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What If? 1971 Edition


ocnblu

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For the 1971 model year, Chevrolet introduced the handsome, economical, fun to drive Vega in 4 bodystyles:  a two-door sedan, two-door hatchback, two-door panel delivery, and two-door wagon.  The stylish little car looked like the perfect little brother to the second-generation Camaro.  At first blush, it was a breakthrough, (along with the venerable Pinto and unique Gremlin) a uniquely American response to the charming VW Beetle and early Toyota and Datsun subcompacts.  It should have been a contender... it could have ensured GM's market supremacy, already enjoyed in the mid-and full-size classes, in the burgeoning subcompact market.  But a couple of major issues killed its reputation (engine issues being paramount, lack of corrosion protection being secondary, since the Japanese subcompacts at the time were just as bad) before it could make a positive lasting impression.

The Vega's problems are largely responsible for American manufacturers' cession of the subcompact market in its infancy and allowed the rise of Japanese importers.  Agree or disagree?  What do you all think?

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I think at least one, if not two of the Japanese makes that are still here today would not be had the domestics (not just GM) properly manufactured their first generation of sub-compacts. Datsun would never have gained a foothold, Mitsubishi would be unheard of, and possibly even VW would have pulled out before the first Rabbit was built. Honda and Toyota would probably have persevered, but Lexus and Acura would be a decade younger than they are.

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It seems GM (and Ford) really didn't take subcompacts seriously then and invested the minimal amount getting them out with no concern about quality, durability, or reliability. 

Edited by Robert Hall
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59 minutes ago, Robert Hall said:

It seems GM (and Ford) really didn't take subcompacts seriously then and invested the minimal amount getting them out with no concern about quality, durability, or reliability. 

The Vega and the attitude behind the first "GM car" rather than a "Chevrolet car" is why GM started its fall from grace.  There is a reason Baby Boomers essentially went for Japanese (and German) as early as the mid-1970s.  And its reasons are Vega and Pinto.

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I would argue that the Pinto was a better engineered car than Vega.  Media ruined Pinto with the overblown fire risk situation.  Pinto survived without major revisions over its entire 1971-1980 run.  How many transformations did the Vega go through over that same time period, even losing its name before the Cavalier came along in 1981.  GM threw all kinds of mechanical and styling revisions at it, but the die was cast with those early, egregious missteps.  The Vega was way more a public betrayal.  More of a forfeiture.  More of a suicide pill.

 

Gremlin was a brilliant marketing stroke by a company working on a shoestring.  By necessity it had super reliable mechanicals because its parent had no money to radicalize it.

The Japanese live life on a smaller scale by necessity than Americans.  Everything is miniaturized.  So they had no problem building a subcompact that was fully engineered.  The Japanese engineered everything in an upward direction, where Americans scaled their larger stuff downward.

Edited by ocnblu
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12 minutes ago, ocnblu said:

I would argue that the Pinto was a better engineered car than Vega.  Media ruined Pinto with the overblown fire risk situation.  Pinto survived without major revisions over its entire 1971-1980 run.  How many transformations did the Vega go through over that same time period, even losing its name before the Cavalier came along in 1981.   

Other than the engine change, the Vega didn't really have any major revisions during it's 71-77 run.  Federal bumpers and a revised nose and taillights in '74, grille change in '76...the Pinto went through more styling changes during it's longer run, albeit minor also. 

 

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