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In Defense of the Chevrolet Vega

Vert_A_Pac_railcar During Viva Las Vega week, my fellow contributors acted as the prosecution in the case against the Chevrolet Vega--the car that should have been GM's small-car savior but that instead has become one of the automotive world's most notorious synonyms for failure. They built a thoroughly damning case against the Vega and spared none of the painful details, including the rampaging rust, the massive engine vibration, the durability issues caused by its aluminum block and cast-iron head, and the labor issues that compromised the assembly of an already flawed design.

It is now my turn to present my defense of the Vega, and I'm left with very little foothold to do so. I can't appeal to the facts--the facts have already been presented, and they are damning. I can't pander to public sympathy--too many people have been burned by Vega ownership, and the worldwide community has long condemned the Vega as one of the automotive world's great failures. Ultimately, I have to admit that the prosecution is right--their case is air-tight and well-presented. Public opinion has concurred in pronouncing the Vega guilty of being a truly awful car.

But yet, despite all that, I can't help but love the woebegone Vega and its H-body siblings, and so I'll explain why I continue to lust after it despite all of the evidence that I'm a fool to do so. After all, when has Car Lust ever let factual questions of quality come between us and the cars we love?

Vega GT 1. The Vega was a very attractive car.
I don't think the Vega's good looks should be anywhere near as controversial as my similar statement when I defended the Chevy Citation last year. I find the Citation pleasingly lumpy and handsome in a quirky way, but in that case I understood that the Citation is an acquired taste. The Vega, however, is much more conventionally good-looking; in fact our Vega executioners last week even admitted that the Vega was singularly fetching.

In almost every form, the Vega was a looker, and I would argue that it is one of the best-looking economy cars ever made. Its forward-jutting grille, low-slung stance, long-hood/short deck profile, and delicate detailing differentiated it from its blocky peers and made it a classy little brother to one of the prettiest Camaros ever made.

If you can, wipe the anti-Vega bias out of your brain and just look at the orange-and-white Vega pictured here as if you're seeing it for the first time. Now envision it painted scarlet, with wider tires, a leather-swaddled interior, and an overhead-cam V-8 under the hood. Now imagine it with Pininfarina badges on the front fenders and a yellow Ferrari badge on the hood.

Cosworth Vega It sounds ludicrous, but is it? Doesn't the styling look European? Don't the lines look elegant and aggressive? If you didn't know that the Vega's lines hid a troublesome and gutless four-cylinder and a propensity to rust, wouldn't you think it was something special, perhaps even a small coach-built sports coupe from the 1960s or 1970s?

Vegas look completely natural as mini-muscle cars as well. Many Vegas have been retro-fitted with powerful V-8s, with paint and tires to match, and they look fantastic. Or, if you prefer the stock look, just look at the Cosworth Vega--it's a stunner in its gold-and-black livery.

The Vega's H-body big brother, the Chevy Monza and its GM clones, was also a very pretty car. It also received the V-8 muscle that the Vega never received in stock form, and combined with the genius of Al Holbert to win several IMSA road-racing championships. Just look at the Monza pictured here--isn't it pretty? Check out the post on Photography-on-the.net for more description and images of this stunner.

Monza

Returning to the Vega, there was also the Kammback wagon. Long-time readers are well aware of my pro-wagon bias, but I can't imagine anybody regarding the Kammback wagon as a design failure. Domestic two-door wagons usually look like a stumpy curiosities, but the Vega Kammback looks both elegant and sporty. When Clark W. Griswold walks into the car dealership at the beginning of National Lampoon's Vacation and requests his "Antarctic Blue Super Sports wagon, with "the CB and the optional Rally Fun-Pack" something like the Vega Kammback is what pops into my mind--small, sporty, and ready for adventure. This picture is from Persh.org, which documents the extremely interesting cars owned by the Pershing family over the years.

Kammback

The Vega was a 1970s economy car, and it was gorgeous. How remarkable is that?

2. By the standards of its time, the Vega handled beautifully.
Even stranger than the idea of a pretty 1970s economy car is the idea that a domestic economy car of the time could be anything other than an understeering nightmare in the corners. The Vega, however, handled well enough to be competitive even with much sportier cars.

