by Robert Spinello (vegabob)
"Vega- The brightest star in the constellation."-Webster's Dictionary The Chevrolet Vega was one of the most loved (and often criticized) cars of the 70's. The auto press praised Chevys little car when it was introduced, but times would change... even smaller cars and front wheel drives would soon arrive, such as VW Rabbit & Honda Civic...capsules devoid of any style. 1970 - "Coming soon: The little car that does everything well."- 1970 Ad Code-named XP-887, "Teaser" ads began in May 1970, not announcing its name yet, stating- "you'll see." It was introduced September 10, 1970 as- "Vega 2300" Great looks, and a full line of 2 door body styles.. including a crisply styled hatchback, a low priced sedan, a sporty wagon, and a panel delivery. Vega was designed from scratch, and brought to production in only three years. It was all new. Most other American cars were dated designs with new sheetmetal. Even the 1971 Corvette was a 1963 design with a different body shell. Earliest Vega proposals dating from 1967 featured a rear engine, which was shelved for fear of association with the troubled Corvair. Vega's most unique feature was its 2.3 Liter (140CID) OHC four-cylinder engine. Unlike previous GM aluminum engines, the Vega block did not have cylinder liners. GM Research Labs had been working on a sleeveless aluminum block since the late 50's. The incentive was cost. Getting rid of those liners on a four-cylinder block would save $8, which was a lot of money back then. This involved a joint venture between the GM labs, Reynolds Metal Company, and Sealed Power Corporation. Reynolds came up with an 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. The A-390 alloy was suitable for faster production diecasting. These qualities made the Vega block less expensive and easier to manufacture than other aluminum engines! A process of etching the cylinder block walls exposing the silicone particles insured a wear surface stronger than steel. Sealed Power developed special chrome-plated piston rings for this engine that were "blunted to prevent scuffing. The large bore, long stroke design provided good torque and lower engine RPM for reduced wear. A cast iron cylinder head was chosen for low cost and structural integrity, and an overhead cam was specified. GM decreed, at the 11th hour, every engine then under development would be required to run on unleaded fuel. This meant dropping the Vega's proposed compression ratio from 9.5:1 to 8.0:1. This took a bite out of horespower, and made expensive stellite valves mandatory. 90 HP. L11 option -110 HP. Transmissions choices: 3 and 4-speed manual, torque-drive and powerglide automatic. Vega included standard features not usually found on other small cars in the 70's, such as front disc brakes, steel guard door beams, double paneled roof, and coil springs for all four wheels. 1971 - "Chevys new little car is open for business."-1971 ad Vega recieved much praise for its design and engineering excellence, including: -1971 Motor Trend "Car of the Year" -1971 Car and Driver Readers Choice Poll- "Best Economy Sedan" -A GT option package was introduced for coupe and wagon in mid '71. It featured all "sporting" options including- L11 110 hp 2bbl. L4, F41 handling suspension (including front and rear stablizer bars, H.D. springs and shocks, and A70x13 RWL tires), custom exterior (including black painted rocker panels, belt and rocker chrome trim, and body colored door handle inserts), gauges including tach, adjustable drivers seat back, and a four-spoke sport steering with GT emblem; plus exclusive- 13x6 GT wheels (with chrome lug nuts, trim rings, and "bow tie" center caps), black grill with chrome outline moldings, clear parking lamp lenses, GT fender emblems and a sport stripe option- black or white stripes PAINTED on hood and hatch/taigate. '71 Production-277,705 '71 Prices-2,090-2,328 1972 - "Look who voted Vega Best Economy Car in the world again."-1972 (Chevy) Ad. -Car and Driver Reader's Choice Poll- "Best Economy Sedan" two years in a row. Car is carried over with only detail changes... including a coolant recovery system, revised exhaust system, redesigned rear shocks, and a glove box. At Vega Lordstown, Ohio plant, GMAD (General Motors Assembly Division) takes over plant from Chevrolet, fires some inspection workers AND speeds up the line from 60 to 100 cars per hour, claiming plant was designed to produce up to 140 cars per hour. Lordstown workers showed their dissatifaction by first sabatoging cars on the line, then going on strike. Shipments were delayed and dealers were caught short on supply in '72. '72 Production-394,592 '72 Prices-2,060-2,285 1973 - "1973 Vega. Can you spot the changes?"