull the high beams and front turn signals out, vent the hood and move the radiator to the front.

Put a scoop on the rear engine air vents at the base of the back glass.  Move the intercooler towards that air vent and remove the back up light assembly to let air out of the engine bay area


No one asked but I gave my opinion anyway.

RichardSIA HalfDork
6/14/21 10:53 a.m.

If the radiator is moved to the front a second electric water pump may be needed. Water has to flow all the way around. Single stock pump might not handle that well.

aircooled MegaDork
6/14/21 12:11 p.m.

Rear mounted radiators (even condensers) have always been an issue with Corvair engine conversions.  Not sure the water pump pressure is an issue, I don't think that is normally a thing with a V8 conversion.  Front mounted radiators / condensers are certainly the best option.

The removal of the rear glass is probably a good idea.  Remove the rear side windows and use them as intakes.

jr02518 HalfDork
6/14/21 12:23 p.m.

Just graft the front end of a Corvair on to a Tesla, that would be an improvement.

AutoXR HalfDork
6/15/21 4:28 p.m.

In reply to Kreb (Forum Supporter) :

If you use a modern transaxle like a Cayman S there's tons of leg room.  Like my 68 with a Cayman S trans and 2016 LT1

Kreb (Forum Supporter)
Kreb (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand UberDork
6/15/21 4:41 p.m.

In reply to AutoXR :

Wait, that's yours? surprise Wow, beautiful piece of work. I'm very jealous. On the Corvair forums most people seem to want to go the Crown route. which makes little sense to me.

My dream is to restomod one via a Porsche or converted Subbie transmission fed by a LFX in the rear like god intended.  

AutoXR HalfDork
6/17/21 10:47 a.m.

In reply to Kreb (Forum Supporter) :

It is indeed mine.  I looked at Crown but the fragility of the transmission combined with the leg room drove me away.  Others have successfully used C5 vette transqxles, but again leg room issues.  My father has this one.   930 trans, LS1 from an 03 vette, going on 13 years without issue. 

Alfaromeoguy HalfDork
8/25/21 1:49 a.m.

In reply to The Staff of Motorsport Marketing :

i have always loved Corvairs from the 1965  model to the last.... beautiful lines ;;; quick fact.. old godzilla movies from the eary 60's  the car godzill steps on??? little model corvairs

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