COMPLETE VEGA HISTORY 1970-1977 including yearly changes, Virtues & Vices, Cosworth, '71 Press

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

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,

-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

-A limited edition "Millionth Vega" option-ZM5 was 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

'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

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

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

-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

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

-"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."

-"A car for all occassions."
-"It provides an excellent combination of performance and economy."

-"The best handling passenger car ever built in America."

-"The Vega is innovative without being complex."

-"The roadability and handling on the GM sports-type car course was
excellent, quick, and sure."