Jeff’s Corvair Ranch, just outside Gettysburg, PA, is a little hard to describe. In short, it’s a sprawling yard of carcasses awaiting reanimation by the so-named Corvair master Jeff & crew. Yet “yard” doesn’t really describe it, as the car (and van, and airplane) hulks and scattered greasy car-lumps are by no means constrained to a single plane; the masterful and eccentric proprietor has allowed Corvair and Corvair-ness to pervade not only the yard in front of his garage, but also adjacent fields and boxcars and rooms of the house he shares with an evidently patient spouse.
And lest you worry that Jeff only trades in the car that Nader killed, fear not, as the Ranch also holds a number of Corvair Ultravans – monstrous, faintly ridiculous, rounded vans built with aircraft technology to conserve weight; I hope to return to photograph them – and bicycles, and other sundry automobiles, and actual aircraft awaiting a miracle of Wrightly proportions to save them from an inevitable creeping into the fey fallow of Jeff’s field.
I was there with my own eternally patient s.o. (and my stepfather as guide and Jeff translator) to help her investigate a ’67 Corvair four-door being sold by the Ranch for $700. Now, true, unrestored classic cars are cheap; but not seven hundred bucks cheap, and we were curious to see how much bang for buck an old air-cooled engine could offer.
The car was inimitable; I regret not photographing it. The color was best described as somewhere between “seafoam” and “Loch Ness.” It had great bumper stickers.
Having a few minutes to ourselves while waiting for Jeff to appear, we popped the hood and looked at the belly of the beast. No battery; no gas. (Not unexpected, as the car had been sitting for years, judging by the quantity of leaves nestled around the engine.) We moved around to the front (air-cooled… engine’s in the back) and sat inside the car. While figuring out which of the car’s essential safety mechanisms were missing, a few clanks and thuds from behind us belied the manifestation of Jeff himself. He ducked up to the driver’s side window.
Go ahead and start it, if you want, he said. “But it seems to need a ba–”
The car was a piece of crap. Broken windshield, rusted-out floorboard, moldy interior. One of the two carburetors wasn’t firing, so metal-pedaling offered a wan 30 MPH. Jeff, driving at this point, stopped the car in the road and applied the handbrake; he pulled on greasy workgloves and then proceeded to tinker with the choke of the still-running engine as we sat, stupefied. (It’s a hell of a thing, hearing an old engine roar to life as you watch the accelerator pedal push itself to the floor.)
Despite Jeff’s best resurrection attempts, we didn’t end up buying it. I hope you don’t blame us.
A quick tour of some of the finer automobiles on the Ranch, most with as many cylinders as I’ve summers, and we were on our way…