Frank J. Winchell

biography by his grandson

WHY INVADE?

WHO THE HELL IS FRANK WINCHELL?

WELL, IF ED COLE IS THE “FATHER” OF THE CORVAIR, THEN FRANK WINCHELL IS THE CORVAIR’S “BIG BROTHER.”  THE KIND OF “BIG BROTHER” THAT, WHEN HE HEARD SOMEONE WAS PICKING ON ONE OF HIS SIBLINGS, HE WOULD PACK A PICNIC BASKET FULL OF KNUCKLE SANDWICHES AND TAKE THE BULLY OUT TO LUNCH.

AS FAR AS THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE CORVAIR IS CONCERNED, FRANK WINCHELL WAS RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS POWERTRAIN.  HOWEVER, HIS GREATEST CONTRIBUTION TO THE CORVAIR WAS HIS ROLE IN ITS HIGHLY SUCCESSFUL DEFENSE. AT THE ONSET OF THE CORVAIR LITIGATION, FRANK WINCHELL WAS DIRECTOR OF CHEVROLET RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT.  HIS OBJECTIVE FOR THE CORVAIR LITIGATION WAS TO EDUCATE THE MANY LAWYERS, JUDGES AND JURORS ABOUT THE ELEMENTARY LAWS OF PHYSICS. HOW AND WHY THEY IMPACTED VEHICLE DYNAMICS.  

FRANK WINCHELL, ALONG WITH HIS RIGHT-HAND-MAN JIM MUSSER AS WELL AS A GOOD ⅓ OF THE R&D STAFF, DESIGNED VARIOUS DEMONSTRATIONS AND BUILT ELABORATE MODELS TO ACCOMPLISH THIS TASK.  THEN THEY MADE A MOVIE TITLED “A CAR ON TRIAL” WHICH BROUGHT IT ALL TOGETHER. IN ACCOMPLISHING THIS ENDEAVOR, THEY WERE ABLE TO DEFINITIVELY PROVE THAT THE 1960-63 CORVAIR WAS NOT A DEFECTIVE AUTOMOBILE, THAT IT DID NOT “SUDDENLY, UNEXPECTEDLY AND FOR NO APPARENT REASON GO OUT OF CONTROL.  THEY PROVED THAT THE 60-63 CORVAIR WAS AS GOOD, OR BETTER THAN, ALL THE CARS ON THE AMERICAN ROADS AT THAT TIME.  A FACT AGREED UPON BY THE UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION’S NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION, AS WELL AS THE UNITED STATES SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE, AMONG OTHERS.

FRANK WINCHELL WAS CONSIDERED TO BE GM’S EXPERT WITNESS AND ACTUALLY ONLY GAVE TESTIMONY IN THE FIRST THREE CORVAIR CASES THAT WERE TRIED TO A JURY VERDICT.  COLLINS, ANDERSON AND DRUMMOND. ALL DECISIONS IN FAVOR OF GENERAL MOTORS. IT WAS DURING THIS TIME THAT FRANK WINCHELL DEVELOPED AN INTENSE, DEEP-DOWN, REPUGNANCE FOR LAWYERS.  “BEAN COUNTERS,” WERE A CLOSE SECOND. AND I DO MEAN CLOSE.

I CAN SPEAK ON THIS PERSONALLY BECAUSE FRANK WINCHELL WAS MY GRANDFATHER.  ONE THING I FONDLY REMEMBER ABOUT HIM WAS HE LIKED TO QUOTE WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE.  TO BE MORE PRECISE, HE WOULD QUOTE “DICK THE BUTCHER” FROM SHAKESPEARE’S HENRY THE VI.  HE IS THE GUY THAT SAID… 

“THE FIRST THING WE NEED TO DO, IS KILL ALL THE LAWYERS.”  

MY GRANDFATHER WAS A VERY “HANDS ON” TYPE OF ENGINEER AND HE WANTED THESE LAWYERS TO NOT ONLY UNDERSTAND, BUT TO EXPERIENCE, HOW HARD IT WAS TO ROLL A CORVAIR OVER.  ONE OF HIS FAVORITE METHODS WAS TO PUT A LAWYER IN THE PASSENGER SEAT OF A CORVAIR AND PERSONALLY DRIVE THEM AROUND THE GM PROVING GROUNDS SKID PAD.  HE WOULD PERFORM VARIOUS MANEUVERS AT, AND ABOVE, THE LIMIT OF CONTROL. AFTER HE WAS SATISFIED THAT THERE WAS A SUFFICIENT AMOUNT OF SMOKE AND SQUEALING FROM THE TIRES, AS WELL AS PLENTY OF SQUEALING FROM THE LAWYER SITTING NEXT TO HIM, HE WOULD THEN ACCELERATE TO TOP SPEED, YANK THE STEERING WHEEL HARD TO THE LEFT, AND IN THE MIDST OF PERFORMING THIS MANEUVER HE WOULD CASUALLY REACH OVER AND POP THE RELEASE BUTTON OF THE TERRIFIED LAWYER’S SEAT BELT, PLASTERING THEM ONTO THE PASSENGER DOOR.  

