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I Want A New Chevy Vega!

Dear readers: For the most part, this is a true dialogue. It took place in Sept., 1972, when the Vega model line was about 18 months old. Chuck and David, two 15-year-olds, are looking at cars in a magazine, and see the Chevy Vega. This post is a window into how we saw these cars when they were brand new.

Chevy vega ad 1973 Chuck: "Hey, they have some new Vegas down at the dealer now. I want to go look at one."

David: "Oh yeah? What's a Vega?"

Chuck: "It's that new real small Chevy. It's supposed to drive the imports off of our shores, back to where they came from. They've been out for about a year now."

David: "Is it like the Nova? A friend of mine has one."

Chuck: "No, it's smaller. Has some kind of new engine too... all aluminum!"

David: "Well, it ought to be lighter, then."

Chuck: "I might buy a new '73 model. They are just coming out, and I've been saving up. Let's go."

This is how high enthusiasm was for the Vega when it was new. It was a fresh, exciting, new approach for a small car, and it was made right here in America by the folks that brought us the Corvette, Caprice, Malibu, Camaro, great trucks, and the Chevy II/Nova. With a reputation like that, what could possibly go wrong?

Chevy Vega GT 73 David: "They have a lot of Vegas here. Are they the newest models?"

Chuck: "Yeah, some of them are. I read the '73s have the bumper pushed out a little further in the front. Some kind of safety something. Also, the interior is different ... new door panels or something. The only difference between a '71 and '72 Vega is the '72s have a glove box door. They forgot to put them on the '71s."

David: "So why are you looking for a small car? I hear they're unsafe."

Chuck: "Well, Kevin has a Vega. He put a dollar's worth of gas in it and rode around all night. Oh, they have a double roof and crash beams in the doors. They're safe. And they're more fun to drive than a big car, too.

"Oh no, here comes a salesman."

After the usual exchange of names, handshakes, and handing out of the salesman's business cards, talk shifts to the row of shiny new Chevy Vegas.

Salesman: "I'm glad to see you two looking at a new Vega. It's a great car for a young person. We can't keep them on the lot for very long, they keep selling so fast.

"You know, Motor Trend magazine made them 'Car Of The Year' when they came out last year. Road & Track magazine said Vega is the best-handling car ever sold in America."

Chuck (looking over at David): "I told you they were fun to drive."

Vega Hatch 73 Salesman: "The Vega is becoming so popular, Pontiac is going to sell them in Canada as the Astre starting this year."

David: "Hey, that fastback looks pretty good. Kinda racy-looking."

Salesman: "That's called a Hatchback. When you open the trunk, the back window comes up with it, and you can get into the whole back of the car. It also comes in this GT model. They're faster, have gauges, a cool steering wheel, and have nicer wheels. You can also get power steering on a Vega, but they are so light you really don't need it."

Chuck: "I guess you could go camping back there, just fold the seat down and use a sleeping bag."

David: "Maybe ... if you're not on the basketball team. Then again, you could use it for other things!"

Chevy Vega Notchback 1971 Salesman: "We also have this Notchback. It's not as sporty looking, but it has a real trunk. It's supposed to be quieter, since there's a wall between you and the back wheels."

David: "Where did they get that name, 'Vega'?' "

Salesman: "It comes from the brightest star in the constellation, the Vega. Says so right there in the back of the owner's manual under 'V' for 'Vega.'

"Let's walk on back to the service area. You can see how well we'll take care of your new car."

Chevy Vega Wagon photobucket On the way to the Service Department, the three pass through the showroom. A Vega Kammback wagon is parked in the center with its doors and tailgate open. Chuck slides into the driver's seat of the car.

Salesman: "We also have a station wagon Vega called a Kammback. It has special aerodynamic styling. You can get it in a GT too. There's also a panel truck model, which is basically a stripped-down station wagon without windows in the back sides and no passenger's seat. Do you think you would like to have a station wagon?"

Chuck: "No, I don't think so. We're not that old yet. Ah, that new car smell!"

Chevy Vega dash II Salesman: "The interior of the Vega was built to make as much use of the room they had as possible."

Chuck: "I like tilt wheel, so I can get in and out easy. Makes it easier on long trips, too."

Salesman: "Sorry, you can't get tilt in a Vega."

Chuck: "What about a tape player?"