-1973 Ad For '73 Vega had over 300 changes and improvements- most strictly internal. New colors in and out, and new interior trims. Nameplates changed from Chevrolet Vega 2300 to Vega by Chevrolet. A change in Vegas front end was due to 1973 5 MPH front bumper requirnment. The chrome vee-shaped front bumper was extended several inches on stronger brackets. A new steel, body colored filler panel was mounted between the grill and bumper. Optional bumper guards now featured new black rubber front guards (replacing the chrome ones), while the rear chrome guards were unchanged. New Body side molding option with black rubber insert was available on all models. A new hatchback transfer side stripes option was available in several bright colors with matching vinyl body side moldings. Full wheel covers were a new option. Design was first used on the'64 Corvair and Chevy II, and reissued for the Vega. Major mechanical changes were new U.S. made Saginaw manual transmissions, formally supplied from Opel. Turbo Hyrdra-matic replaced two speed powerglide, while Torque-drive (clutchless manual) was discontinued. New Holley 2BBL "staged" carb for the L11 engine, and for the first time, BR70x13 Radial WSW tires were on the option list. The Sedan was renamed Notchback, and an LX option package was introduced exclusively for it, starting in '73 including a vinyl top, custom exterior including full wheel covers, LX fender emblems, black grill (including chrome outline moldings), clear parking light lenses, custom interior with gauges and sport steering wheel. An Estate option package was introduced for the Kammback Wagon, also starting in '73, which included wood grained exterior trim and Estate tailgate emblem, wheel trim rings, and the custom interior with sport steerng wheel. In May 1973, the Millionth Vega was produced; a bright orange GT hatchback coupe, with white sport stripes, "Millionth Vega" door handle inserts, and power steering. interior featured neutral custom vinyl, including exclusive vinyl door panels, and orange accent color carpeting. -A limited edition "Millionth Vega" option-ZM5 was offered..one per dealer. (see Millionth Vega Post in the FAQ section 1.3) Vega continued to receive awards and praise- -Motor Trend "Economy Car of the Year."-1973 Vega GT -Car & Driver Reader's Choice Poll: "Best Economy Sedan."-three years running. In Canada, GM starts durability testing of their Wankel (rotory engine) installed in '73 Vegas. Rotory Vegas were tested in sub- 0 degree temperatures. Initial plan was to offer the engine in '74; project was put on hold for a year, then cancelled. Another victim of the energy crisis. '73 Production-427,300 (not incl.panel) '73 Prices-2,087-2,323 1974 - "Everybody loves a winner"-1974 Ad Vega's sales peak. Made the top 10 best selling cars in the U.S. GM of Canada plant supplies Vegas to the U.S. to keep up with demand. Vega's basic design was unchanged during its lifetime, as Chevy had promised "Not to change it for the sake of change." It did get an extensive front redesign in '74 featuring a slanted, slotted front panel- (replacing the egg-crate grill) recessed headlamp bezels, larger single taillamps on coupe/sedan (replacing the dual units) and larger aluminum bumpers and stronger braces (replacing the chrome bumpers) to withstand the revised 5 MPH front & rear pendalum damage tests. Vega grew another 3 inches (half a foot total) in length and gained several hundred pounds. Full wheel covers were now included with LX Notchback. Custom interiors now featured vinyl door panels (replacing the molded plastic panels) Fuel tank capacity was increased from 11 to 16 gallons for greater cruising range. A Limited edition-"Spirit of America" Vega coupe was offered in'74. It featured white exterior with blue and red transfer wide side stripping, red and blue pinstripping and transfer emblems on fender sides and rear panel. A white vinyl roof, white "GT" wheels and A70x13 raised white lettered tires were included. Inside- Custom vinyl interior featuring white seats, door panels and trim, (black dash and steering