  Car and Driver thought enough of the Vega to include it and the Pinto in the magazine's Super Coupes comparison test (an inspiration for our Super Coupes Face Off). Predictably, the Vega and Pinto finished fifth and six in the six-car test, behind such comparably sporting hardware as the Opel Manta, the rotary-powered Mazda RX-2, the Ford/Mercury Capri, and the Toyota Celica. The Vega was ultimately just too handicapped by its awful, punchless engine and overall economy-car feel to match up with the thoroughbreds.

Rear VegaStill, even in the context of that tough competition, the Vega's agility stood out both on the road and on the track. C&D called the Vega's handling "exceptional" and described its dynamics as being very balanced and neutral, avoiding the tire-grinding understeer that crippled many of the other super coupes. It led the whole group on the skidpad with .75 Gs of lateral acceleration, a figure that would have been respectable even a decade later. On the race track, despite being hampered with the worst acceleration of the bunch, the Vega turned in the fourth-best time, beating both the Pinto and the sporty Celica--tribute to its excellent handling.

We are all so used to thinking of the Vega as an abject failure that all of this may sound unbelievable--but the Vega was an economy car that just happened to be gorgeous and handle like a thoroughbred. How many of us would like to own a car that fits that description?

3. The competition wasn't exactly world-beating either.
Today, we are spoiled by major advances in automotive technology, to the point where truly bad cars don't exist. Some cars are certainly more powerful, better-looking, or better-engineered than others, but every car currently available starts faithfully, drives pretty well, accelerates promptly, and holds up pretty well if reasonably cared for. The low-priced subcompacts, such as the Chevy Aveo or Kia Rio, might seem the most logical choices as today's awful cars ... but they just aren't. They aren't necessarily exciting, but they absolutely excel at providing solid transportation.

1974-ford-pinto-1 This has become our new baseline, but it has not always been thus--back in the 1980s and, particularly, the 1970s, cars were not nearly as well-engineered as they are now. I'm convinced that at least part of our righteous indignation regarding the Vega is based on looking at it from a modern perspective and at least unconsciously comparing its failures against the capabilities of our cars. Yes, the Vega was a deeply flawed car, but it competed with flawed cars. I think that context is important as we pass judgment on the Vega--a point I tried to make visually by selecting some extremely woebegone imagery for its competitors.

If you were in the market for a new economy car in 1971, what were your choices? The Vega's primary domestic competitor was the Ford Pinto, which was ugly, uncomfortable, less fun to drive, and didn't exactly enjoy a sterling reputation for safety or durability. In fact, the Pinto is often lumped together with the Vega as one of the worst cars ever made.

Amc_gremlin The Vega's other major domestic competitor was the AMC Gremlin. While I'm an enthusiastic fan of the Gremlin, not many people were--as with the Pinto, if people remember the Gremlin at all they typically remember it as a terrible car. Even I will admit it wasn't much of an economy car. That's partially because at its core it wasn't one; it was a much larger sedan with an ancient large-sedan engine and surgically removed buttocks. The result was a car with polarizing styling and relatively quick acceleration, but at the cost of absolutely miserable fuel mileage--that's a trade-off that I would enthusiastically make today, but it wasn't exactly what the doctor ordered in the fuel-strapped 1970s.

It may seem unfair to compare the Vega to such notorious stinkers as the Pinto and the Gremlin when the real early-1970s economy-car standard-setter was the famous, all-conquering Volkswagen Beetle. Through today's lens, it's hard to imagine the much-reviled Vega stacking up well against a beloved icon like the Beetle. But, if we can, let's lay aside our natural reverence for the world's top-selling car and consider it as competition for the Vega.

Beetle The Beetle earned its reputation and its sales during the 1950s and 1960s, when it was a quirky and endearing little car with real advantages over its almost nonexistent competition. During the 1970s, however, its window had almost closed. When the Vega was introduced, the motoring press viewed the Beetle as exceptionally well-built but also hopelessly antiquated--as you would naturally expect from a design that dated back to the 1940s.

