| length =| width =| height =| weight = (1971)| related = Pontiac Astre, Chevrolet Monza
, Pontiac Sunbird, Buick Skyhawk
, Oldsmobile Starfire| designer = GM & Chevrolet Design staffs
The Chevrolet Vega
is a subcompact, four-passenger automobile produced by the Chevrolet
division of General Motors for the 1971 through 1977 model years. Introduced September, 1970 as the Vega 2300, its two-door body styles included a hatchback, notchback, wagon, and panel delivery — each using an aluminum-block 140 cu in (2287 cc) inline-4 engine.The car's name derives from the star of the same name. By 1974 the Vega was among the top 10 best-selling American cars.
[Motor Trend-April 1975 "The 10 Best Selling (American Made) Cars in the Country."]
The Cosworth Twin-Cam, a limited production, performance model using an all-aluminum 122 cu in (1994 cc) inline-4 hand-built engine was introduced March, 1975.
[Chevrolet press release, March 1975]
A poor public perception of the Vega had developed from early model engine and fender corrosion issues.
["The Vega seemed well placed to set the standard for subcompacts in the 70s, but it was troubled by one of the most vulnerable Achilles heels in modern automotive history; an alloy four-cylinder engine block that self destructed all too easily, and all too often. Once the word got out the damage was done, even though the engine had been revamped.Quote, Motor Trend September 1999, Motor Trend 50th Anniversary Issue-] ["Early cars had no inner fender liners, so the tops of the front fenders got blasted by sand and salt thrown up by the tires, and they quickly rusted. The original design provided for molded plastic front fender liners from the beginning. At the cost review meeting the finance department cancelled the liners as they would have added $1.14 per side, or $2.28 per car to the product cost. Five years later, after GM had spent millions to replace thousands of sets of rusted-out Vega fenders in the field, the plastic fender liners were reinstated as a mid-model change during the 1974 model year." Quote, Collectible Automobile April 2000]
The 1975 Vega-derived Chevrolet Monza
, and later, the lower-priced Chevrolet Chevette
, offered alternatives.
[Quote-Motor Trend-April 1975 "Monza sales hurt the Vega and will continue to do so."] [Quote-Collectible Automobile, April 2000 "..Chevrolet's release of the even less expensive Chevette in 1976 put the handwriting on the wall."]
After a three year sales decline, despite efforts to improve the car's image,
[1976 Chevrolet Vega 60,000 miles in 60 Days Durability Run sponsored by the U.S. Auto Club; The 1976 Vega was the most improved 1976 Chevrolet with 300 new part numbers: Motor Trend-International Report-The 60,000-mile Vega-Feb.1976, p.24]
Chevrolet canceled the Vega and its aluminum engine at the end of the 1977 model year.
thumb|left|No. 1 Vega built, Lordstown Assembly
Chevrolet and Pontiac
divisions were working separately on small cars in the early and mid '60s. Ed Cole, GM's executive vice-president of operating staffs was working on his own small-car project using the corporate engineering and design staffs. He presented the program to GM's president in 1967. When the corporation started seriously talking about a mini-car, Cole's version was chosen with the proposals from Chevy and Pontiac rejected, and Cole's new mini-car was given to Chevrolet to sell. Not only did corporate management make the decision to enter the mini-car market, it also decided to develop the car itself. It was a corporate car, not a divisional one.
In 1968 GM chairman James Roche announced that General Motors would produce the new mini-car in the U.S. in two years. Ed Cole was the chief engineer and Bill Mitchell, the vice-president of the design staff, was the chief stylist. Cole wanted a world-beater, and he wanted it in showrooms in 24 months.
[Chevy II, the Camaro, the 350-and 400-cid V8's and the Turbo-Hydramatic transmission. It was as GM president that Cole oversaw the genesis of the Chevrolet Vega using the project code XP-887 — ultimately meeting the projected schedule. The Vega, like the Corvair, has long been referred to as Ed Cole's baby. Chevrolet "teaser" ads began in May 1970, not announcing its name, stating-You'll see. From a list of proposed names and ultimately chosen by Cole, the car took its name from the brightest star in the constellation Lyra.]
Development 1968–1970thumb|XP-887 Hatchback clay model
GM studio, September 1968thumb|XP-887 Hatchback clay model
GM studio, late September 1968thumb|XP-887 Hatchback clay model
Chevy studio final design, 1969
The Chevy Vega was conceived in 1968 to utilize the newly-developed all-aluminum die-cast engine block technology. The first sand cast aluminum blocks were actually produced a full two years prior to the corporate decision to build the Vega.The decision was made to go with a relatively large displacement engine with good low speed torque. Economy would be achieved through the use of low numerical gear ratios, which would keep engine rpm low. The Vega engine itself went through 6,000,000 driving miles of testing. The earliest, or pre-test, version of the engine was tested in a Fiat 124 sedan. This car was used for development of the aluminum block, while several 1968 Opel sedans were used for drive train development
[Motor Trend, February 1971-Chevrolet Vega 2300 Car of the Year-Engineering]
Chevrolet instituted a totally new management program: the car line management technique. In placing a single individual, the chief vehicle engineer, in charge of the entire program and having the entire car – including engine, suspension, and brakes – designed by engineers specifically assigned to the Vega. A total of 50 engineers were assigned to the Vega engineering team broken down into body, power train, and chassis design groups; the product assurance group, and the pleasability group. Fisher Body engineers and draftsmen were also moved right in with the Vega personnel. It is generally acknowledged that this organizational arrangement made it possible to put out a totally new car in such a short time. The pleasabilty group would check continuously on the vehicles on the assembly line. As part of another program, computers would keep tabs on quality control of every vehicle built.
[Motor Trend, February 1971-Chevrolet Vega 2300 Car of the Year-Engineering]
In October 1968, there was only one body style – the "11" style notchback sedan , one engine, one transmission – the MB1 Torque-Drive manually-shifted 2-speed automatic, no headliner, one base trim level, a bench seat, molded rubber floor covering, no glove box, no air-conditioning option, ventilation only through the upper dash direct from the wiper plenum, and exterior paint on the interior. As the program progressed into development, the market changed, and so did the product:
December, 1968 – Hatchback, wagon, and panel delivery styles added. floor-level ventilation added. optional performance engine ("L-11" 2-barrel) added; predicted production rate was 20%; actually ran at 75%. Bucket seats replaced bench seat as standard equipment. Carpeting and headliners added for hatchback and station wagon. Air conditioning option added; predicted production was 10%, actually ran at 45%.
February, 1969 – Opel three- and four-speed transmissions added (3-speed standard, others optional), Powerglide added (now four transmissions), mechanical fuel pump replaced by in-tank electric pump, power steering option added, base "11" style Notchback trim upgraded to match Hatchback and Wagon (carpet and headliner).
April, 1969 – Gauge-pack cluster option added, HD suspension and wide tire option added, adjustable seat back option added; ran at 45% production, bumpers restyled, lower valance panels added, swing-out quarter window option added; ran at 10% production.
July, 1969 – Electrically-heated backlite option added; ran at 10% production, "GT" package option added at $325.00; ran at 35% production, bright window-frame and roof drip moldings added to the Hatchback and Wagon.
This is essentially how the car launched as a 1971 model. Production began on June 26, 1970. After the National GM strike (9/70-11/70) ended, bright roof drip moldings were added to base "11" notchback; moldings were sent to dealers to update units already in the field in December. The car still had no glove box.
[Vega Development & Production History by John Hinkley-GMAD-Lordstown Launch Coordinator 1969–1975]
Chevrolet paid a price in its rush to introduce the car with the other 1971 models. Tests which should have been at the proving grounds were preformed by customers necessitating numerous piecemeal "fixes" by dealers. Chevrolet's "bright star", received an enduring black eye despite a continuing development program which eventually alleviated most of these initial shortcomings.
[Cars magazine April 1974]
See: 1970 Film - Chevrolet Vega Development and Assembly
Design and engineeringthumb|left|Vega height, width & trackthumb|Vega wheelbase & overall length
All Vega models have a wheelbase and a width. 1971–72 models have a overall length or just over 14 feet. 1973 models are longer due to the front 5 mph bumper. 1974–77 models have front and rear 5 mph bumpers and are longer than the 1971–72 models. In a size comparison with a 1970 Nova, the Vega has less wheelbase, narrower width, lower height, and (1971–72 models) have less overall length.
The Hatchback Coupe is a styled small car, first and foremost, [Track and Traffic April 1971] with its lower roofline and a fold-down rear seat – it accounted for nearly half of all Vegas sold. The Sedan, later named Notchback is the only model with an enclosed trunk, has more rear seat headroom than the hatchback, and offered the lowest base price. [1973 Chevrolet Vega brochure] The wagon, named Kammback has a lower cargo liftover height, a swing-up liftgate, and of course, more carring space. Wagon rear-side windows are permanently in place. [Motor Trend-August 1970] A one-passenger panel delivery, named Panel Express is based on the wagon with steel panels in place of the rear side glass, an enclosed storage area and an optional auxiliary front passenger seat. The Panel Express used Chevy Van seats lacking headrests required for passenger vehicle classification. [1971 Chevrolet Trucks full-line brochure]
The aluminum block inline-4 engine was a joint effort from General Motors, Reynolds Metals, and Sealed Power Corp.. The engine and its die-cast block technology was developed at GM engineering staff, before the program was handed-off to Chevrolet to finalize and bring to production.
[Collectible Automobile-April 2000] Ed Cole, who had been very personally involved with the design of the 1955 Chevrolet V8 as chief engineer at Chevrolet, was equally involved with the Vega engine as GM president, and was a frequent visitor on Saturdays to the engineering staff engine drafting room, reviewing the design and giving direction for changes. As the engine development progressed at Chevrolet, it became known (in closed offices) as "The world's tallest, smallest engine" due to the tall cylinder head. [Little-known Vega Development stories by John Hinckley, GMAD-Lordstown Vega Launch Coordinator] Plagued by vibrations and noisy operation and prone to overheating, the engine definitely did not live up to the Vega's potential.By 1974, the overheating was gone, the vibrations were a thing of the past and the noise had been reduced to an acceptable level. [Cars magazine April 1974]
thumb|left|1971 Vega Hatchback Coupethumb|right|1971 Vega Sedan
GM's German subsidiary Opel was commissioned to tool up a new 3-speed derivative of their production 4-speed manual transmission. Opel had a 4-speed available that was in high-volume production, but the GM finance department insisted that the base transmission be a low-cost 3-speed, with the traditional profit-generating 4-speed as an extra-cost option. Opel tooled up a new 3-speed unit exclusively for the Vega, whose final cost was higher than the optional 4-speed due to the tooling investment and production volume. Both transmissions were shipped from Germany, 100 transmissions to a crate, and arrived in shipments of thousands of transmissions at a time.