wheel) with red accent color carpeting. '74 Production-460,374 '74 prices-2,505-2,976 1975 - Move aside Vega....Hello Astre, Monza & Friends. By 1975, sales were reduced to half of the previous year, partially due to the new Vega based H-bodies- Chevy Monza, Buick Skyhawk, Olds Starfire, and ... Pontiac Astre, Vega's near twin. It did feature Pontiac's trademark split grill and early Firebird style horizontal tailights, Pontiac emblems abound, and a Pontiac 3-spoke steering wheel to distinguish itself. SJ and GT versions were also avaiable. Astre had been sold in Canada from '73. It shared Vegas 2.3 engine through '76. Chevy Monza and Olds Starfire also shared Vegas 2.3 engine thru '77 as the base offering. 268 changes for '75 Vega. Again, mostly under the skin. high energy electronic ignition and the required catalytic converter were added this year, along with power brakes and tilt steering wheel options. A '73 Vega GT driven by Car and Driver editor Patrick Bedard, wins '75 SCCA showroom stock event- "Car and Driver Challenge III." Vega's abilites are proven on the road course! See the link "VEGA HISTORY: 1973 Vega GT Car & Driver SCCA Showroom Stock Race WINNER" in this section. "One Vega for the price of two." -1975 Cosworth Ad The Cosworth Vega, featuring a Twin-Cam (DOHC) 16 valve aluminum cylinder head designed by Cosworth Enginnering, finally arrived in March '75, a model year late. (engine failed EPA emmisions certification in '74.) It's purpose was to "create excitement" for the entire Vega line, as only 3,508 were built thru mid- '76. All 2061 75's were black. (not avaliable on normal Vegas.) Interior choices were custom black or white vinyl, and black custom cloth. '76's were black in addition to any Vega exterior color and interior combination. All featured "Cosworth Twin-Cam" transfer I.D. on fenders and rear panel, gold transfer pinstripping on sides, hood buldge, wheel openings, and rear panel. Gold painted 13x6 aluminum wheels, "engine turned" gold dash bezel and gold plated plaque with build number. The Cosworth had even better weight distibution than the GT. The true world class handling ability of the Cosworth Vega- ...."almost won the whole damn thing." -quote from Road Test magazine-July '76 comparison track test versus the likes of Alfa Romeo, Saab, Mazda Cosmo Rotary and Lancia Sport Sedans. The hand built Cosworth engine was ALL aluminum. Cosworth engine shared the Vega aluminum block, but was fitted with forged components and domed pistons. Stainless steel headers and electronic fuel injection rounded out the package. Destroked to 2.0 liters, the Cosworth engine was noticably smoother than the 2.3 engine, while providing power increase. Unfortunatly, by '75, Vega had gained some 300 lbs, and Cosworth engine's horsepower was down from 130 (on '74 prototype) to 110 on production model. The result- Although car tested 0-60 under 10 seconds, its handling abilities praised, and collectible status assured, there was some dissapointment with the car. Test results had looked better on the prototype, combined with the high price (six hundred less than Corvette) buyers stayed away. Blame the EPA.. '75 production-207,764 '75 prices-2,786-3,244 (Cosworth 5,916) GM insiders have claimed Vega didn't always turn a profit regardless of its high sales numbers. It cost the same amount of money to build a Monte Carlo (or a Monza) which sold for a thousand to two thousand dollars more. Vega Virtues- seldom mentioned in retrospect: -Best styling of all compacts. auto magazines confirmed this. Car & Driver, in a 1972 comparison test of "super coupes" said of the Vega GT Coupe-"If it were only a matter of style, Vega would win without ever turning a wheel." It's clean lines and well balanced proportions were praised by everyone. GM styling inspirations for sedan and coupe were pre '70 Fiat 124 2 door and '67-'71 Ferrari 365 GT 2+2 (for hatchback coupe's rear quarter window and roofline treatment) -"Best handling car ever sold in America." Road & Track said so, in 1970. All others agreed, this was Vega's finest attribute. It's neutral steering, nearly ideal weight distribution, and low center of gravity resulted in world class handling characteristics. -Vega was judged by its owners as the most reliable Chevy second only to the Nova. In all weather conditions and temperature extremes, Vega's engine and running gear seldom failed. -Of course, its "economy car" price, low fuel and maintainence costs, and do-it yourself simplicity. -"State of the art" manufacturing: Vega's main assembly plant at Lordstown, Ohio featured advanced technology and procedures, including "unimate" robots to perform 95% of the 3,900 welds on Vega's "modular" body for more uniform quality. Until GMAD took over plant in late '72, quality control was second to none, with assembled vehicles carefully inspected and tested. It was, for a time, the highest quality Chevy built. Vega Vices, including the least loved powerplant -Early versions of the 2.3 engine were judged rough and noisy. Most however, felt Vega's style and handling more than made up for it. Although proven reliable, if engine was allowed to overheat, expansion could cause scuffing of the cylinder walls, damaging the engine block. Chevy dealers usually replaced complete engine blocks due to high oil consumption, assuming block was the cause, when it usually was due to leaking valve stem seals which beacame brittle with age. This is how Vega got its "disposable motor" reputation. Chevy dealers didn't help by not properly diagnosing and servicing it. On '76 engines, Long-life valve stem seals decreased oil consumption by 50%. -There were carb problems, that were solved in 1973 when Chevy switched from Rochester to Holley carbs. -Early cars did have a front fender rust problem, due to lack of inner liners and rusted fairly quickly, if not undercoated. Chevy did replace fenders and added liners to new models in '74. In '76, Vega's body featured extensive anti-rust improvements. Collector values today are climbing, as stock, original examples are getting hard to find. Ironically, '76 and '77 "dura-built" years, are less desirable than early models. "Most Valuable" Vegas are: -'75/'76 Cosworth- engineering excellence, and low production count here, although high survival rate has kept value flat. -'71-'73 GT Coupe/Wagon- popular early styling and lower GT production than regular models, count here. Low survival rate with value increasing. -Limited Editions- '73 Millionth Vega (GT Coupe) '74 Spirit of America Coupe '76 Nomad Wagon These special models had limited avaliability- one per dealer, and are rare now with few survivors and increasing value. Other rust free models can be had for 70's prices. Try doing that with a 60's muscle car that sold for 4,000. then, and 25,000. and up now! 1976 - "Vega. Built to take it."-1976 Ad By 1976, Vega's floorpan and rear suspenson/brakes were now shared with Monza's. Now all Vegas had the torque-arm rear suspension, and larger rear drum brakes. Cosworths already had these upgrades from its mid-'75 introduction. Vega recieved its final styling change- A new wider grill and recessed parking lamps, restyled headlamp bezels and coupe/sedan restyed tri-color taillamps. Panel Express was discontinued, and did not appear for '76. Never a big seller, Panel production peaked Vega's first year in '71 with 7,800 built. After leveling off to roughly 4,000 per year through '74, only 1200 were built in '75. See Panel Express in the FAQ section 1.3 for more information on this model. New models for '76- Cabriolet Notchback featuring a padded half vinyl roof. GT Estate wagon, and a limited edition restyled wagon bearing the Nomad name. Rear side glass was curved like the 50's wagon. "Skyroof" was a new option. It was the sliding glass type. A new Borg- Warner 5-speed manual overdrive transmission was optional on all models. The '76 2.3 engine & cooling system were upgraded and improved the most to date, including- quieter hydraulic valve lifters, stainless steel head gasket, redesigned valve stem seals, water pump and thermostat, also changes in the block cooling slots for improved coolant flow. The engine, now named "Dura-Built" 140 even looked different, now painted Chevy orange. Chevy/U.S Auto Club tested three new 1976 Vegas-60,000 miles in 60 days-(180,000 total miles) in the Nevada desert- Three identical red Hatcbacks with 2bbl. carb, 3-speed manual transmission and A/C. Driving was 1,000 miles- 24hrs. per day. Outside temperatures never under 100 degrees. Oil changes were performed accordingly and coolant levels were maintained. All maintainence verified by USAC. Only 24 oz. of coolant was used by one car, and one timing belt was replaced in one car-in 60,000 miles- that's it. Vega's engine was now proven DURABLE as well as reliable. Chevy