It's of course remarkable that the Beetle was as competitive as it was given the age of its basic design; just imagine a lightly revised Pinto continuing to sell in today's market. But despite its longevity, the Beetle was cramped, underpowered, and simply not as modern as the other cars on the market. Beetle sales fell in the early-to-mid 1970s as a result, and Volkswagen would have been in serious trouble had it not released its fresh and revolutionary Golf/Rabbit later in the decade. The Beetle richly deserves its place in history, but it was not a truly competitive subcompact in the 1970s.

B210 Volkswagen had such a huge market share in the early 1970s that most consumers thought Volkswagen when they considered foreign cars, but there were some other competitors. Those competitors included the Datsun B210 and Toyota Corolla, two seeds that would later grow into complete Japanese domination of the small-car market.

But back in the early 1970s, non-Volkswagen foreign cars were relative oddities and were considered underpowered, weirdly styled hair shirts that struggled to maintain highway speeds. The reliability and dependability of the Datsun and Toyota of course stood in stark contrast with the domestic offerings of the time, which would eventually help reshape customer perceptions and buying habits, but during the Vega's heyday both Datsun and Toyota were niche players.

This leaves cars like the Fiat 124, Renault R12, and Simca 1204, which all combined incredibly niche market penetration with nothing like the reliability and dependability of the Japanese.

These were the Vega's peers and competitors; they were slow, strange, obsolete, and, in many cases, unreliable. The Vega's many issues arguably made it the most fetid of this case of rotten eggs, but I think it is still significant that the Vega was awful against a backdrop of mere badness.

4. It's all irrelevant now, anyway.
In my running fracas with the Mustang II mafia a few years ago, I tried to walk what might sound like a very thin line. My position in that argument was that a) the Mustang II was demonstrably bad car for its time and compared to its peers, and b) in the modern context, it doesn't really matter. No matter how firmly I believe that the Mustang II was not a good car when it was produced, that's a conclusion that's really only historically relevant. Compared to today's cars, nearly every car from the 1970s feels like a hopeless anachronism and given that and 30-plus years of use and abuse, the slight but significant differences between a used Mustang II and, say, a used Ford/Mercury Capri fade into irrelevance.

HotRodVega What matters now, decades later, is how people feel about those cars, and how they care about them. I hugely respect the Mustang II community because the members of that community care deeply about their cars; they baby them, they coddle them, and they hot-rod them. I find Mustang IIs desirable now not because I thought they were fantastic cars when they were made, but because they represent such an interesting story and because any particular car's owner has likely spent a lot of time and effort in making his particular Mustang II beautiful, powerful, and relevant.

The Vega was a more cataclysmically bad car than the merely perplexing Mustang II, but the same principles are at work here. Virtually nobody depends on a bone-stock Vega for dependable transportation anymore, and the unloved or particularly undependable Vegas have long since been junked and disintegrated into their component elements. This makes the Vega's many shortcomings historically significant and interesting, but no longer relevant to how car lovers interact with them.

  Time truly does heal all wounds; or at least it gives those wounds a sepia-toned halo that makes them tolerable. As I said about the Pinto in a similar piece I wrote back in 2007 about empirically terrible 1970s American cars:

"Somewhere, three decades ago, a designer proudly unveiled (the Pinto) to the bosses at Ford; workers spent their waking hours building it. Young families bought Pintos, showed Pintos off to their friends, washed Pintos in their driveways, drove their babies home from the hospital in Pintos. Some of you drove Pintos; some of your parents or grandparents drove Pintos. Pintos were on TV, in movies, in magazines and newspapers. The Pinto is part of the fabric of our history."

The Boys of VegaThe same is true of the Vega. For better or worse, GM sold millions of Vegas, and those Vegas became part of the tapestry of American life. Reader Ed Stembridge says he and his two brothers were "gluttons for punishment" for owning Vegas, but the Vega still sparks enough of a memory that he sent in this photo of him and his brothers with his Vegas.

My Dad, a bona fide car enthusiast who was a clear influence on the development of my Car Lust, owned multiple Vegas in his 20s. His approach to the troublesome Vega four-cylinder was novel--he simply pulled it out and replaced it with an aluminum Buick V-8 that gave the sleek little coupe the power it deserved. My Dad freely acknowledges the Vega's shortcomings, but he proudly displays a die-cast Vega in his home to celebrate its importance to him.

