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Worst Car Showcase: Part I

Blake Noble

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Worst Car Showcase Presents: The Chevrolet Vega


The Vega could quite possibly be one of GM's worst efforts in the sub-compact car market in the history of the company. When GM and Chevrolet introduced the Vega models, which were a coupe (Hatchback), a sedan (Notchback), a two-door station wagon (Kammback), and a sedan delivery (Panel Express), all the way back in 1971, it was their poorly concerted answer to Volkswagen ass-engined Beetle, Ford's cheeky pint-sized rolling fireball, known as the Pinto, as well as the torrent of bland and dreary econo-boxes being shipped over from Japan by the bushel full. Yes, when it came to the era of disco and bell-bottom jeans, the Vega offered a level of downright crude horrors previously not seen at GM, as well as paving the way for the equally mediocre Vega-based Monza (not surprising), and it's eventual replacement, the Chevette.


Sure, the Vega looked like a sub-compact car suitable for the enthusiast on paper when it was new: it was rear-drive, it had a manual transmission available, and was relatively lightweight for it's era. It's because of those three credentials alone it has attracted many hot-rodders over the years wanting a cheap project to get them into the weekend drag races. But, make no mistake, when this car was new, it was about as far from an enthusiast model as you could get.


The Vega, for starters, had a four-cylinder engine, known as the 2300, notorious for it's poor fuel frugality, it's constant thirst for oil, it's tendency to self-destruct partially due to it's oil-a-holicism, and it's cooling troubles. And, above all else, there wasn't any version of the 2300 that could break the 100 net horsepower mark, meaning that even a rat running an exercise wheel could produce more brake horsepower than you could. As a result of this lack of any sort of real power, or lack of a real engine for that matter, you could crawl inch by painful inch to sixty miles an hour in a whole 12.2 seconds, which made rocking out to Europe something of a dreary task to tackle.


And even GM was aware that the Vega was no spring chicken, so they brought in Cosworth to fix the car's anemic acceleration woes. But not even mighty Cosworth with their racing expertise could fix this car's motivational deficiency. The Cosworth Vega managed to get-up-n-go in a scant 8.7 seconds, about a 3.5 second improvement. It was also about 500 dollars cheaper than a base Corvette at the time, which meant that, with what little money you had saved, you could go down to the gun store and buy a gun to shoot yourself in the foot with for not buying the better car. Because it was still too slow and now much too expensive for most anyone to afford, sales fell about 1,500 units short of the projected 5,000 units GM was hoping to sell.


To add insult to the already lengthy list of injuries, reliability was virtually nil and it was more prone to body corrosion than an Alfa Romeo sitting at the bottom of the Dead Sea.


The styling of early Vega were meant to mimic the early second-generation Camaros, then new at the time of the Vega's debut, with their Ferrari-inspired body lines and design cues. The 1974 update also attempted to continue this big-brother-little-brother relationship. But, in all honesty, given the Vega's bastardly tendencies, this relationship is anything but rosy red and should be view wholly as an insult to the Camaro.


It's hard to fathom that GM found two-million suckers that actually wanted to buy this car. You would've had a much better option in walking or taking the bus. To quote (and paraphrase) Mr. John Z. DeLorian on the car, it was a horrible product forced upon Chevrolet by GM management and had an engine that "looked like it had been taken off a 1920 farm tractor."

Edited by YellowJacket894
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wow... did anyone read the reviews on that "you should hear what they're saying about vega" add? its so eerie... apparently 1970s GM was like Toyota now... could do absolutely no wrong... insane....

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Strangely, I've always been drawn to Vega's and Monza's. I think it started back when I was first starting to become aware of cars in the 80's. My sister had a factory V8 Chevy Monza (4 spd manual trans even!). It was a round eye notchback which made it an even rarer car. Back around 1995 or so I drove past a remarkably low rust, original Michigan car 1977 Vega and just HAD to buy it as a project car. It was an original owner car that didn't run but supposedly only needed a fuel pump. I owned the car for a few years and it even made a 150 mile move with me but I never got around to doing anything with it. I finally tried to sell it as a project car. Suprisingly, there is very little demand for a non-running 1977 Chevy Vega! :lol: To this day I still feel bad because I eventually donated the thing to charity and I'm sure the first thing they did was sell it off to a scrap yard and it got crushed. :(:(:(

I'd still like to have a nice early 70's Vega or a round eye notch back Monza as a project. I think it would be pretty cool to stuff a modern 4 cylinder turbo engine in one! :stupid:

Edited by 2QuickZ's
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  • 1 year later...

It's always dangerous playing revisionist history. Even the 'venerable' Bug was prone to rusting out, and don't get me started about the lack of heat or the tendency to ice up in the snow! Chrysler actually had the cars to beat in the '70s, with the Duster and Demon twins: their slant-6 was a bullet-proof engine and gave fuel mileage that was not much worse than the Vega or Pinto. But they, too, had rust problems. My father's girlfriend's (don't ask) '71 Duster coupe (purple!) had all the paint peel off the roof within 2 years, a common Plymouth problem back then.

And, I'm with Balthy on this one: none of these rusted out as quickly as the original Datsuns (with their corrugated steel suspension mounts!) or original Civics. The media conveniently ignores that because, of course, GM was selling (too tired to look it up) in the neighborhood of a quarter million Vegas a year when they were launched (maybe more) - and how many Civics did Honda unload on the unsuspecting public back then?

Everyone built crap in the '70s, it's only the GM and Ford stuff people remember because that is all that was around back then.

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