Its suspension and live rear axle design, near ideal weight distribution, low center of gravity and neutral steering give the Vega world-class handling characteristics. Lateral acceleration capacity is .90g for the standard suspension, and .93g for the RPO F-41 suspension. Weight distribution is is quoted at 53.2% front and 46.%8 rear. The steering box and linkage are located ahead of the front wheel centerline. The shaft is a cushioned two-piece unit. The overall ratio is 22.5:1 and the curb to curb turning circle is 33 feet. The overall chassis suspension was to be tuned to a new A78 × 13 tire that was being developed concurrently with the vehicle. The front suspension is classic General Motors short and long-arm. The lower control arm bushings were actually larger than those of the second generation Camaro. [Chevrolet Vega engineering report-1970] The four-link rear suspension copied that of the second generation Chevelle, [Motor Trend-August 1970.]
thumb|left|1971 Vega Kammback Wagonthumb|1971 Vega Panel Express
The engineers in charge of chassis development were seeking a package that would provide full-size domestic car ride qualities with handling equal to that of European cars. A torque-arm rear suspension was later adopted, replacing the four-link design, thus eliminating the panic-braking induced rear wheel-hop. The Vega's front disc and rear drum brake system copied an excellent Opel design including 10-inch diameter single-piston solid rotors designed especially for the Vega and 9-inch diameter drum rear brakes, utilizing the leading-trailing design. The system is balanced to give braking distribution of 70/30 front and rear with no proportioning valve, and exhibiting nearly linear pedal effort.
All four Vega models share the same hood, fenders, floor pan, door lower panels, rocker panels, engine compartment, and front end. The roof panel is a double layer, with a drilled inner panel to cut noise. The hood is hinged at the front and features a inside locking mechanism. Due to its "Modular Construction Design", a Vega sedan with 578 body parts had 418 fewer parts than its full-size Chevrolet counterpart. Modular Construction Design reduced the number of joints and sealing operations resulting in stronger, tighter bodies, effectively contributed to vehicle quality and made possible a very high rate of production. [clay styling model, allowed computers to improve the body surface mathematically. Computer developed tapes were also used to control drafting machines in producing master surface plates which were extremely accurate. Computer was also utilized in making the hundreds of necessary engineering calculations including, vision angle, field of view, rear compartment lid and door counterbalance geometries, structural stresses, deflection calculations and tolerance studies.]Vega 2300: The story of the Engineering Concept, design and Development of Chevrolet's new little car-Chevrolet Engineering.
The Vega's styling was judged conservative, clean-lined and timeless.
[Motor Trend February 1971- Vega 1971 Car of the year]
The GM styling studio's main influence was the 1967–1969 Fiat 124 Sport Coupe AC and the Chevrolet Camaro/Corvette studio grafted a 1970 Camaro-like egg-crate grille and Chevy-style dual taillights for the sedan and hatchback models.
[Road and Track-September 1970.]
The coupe has hints of everything from Camaro to Ferrari in its styling.
[Care Life September 1970 p12]
Three years later the front end would be redesigned to accommodate the revised 1974 pendulum-test, 5-mph bumper standard. The sloped front-end was generally well-received although many Vega enthusiasts preferred the older design. The seats are covered in vinyl and foam-padded with built-in head restraints. All interior panels are single-piece molded units and flooring is rubber on sedan and delivery; Carpet on the other two models with additional sound insulation added. An optional Decor package for the sedan included the carpeting, the additional insulation and an adjustment for the passenger seat. A custom interior option for all models (except delivery) added upgraded upholstery, woodgrain accents and cargo area load floor carpeting in the hatchback and wagon.
Model year changes
thumb|1972 Vega Kammback Wagonthumb|1973 Vega GT Hatchback Coupe
In mid-1971 an optional GT package for Hatchback and Kammback models was introduced including the L-11 two-barrel 140 engine, the F-41 handling suspension option (H.D.springs and shock absorbers, front and rear stabilizer bars, 6-inch-wide wheels and 70-series raised white-letter tires), GT fender emblems, black-finished grill and lower body sills, clear parking lamp lenses, chrome belt and lower moldings, full instrumentation, 4-spoke sport steering wheel, adjustable driver's seat back, a passenger-assist handle and a wood-grain dash
. Satin-finished GT wheels with trim rings and chrome center caps replaced the argent wheels and stainless hub caps, and a hood/deck sport stripe in black or white was optional.
[1971 Chevrolet Vega brochure]
Yenko Chevrolet marketed the Yenko Stinger II through 1973 — based on the Vega GT, its 140 CID L-11 engine featured high-compression pistons and a turbocharger producing 155-hp. Included were front and rear spoiler
and side striping with "Yenko Stinger II" identification.
1972 models were essentially carried over from 1971 with a few refinements and additions. Vibration and noise levels were reduced by a revised exhaust system
and better driveline damping and the rear shock absorbers were revised. The Turbo-hydramatic 3-speed automatic transmission and a custom cloth interior were new options and a glove box was added.
[1972 Chevrolet Vega brochure.]
The 1973 Vega had over 300 changes, including new exterior and interior colors and new standard interior trim. The front and rear script nameplates — "Chevrolet Vega 2300" were changed to block letters — "VEGA by Chevrolet". The front bumper, on stronger brackets was extended 3 inches with a steel body-color filler panel — to meet the 1973 5-mph front bumper standards. US-built Saginaw manual transmissions and a new shift linkage replaced the Opel-built units. The L-11 engine featured a new Holley staged two-barrel carburetor. New options included BR70-13 white stripe steel belted radial tires, full wheel covers and body side molding with black rubber insert. Two new models were introduced mid-year — the Estate Kammback Wagon with wood grain sides and rear trim, and the LX Notchback including a vinyl roof. On May 17, 1973 the millionth Vega was produced at the Lordstown assembly plant — a bright orange GT Hatchback with white sport stripes, power steering, a neutral custom vinyl interior with exclusive vinyl door panels,
[The pleated vinyl door panels replaced the molded plastic door panels. The following model year the vinyl door panels were adopted as part of the custom interior available on all models.] accent-color orange carpeting and millionth Vega door handle accents. A limited edition "Millionth Vega" was introduced replicating the milestone car. 6500 were built May 1 to July 1. [Chevrolet press release-May 17, 1973.]
The 1974 model year brought the only major exterior design changes, due to the revised front and rear 5-mph bumper standards. The redesigned front end featured a slanted header panel and recessed headlamp bezels with a louvered steel grille replacing the egg-crate plastic grille. Front and rear aluminum bumpers with inner steel spring (resembling the '74 Camaro) replaced the chrome bumpers, and front and rear license plate mountings were relocated. A revised rear panel on Notchback and Hatchback models had larger single unit taillights and ventilation grills were eliminated on trunk and hatch lids. Overall length was increased six inches (152 mm) compared to 1971-72 models.
[1974 Chevrolet Vega brochure.] A 16 gallon fuel tank replaced the 11 gallon tank. The GT sport stripes option was changed — side striping replaced the painted hood/deck stripes. The custom interior's wood-trimmed molded door panels were replaced with vinyl door panels matching the seat trim. In January plastic front fender liners were added after thousands of sets of fenders were replaced under warranty on 1971-74 models. In February the "Spirit of America" limited edition hatchback was introduced featuring a white exterior, white vinyl roof, blue and red striping on body-sides, hood and rear-end panel, emblems on front fenders and rear panel, white "GT" wheels, A70-13 raised white-letter tires, a white custom vinyl interior and red accent color carpeting. [1974 Chevrolet Folder-Spirit of America Vega] 7500 were built through May. The 1975 Vega had 264 changes including H.E.I. (High-energy) electronic ignition and catalytic converter. New options included power brakes, tilt steering wheel, BR78-13B GM-spec steel belted wsw radial tires, and a special custom cloth interior option for the Hatchback and Kammback. In March the Cosworth Vega was introduced featuring an all-aluminum twin-cam inline-4 engine and the first use of electronic fuel injection on a Chevrolet passenger car. [GM Heritage Center, Generations of GM History] All 2,061 '75 models were black with gold accent striping, gold-colored aluminum wheels and black custom vinyl, black custom cloth, or white custom vinyl interiors with a gold "engine turned" dash bezel and gold-plated plaque with Cosworth ID and build number. [1975 Chevrolet Cosworth Twin-Cam folder-March 1975.] The Panel Express was discontinued at the end of the model year. Never a big seller, Panel Express sales peaked the Vega's first year at 7,800 units. After leveling off to an average of 4000 per year, only 1525 '75s were sold. [H Body.org FAQ]Total sales fell to 206,239.
1976 models had 300 changes. A facelift included a revised header panel with Chevy bowtie emblem, a wider grill, revised headlamp bezels —all made of corrosion resistant material, and new tri-color taillights for the Notchback and Hatchback. The 2.3 liter engine, named Dura-built 140, received improved cooling and durability refinements. The chassis received the Monza's upgraded components including the box-section front cross-member, larger rear brakes, and torque-arm rear suspension which replaced the four-link design. The body received extensive anti-rust improvements including galvanized fenders and rocker panels. New models introduced were the GT Estate wagon, the Cabriolet Notchback with a half vinyl roof with opera windows, similar to the Monza Towne Coupe, and a limited edition Nomad Wagon featuring restyled side windows.
[1976 Vega brochure] New options included a Borg Warner 5-speed manual overdrive transmission and a houndstooth type seat trim named "sport cloth" for an additional charge of $18. In January, a "Sky-Roof" with tinted reflectorized sliding glass and 8-track tape player options were added. The Cosworth was offered in eight additional exterior and two additional interior colors, but was canceled in July after only 1446 '76 models. [Chevrolet Division memo-July 1976]
1977 models were carried over from 1976 with a few revisions and additions. The Notchback was renamed Coupe. The Dura-built 140 engine received a pulse-air system to meet the more strict 1977 Federal emission standards. A similar system secured the Cosworth engine EPA certificate in 1975. The one-barrel version of the engine was dropped, as was the 3-speed manual transmission. A full console was a new option and GTs received blacked-out trim and a revised side striping option.