Vega  001 My Dad eliminated many of the Vega's issues with an engine swap, and today's enthusiasts are no less inventive. The application of modern technology and bushels of money has the potential to wipe out many of the Vega's inherent weaknesses. The Vega can accept a great many of GM's potent and highly available stable of V-8s; as a result, many restorers have chosen to make the Vega a tidy little muscle car, with the good looks and grunt of a Chevelle or a Camaro but with tidier proportions and less weight.

That's a really compelling path--the idea of a 400-horsepower Vega Kammback has left my lips moistened--but the great thing about the Vega's looks is that it could play easily either as an American muscle car or a European sports coupe. Cloaked in a subtle coat of metallic paint and with a more modern 16-valve, DOHC engine, the Vega could easily play the role of a uniquely American BMW 2002 alternative.

Yes, the Vega came imbued with many critical flaws, flaws that made it particularly unsuited for a role as dependable transportation. That makes it an historically interesting, but as a modern enthusiast it wouldn't stand in the way of my buying and enjoying one today. Please join me in saying ... Viva Las Vega!

The image of the orange Vega GT is from Wikipedia, as is the image of the Cosworth Vega, the red-and-black Vega, and the arresting image of multiple Vegas being loaded vertically onto a rail car. The gorgeous picture of the resto-modded muscle car Vega came from Flickr user splattergraphics, who has a lot of other highly lustable automotive images. The Pinto image came from mabank.net, the Gremlin picture came from the SpringSource blog, the Beetle image came from Team-BHP.com, and the hilariously post-apocalyptic Datsun B210 picture came from SalvageCarSale.net but I believe was originally photographed by Curtis Gregory Perry.

--Chris Hafner

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Chris, I think the 1973 Vega was their best-looking year. Very subtle touches, like lowering the factory body-side mouldings below the door keyholes, rebadging them as "Vega by Chevrolet," pushing the front bumper out a couple of inches with the filler panel behind it, and updating the interior to include soft vinyl door panels on the nicer-trimmed models made the first two years look almost outdated.

I never warmed up to the larger bumpers. But styling is objective, and that's just where I am. The Vega GT's dash/gauge cluster is still a winner, and I'll take even faux woodgrain over textured hard plastic any day on any car. At least there's an attempt to put some "life" into the car.

One more thing about the Vega's handling, if I may... they came out about the same time steel-belted radial tires became fashionable. A Vega on bias-ply tires (which my first one had) was a different animal altogether from one on radials. I'd turn the steering wheel and meet unnecessary friction and poor response. Later, my wagon had radials, and I really did enjoy driving the thing. It certainly didn't handle as well as our MGB or even the '78 Chevette (Which had rack-and-pinion steering, the Vega didn't), but it was a pleasure to steer compared to my Hatchback.

And yes, the Kammback really does rock. Viva Las Vega!

...er, subjective. I messed that one up LOL.

I think early Vegas were beautiful. They did an excellent job of picking up styling cues from various Pininfarina bodied Ferraris of the mid '60s such as the 365 GT 2+2. I don't think an argument can be made that the result was a European sort of sedan though. While Chris actually said European coupe, that ignores that this wasn't the Vega coupe. This was the Vega line. There was a Vega sedan, a Vega hatchback, and a Vega wagon. They ALL had the low roofline, tiny back seat, and long nose of a sports coupe. If you look at the FIAT 124 as an example of a successful European model line that served a similar role, the sedan had completely different architecture from the Coupe and Spider. The 124 Coupe was similar in proportion to the Vega, although perhaps still more conservative and efficient in its use of space. The 124 sedan emphasized utility over style. It had 4 real seats with 4 real doors. The trunk had room for 4 people's luggage. The roof was high and boxy to accommodate the passengers. The BMW 2002 was mentioned. Comparing a Vega to a 2002 side by side reveals that the BMW was smaller on the outside while accommodating 4 passengers. The Vega was a highly styled coupe with a 2+2 interior, no matter if the rear window was fixed, hinged, or directly over the bumper. The Pinto and Vega were both very American for this reason. We just weren't serious about space efficiency yet. Had we been, they would have been roomier than the Maverick and Nova. Maybe that wasn't worth risking.