Salesman: "The Vega offers an AM or AM/FM radio with push buttons. You can put a tape player in later. Maybe under the dash."

Chuck: "My father's Centurion has power windows, door locks, and cruise control. Can I get any of that?"

Salesman: "No, the Vega is really an economy car. You have to step up into a Malibu before you can get all of those goodies."

Chevy Vega door Florida muscle cars David: "I don't see a light switch for the passenger's door." 

Salesman: "No, they don't put them there for some reason."

Chuck: "Where's the dimmer switch?"

Salesman: "It's on the floor."

Chuck: "I can't find it." 

Salesman: "It's kind of high up."

Chuck: "Oh, there it is ... almost to the windshield. Looks like I'll be stretching every time I want to dim the lights."

 David: "Do those back windows roll down?"

Salesman: "Well, there's an option for them to pop out. But all Vegas have GM's Astro-Ventilation. Air is always flowing through the car, and you don't ever have to open the back windows."

Chuck: "Do the seats recline like in the Japanese cars?"

Salesman: "No, the seatbacks are set at the most comfortable angle. They adjust some on the GTs, and if you get the Custom Interior, the passenger's seat slides forward and back, like the driver's.

 "Hey, can I get you guys a Coke or something? How about a brochure?"

The walk back to the Service Department goes through a narrow walkway with a Parts Department counter on the left. Cars are parked at 45-degree angles in each bay. Almost every Chevrolet model is represented.

Chevy Vega Engine David: "Wow, a Corvette. And there's a Vega with its hood up. I wonder what's wrong with it?"

Salesman: "The owner said it blew some smoke out when she started it. I'm sure it's no big deal ... they probably put too much oil in it. These cars are too new to have anything wrong with them!"

Chuck: "I saw somewhere that the Vegas have a low-oil pressure cut-off switch ... if the oil pressure goes out, the electric fuel pump shuts off."

Salesman: "Well, you don't miss a thing! Yes, that's right. Of course, these new Vega engines are as tight as a drum. They won't leak. And you know they're going to put a rotary engine in the Vega next year."

Chuck: "OK, what if it gets a ding or somebody tries to sock it to me. Can you fix that?"

Salesman: "Let's walk over to the back building, and I'll show you where our body and fender place is."

Vega GT ad The trio exit the main building and walk outside about 20 yards to a shed-shaped building, which is the dealer's Paint & Body Shop. Cars are in pieces; some have major panels and glass removed, others are waiting for paint in their coat of gray primer.

Salesman: "OK fellows, here's our body shop. We can fix anything. Bring us a bare frame, and we'll get it going again."

David: "Hey, there's a red Vega. Did it get hit by something?"

Chuck: "Yeah, they're working on the bottom of the fender. It must have run off the road. They've got it primed, I hope they can match the color."

Salesman: "No, the owner said it had a little rust bubble in the paint. He must have chipped the paint before he got it on the salty roads last winter. I'm sure it's no big deal. They'll have it as good as new in no time."

"Well, let me know if I can do anything more for you guys. Why don't you come back with your parents, and we'll take a test drive in that GT?"

I never bought a new Vega, but I did buy two used ones through the years. Both were 1972 models; one was a Hatchback just less than a year old, and the other was a fun Kammback restoration project. Both had optional 4-speeds, custom interiors, tinted glass, and air conditioning.

The wagon came along in 1980, and by then, the auto salvage yards were full of Vegas. We put a GT gauge cluster in it, kick panel pull vents, a new fender, we painted it, and I drove the car until the hood support bracket rotted off. Then I traded up(?) for a new Pontiac T1000.

We had no idea back then what the Vega would become.

--That Car Guy (Chuck)

The Vega ad, the gold Hatchback Vega GT, the open hatchback, and the Notchback Vega images are from Wikipedia. Our Kammback example image is from www.StationWagonForums.com. Vega's 140 CID OHV aluminum engine image is from Wikipedia; the interior image is from www.HubPages.com. The wood grain door image is from  www.FloridaMuscleCars.com. "OUR GT." ad image is from www.Old Car And TruckAds.com.

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My dad had a Vega wagon (back before I had memories) and it got a transplanted 350 in it in the mid-70's. The original motor didn't last 3 years. He traded it in the late 70's, and supposedly the transmission grenaded the very next day on the first test drive leaving a pool of tranny fluid and metal under the car a few miles from the dealer's lot.

