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On This Day In History: The Corvair Crash led to a deeper look into automobile safety.
Ernie Kovacs was a cigar totin’, poker playin’, real gun-of-a-gun comedian who died in a tragic car accident in 1962 after driving home from a baby shower. His Chevrolet Corvair crashed into a telephone poll in Los Angeles during a light rainstorm.
Kovacs was popular in Hollywood during the 1950s for his television sitcoms and blockbuster hits. The jokester hung out with numerous Hollywood starlets including: Dean Martin, Milton Berle, Yves Montand, Frank Sinatra, and Mickey Rooney.
And reportedly influenced TV greats, Johnny Carson and David Letterman.
Known for his love of poker, spending money faster than he could earn it and his 17-room continuous party home — “Nothing in Moderation” was engraved into the funny man’s tombstone.
The Corvair became entangled with rumors in 1965 after Ralph Nader published his infamous novel, Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile, which accused the then unregulated automobile industry of designing vehicles based off style and power instead of safety.
After the public and news media got wind of the accusations, the Princeton and Harvard law graduate found himself testifying in front of the U.S. Congress, defending his book. After his testimony the media reported Nader was being followed by detectives.
And if the story couldn’t get any crazier, it was later discovered General Motors (GM) had hired a private investigator to follow Ralph and dig up any information from his past in order to discredit his findings of its Chevy Corvair.
GM’s behavior throughout the allegations only fueled the public’s attention and turned Ralph Nader into a household name and his book a bestseller. It also played a major factor into why the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act was passed.
The Corvair’s sales extinguished after numerous reports about the suspension system caused rollovers, problems with handling were ever apparent, and the bad publicity from Nader and GM forced the automotive company to discontinue the model in 1969.
The book is now celebrating its 50th anniversary and nader.org has posted original video from one of his first public talks about the novel.
Ralph Nader ran a few times for president and continues to be an advocate for consumer safety.