WELL, WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT CORVAIRS AND LAWYERS AND NOT MENTION ONE PERSON IN PARTICULAR.   I HAVE TO SAY, I DON’T THINK I SHARE THE SAME OPINION OF RALPH NADER AS MY GRANDFATHER. BELIEVE IT OR NOT, I ACTUALLY HAVE A PICTURE OF MR. NADER PROUDLY HANGING ON MY WALL.

AFTER “UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED” WAS PUBLISHED, GENERAL MOTORS INVITED RALPH NADER TO COME THE GM TECH CENTER.  AND JUST LIKE IN THE MOVIE YOU ARE ABOUT TO SEE, THEY EXPLAINED AND DEMONSTRATED HOW AND WHY HE WAS WRONG ABOUT THE HANDLING CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CORVAIR. MY GRANDFATHER TOLD ME THAT THROUGHOUT THE MEETING, RALPH WAS VERY ATTENTIVE AND VERY APPRECIATIVE OF THE INFORMATION.  WHEN THE MEETING WAS OVER, MY GRANDFATHER SAID HE WAS SURE THAT THEY HAD CHANGED THE MIND OF THIS PUERILE LAWYER. AFTER THEIR MEETING WAS ADJOURNED, MY GRANDFATHER WALKED OVER TO THE THIRD-FLOOR BALCONY. HE CALLED RALPH OVER AND POINTED DOWN TO THE FLOOR OF THE LOBBY. HE SAID TO RALPH “FROM THIS HEIGHT, YOU WOULD HIT THE GROUND AT THE SAME SPEED YOU WOULD HIT THE DASHBOARD IN A 35 MILE AN HOUR COLLISION.  SO IF I PUT AN INCH OF PADDING DOWN THERE… CAN I THROW YOU OFF.” HE SAID RALPH GOT A LITTLE JITTERY AFTER THAT. 

NEVERTHELESS, OL’ RALPH GOT OUT HIS PEN AND PAPER AND HIS GIANT BOOK OF FANCY ADJECTIVES, AND STARTED WRITING LETTERS TO SENATORS AND ANYONE ELSE WHO WOULD LISTEN.  HE CONTINUED TO DECLARE THAT THE CORVAIR WAS A DEFECTIVE AUTOMOBILE AND THAT GM KNEW IT ALL ALONG, AND THAT THEY SOLD IT ANYWAY BECAUSE IT WAS LOW COST AND MORE PROFITABLE.  HE ALSO PROFESSED THAT FRANK WINCHELL WAS A LIAR. HOWEVER, HE USED NIFTY WORDS LIKE; “CONSCIOUSLY ERRONEOUS, PURPOSEFULLY INACCURATE AND GROSSLY MISLEADING.”  HE ALSO WENT ON TO SAY THAT MY GRANDFATHER’S TESTIMONY WAS “A CLEAR PRESUMPTION OF MALFEASANCE OR NONFEASANCE OF THE GROSSEST MAGNITUDE” AND THAT IT “FORCED JURIES TO COME TO WRONG CONCLUSIONS.”  WELL, OF COURSE, OL’ RALPH COULDN’T BE MORE WRONG,… AGAIN.  A FACT REITERATED BY THE UNITED STATES SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE IN 1973 WHEN THEY INVESTIGATED MY GRANDFATHER’S HONESTY, ON OL’ RALPH’S BEHALF.  

THEIR CONCLUSION IS AS FOLLOWS;  “NADER’S ACCUSATIONS AGAINST FRANK WINCHELL ARE UNJUSTIFIED.  WINCHELL BORE THE BRUNT OF NADER’S CHARGES IN THE LETTERS OF OCTOBER 23, 1970 AND JULY 8, 1971.  BOTH OF WHICH WERE PUBLICLY RELEASED AND WIDELY REPORTED. ACCORDINGLY, WE BELIEVE IT IS APPROPRIATE TO STATE FOR THE RECORD, THAT WE COULD FIND NO FACTUAL BASIS FOR NADER’S ALLEGATIONS.  SO FAR AS WE COULD DETERMINE, IN HIS TESTIMONY IN COURT, AND IN INTERVIEWS WITH US, WINCHELL’S STATEMENTS WERE ACCURATE AND HONEST TO THE BEST OF HIS KNOWLEDGE AND BELIEF.”

I ASKED MY GRANDFATHER ONCE, WHY HE HATED RALPH NADER SO MUCH.  HE TOLD ME HE DIDN’T HATE HIM AT ALL, HE HATES WHAT HE STANDS FOR.  HE SAID RALPH SAW AN OPPORTUNITY THAT HE COULD EXPLOIT FOR HIS OWN PERSONAL GAIN.  HE WENT ON TO DESCRIBE RALPH AS “THE WORST KIND OF OPPORTUNIST.”

