Modern Rodding FEATURE
’65 Corvair Sports a Mid-Engine–Mounted Corvette LS3
By Brian BrennanPhotography by Dale Moreau

e could have easily titled this story “Pull Me Over Red” as that truly is the Chevrolet name of this factory color. But alas we didn’t give way and stayed the course as to what the ’65 Corvair Corsa really is–a RareVair. (The Corsa is to the Corvair what the SS is to the Chevrolet line.) If you have followed along the past two issues of Modern Rodding you will be aware of the construction articles penned by Ron Ceridono on this RareVair. What was once an old and tired ’65 Corvair is now resurrected into a ’65 RareVair brimming full with great ideas, amazing craftsmanship, and nifty parts all from the fertile mind of Lonnie Gilbertson of Oregon.

A quick visit to the web and you will find Lonnie’s Place and see that this is no ordinary hot rod shop and Lonnie is something special. If the name sounds familiar then that probably means you’ve been around this hobby for some time. You see, he’s a two-time winner (1971 and 1975) of the Grand National Roadster Show’s America’s Most Beautiful Roadster award. He’s been inducted into the Portland Roadster Show Hall of Fame–on three separate occasions. He is also a Boise Roadster Show Master Builder and his hot rods have graced the covers of numerous magazines.

The mid-engine power comes from an ’09 Corvette LS3 that’s an all-aluminum V-8 that now sports a Comp Cams kit, mild head work, and is topped off with a Holley Sniper EFI and their vintage-looking valve cover system. Because of the polished and chrome Spectre Performance air cleaner system. It’s outfitted with a Holley EFI kit working in conjunction with a standalone PSI Engineering engine harness adapted to work with a stock GM computer while all of the wiring chores were handled by Mike Markovich. One will also be quick to notice the full-custom exhaust effort by Tom Phillips. Lonnie, being a racer at heart, has always enjoyed the look of 180-degree headers and he knew he just had to have them on the RareVair. From this point John Keller of Keller’s exhaust built the exhaust system from the collectors and utilized a pair of polished stainless Borla S-Type mufflers.

1965 Corvair
Unlike the vast majority of hot rods, the “transmission” in this RareVair is really a mid-’70s 930 Turbo Porsche transaxle, which according to Lonnie is plenty stout enough to handle the power and shifting chores. Speaking of “potency” this LS3 is pushing above 550 hp! Why the Porsche transaxle? It’s both strong and places the differential between the motor and the trans. This allows the motor to set back in the car, giving more room for the driver and passenger located in the front bucket seats. Kennedy Engineering supplied the adaptor and clutch assembly while Patrick Motorsports supplied the cable-operated shifter. The powertrain uses a Wilwood clutch hydraulic cylinder while the brakes and its corresponding master cylinder are from Baer. The pedal assembly is a modified Corvair system. Cooling is supplied by a conventionally front-mounted, custom-fabricated aluminum radiator by Mac’s Radiator (based on the core size of an ’09 Corvette for an LS3 motor) fitted with a SPAL electric fan. Next there are two 1-1/2-inch stainless steel tubes that move the water back and forth between engine and radiator.

The wheels are the ET Sebring that feature a pin drive knock-off. The wheels are based on 16-inch diameters and mounted to them are Toyo Proxes R888Rs (205/55ZR16 and 255/50ZR16). I’ll let Lonnie tell us this part of the story.

car interior
lights inside car
“Jeff Lindsay was added to the team to handle all of the metal fabrication with his first assignment to repair the rust that was found here and there. Next, we tackled the tire and wheel issue in the rear. When the rears were too small and the new rears wouldn’t fit, I was beside myself as I didn’t want to mess with the sheetmetal and the bodylines. We ended up cutting the inner wheelwell totally free. And then, just above the rocker sail from the wheel opening we cut it straight and forward to the door, and we cut the back at that same level all the way to the rear bumper. And then we put a Porta Power (a compact modular hydraulic tool) inside and “pushed” the fender out. It made an awesome adjustment with a little bulge in the back and now it’s 5-1/2 to 6 inches wider than a stock Corvair, but those fenders came out enough about 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 inches on each side. That allowed the new larger tire to go up in there and now we just had to fab everything back together. So that was the biggest body mod on the back of the car.”

