How I became a genius in 6 minutes


About 6 months ago, a builder finished a Corvair powered 601XL and got ready to take it on it’s first flight. It should have been a low stress event, because we have almost 100 Corvair powered Zeniths that have flown, and we have proved time and time again that if you build the installation exactly how we suggest, the laws of reality insure that the plane has to work with the exact same reliability that numerous well known 601/Corvair pilots like Woody Harris, Phil Maxson and Ken Pavlou have had in their planes. No one need be a pioneer nor a test pilot, they only need to make sure the plane is in the proven configuration, and then get a test program just like the one outlined in our Flight Ops Manual.


Ah that little phrase “exactly how we suggest”.  Four words, 18 letters. Can’t really make that much difference can it? The builder in question had taken about 10 years to finish the plane.  He was well aware of how we install a Corvair in the 601 airframe. He was a member of the Corvaircraft on line discussion group for years. Before I was banned for life from it, I spent a lot of time there writing stories trying to explain details of what we had learned by meticulous testing and evaluation.


For the most part, my contribution to the discussion was not well received. I was often criticized as a damper on ‘creativity.’ In this setting, armchair experts, most of whom had never seen a Corvair fly, far less built one, applauded any effort that was not ‘conformist’ to my suggestions. I made countless posts against people who offered recommendations based on zero personal experience.  It mostly fell on deaf ears.


The 601 builder in question put many ‘non-conformist’ ideas into his plane. The primary one that sticks out is the selection of carb: he chose to use one of the two carbs off a 60hp 1958 British MGA.  While this strikes me as a legitimate suicide attempt, his selection essentially met with cheers and applause because it went against my suggestion of using an aircraft carb.


I honestly think that in a normal setting, where experience and facts are valued, the builder would not have followed through with the carb. But on Corvaircraft, there were many, many vocal supporters of crazy ideas. Their advocacy put them in no danger, they were safely at home behind a keyboard, using ‘screen names’ and making recommendations to people they would never meet. All this lead to the 601 builders arriving at two conclusions: his ideas were well thought out, and second, that guy William Wynne was probably some kind of authoritarian dim wit.


As the builder began his take off roll and all seemed to be going well, my status in his mind must have sunk to a new low…every one of my warnings not to do things now seemed like the babbling of a foolish control freak. He must have thought “I mean, really, what kind of an ego does that guy have to call himself the authority? things are going great!….”


Once he past 400 feet the engine went into heavy detonation, and by 240 seconds into the flight it was largely destroyed. The last two minutes were limping back to the runway. Ten years of work for 360 seconds in the air. I contacted him after the event, and we had a pretty civil exchange of thoughts.  Although he didn’t say it directly, the general conversation indicated that he was amazed at how I had gone from being an authoritative dim wit to being a mechanical-philosophical genius in 6 minutes. -ww.





Above, The five Corvair powered Zeniths that flew into Corvair College #30, all parked for a photo in front of the Mexico terminal. These builders decided that the surest path to their own personal goals in building and flying was to utilize the information we provide.  Although I get along with all of them, their choice to use the information was based on it’s credible and proven value, not our personalities.


There are also plenty of other people who, for a myriad of reasons, chose not to use the information. The great majority of those planes were never finished, and a number of the ones completed were destroyed in “accidents” .  I put quote marks on that word because it may have seemed like an accident to bystanders, but I make the case that if the known expert on an installation publicly says it will not work, and the builder chooses to try it anyway, it is a misnomer to call that event an accident, as it is better described as an “inevitable.” -ww.


5 Replies to “How I became a genius in 6 minutes”

  1. William,

    As you like to say, it is not the probability of being right, it is the cost of being wrong that this builder did not measure.

    Who got smarter in six minutes? I actually think he did, not you. He became smart enough to realize you were actually trying to help him.

    Too bad he learned it six minutes too late.

  2. Sir:

    How DARE you impugn the much beloved Skinner Union carburetor!!! Anglophiles of Florida will picket your airport carrying tea and scones. Next thing you’ll do is bad mouth Lucas (Prince Of Darkness) electrics.