As for Vega quality relative to the era, the problem is that as bad as the competition may have been, the Vega was head and shoulders worse. Perhaps there were European and British imports just as short lived, but their engines were much smoother and more willing until they died.

Great points, CJ. You're right that the Vega coupe had the good looks of the Fiat 124 coupe, which was appropriate - but the Vega sedan, unlike the Fiat 124 sedan, was just as inefficient with space as the coupe. It's a good point and hard to deny.

> As for Vega quality relative to the era, the problem is that as bad as the competition may have been, the Vega was head and shoulders worse.

Totally agreed, the Vega was worse - but I think it's provides important context that the class as a whole was pretty awful. It's not as if the Vega was up against fantastic small cars and only one company managed to get it abjectly wrong. If you asked the average American to make a list of the 10 worst cars ever made, I'm guessing that several of the other cars in the Vega's class would be included as well.

Chris, I think you're spot on - yes, the Vega was almost criminally terrible, but it's not like its competition was vastly superior. Heck, I'd argue that the reason the Beetle was competitive for so long was because nobody put any effort into small, reliable transportation for the better part of 30 years. I had a friend whose dad used to say you could predict reliability of a car by taking the number of cylinders in the engine bay and multiplying by 10,000. So, a four-cylinder would probably run for 40,000 miles, and a V8 would run for 80,000.

Yikes.

It wasn't until the Japanese took reliability seriously that everyone, Europeans included, started taking reliability more seriously, and, even then, Japanese cars routinely rusted at the slightest provocation until well into the '80s. It took several years for West Coast drivers in less rust-prone areas to notice that the little Japanese penalty box they purchased for peanuts kept going after 40,000 miles... then 50,000... then 75,000 miles. That and the devaluation of the dollar in the '70s pulled the Simcas, Opels, and the British out of the US. As for VW, they now had to provide a fairly reliable car that didn't have a ridiculously draconian maintenance schedule (*HOW* often did you have to readjust the valves?!). Then those little Japanese cars kept going... 80,000 miles... 100,000 miles... 120,000 miles... 150,000 miles?! You couldn't even count on most Detroit V8s to do that back then, and those were the benchmarks of American automotive reliability at the time. In that context, cars like the Vega, Pinto, and so on made sense - they were cheap and disposable, which is all people expected. The Japanese hadn't proved yet that it was possible to have cheap without having disposable.

Now we gripe when our cars don't make it over 200,000 miles without a transmission change and think it's almost criminal if we need an engine swap, too.

I agree on your points that the Vega was a good looking car then and now. It also serves as a good base for hotrodders and drag racers everywhere. The problem is that quite frankly the Vega was a great idea with poor execution. Even worse, GM did not learn from this and continued to make half-hearted attempts at downsizing for years.

The Vega and the 1970 Camaro really did show Italian influenced styling. Had the engine and rust issues been properly addressed prior, this would be an entirely different story.

The Pinto wasn't greeted with the excitement that enveloped the Vega's introduction, but it was basically a sound car. The gas tank theater may have been just that. Proof lies in the fact that the Pinto sold for a decade without a name change or significant restyling. They held up well enough for people to keep buying them new when people knew how they would age.

I'm not sure Toyota was really a niche product during the Vega's run. Toyota sold over 300,000 cars in the US in 1971. The Corolla was the 2nd best selling car in the world by then. I'm from the east coast, where Toyotas rusted with a Vegan zeal, but early to mid '70s Corollas were still common as dirt into the late '80s, long after the last 2300 or Dura-built 140 powered Vega had expired. Early '70s Coronas were pretty common too. What about the Datsun 510? They weren't just relatively durable appliances, they were somewhat appealing as driving machines. I think there were far better options, but perhaps it was still too soon after WWII for some buyers.

The Cosworth looks like a Nova humped a Trans Am. Not a bad thing.

If I were looking to build a car of this vintage as a hobby, there is no question I'd prefer the Vega/H-body platform over the Mustang II. But as I have owned both a 77 and 78 Corolla, there is no question I would've purchased a Corolla back in the day! My Corollas were nearly bulletproof. Sure they were slow and built like a beer can, but they sipped fuel, always started, and the 78 Corolla was sold with 250K on it having NEVER touched the transmission (auto) nor the motor, and I know the next guy drove it for at least 4 more years because we would see it from time to time. It didn't start to show rust until 1988, though by 1994 it was more rust than paint.