The front fenders were pulled out just a bit at the rear of them in order to assist with the cosmetics and the flow of the new bodylines resulting from the widening of the rear. A word on the bumpers, which are stock. The rear bumper had to be widened and curved to compensate for the widening of the rear quarter-panels. It should be noted that Mastercraft was responsible for all of the chrome work on the RareVair.

under the hood
Look again and you will notice there are three distinct sets of scoops on the rear section of the RareVair. There’s the GT 40–style low and in front of the rear wheels, which are plumbed and serve to scoop air in for the intake. Next the pair of small scoops at the rear of the side quarter windows and just above the tire brings in cool air that helps move warm air out of the doghouse where the engine resides. Lasty there are the pair of large scoops at the base of the rear window and above the stock decklid, which also help air to move in and out of the engine compartment.

Another nifty piece of sheetmetal work is the use of what appears to be six taillights, ala Impala. In reality the outer four lights are just that, taillights. The inner two are really the exhaust pipes and when the engine is running there’s a bright red ring that is lit.

A word on the paint–yep, named by Chevrolet as “Pull me Over Red.” Ben Conley handled all of the body- and paintwork.

under the car
close up of car parts
Onto the suspension. As it turns out Lonnie and Brent VanDervort are friends based on their common hobbies: airplanes and hot rods. After a conversation where Lonnie was telling VanDervort about the RareVair he told Lonnie, “Well, I make an IFS for that car.” So, guess what’s under the front: a Fatman Fabrication IFS. The front suspension carrier bolts into position as a stock Corvair. QA1 coilover shocks are used at the corners and in back the stock Corvair trailing arms were retained after Lonnie boxed them for strength. Next up are custom half shafts and lower strut rods to finish off the rear suspension. Steering is handled by a mint-condition factory quick steering box that’s used in conjunction with an E Power Steering (electric power steering) unit. The modified stock column is topped with a factory sport steering wheel.

Onto the interior. The seating most assuredly grabs your attention and it should be noted that the twin buckets are ’69 Camaro and the seat tracks from the early Corvair will bolt to the Camaro seats and, voilá they bolt right in. Dan Leisy of Dan’s Auto Upholstery is responsible for the upholstery and he obtained a Camaro bucket seat kit with side bolsters and stitched them onto the what is now Corvair seating. Leisy took control of the interior knowing what Lonnie wanted and after looking at Dino Ferrari seats his inspiration came from them.

Initially the seats were bolted into the car and you can see a center console that runs from the firewall to the back flowing between the seats. Initially Lonnie sat in the driver’s position, and while holding a gearshift ball in his right hand and resting his arm as if he were in a comfortable driving position measurements were taken. It was at this point that the exact height of the console was determined. It also allowed for the positioning of the Patrick Engineering cable shifter in the position that he thought was most comfortable. From here Marty Strode and Lindsay hand-formed the center console and dog house out of aluminum.

rear of 1965 Corvair
Lonnie felt it would be hard to improve on the Corsa dash so he kept it but had new lenses made and retained the conical shape, all the while Dakota Digital was designing and making custom instruments. The A/C is a combination of Old Air for the underdash unit along with a Vintage Air dryer.

Glass was another project of rather large proportions. Every piece of glass in the RareVair is curved. He was able to find a great deal from one supplier but the rear glass proved to be an impossibility and until he found Ball’s Rod and Kustom it wasn’t looking good. As it turns out they have a custom glass service. Lonnie then sent the old rear glass to them and they used it to make a mold and make a fresh piece of glass.

There’s lots more to tell but you get the picture. I bet Ralph Nadar would be impressed with this Corvair! Whether you call it a RareVair or Pull Me Over Red, this is one Corvair that will pull its weight at any hot rod event.

Modern Rodding
VOLUME 2 • ISSUE 14 • 2021