[1977 Chevrolet Vega brochure]
140 CID OHCthumb|right|140 CID 1 bbl. I-4, 90 hp
The Vega engine is a 140 cu in (2287 cc) inline-4 featuring a die-cast aluminum cylinder and case assembly and a cast-iron cylinder head with a single overhead camshaft (SOHC)
The cylinder block is an open deck design with siamesed free-standing cylinder bores. Outer case walls form the water jacket and are sealed off by the head and the head gasket. The block has cast iron main caps and a cast iron crankshaft. The cast iron cylinder head was chosen for low cost and structural integrity. The overhead valvetrain is a direct acting design of extreme simplicity. Only three components activate the valve rather than the usual seven of a typical push rod system. The camshaft is supported by five conventional pressed-in bearings. The camshaft is driven from the crankshaft by an externally mounted continuous cogged belt and sprocket system. Six v-grooves on the outside of the belt drive the water pump and fan. [Engineering Concept, Design and Development of Chevrolet's new liitle car Vega 2300]
The large bore and long stroke design provide good torque and lower rpm operation for reduced wear. Compression ratio for the standard and optional engine is 8.0:1, as the engine was designed to operate on low-lead and no-lead fuels. A single-barrel carburetor version produces . The two-barrel version (RPO L11) produces . From 1972 on, ratings were listed as SAE net. The relatively large (for an inline-4) engine is naturally prone to vibration and is subdued by large rubber engine mounts. The 1972 Rochester DualJet two-barrel carburetor required an air pump for emission certification and was replaced in 1973 with a Holley-built 5210C staged two-barrel carb. Emission control revisions made in 1973 reduced power output on the optional engine by 5 bhp, although the engine's cruising noise levels were reduced.
[Road & Track-June 1973]H.E.I. ignition was introduced on 1975 engines. [1975 Chevrolet Vega brochure]
See: Criticism - 140 engine
Dura-Built 140thumb|right|Dura-built 140 CID 2bbl. I-4, 84 hp
The 140 CID engine was named Dura-Built 140 in 1976. It featured improved coolant pathways for the aluminum-block, a redesigned cylinder head incorporating quieter hydraulic valve lifters, longer life valve stem seals (which reduced oil consumption by 50%), and a redesigned water pump, head gasket, and thermostat. Warranty on the engine was 5 years/.
[1976 Chevrolet Vega brochure]
"August 1, 1975. 8 a.m. Outside the southern edge of Las Vegas, Nevada. Three medium orange Vegas start their engines. They won't be turning them off much during the next 58 days except for rest and food stops, refueling and maintenance. They have a job to do."
[Quoted text-Chevrolet brochure-60,000 miles in less than 60 days in and around Death Valley. '76 Vega Dura-Built engine. Built to take it.]
thumb|left|1976 Vegas on the
60,000 miles in 60 days Durability RunChevrolet conducted an advertised
60,000 miles in 60 days Durability Run of the 1976 Vega and its Dura-Built 140 engine. Three new Vega hatchback coupes equipped with manual transmissions and air conditioning were driven non-stop for in 60 days through the deserts of California and Nevada (Death Valley) using three pre-production models of the subcompact and nine non-professional drivers.
All three 1976 Vegas completed a total of with only one "reliability" incident — a broken timing belt. This fact prompted Vega project engineer Bernie Ernest to say, "The Vega has reliability in excess of 60,000 miles, and therefore the corporation feels very comfortable with the warranty."
[Motor Trend-International Report-The 60,000-mile Vega-Feb.1976, p.24, quote]
Motor Trend in their February 1976 report
The 60,000-mile Vega, said, "Chevrolet chose the 349-mile Southwestern desert route in order to show the severely criticized engine and cooling system had been improved in the 1976 model. During the 60-day test which was certified and supervised by the United States Auto Club, the three cars were subjected to ambient temperatures never lower than degrees and often reaching as high as . The nine drivers were instructed to treat the cars as they would their own and use the air conditioning as desired. Yet, in more than 180,000 miles of total driving, the cars used only 24 ounces of coolant, an amount attributed to normal evaporation under severe desert conditions. Furthermore, fuel economy for the three test Vegas averaged 28.9 mpg over the duration of the run, while oil was used at the rate of only one quart every 3400 miles. Translated into actual driving expenses, the three Vegas averaged a per-mile cost of 2.17 cents."
[Motor Trend-International Report-The 60,000-mile Vega-Feb.1976, p.24 quote] One of the cars went on display at the 1976 New York Auto Show. The 1976 Vega was marketed as a durable and reliable car. [1976 Chevrolet Brochure-'76 Vega Dura-built engine. Built to take it.] [1976 Chevrolet Vega ad-Built to take it] The 1977 Dura-Built 140 engine added a pulse-air system to meet the more-strict 1977 U.S. exhaust emission regulations. The engine paint color (as used on all Chevy engines) changed from orange on '76 engines, to blue on '77 engines.
122 CID DOHCthumb|Cosworth Twin-Cam 16-valve
122 CID EFI I-4, 110 hp
The Cosworth Vega Twin-Cam engine is a 122 cu in (1994 cc) inline-4 featuring a die cast aluminum alloy cylinder and case assembly and a Type 356 aluminum alloy, 16-valve cylinder head with double overhead camshafts (DOHC). The camshafts are held in a removable cam-carrier which also serves as a guide for the valve lifters. Each camshaft is supported by five bearings and is turned by individual cam gears on the front end. The two overhead camshafts are driven, along with the water pump and fan, by a fiberglass cord reinforced neoprene rubber belt, much like the Vega 140 cu in engine. Below the cam carrier is a 16-valve cylinder head constructed of an aluminum alloy using sintered iron valve seats and iron cast valve seats. Sturdy forged aluminum pistons and heat-treated forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods reveal racing ancestry; assure high performance durability.
[Chevrolet 1975 Cosworth Vega Service and Overhaul supplement-General information]
The engine features a stainless steel exhaust header and electronic fuel injection (EFI) – a Bendix system with pulse-time manifold injection, four injector valves, an electronic control unit (ECU), five independent sensors and two fuel pumps. Each engine was hand-built and includes a cam cover sticker with the engine builder's signature. The Cosworth Vega engine is some 60 pounds lighter and presents a far handsomer spectacle than the odd looking SOHC Vega engine.
[Road Test, September 1973] The engine develops its maximum power at 5,600 rpm and is redlined at 6,500 where the SOHC Vega engine peaks at 4,400 and all is done at 5,000. Final rating is [Road & Track-March 1975. Chevrolet Cosworth Vega] With only 3,508 of the 5,000 engines used, GM disassembled about 500; the remaining engines were scrapped. [Cosworth Vega Owners Association]
Aluminum engine blockthumb|left|Vega aluminum engine block has 17 percent content, free standing siamese cylinder walls]
GM Research Labs had been working on a sleeveless aluminum block since the late '50s. The incentive was cost. Engineering out the four-cylinder block liners would save $8 per unit. Reynolds Metal Co. developed an eutectic alloy called A-390, composed of 77 percent aluminum, 17 percent silicon, 4 percent copper, 1 percent iron, and traces of phosphorus, zinc, manganese, and titanium — suitable for faster production diecasting, making the Vega block less expensive to manufacture than other aluminum engines. Sealed Power Corp. developed chrome-plated piston rings that were blunted to prevent scuffing. Basic work had been done under Eudell Jackobson of GM engineering. Then suddenly, Chevrolet got handed the job of putting this sleeveless aluminum block into production — a feat never before attempted.
The Vega blocks were cast in Massena, NY at the same factory that had produced the Corvair engine. The casting process provided a uniform distribution of fine primary silicon particles approximately 0.001 inches (25 µm) in size. The blocks were aged 8 hours at 450 °F (232 °C) to achieve dimensional stability, then inpregnated with sodium silicate.
[Collectable Automobile-April 2000] From Massena, the cast engine blocks were shipped to GM's engine plant in Tonawanda, NY where they underwent the etch and machining operations. The cylinder bores were rough and finish-honed conventionally to a 7-microinch (180 nm) finish then etched removing approximately 0.00015-inch (3.8 µm) of aluminum, leaving the
pure silicon particles prominent to form the bore surface. A four-layer plating process was necessary for the piston skirts, putting a hard iron surface opposite the silicon of the block. From Tonawanda, the engines went to the Chevrolet assembly plant in Lordstown, Ohio.
Engine output summary
| Year|| Standard Engine|| Optional L-11 Engine & GT (Z29)|| Cosworth Twin-Cam (ZO9)|
| 1971|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2400 rpm
|| @ 4800 rpmof torque @ 3200 rpm
| 1972|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2400 rpm
|| @ 4800 rpmof torque @ 2800 rpm
| 1973|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2000 rpm
|| @ 4800 rpmof torque @ 2400 rpm
| 1974|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2400 rpm
|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2400 rpm
| 1975|| @ 4200 rpmof torque @ 2000 rpm
|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2800 rpm
|| @ 5600 rpmof torque @ 4800 rpm
| 1976|| @ 4200 rpmof torque @ 2000 rpm
|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2800 rpm
|| @ 5600 rpmof torque @ 4800 rpm
| 1977|| @ 4400 rpmof torque @ 2800 rpm
- 1972–1977 hp/torque ratings are SAE Net
[1971–1977 Chevrolet Vega brochures - engine hp/torque specifications]
- L-11 engine standard on 1977 models
[1977 Vega brochure]
OHC L-10thumb|220px| Vega#Concept car|XP-898 concept prototype Vega L-10 engine with "crossflow" aluminum head]
Although the optional L-11 engine became a mainstream part of the Vega development program in December 1968, the Chevrolet engine group had an intense dislike for the tall iron cylinder head with its unusual tappet arrangement and side-flow "Heron" combustion chamber design that had been thrust on them from GM engineering staff, and set out to design their own.
