My Car Quest

June 6, 2020

The Corvair Sprint By Fitch – An Original Lost And Found

by Michael Gulett –

On the Post about the 1966 Chevrolet Corvair Corsa for sale here on My Car Quest, Byron LaMotte left an interesting Comment which started,

I am excited to see my favorite car site is acknowledging my other favorite car next to my Iso Grifo.

He then went on and wrote about the 1966 Corvair Sprint that he had built by John Fitch. Byron sold his Corvair Sprint, regretted it and bought it in back from the fifth owner in 2012. He then commissioned a complete restoration back to the original condition.

I asked Byron LaMotte to send in some photos, he did and here they are.

1966 Corvair Sprint by Fitch

1966 Corvair Sprint by Fitch in 1966 (Photo from Byron LaMotte)

1966 Corvair Sprint by Fitch

1966 Corvair Sprint as found in 2012 (Photo from Byron LaMotte)

1966 Corvair Sprint by Fitch

2013 – after the restoration (Photo from Byron LaMotte)

1966 Corvair Sprint by Fitch

2013 – after the restoration (Photo from Byron LaMotte)

John Fitch

John Fitch was not only a great race car driver he was also a great inventor.

John Fitch was the only American on the Mercedes-Benz racing team, he later served as the first manager for the Corvette racing team and he was the first general manager of the Lime Rock Park race track.

He was also a pilot in the US Army Air Corps during WWII.

He was an innovator in road safety – the Fitch Barrier (aka “Yellow Barrels”), the barrels filled with sand that we all see on US freeways are one of his inventions.

John Fitch had a special relationship with the Chevrolet Corvair.

The Corvair Sprint By Fitch

Corvair Sprint Advertisement

Corvair Sprint Advertisement

He liked the Corvair as a good starting point to build a high quality, yet low cost, American GT car. He called his modified Corvair the Sprint. The engine was modified to boost it from 140 hp to 155 hp.

The suspension was improved significantly, wheel alignment was improved, steering ratio was better plus there were a few cosmetic options that made the Sprint look more like a European car. He even installed a wood steering wheel.

Corvair Sprint Catalog

Corvair Sprint Catalog

The exterior was unique with the installation of the “Ventop” which made the Sprint look like a “Porsche 904 and Ferrari 275 LM” according to the sales literature.

If you are looking for a unique collector car the Corvair Corsa and the Corvair Sprint are great candidates.

John Fitch also designed and built a one-off car called the Fitch Phoenix based on the Corvair.

Car and Driver Magazine

The Corvair Sprint was on the cover of Car and Driver Magazine in September 1965

Sell your classic car on My Car Quest – click here.

Corvair Sprint by Fitch Catalog

Corvair Sprint by Fitch Catalog

More photos of Byron LaMotte’s Corvair Sprint are in the slide show below.

 

Let us know what you think in the Comments – I am interested in more stories like this – send yours in!

 

Corvair Sprint

Summary
The Corvair Sprint By Fitch - An Original Lost And Found
Article Name
The Corvair Sprint By Fitch - An Original Lost And Found
Description
John Fitch was not only a great race car driver he was also a great inventor. He improved the Chevrolet Corvair and called it the Corvair Sprint.
Author

Comments

  1. Into his late 90″s, Mr. Fitch would drive the one-off Fitch Pheonix at the annual Concours D”Elegance show in Greenwich, Ct, and this car just recently sold at auction within the last two months or so. Glenn in the Bronx, NY

  2. Don Meluzio says

    Hi Byron, Great photos of a great car! Good story! John Fitch was quite a guy. It is so cool that you bought it back. It has to be quite rare. I talked to John Fitch about his days as a Bizzarrini Dealer. Thanks for sending in the story, and all the best to you. Don Meluzio

  3. Great story and wonderful to see this car restored to former glory. Fitch was a superman in the automotive world. Racer, builder, entrepreneur, and safety advocate for not just motor racing but multiple passenger car innovations and highway safety systems.

    A few years before he passed away, I had the pleasure of working with him on a scale model replica of both his one-off Fitch Phoenix and a series of Fitch Sprints (as featured above) with the company Automodello. Fitch was, just as he was in racing, gracious and detailed in the scale modeling of his cars.

    Byron – congrats on owning a wonderful piece of history and keeping it alive for all to enjoy.