even backed it up with a 5 year/ 60,000 mile warrenty in '76 (& '77) Regardless, the engine was never redeemed. '76 production-160,524 '76 prices-2,984-3,450 (Cosworth 6,066) John DeLorean's book, "On a Clear Day You Can See General Motors" featured a chapter about the Vega. Published well after his departure from GM, Delorean- enginneer, Chevrolet General Manager, then GM Vice President through mid-1973, painted a grim picture of the mighty GM, its management policies and ...the corporate designed Vega. He tells of his frustrations (as Chevrolet General Manager), of decisions made by GM concerning everything from the car's design and name, to its price and standard equipment. All were questioned by DeLorean of which he had no control or final say. Introduced on his watch, he was responsible for Vega's public acceptance and projected 400,000 first year sales, stating it would be the highest quality Chevrolet ever built, with the first 2,000 cars road tested and inspected, and many thereafter. Delorean rallied his Chevrolet division behind the Vega, as initially, nobody wanted any part of the project. Engineers are a proud group, and Chevy's own small car and engine design had been rejected by GM executives. Chevrolet division was GIVEN the Vega to build and sell. Chief designer was GM President Ed Cole. He assigned a GM corporate team, headed by James Musser Jr. to oversee all phases of Vega development. Musser played major roles in developing the Chevy II, Camaro, 350/400 V8's and the Turbo Hydramatic transmission. DeLorean's resentment of GM's "14th floor" control of the divisions was one of the reasons for his resignation. He praises the Vega-based Monza in the book, however. His baby, he took Cole's design, and transformed an "economy car" into a sportier "image" car. Of course he had done this before with LeMans, spinning off GTO, when he was Pontiac General Manager. This just confirms that engineers are only proud of THEIR OWN designs or ideas. 1977 - "5-year/60,000-mile engine guarantee. Today's Vega"-1977 Ad In the final year, production had reduced to under 80,000. Chevy Chevette, introduced a year earlier, outsold the larger, more expensive Vega in 1977. Cosworth Vega was quietly discontinued after only 1447 built in '76. Pulse-Air injection, an emmision control system from the Cosworth engine, was modified and added to the Dura-built 140 engine to insure certification of the more strict '77 emmision standards. Engine was painted blue for its final year. The 4-speed manual transmission was now standard equipment as the 3-speed manual was discontinued, along with the base engine with 1 bbl carb. The Notchback was renamed Coupe, and the Cabriolet was no longer available. An exception to the carried over '76 apperance was the GT. It had a bold look with the new optional WIDE side stripes and VEGA GT door stripe cutouts. "Gold styled aluminum wheels" were optional on all models-leftover Cosworth stock. '77 Production-78,402 '77 Prices-3,249-3,745 After seven years and 1.9 million built, Vega and its aluminum block engine were discontinued at the end of the '77 model year; three years early, as the Monza, Skyhawk, Starfire, and new H-body, Pontiac Sunbird carried on thru 1980. A Vega enthusiast and owner, I'm tired of the negative comments since. The original car was well designed and improved annually. The final models, having the beneifit of six years of refinements, were fine automobiles. The 1971 Vega retail price for the basic model was $2090 It was offered to attract new first time GM and foreign economy car buyers. This was Vega's corporate mission. To "lure" these buyers, even if it meant not turning a profit, hoping to get them back for high profit Impalas and Monte Carlos the next time. Now to the 1971 Vega reviews- "You should hear what they're saying about Vega."- 1971 Ad MOTOR TREND- -"The base Vega is a magnificent automobile in its own right without any options at all." -"We choose Vega as the Car of the Year...For the money, no other American car can offer more." CAR AND DRIVER- -"A car for all occassions." -"It provides an excellent combination of performance and economy." ROAD & TRACK- -"The best handling passenger car ever built in America." ROAD TEST- -"The Vega is innovative without being complex." MECHANICS ILLUSTRATED- -"The roadability and handling on the GM sports-type car course was excellent, quick, and sure."