The design evolved rapidly as a "crossflow" aluminum cylinder head with a single centrally-mounted overhead camshaft (OHC) and roller rocker arms operating intake valves on one side and exhaust valves on the other, remarkably similar to the Ferrari V-12 cylinder head design of that period; it was almost 4" lower than the Vega production head, was a lot lighter, had true "hemi" chambers with big valves, and made excellent power. Numerous prototypes were built, and manufacturing tooling was started in anticipation of approval for production. The real story never came out, but some combination of corporate politics ("You don’t need another cylinder head – mine will work just fine") and additional program investment killed the program. Had it gone to production, it would not have had the differential expansion head gasket problems that plagued the iron-head engine, and would have provided significantly higher performance than the optional L-11 engine.
RC2-206 Wankelthumb|220px|1974 Vega RC2-206 Wankel
In November 1970, GM paid $50 million for initial licenses to produce the Wankel rotary engine, and GM President Ed Cole projected its release in three years, initially targeted for an October 1973 introduction as a 1974 Vega option.
Motor Trend, July 1973, p.52. RC2-206 Wankels were installed in 1973 Vegas for cold weather testing in Canada.
Motor Trend, in a 1973 article "The '75 Vega Rotary" said: "GM saw the rotary engine's future as probably much greater than they do today...mileage will be in the 16-18 mpg range. Compared to the normal piston (engine) Vega's 20 to 26 mpg, the whole rotary deal begins to look just a little less attractive, with what the price of gasoline skyrocketing, but that's another matter."
[quote-Motor Trend-July 1I73-p.52]
Unwilling to face gas mileage criticism that Mazda withstood, GM felt it could meet 1975 emissions standards with the engine tuned to provide better mileage. Other refinements improved mileage to a remarkable 20 mpg, but with the fuel breakthrough came related side-effect problems — apex seal failures, as well as a rotor tip-seal problem.
[Monza 2+2, would not be ready for either production or emissions certification in time for the start of the 1975 model year, and after paying another $10 million against its rotary licence fees, the company announced the first postponement. ]
Motor Trend in April 1974 predicted the final outcome
[Motor Trend-April 1974] — On September 24, 1974, Ed Cole postponed the Wankel engine ostensibly due to emissions difficulties. He retired the same month. GM admitted fuel economy for the rotary was sub-standard and postponed production in favor of further development. Pete Estes succeeded Ed Cole as GM President and never showed any special interest in the Wankel or in the perpetuation of Cole's ideas. [Estes had previously decided to let the Corvair, another Cole project, expire, well before the celebrated attacks of Ralph Nader. ]
Motor Trend, April 1974.
Lordstown AssemblyGM built a $75 million plant, Lordstown Assembly in Lordstown, Ohio, to produce the Vega. When completed, Lordstown was the world's most automated auto plant.
[welds were carried out automatically by industrial robots called Unimates. Engine and rear axle assemblies postioned by hydraulic lifts with bodies overhead were synchronized to move along the line at 30 feet per minute. Sub-assembly areas, conveyor belts and quality control were all computer directed.] [Motor Trend, February 1971]
Production speedthumb|210px|left|Building Chevrolet Vegas at Lordstown Assembly in Lordstown, Ohiothumb|Lordstown workers lift powertrain and rear axle sub-assemblies into Vega body
Vega production at Lordstown was projected at 100 cars an hour from the beginning: one vehicle every 36 seconds. This was nearly twice the normal volume and by far was the fastest rate in the world.
New paint chemistrythumb|right|Lordstown Assembly, Vega Final Line
As initial production ramped up to the goal of 100 vehicles per hour, a major problem developed in the paint shop. At 85 units per hour, the incidence of deficient paint application had risen to where nearly 100% of the units required repair. They simply could not lay the paint on fast enough with conventional pressures and tips, and when they increased pressures and opened up tips, they got runs and sags everywhere. Fisher Body had no effective means to reach full production targets, so they called DuPont (lacquer paint supplier); using two mobile paint laboratories, they developed a new paint chemistry and application specifics over a weekend — Non-Aqueous Dispersion Lacquer (NAD). There were production paint colors to that new formulation within a week, which enabled them to continue the production ramp-up successfully to 106 per hour in the paint shop. John Hinkley, GMAD-Lordstown Coordinator said: "Masking, painting, and demasking the GT's optional sport stripes was something to see at 106 per hour."
[Quote-John Hinkley-GMAD-Lordstown Vega Launch Coordinator]
Wood-grain filmAfter two years of production a wood-grain option for the wagon, the Vega Kammback Estate was released in January 1973. Nobody at Lordstown had applied wood-grain film to a car since the Caprice wagon in 1969, and it was nearly impossible to apply to the Vega body contours at 100 bodies per hour without wrinkles and tremendous scrap of the material. Wood-grain was pulled from the production schedule, and they called in an expert from Schlegel, the wood-grain film supplier, to refresh everyone's skills and show them how to do it at their high line rate. He set up shop in the company car garage, and trained a team of twelve people – six from each shift – on three wagons they sent through the system on purpose without the film installed. Everyone picked up the techniques, and they put wood-grain back in the schedule the next day and ran with no problems.
Vertical rail transportthumb|left|30 Vegas to a single Vert-a-pacthumb|right|Vegas being loaded on Vert-a-pac
The Vega was designed to be shipped vertically, nose down. Railroad cars named '
Vert-A-Pac were designed jointly by General Motors and Southern Pacific — each holding 30 Vegas versus 18 in normal tri-level autoracks. Each car was fitted with four removable, cast-steel sockets into the undercarriage. Plastic spacers were wedged in beside the powertrain to prevent damage to engine and transmission mounts and were removed when the cars were unloaded. The rail car ramp/doors were opened and closed via forklift.
[Popular Mechanics, October 1969, page 151]
Chevrolet conducted vibration and low-speed crash tests to ensure the suspended, nose-down cars would not shift or incur damage in railroad collisions. Chevrolet's goal was to deliver cars topped with fluids and ready to drive to the dealership. To do this, engineers had to design an engine oil baffle to prevent oil from entering the No. 1 cylinder; Batteries had filler caps located high up on the rear edge of the battery case to prevent acid spilling; the carburetor float bowl had a tube that drained gasoline into the vapor canister during shipment, and the windshield washer bottle stood at a 45 degree angle.
[Collectable Automobile. April 2000 p.37 "Riding the rails: Shipping Vegas by Vert-a-pac."]
DeLorean influenceGM Vice President John Z. DeLorean was appointed general manager of Chevrolet in 1969, a year prior to the Vega's introduction. DeLorean oversaw the Vega launch – directing the Chevrolet division and the Lordstown Assembly plant. He promoted the car in Motor Trend and Look magazines. DeLorean also authorized the Cosworth Vega prototype, later requesting initiation of production.
[Car and Driver, How To Hatch an Engine - October 1975] His 1979 book, On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors, included a chapter on the Vega program.
thumb|John DeLorean and Vega 2300 in 1970
In Motor Trends August 1970 issue, DeLorean discussed the upcoming car, touting its quality of assembly and its handling capabilities. DeLorean said,
"Our design concept was we wanted to build a car that does everything well, and if you drive the car you really will be very impressed. It has far and away the best handling of anything in its class. In fact it handles better than many sports cars. The performance is excellent. There is nothing that comes within a mile of the Vega for performance and handling. It out-performs any car in its price class in accelerating. This car will out-handle almost any sports car built in Europe. Not just little cars, but sports cars too. This is quite an automobile...The Vega is going to be built at a quality level that has never been attained before in a manufacturing operation in this country, and probably in the world. We have automatic inspection of virtually every single engine part and so we know it is going to be right.. I think the ride and handling of some of the imports is quite mediocre. But some of them are extremely well put together. The Vega has good craftsmanship, without the faults of the imports."
[quoted from Motor Trend, August 1970.]
On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors -John Z. DeLorean's Look Inside The Automotive Giant by J. Patrick Wright was written in 1974, a year following DeLorean's resignation from GM, and finally published in 1979. In "The Vega" chapter, DeLorean was critical of the corporate control of the Vega program and discussed his decisions in regards to launching the car. DeLorean said,
thumb|1972 Vega Sedan,"This program produced a hostile relationship between the corporate staffs, which essentially designed and engineered the car, and Chevrolet Division which was to sell it. From the first day I stepped into Chevrolet, the Vega was in trouble. Engineers are a very proud group. They take interest and pride in their designs, but this was not their car and they did not want to work on it. My most important problem was to motivate the division to get the car into as good shape as we could before introduction. So we made the Vega the first project of the new Planning Committee and gave it top priority with the revised marketing department. As the Lordstown, Ohio assembly plant was converted to Vega production, I initiated an intense program for quality control with the target of making the first cars off the assembly line the best quality cars, from a manufacturing standpoint, ever built. As the starting date approached, we put tens of additional inspectors and workers on the line and introduced a computerized quality control program in which each car was inspected as it came off the line and, if necessary, repaired." "While I was convinced that we were doing our best with the car that was given to us, I was called upon by the corporation to tout the car far beyond my personal convictions about it." "I said with a clear conscience that it was a quality car, and I believed it was because the first 2,000 cars were road tested off the assembly line with a sizable proportion thereafter, and millions of dollars was spent to reinspect and repair each vehicle." "In naming the car one name stood out - Gemini. When pronounced it almost said "G-M-ini. Marketing studies notwithstanding, Ed Cole liked the name Vega and so did top corporate management, who disregarded our test results."
[Wright, J. Patrick. "On a Clear Day you Can See General Motors: John Z. DeLorean's Look Inside the Automotive Giant". New York Smithmark Publishing, 1979 ISBN 0-9603562-0-7.]
Vega versus competitorsthumb|1971 Gremlin X, 1972 Pinto Runabout & 1973 Vega GT photographed in 2010As domestic automakers entered the subcompact class, Chevrolet's introduction of the Vega on September 10, 1970 followed the AMC Gremlin by six months and preceded the Ford Pinto by one day.
[Collectible Automobile: April 2000] Time magazine in September, 1970 said the Vega was slightly more expensive than the Pinto. Motor Trend in February, 1971 said conservative estimates had placed the cost of bringing the Vega (XP-887) from drawing board to production reality at a staggering $200 million compared to about $5 million for the AMC Gremlin. [Motor Trend, February 1971] The Vega competed directly with its domestic rivals and Japanese imports from Toyota and Datsun as well as the successful, but aging VW Beetle [Collectible Automobile: April 2000]
Five months prior to the Vega's public introduction, Chevrolet invited six publications to participate in a test run from Denver, Colorado to Phoenix, Arizona. Six cars were provided, driven out to Denver from the GM Proving Grounds in Milford, Michigan. Three Vegas - a sedan, coupe, and wagon, VW Beetle, Toyota Corona, and Ford Maverick.