  4. James Basden says

    I have a 65 Sprint. It runs and drives and is well worth restoring. I have owned it since 1990.
    James

  5. I best friend’s Father bought one of the first Corvair Sprints in 1962 from Atwood Chevrolet in Bristol, CT. It was Honduras Maroon with black vinyl top and interior . 4 carbs with short throw shifter, Lucas Flamethrower headlamp with a wire screen over the front grill area, low restrictive exhaust and black racing stripes. He traded it in on a 1966 Super Sport 327 with powerglide.

  6. Arthur E. Lloyd III says

    I had the pleasure of having a drink with John at the bar in Sardi’s in NYC when we were members of the same club and I certainly would like to buy one of his Corvairs. If anyone has one for sale please contact me at 908-209-2939. or e-mail me at: ArtLloydIII@aol.com

  7. Jeffrey Rosenberg says

    I owned a 1962 Corvair Spyder Sprint by Fitch way back in the day. It was a great car that was upgraded with Porche suspension. I wish I still had it. I sold it for $150 when it was getting about 20 miles to the quart of oil.

  8. Conrad Wolfgang says

    Below is a series of emails between myself, Dawn Castro of the Chicagoland Corvair Enthusiasts, and Pete Kohler, former President of Chicago Corvair Society, about my Fitch Sprint.

    Hello,
    I bought a 1965 Fitch Sprint from a Mr John Hawley In 1985, he said he bought it from the Chicago CORSA president who bought it from John Fitch.  According to him it was a car Mr Fitch raced and he hit the wall with the car damaging the right quarter panel at Lime Rock.  The panel was absolutely replaced and the were holes in the floor and rear firewall where a roll bar had been installed.  He said that the CORSA president had some supporting documents for the claim.  I was wondering if you You might know who this was and how I might contact him or someone who  could help me find the documents or research the car.  
    Thanks for your time and trouble.

    Sincerely,

    Conrad Wolfgang

    Reply from Dawn Castro :

    Hi!

    Pete Koehler was the CORSA President at the time – 1985.  Here is his response to your inquiry – I hope this helps you out!

    Dawn Castro
    CCE Membership Chair
    CCE 2019 Convention Chair

    I was never the President of CCE, but in the md-1980’s I was the President of CORSA (three one-year terms). The car in question was a 1965 Corsa 140 4-speed coupe that I bought from Kurt Hein, John Fitch’s Parts Manager for John Fitch and Company of Falls Village, CT. I bought the car in 1979 along with the white and blue 1966 Corsa Fitch Sprint that is currently owned by the Corvair Preservation Foundation. The purchase was a package deal along with a collection of parts in Kurt’s garage in Kent Falls, CT.

    There is no documentation as to the actual driver of the car. It was built to be a race car. At time of purchase it did not have a fiberglass Sprint Ventop that is characteristic of the Sprint conversion. This was said to be a “works” race car project meaning that the employees built it up and it must have seen some track time as the right rear quarter was flattened out from impact with something. Over the Christmas Holiday in 1979 I had help from a fellow GM employee (Pete von Schwedler Sr. of Naperville) to replace the quarter panel and lead in the joint with the “C” pillar. Cost of the new panel was $103 from GM Parts Department (GMPD). The engine was a stock 140 that I installed. The “works” race engine was a 140 but Kurt had sold the heads off it so I had to use one of my own engines to complete the project. I did put a NOS Ventop on the car and had it painted and added a set of really rare 13″ Hands wheels. 

    I sold the car to John Hawley for something like $1900 to finance the (first) restoration of the white ’66 Sprint. That one was actually John Fitch’s demonstrator that he drove for three years before selling it to Kurt in 1969. The title for the 1966 Sprint had John’s signature as seller from an MSO (not titled before sale – Manufacturer’s Statement of Origin). The 1965 title had no such provenance. The 1965 Corsa did have a nick name given it by the guys at the Fitch works: “Fred” . After painting the car and re-attaching the chrome bits I remember leaving off the “Corvair” emblem from the front edge of the hood and having the name Fred painted on by a neighbor of CCE member Gary Isenogle.

