From our 2000s perspective, it’s hard to think back to realize how radical Chevy’s Corvair Rampside pickup really was. In many ways, it was more of a shift in pickup design than the Tesla Cybertruck is seen as today. But, everything about the Corvair pickup was a departure. From its rear-engine location to the cab-forward design it was unique in more ways. Its novel built-in ramp allowed for loading from the side. This had never been seen or imagined before.
GM went after VW with its Corvair line of radical cars and trucks
Chevy made the unorthodox decision to go after Volkswagen back in the mid-1950s. Its plan, which it fulfilled, was to offer more versions of its rear-engine vehicles than VW. Two- and four-door sedans, convertibles, station wagons, a van, and a pickup truck were all aimed directly at VW.
Called the Corvair 95, these pickups were added to the Corvair line in 1961. This was the second year of Corvair production. The “95” came from the pickup’s 95-inch wheelbase. Its forward control cabin was a first, as was the rear-engine location, and the air-cooled engine. This was a direct shot at VW because there was nothing like it manufactured by Americans.
The pickup featured two cab-forward pickups
Besides one-upping VW with an air-cooled six-cylinder engine as opposed to VW’s four, it had more ideas. There were two cab-forward pickups available. The “Loadside” was configured like a conventional pickup except for the engine in the rear and cab-forward design. Adding to the Corvair truck’s uniqueness was the “Rampside.”
The Rampside featured a ramp that was integrated into the bodysides. It could fold out from the body and swing down to the ground. Cargo was loaded or unloaded by cart or by hand down the ramp. It was a novel idea that only saw production on this one Chevy product. The Loadside version was the same but without the side ramp. Loading was handled through a swing-down tailgate as with a conventional pickup.
An 80 hp air-cooled engine was a radical powerplant departure
The 80 hp air-cooled engine was a flat opposed-cylinder, six-cylinder featuring the radical idea of a split case. It was hooked to either a two-speed Powerglide automatic transmission or four-speed manual trans. The Loadside was capable of a 1,750 lb payload. As this was also found in the Corvair passenger line Chevy performed a few upgrades to handle the extra loads the engine would be under.
Better exhaust valves, exhaust valve rotators, a bit lower compression, and carburetors were given larger jets for a better fuel mixture. The aluminum engine block could be split down the middle to aid in engine rebuilding. Also beefed up was the swing-axle rear suspension from the sedans.
In front, the I-beam axle was sourced from the Corvair sedans. It was soon replaced with the front axle from the conventional half-ton pickups.
The semi-unitized body received a subframe for the cargo bed area. The bed itself was double-walled.
The Rampside pickups sold well their first year, but then…
Things started off with a bang as sales reached 13,262 units sold in 1961. Of those, 80% were the Rampside version. By 1962 sales had dropped off to only 4,471 for Rampsides. The Loadside version just eked out 369 pickups. It was not produced after 1962.
The Rampside continued to be produced with sales in 1963 falling to 2,046, then 851 for 1964 which was its final year of production.
Today there is a good network of parts suppliers, and a club with lots of info called the Corvanitics.