Our friend and welder, Vern Stevenson, has had a lifelong love affair with all things mechanical. He has built a number of different aircraft, mostly light single-seaters. His hangar is just down the way from ours, and a tour of it is an education of how much a man with imagination, skill and some material can do. In addition to his aircraft, the hangar houses a motor home made from a former Greyhound bus, a 1968 Shelby GT-500, Various Big Block trucks, a 300 HP Corvair sand rail, a Porsche 914 powered by a 327 Chevy, and many others, all handmade by Vern.
Vern’s current passion is aerodynamic cars. Growing up in humble circumstances, Vern fully espouses the pure hot rodding of the 1950s, an era that placed creativity and mechanical ingenuity above all else. I have been to rat rod car shows with him, and he points out that his friends have always been doing it “old school.” None of them are interested in a car or a plane that is just another purchased product. It has to be handmade to have any interest to them. Although they could buy any car part they like, or most finished cars, they don’t. To Vern and his friends, one of the rewards is demonstrating incredible skill at bargain hunting, horse trading and bartering. Among his friends, Vern is the unrivaled champion of these talents, and the two projects have a parts total price that reflect this.
Above is Vern’s “Streamliner.” It was inspired by Craig Breedlove’s land speed record attempt car, “The Spirit of America.” Vern’s car is aimed at looking the part, but taking a shot at 70 MPG. The car has 3 wheels, and is considered a motorcycle in Florida. The aluminum bodywork is all salvage material. It hides a mild steel frame that looks like an aircraft fuselage. The canopy came from the Sun ‘n Fun flymart for $30. The engine is derived from a very early Dodge Omni, and I think it is a VW based design, something like a Rabbit engine. Vern has handmade a very tall set of rear wheels to cut the rpm at speed. The weight is around 900 pounds. The car is a two-seater. Vern keeps good track of his spending as a matter of pride. He has several hundred hours of work in the car, but he has less than $500 in total materials.
Above is Vern’s yet unnamed project. He has been messing with it part time for the past two months or so. It is also a three-wheeler, and makes the grade in Florida as a motorcycle. (Car insurance is not cheap in this state, and motorcycles are exempt from the requirement.) If you look closely, you can see that the back half of this creature is a two-seat Lancair fuselage. The front is a Geo Metro front end. As crazy as it sounds, Vern has artistically blended the two. It isn’t going to win the New York Auto Show, but every motorhead that has seen it has been captivated. The design was driven by the fact that Vern’s girlfriend didn’t like the tandem seating of the Streamliner. The digital camo paint job is an experiment in how you break up the shape differences of the front and back halves.The rear end is out of a Suzuki motorcycle. There is a steel tube subframe that joins the A-pillars of the Geo to the longerons and the spar carry through of the Lancair.
Above, a look inside the new project. It retains most of the dash and the pedals of the Geo. The steering column has been moved over about 3 inches. The wheel has a race car style quick removal to making getting in easier. The hinge mechanism for the canopy is the rear gate hinge from a minivan. The seats are 914 leftovers. Vern is hoping for a comfortable cruise and 60 mpg. By trading some time and parts, Vern has kept the budget ultra low. He is just now getting to $150 of cash laid out. He claims that he is willing to “go all the way” (Spend $500) to see the project through being roadworthy. If either of these vehicles have special driving requirements, it isn’t an issue, Vern has a 40 year history of driving anything with an engine from Stock Cars to excavators. He is a gifted motorcyclist, and he is sensitive enough to machinery that he taught himself to fly ultralights without ever taking a single lesson. In the 1980s ultralights were powered by a number of two strokes not noted for reliability. In his first 500 hours he had 18 engine outs but never got more than a scratch.
Neither of these two are directly related to flying Corvairs, but I stuck them in here to point something out. While Vern is speaking of, or working on these vehicles, he is among the happiest people in the World. The simple joy of creating something with your hands using tools is a real joy in life. If you are at home and it has been a while since you have had that kind of rewarding feeling, make a plan to get back to it. Many people get into homebuilt aircraft because they falsely believe it to be an inexpensive way to having a completed aircraft. Building to these people is a necesscary evil. These people actually have a very poor record of completing planes because they derive very little joy from the process. If you have any doubt that a great number of people in homebuilding are driven by just wanting the plane and have no desire to learn or build their craftsmanship, look at how much advertising space is devoted to dubious claims of 300 hour build times and questionable stories about how few skills it takes to build some designs.
Although knowing what you’re up against timewise is a valid question, and you should know if a design requires you to be a machinist, specifically trying not to enjoy the building process nor learn anything has sold a lot of kits, but it hasn’t finished many of them. The build it yourself nature of the Corvair, and the fact that learning here is a goal, not an evil, makes the Corvair movement different. We are glad to assist anyone who is entering The Arena to Learn, Build, and Fly in the company of other friends who feel the same way.