[ "The Maverick, a slow steering handful, no one enjoyed having to drive fast."] In September 1970 Car Life magazine reported on the test run: "The motoring press took an 890-mile trip in three Vegas and three competitors. The Vegas won."
"At 7000 feet, all the cars were running rich, of course but the poor little Toyota would barely start, and its acceleration from a stop sign was really awful." Quotes, Car Life -September 1970
[Quote, Car Life -September 1970 p9] "The most impressive part of the trip was the cornering power of the three Vegas. None of the other cars could begin to keep up." [Quote, Car Life -September 1970] The highest speed attained on a level road was 105 mph at 5250 rpm by the Vega coupe with the L-11 performance option. The highest fuel mileage recorded was the Vega sedan at 25.5 mpg. The best 0-60 time was the L-11 Vega coupe at 13.5 seconds. ["The mpg results were obtained on the trip with the cars operating at high altitudes and pushed to the limit. The 0-60 times were recorded at the GM proving grounds." Care Life September 1970] ["The highest spot on the trip was 11,302 feet. The average speed was 57 mph which meant cruising at 80 mph whenever road conditions allowed it. The slowest speed on some of the long climbs was 40-45 mph, the maximum capability of the Toyota with its 2-speed automatic. The base Vega with the 3-speed manual and 2.53:1 axle climbed the same grade in second gear at 65 mph and a modest 4100 rpm." Quotes, Care Life September 1970]
Motor Trend in a 1971 VW-Pinto-Vega comparison said, "The engine in the Vega is the strongest of the three...its drag strip performance will blow the doors off both the Pinto and the VW. The Vega, while enjoyable to drive, is a more serious car. It's faster, more comfortable, quieter and better riding than either the Pinto or VW while still delivering respectable fuel economy."
[Motor Trend January 1971]
Car and Driver in 1971 awarded top pick to the Vega above the Ford Pinto, AMC Gremlin, VW Beetle, Toyota Corolla and Chrysler Simca. C&D said: "The Vega was the most expensive car in the test by almost $300 but the Vega's virtues are nicely in proportion to its price and it was the unanimous favorite." "The Vega pulls down the number one position because of its particular suitability to American driving conditions. In general the Vega is quick and nimble without the sports car harshness most American car drivers find objectionable." "The Vega's tall 2.53:1 axle ratio allowed a low 3,000 rpm at 80 mph (130 km/h)." "It was the quickest of the cars tested, taking 12.2 seconds to reach ." C&D credited the Vega "an excellent combination of performance and economy."
[Car and Driver, January 1971. Six-Car Comparison Test. p.21]
Motor Trend in a 1972 comparison test A Back Door To Economy chose the Vega GT best car over the Ford Pinto Runabout and Gremlin X saying, "Chevy has had it all along." "Even extended trips do not induce excessive driver fatigue and that is one reason why it was the Car of the Year in 1971.
[ Motor Trend January 1972-A Back Door To Economy]
Car and Driver in a 6-Car Comparison Test Super Coupes in 1972 rated the Vega GT's styling over Pinto Runabout, Opel 1900 Rallye, Mazda RX-2, Capri 2000, and Toyota Celica, saying: "...If looks alone determined the best Super coupe, the Vega GT would win hands down without ever turning a wheel."
[Car and Driver, December 1971, "Super Coupe Comparison Test" 25]
Road Test magazine in the 1976 Super Coupe Shootout — Alfa vs. Mazda vs. Lancia vs. Saab vs. Cosworth Vega, RT said: "The results are in Figure 2. Read 'em and weep, all you foreign-is-better nuts, because right there at the top, and by a long way at that, is the Cosworth Vega. It had the fastest 0-60 time, the fastest quarter-mile time, and tied with the Saab for the shortest braking distance".
[The Great Supercoupe Shootout - Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT, Mazda Cosmo, Lancia Beta Coupe, Saab EMS, Cosworth Vega - Road Test magazine, October 1976] "The Cosworth is American, and a collector's item, and it came close, damn close to winning the whole thing." ["The Grand Finale. Hot laps of the track...the amazing thing about it all was that the Cosworth was next by a close tenth of a second." (Riverside Raceway Lap Times: Alfa Romeo Alfetta GT-1:58.61 Cosworth Vega-1:58.71), Road Test magazine, October 1976]
Motor Trend Classic magazine in a 2010 Loving Look Back comparison — 1973 Vega GT, 1972 Pinto Runabout and 1971 Gremlin X — closes the article saying, "Emotionally, Jim Brokaw summed it up in January 1972: Gremlin has power, but Pinto has the price, and a much quieter ride. Which car is best? Vega."
[Quotes-Frank Marcus, Technical Director Motor Trend - Motor Trend Classic-Fall 2010]
AwardsThe Vega received awards from Motor Trend, Car and Driver and the American Iron and Steel Institute. Chevrolet's early Vega advertising included ads promoting awards won by the car. Frank Markus, Technical Director of Motor Trend wrote in the Motor Trend Classic Fall 2010 issue,
"Chevrolet spun the Vega as a more American, upscale car. And let's face it, the car looked hot. So can you blame us for falling hook, line, and sinker for the Vega and naming it 1971's Car of the Year?"
thumb|200px|left|Chevrolet Vega advertisement-1971thumb|200px|Chevrolet Vega advertisement-1972
Motor Trend awarded the Vega 1971 Car of the Year.
[Motor Trend-February 1971. 1971 Car of The Year: Chevrolet Vega 2300]
MT: "The base Vega is a magnificent automobile without any options at all."
for the money, no other American car can deliver more."
[quote, Motor Trend-February 1971. 1971 Car of The Year: Chevrolet Vega 2300]
American Iron and Steel Institute awarded the Vega in 1971 for–Excellence in design in transportation equipment.
[1973 Chevrolet folder: back cover-Best Economy Sedan for '73-Vega]
Motor Trend awarded the Vega GT 1973 Car of the Year in the Economy Class.
[Motor Trend-February 1973. The Car of the Year Candidates]
MT: "The best version of the Vega came out on top matched against the best versions of its competition."..."The Vega was judged solid, warm and comfortable, with a good finish." Pleasing the American car buyer is a delicate task. Economy really means economy with an illusion of luxury. This time Chevrolet won the guessing game."
[Motor Trend-February 1973. Monte Carlo: The Car of the Year.]
Car and Driver readers voted the Vega Best Economy Sedan in 1971, 1972 and 1973 in C&D's Annual Reader's Choice Poll. In 1971, the Vega's first year on the market, it managed to unseat the incumbent import, breaking its eight year winning streak.
[Car and Driver May 1971, May 1972, May 1973]
Car and Driver selected the Cosworth Vega one of the 10 Best Collectable Cars in its fourth annual Ten Best issue, saying: "We're talking about historical significance here."
[Car and Driver-January 1986. "Ten Best"]
ProductionTotal Vega production was 1,966,157 including 3,508 Cosworth Vegas.
thumb|1971 Vega Panel Express
Panels were only 2% of production.
1973 Vega GT-Millionth Vega limited edition
The millionth Vega was built May 17, 1973.
note: 1973 model breakdown N/A
| Year|| Notchback|| Hatchback|| Kammback|| Panel Del.|| Cosworth|| Total|
| 1971|| 58,800|| 168,300|| 42,800|| 7,800|| —|| 277,700|
| 1972|| 55,800|| 262,700|| 72,000|| 4,114|| —|| 394,592|
| 1973|| n/a|| n/a|| n/a|| n/a|| —|| 395,792|
| 1974|| 63,591|| 271,682|| 113,326|| 4,287|| —|| 452,886|
| 1975|| 35,143|| 112,912|| 56,133|| 1,525|| 2,061|| 206,239|
| 1976|| 27,619|| 77,409|| 46,114|| —|| 1,446|| 160,523|
| 1977|| 12,365|| 37,395|| 25,181|| —|| —|| 78,402|
Rebadged variantsVega body styles were used to produce several badge engineered variants. 1973–'77 Pontiac Astres used all Vega bodies (and Vega engines through 1976). 1978–'79 Chevrolet Monza and Pontiac Sunbird wagons used the Vega Kammback wagon body with engines supplied by Pontiac and Buick. Chevy also offered the price leader, Monza 'S' for 1978, using the Vega Hatchback body.
[1973–1977 Pontiac Astre brochures, 1978–'79 Chevrolet Monza brochures, 1978–'79 Pontiac Sunbird brochures]
thumb|1975 Astre GT Hatchback Coupethumb|1978 Monza 'S' Hatchback Coupethumb|1978 Monza Estate Wagonthumb|1978 Sunbird Safari Wagons
Pontiac Astre, was introduced in the U.S. for the 1975 model year giving Pontiac dealers a needed fuel efficient subcompact. Pontiac's trademark split grill and front emblem, Astre nameplates, an upgraded interior trim and a Pontiac steering wheel with emblem helped to differentiate itself from the Vega. The SJ Hatchback and SJ Safari Wagon models feature soft nylon upholstery, cut pile carpeting, padded and cloth covered door panels, and a fabric headliner, plus rally instruments, the higher-output two barrel engine, four-speed (over a 3-speed manual) gearbox or automatic and radial tires. A GT package option for the hatchback and Safari wagon combined the lower-line interior with the SJ's performance and handling features. 3000 1975 "Lil Wide Track" packages were sold. 1977 models featured a new vertical design grill and aluminum wheels were a new option. The Astre Formula was introduced which included the handling package, chrome valve cover, three-piece spoiler, Formula T/A steering wheel and special decals.
[1977 Pontiac full line catalog]The Astre used the Vega engine through 1976. The Pontiac 151 CID (2.5 L) OHV Iron-Duke inline-4 engine was used for the final 1977 model year. Transmissions are the 3 and 4-speed manual, 5-speed manual with overdrive (1976–'77 option) and the 3-speed automatic.
