August 15, 2004


Tim Dunlop reports a friendís almost-collision with an aimless Washington identity:

He was heading home from work, riding his bike north along 19th Street towards Dupont Circle. Up ahead he could see a homeless guy clutching his shopping bags and ambling along the sidewalk. This guy registered with my friend because past experience had taught him that whenever he rides his bike, someone manages to step out in front him, and this guy seemed a likely candidate.

Sure enough, when he was nearly level with him, the guy he had spotted fulfilled my friend's prediction and stepped from the sidewalk into the path of the bike. Mentally prepared, but still a little shocked, my friend swerved safely out of the way, though he came awfully close to bowling the guy over. It was only at that moment of near-contact that he realised the guy in the dirty grey raincoat, carrying the pile of shopping bags and shuffling aimlessly across the street was in fact Ralph Nader.

And so could've ended third-candidate politics for the 2004 Presidential election.

Nader mightíve been removed years ago ... if Democrats drove SUVs.

Posted by Tim Blair at August 15, 2004 10:34 PM

and the incident was slightly sauteed (with just a hint of garlic and taragon) into his memory...

Posted by: geezer at August 15, 2004 at 11:37 PM

That ain't no ordinary homeless guy, he's a secret service agent in disguise! And he almost tripped him over!

Posted by: Andjam at August 16, 2004 at 12:06 AM

Sometimes it seems like you've read every page on the Net; you find yourself typing r-o-a-d-t-o-s-u-r-f...

Invariably followed by a sense of shame and self loathing.

Posted by: Pig Head Sucker at August 16, 2004 at 12:07 AM

Tim, Democrats DO drive SUVs. They just don't want anyone else to drive them.

Posted by: JohnO at August 16, 2004 at 02:00 AM

I'd say that poor old Ralph was (groans inwardly)... unsafe at any speed.

Posted by: Wilbur at August 16, 2004 at 04:55 AM

Don't worry. Now that Nader's onto them, the evil jew-zionist oppressors will no doubt have him eliminated.

Posted by: Ken Summers at August 16, 2004 at 09:10 AM

I read 'Unsafe At Any Speed' as a teeenager, when it was published. I couldn't work why if swing axles were so bad Nader wasn't also complaining about the Beetle. A rear view of a a Beetle cornering vigorously shows the axles tucking in nicely - looked none too safe at the time. 'Unsafe' struck me at the time as selective.

I believe the Corsair has since been rehabilitated as was never as bad as Nader claimed. Can anyone back that up?

Posted by: Walter Plinge at August 16, 2004 at 09:15 AM

I used to own a lime green Corvair in the early 70's. It had a Rebel flag painted on the roof long before the Dukes of Hazzard writers ripped me off.

The Covair was and remain a POS, but not nearly as dangerous as St. Ralph made it out to be.

Posted by: Joe Bagadonuts at August 16, 2004 at 09:46 AM

I think Chevrolet fixed the problem in the later model Corvairs. Nader did his thing in 61 (?), but Chevy didn't drop the Corvair until after 65 model year (? -- not positive of these dates). Supposedly (from what I've read) sales never recovered from the hit from Nader.

However, this was the era of the first American compact cars (to compete with the Euro ones such as the VW). Again from what I've read, these first American compacts were generally decreed to be flops in terms of sales. Gasoline remained incredibly cheap in the US (vs Europe; even as a kid I can remember how expensive gasoline was "over there"). And the masses wanted V8 power.

So maybe the Corvair wouldn't have made it anyway. But Nader always gets the credit for killing it.

Posted by: Paul H. at August 16, 2004 at 10:23 AM

I seem to recall that the "fix" was a thick leather strap to limit the arc of movement of the swing axle.

Also, I don't think the Corvair had a V8 - only air cooled (straight - not boxer?) sixes.

The Tatra is the only vehicle in history to have an air-cooled V8 in the rear, which was in production until the last 10 years or so, in the Glorious Worker's Paradise.

Nader's real crime was to burn the resale values of both the Ford Corsair and the Chevrolet Corvair.

Posted by: Kaboom at August 16, 2004 at 11:40 AM

What? Nader killed off an economical compact and low-gasoline consuming vehicle? Was he so green back then as to value human life over environmental considerations? Or was he not Green enough in his younger days?

Posted by: c at August 16, 2004 at 11:44 AM

"...these first American compacts were generally decreed to be flops in terms of sales."

Ah, but the Falcon, in a pretty new dress and a nice bow, lives on as the Mustang.

Posted by: Carl from Texas at August 16, 2004 at 12:36 PM

"Or was he not Green enough in his younger days?"

Nah, Ralph Nadir started out as a safety Nazi, and turned green as he turned grey.

Posted by: rinardman at August 16, 2004 at 12:43 PM

The Covair was actually produced up until 1969. Starting in 1964 you could buy one with a turbocharged 150hp engine, pretty peppy in that day and time. By the end of the run in 1969 the output had increased to 180hp.

The engine was a air-cooled flat opposed six.

Posted by: Joe Bagadonuts at August 16, 2004 at 02:58 PM

The Bug wasn't covered in "Unsafe at Any Speed" because Nader did a hatchet job on it in another book.

The Corvair, as originally designed, was a pretty good handling car...then the bean counters got their hands on it.

Most of the bits that kept the rear suspension working well went out to save costs.

The Corsa version, IIRC, had the full suspension set up, and was a different car to drive.

Posted by: SteveH at August 16, 2004 at 04:17 PM

The first generation Corvair (boxy body) had the swing axle rear suspension. I don't recall that there was any camber control from the factory, but if there were, it would not have been leather.

The second generation Corvair (sleeker body) had a more expensive full independant suspension, regardless of model. The Corsa had the addition of an anti-roll bar (most cars do, nowadays; it has nothing to do with Nader's hoax) but even the base model handled pretty well for that era if the tires were pumped up correctly.

The suspension engineer who wrote for Car and Driver magazine back then did an analysis of Nader's charges. In order for the car to roll over due to hard cornering, you either had to have a suspension component fail or have the car hit a curb. Even with swing axle jacking, the center of gravity was simply too low.

Posted by: triticale at August 17, 2004 at 10:36 AM

Well, the car was exonerated to enough to support an international club with many chapters. Heck, there might be more worlwide support for the car than there is for Ralph.

Posted by: MGA at August 17, 2004 at 10:49 PM

It would certainly be easier to repair a Corvair than to fix Ralph...

Posted by: mja at August 18, 2004 at 02:51 AM