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The Story Behind Lifemobile

Two years ago, I bought a Corvair on Ebay.  As both my children will attest, I often do silly things.  But I’d grown up with Vairs; in 1959, when I was four, my father had eagerly brought home a gray 1960 four-door.  In 1965, on our way home from church, that Vair’s engine suddenly dropped to the street– a catastrophic failure that might have caused lesser men to consider buying a different make of vehicle.  Not my father!  Less than 24 hours later, he eagerly brought home a new blue ’65 four-door Monza.

Corvairs were also in the news back in 2010.  GM was bankrupt, and noted auto journalist Paul Ingrassia laid a heaping helping of the blame on the Corvair-Nader debacle.  At the same time, Toyotas were racing out of control due to sticking accelerators.  Some called them the most dangerous autos on America’s highways since – repeat after me – the Corvair.

So, I bought a Corvair, a ’65 Corsa convertible.  Black with a white top.  I think I like looking at it as much as I like driving it.  Not that it’s perfectly restored or in cherry condition – far from it.  But it’s such a gorgeously styled car; to me, it’s a finely sculpted work of art.

But when I brought the Corvair home – a thousand mile drive without incident from Kansas City – my son wanted nothing to do with it.  “It’s just an old car, Dad,” he repeated over and over.  My son has Asperger’s Syndrome, or what some call “high-functioning autism.”  He can be pretty rigid at times, and when he makes his mind up about something, that’s usually it.

But not this time.  Somehow, I ended up telling him about Nader, Unsafe at Any Speed, and the harm they did to the Corvair’s reputation and sales.  Then I told him what most people don’t know; that many years after Nader’s book, the U.S. government found the Corvair was as safe or safer than comparable cars of its time.

“So Corvairs weren’t really unsafe,” he said.  “They got stereotyped because they were different.  Like me.”  A chill went up my spine that he saw himself in — and felt such a kinship with — this car.  Suddenly, he became fascinated by all things Corvair and only wanted to ride in our Corvair.  To my astonishment, he even volunteered to help me work on it.  We’ve spent a lot of very high quality time together on our Corvair.  It turned out that buying it wasn’t so silly after all.  In fact, it changed our lives.

That was how I came to write Lifemobile, a story about a special boy and a special car that changes the boy’s world forever