Chevrolet Monza 'S produced for the 1978 model year used the Vega hatchback body style. With the Vega nameplate canceled, the Monza 'S' was marketed as a price leader for the Chevy Monza line. The rebadged hatchback had the new Monza front end header panel and grill with Chevy bowtie emblem, steel front and rear bumpers replaced the Vega's aluminum bumpers. Monza front fender nameplates, and a two-spoke color keyed steering wheel with Monza emblem. White-wall tires and full wheel covers were standard as were bumper rub strips. In addition, there was an expanded engine availability. Pontiac's OHV 'Iron-Duke' in-line 4 was standard. A choice of two V6 engines were available. Buick's V6 and V6. The 4-speed manual was standard with all engines. The 5-speed manual with overdrive and 3-speed automatic transmissions were optional.
[1978 Chevrolet Monza brochure]
Chevrolet Monza Wagon produced for the 1978–79 model years used the Vega wagon body style. The rebadged wagon had the new Monza front end and grill and front and rear steel bumpers, front fender namplates and the Monza steering wheel with emblem. White-wall tires, full wheel covers and bumper rub strips were standard equipment. The Monza Estate, like the Vega Estate wagon it replaced, features wood grain sides and rear trim with outline moldings and the custom interior. Monza wagon models included, as standard, the 151 CID I-4. The and CID V6 engines were optional. The 4-speed manual was standard with all engines. The 5-speed manual with overdrive, and 3-speed automatic transmissions optional.
[1978-79 Chevrolet Monza brochures]
Pontiac Sunbird Safari Wagon produced for the 1978–79 model years used the Vega wagon body style. It replaced the discontinued Pontiac Astre Safari wagon which was essentially carried over with Sunbird badging. The Sunbird wagon retained the Vega/Astre aluminum bumpers, unlike the Monza wagon, which featured a new front end and steel bumpers, but the 1979 model featured a revised horizontal styled grill. Standard powertrain was Pontiac's 151 CID I-4 with a 4-speed manual transmission. Previously unavailable for Astre were Sunbird's optional 196 CID and 231 CID V6 engines. 5-speed manual and 3-speed automatic were transmission options.
[1978-79 Pontiac Sunbird brochures]
note: 1973–'74 Pontiac Astre (GM of Canada) N/A
| Rebadged variant|| Production|
| 1975–'77 Pontiac Astre|| 147,773|
|1978 Chevrolet Monza 'S' Hatchback|| 2,326|
| 1978–'79 Chevrolet Monza Wagon|| 41,023|
| 1978–'79 Pontiac Sunbird Wagon|| 11,336|
| editor-last = Gunnell | editor-first = John | title = The Standard Catalog of American Cars 1946-1975 | publisher = Krause Publications | year = 1987 | isbn = 0-87341-096-3}}|| 192,458|
ProblemsCollectible Automobile said in April 2000 "Although the Vega sold well from the beginning, the buying public soon started to question the car's quality. It had every right to; It came out prematurely and still had a lot of glitches."
[Quote-Automobile, April 2000] Further development and upgrades continued throughout the car's seven year production run, addressing its engine and cost-related issues. [Collectible Automobile, April 2000]
Fisher Bodythumb|Fisher Body Vega Elpo dipFisher Body Division was very proud of its Elpo primering process, which should have prevented rust, but didn't. The Elpo process (electrophoretic deposition of polymers) pioneered by Fisher, followed a seven stage zinc phosphate initial treatment and itself involved submerging the assembled Vega body in a vat containing reddish-brown paint-primer particles in of water. The metal bodies received a positive electrical charge, the primer particles carried a negative charge, and by leaving the body in the vat for two minutes even the most remote recesses get coated, theoretically. The body was then dried, wet-sanded, sealer-coated and finally sprayed with acrylic lacquer and baked in a degree oven. In practice however, the Elpo dip did not flow to every recess or reach every surface. Vega expert Gary Derian was interviewed by Collectable Automobile in 2000. He said:
"The design of the front end caused air to be trapped at the tops of the fenders, so they never got coated. Early cars had no inner fender liners, so the tops of the front fenders got blasted by sand and salt thrown up by the tires, and they quickly rusted." Derion pointed out, too, that a rust-prone gap existed between the front fenders and the cowl vent. "Moist debris and salt would pack into this area rusting through the metal in a few years."
[Chevrolet installed plastic deflectors in late 1973. The original design provided for molded plastic front fender liners from the beginning. At the cost review meeting the finance department cancelled the liners, as they would have added $1.14 per side, or $2.28 per car to the product cost.] Starting in 1976, extensive anti-rust improvements on Vega's body included galvanized steel fenders and rocker panels and "four layer" fender protection with zinc coated and primed inner fenders and wheelwell protective mastic, zinc-rich pre-prime coating on inner doors, expandable sealer installed between rear quarter panel and wheel housing panel, and corrosion resistant grill and headlamp housings.
140 CID enginethumb|right|1972 Vega Kammback Wagon, 140 CID I4
The Vega was subject to two recalls early in its production run involving its 140 cubic inch engine. 130,000 cars fitted with L-11 option addressed a concern over backfiring caused by the two-barrel carburetor. The second recall, in the early summer of 1972, involved 350,000 cars with the standard engine driven by a perceived risk that a component in the emission control system might fall into the throttle linkage, jamming it open.
Eudell Jackobson from GM engineering confirmed the problems involving the early two-barrel Rochester carburetor and engine valve-stem seals. Jackobson said,
"Because of the inherent second order unbalance of the 4-cylinder engine, relatively soft engine mounts were required. Due to the soft mounts, the Vega engine sometimes shook to the extent that it would loosen the screws holding the top cover to the carburetor body. The top cover would then jump up and down, which activated the accelerator pump, which shot raw gasoline through the cylinders and into the exhaust system. Fuel would puddle inside the muffler and eventually explode; backfire. The early mufflers would blow out towards the fuel tank, so later ones were engineered so they'd blow away from the tank. We also started using Loc-Tite on the carburetor bolts."
[1973 Motor Trend Yearbook]
"After the engine had been in production for a while, customers would go back to the dealer complaining about oil consumption... the mechanic would peer down the bore scope and observe cylinder scuffing. We eventually found out that the problem had never been the scuffing of the (cylinder) bore. The real problem was the valve stem seals. They'd harden, split, fall off, and oil would leak down past the valves and into the combustion chamber. So we did some experiments. When we got an oil burner, we simply replaced the valve-stem seals, and that cured it."
[1976 Chevrolet brochure-Vega Dura-built engine-built to take it]
The Vega's cooling system held only and had a tiny two-tube, radiator, when topped off the Vega cooling system was adequate.
[Collectible Automobile April 2000-interview Eudell Jackobson & Fred Kneisler of GM engineering] But most owners tended not to check the coolant level often enough, and in combination with leaking valve-stem seals the engine would often be low on oil and coolant simultaneously. This caused overheating which distorted the open deck block allowing antifreeze to seep past the head gasket, causing piston scuffing inside the cylinders. 1976-'77 Dura-Built 140 engines had improved engine block coolant pathways, a redesigned head gasket, water pump, and thermostat, and had a 5-year/ warranty
automotive pressMotor Trend magazine in an August 1970 review of the basic sedan said, "The low dollar Vega is a complete automobile. It requires nothing more to be an enjoyable, functional piece of transportation." "The Vega will get you there without generating any unscheduled stops;" of the GT coupe MT said, The Vega GT with a 19 sec. quarter mile e.t. doesn't rattle any splines. But forget it if that's all you want. Even at 19 seconds the GT fills you with as much adrenalin as some of its faster big brothers." "Some cars get a little scary the faster you push them; this one is just the opposite, the handling improves. There's no roll steer of any kind, tied in with car's refreshing neutral steering give the GT some exciting handling characteristics. In summary the Vega GT comes close to what a racing GT car should be, in handling, performance and comfort. Because it's basically a low-priced compact, the results are all the more surprising and rewarding;" and of the wagon MT said, Under normal driving conditions, the wagon is well behaved and takes you where you want to go with a minimum of fuss and maximum comfort." "In spite of the understeer, for a wagon the handling is quite good."
[Motor Trend included the Vega as one of the Ten Best Cars of 1971.] [Motor Trend-December 1970. 10 Best Cars of 1971. p.80]
Road & Track magazine in September 1970 said, "Vega is the best handling car ever sold in America."
[Road & Track September-1970. Technical Analysis & Driving Impression-Vega 2300 by Chevrolet] Road & Track in a November 1970 road test of Vegas Plain and Fancy said, "The Vega in standard form rides and handles very well indeed." "Freeway cruising is relaxed and quiet, and it was economical not withstanding our overall mileage figures which included some very hard driving." "Inside one finds that the large glass area–so reminiscent of those of the Fiat 124 Coupe — give outstanding vision in all directions." "The steering is in a word, light." "Optioned, the Vega becomes a pleasant car to drive, marred only by the unseemly engine racket. It also becomes something other than a low-priced economy sedan, but one is hard put to name a coupe as attractive and capable as this at a comparable price." [Road and Track, November 1970. pp.31–34]
Car Life magazine in September 1970 said, "How good is the Vega? In two words, very good."
[Quote, Car Life -September 1970 p9] Road Test magazine in September 1970 said, "It's innovative without being complex." [Road Test-September 1970. Vega 2300-Most innovative U.S. minicar p.16]Sports Car Graphic magazine said in September, 1970: "The new die-cast aluminum Vega 2300 (engine) is a masterpiece of simplicity. There are many innovations made to reduce the number of pieces and improve repairability.." [quoted from: Sports Car Graphic-September 1970.] Super Stock magazine in October 1970 said, "What Chevrolet did was engineer a completely new car for the tastes and needs of the 1970s, and they've done a beautiful job." [Quote, Super Stock magazine October 1970 p80] Road Test said in a November 1970 road test. "To put it bluntly, the the Vega with the 110-hp engine, is sort of a junior hot rod; it reminded us vaguely of some flying time behind the stick of a military Piper. [Road Test November 1970. p52] "With the inexpensive handling package, our test car has no peers in the cornering department. Fast turns are level safe and normal." [Road Test November 1970. p53] "Standard disc brakes give Vega stopping power that touch a record for us — of 140 feet from 60 mph." [Road Test November 1970. p52] "We like the Vega." [Road Test November 1970 p 53] Road and Track on the Yenko Turbo Stinger II in April 1971 said, "A turbo-charger and other good things transform the Vega into a sports car. Even the SCCA says so. Yenko says the prototype using the optional 3.36 gears did the quarter mile in 15.5 sec." [Road and Track, April 1971 pps 89-90]Track and Traffic magazine in April 1971 said, "There's one thing the Vega will (hopefully) do for the North American driver, and that's to educate him on the joys of good handling."