HOW DO YOU THINK RALPH NADER WOULD DESCRIBE THE AUTOMOBILE AND WHAT ITS DONE FOR OUR SOCIETY?  HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE IT? I THINK OF THINGS LIKE; FREEDOM, UTILITY, CONVENIENCE AND PURE UNADULTERATED JOY.  THIS IS OL’ RALPH’S TAKE ON IT; “FOR OVER HALF A CENTURY THE AUTOMOBILE HAS BROUGHT DEATH, INJURY AND THE MOST INESTIMABLE SORROW AND DEPRIVATION TO MILLIONS OF PEOPLE.”  THAT’S THE VERY FIRST LINE IN HIS BOOK “UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED.”

NOW, WHENEVER MY GRANDFATHER READ A BOOK HE WOULD ALWAYS USE A HIGHLIGHTER TO HIGHLIGHT TEXT HE THOUGHT NOTABLE AND WOULD JOT DOWN NOTES IN PENCIL IN THE MARGINS.  WHILE READING MY GRANDFATHER’S COPY OF “UNSAFE AT ANY SPEED,” I NOTICED SOMETHING I’D NEVER SEEN HIM DO BEFORE.  ON TWO OF THE PAGES, HE GOT OUT A BIG RED MARKER AND WROTE THESE LINES;

“WE SHOULD NOT BACK AWAY FROM THIS.”

“NO ONE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO GET AWAY WITH THIS.”

AND DO YOU KNOW WHAT?  I, FOR ONE, AM NOT GOING TO BACK AWAY FROM THIS.  I, FOR ONE, WILL NOT ALLOW HIM TO GET AWAY WITH THIS.  OH YEAH, BY THE WAY, THAT PICTURE OF RALPH NADER THAT I HAVE PROUDLY HANGING ON MY WALL… IT’S COVERING MY DART BOARD.  I NEED TO SAY ONE THING, IF OL’ RALPH BAD MOUTHS MY GRANDFATHER OR THE CORVAIR ONE MORE TIME, I MAY… SUDDENLY, UNEXPECTEDLY AND FOR NO APPARENT REASON, GO OUT OF CONTROL.

SO FRANK WINCHELL HELPED TO EXONERATE THE CORVAIR TO OUR GOVERNMENT AND IN OUR COURTS OF LAW, BUT HIS MESSAGE DID NOT REACH THE GENERAL PUBLIC.  THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE. I WANT TO PUT AN END TO SOCIETIES ERRONEOUS BELIEF THAT THE CORVAIR WAS A DANGEROUS CAR AND I THINK MY GRANDFATHER SHOULD BE THE ONE TO DO IT.  I BELIEVE I HAVE FOUND A WAY THAT WOULD BRING THE PUBLIC’S ATTENTION BACK TO THE CORVAIR.

I WANT TO FILL RALPH NADER’S HOME TOWN WITH AS MANY CORVAIRS AS POSSIBLE.  I VISUALIZE AN ANNUAL EVENT, PERHAPS A CORVAIR ROAD RALLY FROM WILLOW RUN, MICHIGAN TO WINSTED, CONNECTICUT.  WE ALL KNOW THE SIGNIFICANCE OF WILLOW RUN, BUT WINSTED, CONNECTICUT IS RALPH NADER’S HOMETOWN AND THE LOCATION OF HIS “AMERICAN MUSEUM OF TORT LAW.”  

IN THIS MUSEUM, RALPH HAS ONE OF OUR BELOVED CORVAIRS HELD PRISONER, ON DISPLAY LIKE A HUNTING TROPHY.  THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE TO ME.  I WOULD LOVE HIS PARKING LOT CHOCK-FULL OF CORVAIRS, FORCING THE NATION AND PERHAPS THE WORLD TO TAKE NOTICE. THEN, WITH A RECORDING OF A SPEECH MY GRANDFATHER GAVE AT THE 1979 CORSA CONVENTION IN DETROIT ALONG WITH “A CAR ON TRIAL,” AND WE WILL ONCE AND FOR ALL, PUT TO REST THE CONTROVERSY ABOUT THE SAFETY OF OUR HALLOWED CORVAIR.  

LET’S TALK SOME MORE ABOUT THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF TORT LAW.  THERE ARE FOUR ELEMENTS TO TORT LAW: DUTY, BREACH OF DUTY, CAUSATION, AND INJURY. IN ORDER TO CLAIM DAMAGES, THERE MUST BE A BREACH IN THE DUTY OF THE DEFENDANT TOWARDS THE PLAINTIFF, WHICH RESULTS IN AN INJURY.  

THEREFORE, BY DEFINITION, THERE IS ABSOLUTELY NO JUSTIFICATION FOR A CORVAIR TO BE ON DISPLAY IN THE AMERICAN MUSEUM OF TORT LAW, LET ALONE ITS LARGEST AND MOST PREVALENT EXHIBIT.  AND I WILL NOT REST UNTIL THAT CAR IS FREED FROM ITS PRISON AND PUT BACK ON THE AMERICAN ROADS WHERE IT BELONGS. 

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