My father actually spoke pretty fondly of the Vega saying it was remarkably fast with a 350 with no smog restrictions.

Ahh, the Vega is a classic case of great idea, poor execution. Even now, the lines of the Vega are appealing, and legions of hotrodders love stuffing a SBC under the hood. The problem (if anyone needs a quick history lesson) is that GM put an all aluminum engine in it. GM had very little experience with aluminum and these engines crapped out with great frequency. Vega owners were stuck with a non running vehicle whose residue value dropped to zero (no exaggeration, even salvage yards did not want them). The import fighter did the exact opposite as spurned Vega owners quickly embraced imports. GM continued to make half hearted attempts at capturing small car buyers, while imports continued to refine their vehicles.

MattC; Please stay tuned for tomorrow's episode of "Viva Las Vega" Week. ;)

When I was about 5 my dad traded in our trusty VW Bus and got a lavender-blue Vega (might have been a late 72 or early 73, don't quite remember). Guess it took my dad about 6 months to come to his senses and got rid of it and then got an International Travelall (remember those? Talk about a beast). The Vega didn't give us any trouble (yet) but I remember Dad cursing its small size and gutless power, so he rebelled and got the Travelall (did he ever!)

I always thought the Vega was a good looking car (the hatchback, never cared for the "coupe" or wagons), it was much better looking than the dumpy, upside-down-bathtub-looking Pinto. It tried to improve as the years went on, but it was too little too late (and the odd thing was, its Monza replacement wasn't much better than the Vega as far as reliability and other piss-poor execution details).

My Dad beat the hell out of early 70's 2 liter Pintos when he was a mechanic and had what he called "push cars'. They took a beatin. But a Vega? It would have been dead in 1 year.

Ahhh, remember the day when a dollar of gasoline would drive you around all night? LOL!

Bring on "Viva Las Vega" week!!!

Gas was 22 cents a gallon then. $1.00 was just under 5 gallons, and with about 20 mpg, you could go about 90 miles.

Certainly a night's riding-around range. :)

why Chevy has noting like it in lineup .. 2 -door Cobalt could take that function

I am looking to buy a vega.
Getting nostalgic in my old age and would like to ride one again.

Can anyone help?

The early Vega was junk, but the last 2 years were golden. Sadly the car's reputation was ruined by the poor reliability etc. The Astre was much like Vega until 1977 when the Iron Duke motor was introduced. I have two of these, a 1977 Hatchback and a 1978 Sunbird Safari wagon. They are both good cars.

Haha. I was conceived in a Vega. Kinda sad that I know that. In 1983 I used to play in the Vega that I was created in. By then it didn't run anymore.

My uncle has stored in his garage a 1973 white Chevy Vega Kammback
with 80,000 original owner miles, blue interior, roof racks.
He has asked me to find out what the value may be and I am trying
to help him out. Anyone have any thoughts? It still runs and
he is the original owner.

A very good fictional dialogue. There is no way that dialogue was real because all parties seem to know everything that's in the Vega wiki articles (which I wrote) Nice try, but it was entertaining.

Thank you Robert, but that conversation was very real.

My friend Dave, mentioned in the article was the owner of this Value Van ( http://www.carlustblog.com/2011/04/a-1966-gmc-value-van.html ). I was Best Man at his wedding in 1987 and still see him and his family every week. And please read my article on the second Vega I owned: http://www.carlustblog.com/2012/02/our-cars-week-my-most-fun-junky-car.html .

Do your articles mention the dimmer switch being high off the floor? That there was no passenger-side light switch? If you would link me to them, I would love to read them.

But yes, the conversation, almost word for word, was had in 1972. I'm sorry if you think it was contrived or copied from your excellent writings.

--Chuck

What a joke... GM didn't know how to make small cars then, and they can't make ANY good ones, now.

The flat faced earlier Vegas were certainly, trying to be a Mini-me version of the split bumper 70-73 Camaro.

Too bad, the imitation didn't help in sales.

I bought a new Vega G.T. in 1973. Wish I would it. Fun to drive and even pulled a 15' boat. Anyone who would like to sell a Vega G.T., email me. Thank you. Duane

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Pictured above: This is a forlorn Chevy Vega photographed by reader Gary Sinar. (Share yours)

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