Car and Driver in 1971 comparison with the Ford Pinto, said, "The Vega hits its stride on the open highway. It has good directional stability and the front bucket seats are comfortable for most drivers;" it was agreed that the Vega's far superior flow-through ventilation system was more than enough to offset the driveline tunnel heat.
Car and Driver in 1971, said: "The plain Vega sedan is as good-looking a car as you'll find in its class...with the Vega they've turned out one of the finest-looking compact sedans in the world." [Car and Driver 1972 Buye'rs"< Guide] Car and Driver in their 1972 Tire Test said. "We had chosen a Vega as the test car because it was one of the few Showroom Stockers with handling balanced enough that we could be sure it was the tires we were testing and not some quirk of the car." [Car and Driver, Tire Test-June 1972] [note: A 1972 Vega GT coupe was the test car for the C&D Tire Test, June 1972. A 1974 (pre-production) Cosworth Vega was the test car for the C&D 1974 Tire Test, June 1974]Hot Rod magazine road tested a Vega GT Kammback in March 1972. HR said, "The car never looks like something you had to buy...It's the kind of car we'd buy to look good in, work on, add to, and wash once a week." [Hot Rod-March 1972. Don't Call it a Station Wagon-1972 Chevy Vega GT Kammback]Hot Rod voted the Vega GT "Best Buy" of the entire 1972 Chevrolet line. Super Stock magazine in a July 1972 road test of a Vega GT said, "It is a damn nice little car with plenty of room, great handling, and a pretty high level of overall finish." [Super Stock Magazine-July 1972 p. 30] Service Station Management and Motor Service magazines in a July 1972 survey, the Vega was voted–"Easiest to service, least mechanical problems and best overall in its class" by independent servicemen." [1973 Chevrolet mailer: front cover-The Easiest Car to Service-Vega]
Road & Track in a Vega GT road test in June 1973 said, "The 1973 Vega is still the stylish, somewhat sporting economy car it was when new, but improved. The engine is doubly improved, as it has the reduced emissions required by law and better performance (regardless of official power ratings)." "The gearshift has been reworked to match the new transmission.. It's less balky and more precise than the original units." R&T concluded, "After what we've said about earlier Vegas, it's a pleasure to report the current Vega is attractive, respectably quick, and frugal-and it's the best highway car in class. Well done Chevrolet."
[Road & Track-June 1973. Road & Track road test:1973 Chevrolet Vega p.91] Road Test magazine in a 1973 Vega GT coupe road test said, "The Vega could be thrown into just about any kind of turn with full expectation of making it through;" "the cornering force developed was far beyond expectation." "The bucking engine has somehow been tamed by invisible means." "The 4-speed gearbox was crisp, precise and impossible to fault." "The disc/drum brakes performed flawlessly at all times. Panic stopping tests were accomplished with no tendency to swerve;" "The air-conditioning is easily the best of any of the so-called "little cars;" "The interior, seats and carpeting were well done and of good materials." [Road Test magazine, August 1973]
Road Test in a July 1974 Vega LX Notchback road test said, "The 1974 Vega is a vastly improved car over the original." "What engine vibration and noise there is becomes noticeable at very low or very high engine speeds. The engine noise never becomes objectionable until 5000 rpm, which is beyond the range of normal use." "The wheel hop has been eliminated with both rear wheels remaining planted firmly on the pavement even with the most brutal starts."
[Road Test, July 1974] Car and Driver in May 1974 said of the Vega GT, "What we have here is a car that will cut and run with the best of them. It is a natural on a road course, sure footed and fleet, with a sense of balance that you rarely find in a sedan." "We particularly like the solid feel of the shifter." "The test car was also optioned out with variable ratio power steering which offers a very quick 3.0 turns lock to lock and quite an accurate feel. "The carpets, the door panels and the seat coverings are high quality, particularly in light of the Vega's low overall price." [Car and Driver, May 1974 p66]
Motor Trend in a Cosworth Vega test in October 1975 said: "The Cosworth Vega goes like the proverbial bat out of Carlsburg Caverns" "At moderate speeds, the car is as close to neutral handling as any American I have ever driven."
[Motor Trend-October 1975] Car and Driver in a 1975 Cosworth Vega test said: The outstanding feature of the Cosworth Vega is its excellent balance..Roll-stiffness distribution is ideal, with little understeer entering a turn, and just the right amount of drift from the tail as you put your foot down to exit ..Through the woods or down a mountain, the Cosworth is a feisty aggressor willing, if not altogether able to take on the world's best GT cars." [Car and Driver, October 1975 p.76] Road & Track in a 1976 Cosworth Vega road test in March 1976 said, "We can't resist saying that with the Cosworth Vega engine, the Vega now runs the way it should have run all the time-easy, smooth, good response, good handling: a nice balance between performance and economy." "The Cosworth Vega's handling is very good." [Quotes, Road and Track, March 1976]
Motor Trend in their International Report-The 60,000-mile Vega February 1976 said, "Chevrolet conducted a 60,000 miles in 60 days Durability Run of the 1976 Vega and its Dura-Built 140 engine. Chevrolet chose a 349-mile Southwestern desert route in order to show the severely criticized engine and cooling system had been improved in the 1976 model. In more than 180,000 miles (290,000 km) of total driving, the cars used only 24 ounces of coolant, an amount attributed to normal evaporation under severe desert conditions. Furthermore, fuel economy for the three test Vegas averaged 28.9 mpg over the duration of the run, while oil was used at the rate of only one quart every 3400 miles. All three 1976 Vegas completed the total 180,000 miles with only one "reliability" incident — a broken timing belt was recorded."
[Motor Trend-International Report-The 60,000-mile Vega-Feb.1976]
Collectable Automobile magazine in April 2000 said, "The Vega engine was, without a doubt, the most extraordinary part of the car."
[ Collectible Automobile, April 2000 p31] "For '76 GM started to get it right. The Vega was now a fairly decent car, but Chevrolet's release of the even less expensive Chevette in 1976 put the handwriting on the wall. [ Quote, Collectible Automobile, April 2000 p43]
Motor Trend Classic magazine's Fall 2010 issue featured A Loving Look Back Gremlin-Vega-Pinto retrospective comparison test. Frank Markus, Technical Director of Motor Trend said of the original 6k-miles '73 Vega GT, "After a few gentle miles, I begin to understand how this car won its awards and comparison tests." "Well-maintained examples are great looking, nice-driving, economical classics—like Baltic Ave. with a Hotel, the best ones can be had for $10K or less."
[Quote-Frank Marcus-Technical Director Motor Trend - Motor Trend Classic, Fall 2010 p 66]
automotive pressMotor Trend in the August 1970 review of the basic sedan said, "The 90 horses under the hood are pretty much out of it above 55 mph when it comes to any rapid passing." "The handling course pointed out that the standard suspension, with no anti-sway bar is not going to wind up on the racetrack; it understeers at the apex of a turn; It does have limits but the only one that might cause a little concern is the panic braking; the machine goes into a hairy left skid, but the whole thing is controllable." of the GT coupe MT said, "Only the shifter is a little disappointing; it doesn't have a short throw and that solid snick, click feeling as it drops into gear." and of the wagon MT said, "As is the other two models, the wagon has some brake problems - panic stopping from 60 mph produces wheel hop. Not as violent as the coupe, but disconcerting."
Road & Track in the November 1970 Vegas Plain and Fancy test said, "The basic Vega, pretty and intelligently designed though it is, is poorly equipped and rather unpleasant to drive and we don't think many customers will settle for it. The optioned car however is a decidedly good package..." "The engine proved a let down. It's extremely rough and noisy." [Road and Track, November 1970. Vegas Plain and Fancy. pp. 31–34] Road & Track in a 1971-72 model owner survey said, "The level of assembly doesn't match the virtues of the design." "70% would buy another Vega and 30% wouldn't, show a high degree of dissatisfaction with the car." [Quote-Road & Track-June 1973. Road & Track Owner Survey-Chevrolet Vega (150 owners of 1971-1972 Vegas participated in R&T's Vega Owners Survey)]
Road Test magazine said in a November 1970 road test, "One negative is that the Vega is noisy, we wonder if this will be acceptable to the owner of a current American compact.
[Road Test, November 1970 p51] Car and Driver in a 1971 road test said, "The Vega's interior, A stylist's idea of the American dream, drew heavy criticism. It's deeply contoured plastic door panels and the dash are inordinately complex but short on function. The treatment is too heavy for a car the Vega's size. The controls, too, were unlike the imports. Every lever, pedal and crank - shifter, clutch, window winders, etc. - required exceptionally long travel to do its job. The engineers were obviously obsessed with minimizing driver effort where possible." "Considering the Vega's overall size (almost seven inches longer than the Pinto) the interior room is disappointing. The front seat passengers should have no complaints and the trunk is generous, but knee room in the rear is in tight supply." [Car and Driver, December 1971]
Car and Driver in the 1971 comparison with the Ford Pinto, noted excessive heat radiating from the Vega's driveline tunnel,"
adding that, "the Vega's clattering engine and fruity sounding exhaust are genuinely unpleasant; "The low-peak disturbance at 2200 rpm (second order engine shake) buzzed the shift lever as you passed through. This combined with the rubbery, balky shifter takes the fun out of low speed and sporting driving;" and "the engine was inclined to bog on even the slightest acceleration." [Popular Mechanics said, "the Vega's fuel filler neck was inconvenient to use and allows spillage when topping off,"] "the car had fussy cold-weather starting", "appreciable engine noise", and "steering with a loose, dead feeling in the center." [Car and Driver said in a December 1971 road test, "We've always thought of the Vega as a well engineered car, but many of its virtues are blocked by some equally impressive vises. For one thing its noisy - and most of it can be blamed on the log stroke Four which vibrates the hell out of the car.] [Quote, Car and Driver, December 1971]
Motor Trend in a 1972 Vega GT wagon test, "In spite of the suspension compliance, there is a trace of harshness in the Vega." Vega's achilles heal is the shift gate for the automatic, it works great for changing gears but it gets confusing on initial engagement. You just wiggle it around until the car moves in the proper direction."
