by Robert Spinello (vegavairbob)
In the 1970s Car and Driver magazine 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 -Car and Driver's executive writer - the victor of Challenge II in '73 in an Opel 1900 sedan, Challenge III would be the tie-breaker event. Drivers paid a $1.25 entry fee, and 25 placed would share a $5000 minimum purse. There were 10,000 spectators.
On October 12, 1974 Car and Driver's Bedard piloted their 1973 Vega GT #0 in the magazine's SS/Sedan Challenge III and had just edged out an Opel to win the race. Bedard recalls: "The lone Vega outran every single Opel, Colt, Pinto, Datsun, Toyota and Subaru on the starting grid. A 25 lap sprint into racing's hall of fame. From the summit of the winner's platform I could see the car over in the impound area, a metallic bronze coupe with a big yellow zero on its battle-scared flank. I'd driven it there after the victory lap, water boiling out of the coolant tank, an anguished moan broadcasting from the cam drive, its left front tire chunked and rough. The tech inspectors had pushed it off the scales and were now 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. I was beginning to feel some warmth towards it."
After purchacing the year old Vega in California for $1900. Bedard contacted Doug Roe.
"I had talked to Doug Roe, a former Chevrolet engineer with a reputation as a Vega specialist. I mentioned our Vega showroom stocker. He grimaced, "Better overfill it about a quart." he said. "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."
I'd hoped he was wrong but he wasn't. On its very first lap around Lime Rock our Vega blew its air cleaner full of oil. And it also ran 215 degrees on the water temperature gauge. When I called Roe about the overheating, he said all Vegas run about that hot and 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 won't pick up in right turns. Twice per lap.. the carburetor 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."