    After trying for ten years to locate the owner of the white Sprint that was visible from the road (Route 7 in CT) I did connect with Kurt Hein in ’79 and made the purchase. Soon after that I met John Fitch at his home in nearby Salisbury, CT. We stayed in touch over the next 30+ years. The last time I visited John was when we brought the white and blue ’66 Sprint back to his house for his review and approval of the car’s second restoration by myself and the CPF. That was in 2010, just two years before he passed.

    It would be inappropriate to guarantee that John Fitch actually drove the 1965 Corsa coupe. Since during my ownership I returned the car to a street version of a Fitch Sprint with a complete interior, the Ventop and the Hands wheels – none of which the car had when I bought it from Kurt Hein. Yes, the car spent time at the shop. Yes, John’s guys built it up. That is the connection to John Fitch as best I can offer. Hope this helps. – Pete Koehler

    My reply the Dawn Castro :

    Dawn,

    Thank you very much for the information.  I am  very glad to know the history of my car.  Please tell Mr Koehler thank you for the information.  I very much appreciate it.  I always loved my Sprint, Fred.  Most people had no idea what it was.  The only thing I didn’t like was that the cops in the small towns used to follow me around all the time, of course They did that when I drove my 914 Porsche too. 

     I restored Fred in the early 1990s as the paint started the crack like a puzzle. I stripped the paint down to bare metal.  I also rejetted the carbs, added headers, a spring to the tensioner pulley, and the adjustable impeller fan pulley.  I wanted to turn the cabs inboard 90 degrees and had plates made for it but could not figure out how to make the linkage for it, as none was available at the time.  So I put the carbs back to stock orientation.  I also added a rear spoiler, side skirts and a front spoiler.  The spoilers and side skirts caused Fred to suck to the road at speeds over 60mph.  Unfortunately the engine dropped a valve guide on the right head shortly after I finished the restoration and it has sat in my garage since.  Kids and such took up my time and money since then.  I am hoping to use the 140 engine out of my 1965 Convertible to get it back on the road soon.  The convertibles body is in pretty bad shape.  It was my first car the Sprint, Fred, was my second.  I bought the them in 84 and 85, I was 21 when I bought the Sprint.  
     
    I hope you and Mr Koehler did not mind my update on Fred.  Again I thank you for your time and trouble, I greatly appreciate it.  

    Sincerely,

    Conrad Wolfgang 

    My follow up reply to Dawn Castro:

    Dawn,

    I reread my reply and original email and realized I left out a few things.   I never thought to go look up Mr Fitch on the internet until a few days after he died.  I had started to look him up from time to time but I was always taken off the task by more domestic concerns like jobs and kids.  
        Before I restored the Sprint, I had to have the rear suspension realigned because the tires wore off it quickly.  I got to looking at the wheels and realized that The toe was all the way to the left and you could see where the undercoating was missing because the rear sway arms had moved all the way to the leftmost stop.  The camber was tiled top all the way to the right.  I then was pretty sure the car must have been in a pretty hard skid to the right.  That along with the rear quarter panel having a marker light fixture visible from inside the engine compartment, Mr Hawley pointed it out to me as evidence of his alleging John Fitch hit the wall at Lime Rock, seemed to fit in with the story Mr Hawley told me.  By the way, that is why I said the quarter panel was obviously replaced, if it wasn’t for the marker light I would have never known it was replaced, it was expertly done.  When I reread my first email I realized that I forgot to mention the marker light as the reason I knew the quarter panel had obviously been replaced,  I did not mean it was a bad job.  

    Finally, is there anyone who worked in Mr Fitch’s shop who might know what the engine configuration was or how the rear quarter panel was smashed?  
     
    Well I hope I am not bothering you and Mr Koehler too much.  Thanks again to you for taking the time to reply to me.  I am glad to know my cars nickname and actual history.     Mr Hawley must have had the cars name painted over before I bought it.  

    Sincerely,
     Conrad Wolfgang 

    • Conrad Wolfgang says

      I forgot to add to my post that I am looking for more information about my car. Does anyone else know anything more about it? Mr Hawley claimed that John Fitch spun it out and hit the wall at Lime Rock with it, but Mr Kohler never mentioned it. I can be contacted at Cww6964@gmail.com.

  9. Arthur E. Lloyd III says

    Can only suggest you contact the Madison Avenue Sports Car Driving and Chowder Society, a good chance they might be able to help you….
    Arthur Lloyd

Speak Your Mind

*