[Motor Trend, July 1972 pps 60-61] Car and Driver in 1974 Vega GT coupe road test said, "It takes far more than than low price and the Vega's multitude of other virtues to redeem the engine." "The Vega Four is probably the least loved powerplant you can buy in any car, domestic or imported." "The high braking effort stands in rather stark contrast to that of the other controls and plushy softness of the Vega's optional Custom interior." [Quote, Car and Driver, May 1974] Road and Track in 1975 Vega GT track test said, "The Vega has two primary problems: too much weight and not enough power. It's 87 hp just isn't up to the task of of propelling the 2725 lb (curb weight) car with much verve. The pedals are positioned so poorly, heel and toeing is almost impossible. The Vega's steering is light but vague. [Quote, Road and Track, August 1975 p42]
Road and Track in a July 1976 Cosworth Vega road test said, For all its exotic features however, the Cosworth Vega engine is not a high-performance unit. It develops 110 bhp and while this is 36 percent more than the standard 1-barrel Vega it still represents only 55 bhp per liter - modest indeed compared to engines of equal sophistication." "The 5-speed gearbox shift pattern and operation leave something to be desired. There is no optional power assist for the brakes, so the pedal effort for a 0.5g stop is a rather high 45 lb.
[Quote, Road and Track, July 1976 p135] Car and Driver in a September 1976 Short Take on the Cosworth Vega said, "The Cosworth is no more..a noble experiment that failed..the execution was a severe disappointment." "Time and weight killed the Cosworth. The low priority of a project contrary to the corporate grain dragged the motor through a five-year gestation period while the Vega for which it was destined grew fat and heavy.. one regulation after another took its toll on the car's power to weight ratio." [Car and Driver, September 1976 p70]
Motor Trend said in its 40th Anniversary issue, May 1989 feature Looking back over 40 years said, "We figured we had a couple of surefire winners on the cover in August 1970, with the Chevy Vega and John DeLorean. Hey, look, we didn't know, ok?"
[Motor Trend, May 1989 p82]
Motor Trend in its 50th Anniversary Issue September 1999 said, "The Vega seemed well placed to set the standard for subcompacts in the 70s, but it was troubled by one of the most vulnerable Achilles heels in modern automotive history; an alloy four-cylinder engine block that self destructed all too easily, and all too often. Once the word got out the damage was done, even though the engine had been revamped."
[Quote, Motor Trend September 1999, Motor Trend 50th Anniversary Issue-]
Collectible Automobile said in April 2000, "The Chevy Vega has become a symbol of all the problems Detroit faced in the 70's."
[ Collectible Automobile, April 2000 p26] "Ed Cole and the corporation initially had high hopes for the Vega, But then, little by little, everything that could go wrong, did. Had its big engineering and manufacturing plans succeeded, the last laugh might have belonged to Chevy." "The greatest toll came in the damage it did to Chevrolet's and GM's reputation. The other effect the Vega had on GM was to help make the corporation conservative, and dull its will to lead." [ Collectible Automobile, April 2000 p43]
non automotive press and booksIn her 1974 book Paradise Lost: The Decline of the Auto-Industrial Age, noted historian Emma Rothschild said, "the Vega was an extreme case in the capacity for inspiring and then dashing consumer expectations."
[Time magazine said in The Right Stuff: Does the U.S Industry have It, "...The bad repution spread with the Chevrolet Vega, a poorly engineered car notorious for rust and breakdowns."] In 1991, Newsweek magazine called the Vega costlier and more troublesome than its rivals. In his 1993 book In the Rings of Saturn, Joe Sherman said, "by it's third recall, ninety five percent of all Vegas manufactured before May 1972 had critical safety flaws." In his 2005 book The Struggle for Control of the Modern Corporation, Robert Freeland said, "The Vega's heritage of poor planning and perfunctory implementation, led to an extremely poor quality automobile beset by mechanical problems," adding that, "reviews of the car noted its tendency to skid violently in sudden stops." [Unusually Stupid Americans, authors Ross and Kathryn Petras said, "the Vega didn't go all that fast but it consumed an awful lot of oil, the aluminum engine warped and the car tended to fall apart in accidents, if it didn't collapse from metal fatigue."] In his 2010 book Generation Busted, author Alan Zemek said, "Chevrolet's answer to the Japanese car, left it with a black eye."
Concept carthumb|1973 XP-898 Concept car
The 1973 Chevrolet XP-898 concept car is a front engine, rear wheel drive design based on the Chevrolet Vega using many of its components including the aluminum-block 140 cu in (2287cc) inline-4 engine. The vehicle has a wheelbase with an overall length of . This two-seater sports coupe offered a unique look at alternative engineering approaches to future techniques in design and manufacturing.
The vehicle was built with a frameless fiberglass foam sandwich body and chassis. The entire body consisted of four lightweight fiberglass outer body panels, the floor pan, firewall, upper front, and upper rear with a rigid urethane foam filling the designed clearance between the panels. The structure and appearance of the car were designed so that the body could be assembled using four lightweight molded outer skin sections. With the outer skin panels placed in a foaming mold, liquid urethane was injected between the panels where it expanded and bonded the body into a single, rigid sandwich structure. The result was a vehicle body virtually free of squeaks, rattles, and vibrations. Once the urethane hardened (which took about fifteen minutes), the suspension, drive train, hood and doors were bolted to reinforcing plates, which were bonded to the fiberglass panels.A key consideration in the engineering design of the XP-898 was the advantage of improved crash worthiness of the sandwich construction technique. The energy absorption characteristics of the vehicle enabled engineers to simulate crash conditions for the vehicle at speeds up to 50 miles per hour without catastrophic failure to the structure.
[Cars Detroit Never Built: Fifty Years of American Experimental Cars. Edward Janicki. Sterling Publishing Company, Inc. New York. 1990]
Hot Rodding & Motorsport
V8 VegasChevy Vegas are often modified due to their front engine-rear drive design, light weight and low cost. A small-block Chevy V8 engine fits in the engine compartment; and a big-block V8 will fit with minor chassis modifications. The Vega was not offered with a factory V8 option, but Vega-based models Monza, Sunbird and Starfire did.
[Chevrolet Monza, Pontiac Sunbird and Oldsmobile Starfire brochures]
thumb|left|1971 Motion V8 Vegathumb|Bill Jenkin's Grumpy's Toy XI 1974 Vega
Motion Performance and Scuncio Chevrolet sold new, converted small and big block V8 Vegas. Heavy duty engine mounts and front springs were fitted to support the increased engine weight, a large radiator and modified driveshaft were required. For engines over , or with a manual transmission, a narrowed 12-bolt differential was a required replacement of the stock Vega unit.
Drag racer Bill "Grumpy" Jenkins in the 1972 season, won six of eight National Pro-Stock division events with his Pro Stock, -powered '72 Vega, Grumpy's Toy X.
[Super Chevy-5/94, p.16.] In its first event, the untested Vega made 9.6 second passes and won the 1972 Winternationals. Jenkins' '74 Vega, Grumpy's Toy XI, was the first full-bodied Pro Stock drag racer with a full tube chassis, as well as the first with MacPherson strut suspension and dry sump oiling. [Super Chevy, 5/94, p.16. The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America biography of Jenkins (retrieved 26 December 2007) dates it to 1972.] Jenkins' '74 Vega sold for $550,000 in 2007.
In 1972, Hot Rod tested a Chevrolet-built prototype Vega featuring an all-aluminum V8. The engine was the last of the units used in Chevy's Corvette research and development in the late 1950s, bored out to for the Vega application. HRs road test of the prototype with Turbo Hydramatic, stock Vega differential, and street tires yielded quarter mile (~400 m) times under 14 seconds.
[Hot Rod, July 1972.]
Car and Driver's Showroom Stock #0In the 1970s Car and Driver challenged its readers to a series of Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) sanctioned, showroom stock sedan races at Lime Rock Park in Lime Rock, Connecticut-The Car and Driver SS/Sedan Challenge. With Bruce Cargill-representing the readers-having won Challenge I in '72 in a Dodge Colt, and Patrick Bedard-C&D's executive writer-the victor of Challenge II in '73 in an Opel 1900 sedan, Challenge III would be the tie-breaker event.
thumb|1973 Vega GT in metallic bronze
On October 12, 1974 C&D's Bedard piloted their 1973 Vega GT #0 in Car and Driver's SS/Sedan Challenge III and had just edged out an Opel to win the race. "The lone Vega outran every single Opel, Colt, Pinto, Datsun, Toyota and Subaru on the starting grid. From the summit of the winner's platform the car was in the impound area, a metallic bronze coupe with a big yellow zero on its battle-scared flank. It was driven it there after the victory lap, the tech inspectors had pushed it off the scales probing under the hood, looking for the secrets of its speed. It had done the job-this Vega GT faced off against 31 other well-driven showroom stocks and it had finished first.
After purchacing the year-old Vega in California for $1900. Bedard contacted Doug Roe, a former Chevrolet engineer with a reputation as a Vega specialist mentioning the showroom stocker. Roe replied: "Better overfill it about a quart. When you run them over 5,000 rpm, all the oil stays up in the head and you'll wipe the bearings. And something has to be done with the crankcase vents. If you don't it'll pump all that oil into the intake." Bedard said,
"On its very first lap around Lime Rock the Vega blew its air cleaner full of oil. And it also ran on the water temperature gauge. When I called Roe about the overheating he said all Vegas run at 215 degrees on the water temp gauge. It would be ok to about 230 degrees. Then it would probably start to detonate. I wasn't even convinced that it could finish. And I didn't even know all of its bad habits yet. Five laps from the end I discovered that once the tank drops below a quarter full, the fuel wouldn't pick up in the right turns. Twice per lap the carburator would momentarily run dry. And if that wasn't bad enough, the temperature gauge read exactly 230 degrees and a white Opel was on my tail as unshakably as a heat-seeking missile. But it was also clear that no matter how good a driver Don Knowles was and no matter how quick his Opel, he wasn't going to get by if the Vega simply stayed alive. Which it did. You have to admire a car like that. If it wins, it must be the best, never mind all of the horror stories you hear, some of them from me."
[Car and Driver-January 1975. An unlikely victory in an even more unlikely car.]
Gallery - Chevrolet Vega
- Chevrolet Cosworth Vega
- Pontiac Astre
- GM H-platform
- GM 2300 engine
- Subcompact car
References and footnotes