Corvair emblem Corsa

A Mixed Bag of Corvairs

Corvair-powered Kellison

Tom Piantanida built this Kellison GT40K between 1971 and 1974. The GT40K body was designed to fit that era's VW bug pan, but Tom truncated the pan and built a sub-frame to accept a reverse-rotation Corvair engine and Saginaw 4-speed transaxle.

Kellison GT-40K (side view)

As far as Tom knows, in the early 1970s, he was the sole producer of reverse-rotation Corvair starter motors. They, of course, were necessary in reverse-rotation engine setups.

Tom's fond memories of the Kellison GT include an entry into one car show where it took Best Custom and Best of Show awards. He eventually sold it at a special-interest car auction in Atlanta.

Kellison GT-40K (high 3/4 view)
Corvair-powered Kellison GT40K

A true Corvair Love Affair

Tom's connection to the Corvair did not end with the sale of the Kellison. In the spring of 1980, at race driver's school, he met Patty Lee, the young woman he would eventually marry. She was driving her father's Corvair, a Yenko Stinger clone, and he was driving Frank Leary's C Prod National Championship 280Z. (Tom had been Frank's crew chief for his National Championship, two IMSA GTU wins, and an attempt at the 24 Hours of Daytona.)

Patty's parents, Dr. Richard and Mrs. Louise Lee, were the medical team for the Northern Pacific Division of the SCCA. It was in their garage that Tom and Patty built the Stinger into a racer.

Corvair racer campaigned by Patty Lee and Tom Piantanida
Patty Lee and Tom Piantanida built this Corvair to sting the competition

Once it was finished, the Stinger was campaigned in SCCA Solo I events. At that time, it had a .040"-over 140 engine with four single barrel carbs modified with bottom jets and new vents; a Borg-Warner 4-speed; and Velvetouch sintered-metal brake linings.

The next season, Tom adapted GMC A-body disc brakes to the front end, and built a twin-master-cylinder brake proportioning system using a Thunderbird proportioning valve. Patty and Tom were quite successful in Solo I, and even sharing the car, the pair placed second and fourth in one season and first and third in another. They also competed in the Racing Drivers Club Marty Illgen Four Hour Enduro at Sears Point and finished fourth in the over 1700CC class.

In addition to Solo I (in which Piantanida was Chief Steward for a while), he and Patty campaigned the car in SCCA Regional, and eventually, National races. They raced at Sears Point, Laguna Seca, and Portland. Solo I venues also included an airport course that Tom and Patty mapped out at the Naval Air Station in Crows Landing (a 1500 acre NASA facility in the Central Valley of California), and the quarter-mile oval at Stockton 99 Speedway in Stockton, California.

For three years, Patty and Tom both qualified for the Regional Invitational Races at the end of the year, even though they had to share the car in Regional events. Only one of the two could drive the car in each Regional event, of course, and only the top five drivers in each class were invited to race in the year-end races. Still, the car was reliable enough and finished close enough to the front of the pack each time for both Patty and Tom to qualify. Thus, they raced against each other in the Invitationals. One year, they rented Bob Compton's "Darth Vair" Yenko, and the other two years, they rented Doug Hargrove's R&D Racing Yenko. Tom beat Patty when he was driving Bob's car and she beat him when he was driving Doug's car (he remembers blowing up Doug's motor one year, and the next year, crashing the car at Turn 6 at Sears Point.)

Over the years, Patty and Tom's Stinger evolved to have four-wheel disc brakes with the rears using Cadillac Seville caliper mounts, calipers and re-drilled Eldorado discs; a vertical fan assembly of their own design, consisting of a Porsche 911 fan housing with a cut-down Austin American fan (because the Porsche fan turned the wrong way); Weber 40IDA three-barrel carburetors; cylinder heads that had been stripped of all ferrous metals, heat treated, with high-interference-fit valve seats installed; an Elgin camshaft; a high-volume oil pump using Chevrolet 409 pump gears; a fabricated cross-member that allowed the entire drivetrain to swivel down for service and disassembly; one-inch longer fabricated half-shafts that increased the track by two inches without adding an additional load to the rear axle bearings; front and rear fender box flares that Tom and Patty cast in molds they designed and built; a close-ratio Saginaw four-speed; and "a few other assorted goodies."

They sold the car in 1989 to the sponsor of Charlie Yarborough, who also raced a Yenko Stinger, and the car was shipped to San Pedro, CA. They believe it still exists.

Photos by Tom Piantanida
2006 www.corvaircorsa.com

Reach Tom Piantanida by email:
tom@greenleafmed.com

That wraps up the mixed bag for the moment. Other pictures of Corvairs and Corvair-related vehicles will be added to this section in the future. Notice of new additions will be posted to the site's Update Log when they are available.

End of Mixed Bag feature.

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