One of the characteristics plaguing the 1962-1964 Chevrolet Corvair Monza Spyder's development into more of a sporting (rather than economy) car was go-power.
The 80 bhp engine couldn't compete with an Austin-Healey Sprite, and the 95-102 bhp units, though reasonably lively, were hardly powerhouses.
Conventional hot-rodding techniques used on ordinary in-line or V-8 engines was inappropriate for the flat six, so General Motors ventured down another avenue: turbocharging.
The turbo-supercharger was invented by Sanford Moss in the 1920s, where it was used initially in aviation. The principle is simple: exhaust gasses spin an impeller, whose power is transferred by a shaft running to a compressor, which in turn pressurizes the fuel/air mixture on its way to the carburetors. As the exhaust flow increases and its temperature rises, the turbine spins faster, thus adding positive manifold pressure or "boost."
By the time the Spyder came along, turbochargers were widely used on Diesel trucks, and today, of course, they are commonplace on performance cars. For a car in the 1960s, however, it was a fairly novel idea, but it offered obvious advantages over conventional superchargers as fitted to Corvairs by Judson and Paxton.
The turbo required no mechanical drive, made no noise or vibration, was efficient in the use of space, functioned only on demand, cost little in fuel economy, was cheap to build, and, of course, greatly increased power.
The Spyder's was made by the Thompson Valve Division of Thompson-Ramo-Wooldridge Inc., and hooked to a fairly ordinary Carter YH sidedraft carburetor (the same one as used on the early Corvettes and Nash-Healeys).
Because of the heat generated by the system, super-strength materials were specified for many internal applications: chrome steel for the crankshaft, for example. The entire induction and exhaust system was tailored to the engine.
By using a special reverse-flow muffler, a tuned air cleaner, and a tailpipe exactly nine inches long, Chevrolet not only successfully kept maximum pressure down to a safe limit, but also obtained a throaty exhaust note.
Impeller speed remained constant after 4,600 rpm, but if the muffler was removed the low restriction and increased output could exceed the engine's strength.
The result of all this work was 150 horsepower at 4,400 rpm or better than one bhp per cubic inch -- nearly 50 percent better than the concurrent 102 bhp "stage two" Corvair engine.
Torque shot up 64 percent to 210 pounds/feet at 3,200-3,400 rpm. "Chevy boosted the size of its air-cooled engine from 145 to 220 cid (the equivalent if naturally aspirated), yet the extra weight involved is only 30 lb!," said Road & Track.
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
Chevrolet claimed that "usable" power was up 90 percent over the 102 hp version, which was at least partly true around 3,000 rpm; past that point, torque fell off.
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