    Seriously, as the owner and former owner of several British cars, I can attest to the fact that, when used as designed and maintained properly, they work very well. The idea that the velocity of the air going over the jet is controlled by a variable cross-section venturi and remains more or less constant is a clever idea. I do not, however, know of any British vehicles that operate wide open at 3200 rpm. So much for “as designed”.

    Given time and a decent instrumented test cell, one could adapt an SU of some sort using a needle and jet profile that would meet the mixture requirements of the flight Corvair and not run lean at wide open throttle. Any bets the armchair quarterbacks suggested that as a mandatory step before flight? I’ve got a couple of SU’s in a box. Do you think I’m going to try it or am I going to use that Marvel-Dribbler on the shelf?

    Terry: The good news is that he’s still around to learn. Maybe the six minutes wasn’t wasted.


    1. Dave,
      20 years ago my girlfriend had a ratty MGB that desperately needed 2 new British carbs, but they were actually more expensive than buying a 1,000 CFM Holley or an MA3. Solution: Steve Upson and I spent one long night in the old hangar and made a welded tubular intake to adapt a single Corvair carb to the MGB. It was a classy job, with a hot water passage under the carb and a little pad to make the Corvairs bi-metal choke work off the exhaust manifold. We topped it off with a Corvair Van air cleaner, it was very sanitary when complete. Because no expense was to be spared, we installed a $7 Jiffy carb rebuild kit. It ran great, and the mileage was very good, and it had a very steady idle. $20 invested and maybe 6 productive man hours after the beer and BS time was removed.

      We took it to a central Florida British car show, and I waited for a number of on lookers before opening the hood. They had the same reaction I would expect if the engine compartment had contained a Voodoo animal sacrifice cooking for lunch on the exhaust. Only one of them was able to speak, muttering something about ‘not original’ and ‘disqualified from concurs.’ After they left, Heidi asked what the real issue was. I told her it was because some crass colonial had disrespected the house of lords and got the queen mum’s knickers in a knot. Twenty years later the MGB still has the Corvair carb on it. Stupidly simple is often more useful than theoretically technically superior. Viewed from Buckingham palace, we are all troglodytes. -ww,

  3. I would have enjoyed being there at the British car show to see the expressions on the people who looked at the MGB.

    When I was in college, Someone took an Austin Healy 3000 (I believe) and dropped a small block Chevy with a Hydromatic transmission into it. It ran better, had much more power, and handled very well. There was one problem: the wire spoke wheels couldn’t take the torque. The advantages were that there was no Lucas Electric products on the engine, it was smoother, more reliable, easier to work on, and it weighed 60 pounds less than the Austin Healy engine and transmission it replaced..

    I know that the car now would have its value depressed, because collectors look for original parts, but the owner had a lot more fun driving it.

    A few years later, being totally ignorant of the workings of SU carburetors, and short of cash, but willing to learn, I rebuilt the two on my Volvo 122S. I did it very carefully, and spent a lot of time centering the needle, I recall that I had a problem balancing the carbs until I realized that the little manifold pressure gauge with venturi and the little float actually unbalanced the carburetors when I put it first on one, then the other.

    The car ran great for years after that. I’m sure that a pro would have done it in 1/4 the time, but by being careful and following the directions, it worked. I didn’t have the money for a pro.

    I happen to think that the Corvair carb would be a much better solution.

  4. For about 3 years back in the late 60’s, my daily drivers (a Volvo PV-444 and a Triumph Spitfire) had SU carburetors and I hung around with a group of gearheads that loved foreign cars. As a result, I got to know and understand them.

    Putting Detroit iron in foreign cars has been going on for decades. Again in the 60’s, I used to ice race with a guy who put a Buick V-6 in a Saab. Even the British car makers did it. The Sunbeam Tiger and MG-V8 (an MGB with the BOP aluminum V-8 they bought from GM) come to mind. For 20+ years, John’s Cars has been selling kits to drop a small block Chevy into Jaguars. I’d love to do that and then put the XK engine on a display pedestal because it’s far better art than engine though the C and D Jags did pretty well at LeMans in the 50’s with it.

    Why do the English drink their beer warm? Lucas refrigerators.

    For what it’s worth, I agree that stone simple has a place at the table.

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