Growing up the next door neighbor lady drove a maroon with white Gremlin. I always liked the styling and thought it was pretty cool. Until one day on our way home after basketball practice, we see ahead of us a car with some serious sparks coming from underneath slide sideways quite abruptly in the right hand lane. When we got next to it we realized it was the neighbor (her husband) and the whole front end was sitting on the pavement. We pushed (with the truck) the car off the road so nobody would get killed and then got the story. Guy says "I was just driving and then BAM! The right front tire rips completely off" - he point, it's sitting about a block back on the sidewalk. "So I'm fighting to keep from eating the curb and I hit that pothole (points again, it's a South Dakota winter special kind of nasty) and the other front tire blows out!" Needless to say the Gremlin never came back home.

I always thought the Vega looked like a midget Camaro. Definitely a nice looking car.

I didn't think the Pinto was that reviled until the gas tank fiasco (which I have concluded was as big of a fraud as the unsafe-at-any-speed Corvair) but I was young then and may not have noticed.

This has been a very enlightening series for me, since I really knew next to nothing about the damn things. Excellent work all.

"I never thought it was such a bad little car. It's not bad at all, really. Maybe it just needs a little love."

FOFL!!!

Wow. You managed to find a picture of the worst B210 I've ever seen. And I thought they were ugly from the factory. I hadn't seen nuth'n yet!

My favorite H-bodies:
Monza (Town Coupe?) with the landau roof and the smaller rear side windows. Cali emissions 5.7 Liter!
Sunbird Coupe
Starfires
Skyhawk Roadhawk
http://www.gmphotostore.com/1979-Buick-Skyhawk-Road-Hawk-Hatchback/productinfo/53217656/

I don't know that you've successfully won acquittal for the Vega--Clarence Darrow and F. Lee Bailey combined couldn't have pulled that one off!--but you've at least made a strong case for mercy in sentencing!

In the course of researching my Vega post, I came to the conclusion that the Vega is a victim of a certain amount of "piling on." Its built-in engineering deficiencies were inexcusable, and the failings in assembly quality undeniable, but the fact that some of the prototypes had structural problems wasn't part of the "perfect storm." It makes for a good story to relate how some of the prototypes fell apart in testing, but that's why we call them "prototypes." The car didn't have structural problems.
Unfortunately, the problems it did have were bad enough that it still deserves pride of place in the automotive hall of shame.

I also think the Vega disaster is still relevant today, if only as an example of how not to run a business. All of the Vega's myriad deficiencies, from unlined fenders to undersized radiators to empty Coke bottles in the unibody, were the product of a dysfunctional corporate culture full of skewed incentives--and this dysfunction explains a lot of why the taxpayers are on the hook for a $60b bailout.

Had a 73 Vega when I went into the military. Got me there and served pretty well for a couple years. Fairly easy to work on myself too, though I'm not the mechanic type.

It wasn't a world beater, but doesn't deserve all of it's bad rep either.

Sold it after three years and bought, you guessed it, a Toyota Celica.

.

It was a great looking car, but it's lipstick on a pig.

The worst relationship I ever had was with a woman who was by far the most beautiful woman I ever knew. The same holds with the Vega.

.

Praise the Vega? No Way! That POS left me stranded more times than a forgetful ride-share. Remember the oil pressure cut-off switch? It'd shut off the fuel pump when it sensed an oil pressure drop in that awful aluminum block. Trouble was that switch failed with such regularity that , not unlike my MG I started carrying spares. After it quit half-way across the Mississippi R in St. Louis, I sold it and flew home. Tx for nothing GM!

Hey, thanks for running my photo! We definitely were 'gluttons for punishment' (there was actually a forth Vega not shown - a hatchback that got stripped for parts), but those little Vegas got all three of us through high school and college, despite the continually rusting windshield channels, blown head gaskets and ripped seats (FWIW, *never* use hot glue to repair ripped seats if you live where it gets hot in the summer).

The blue '71 notchback in the photo was mine, purchased used in 1972 by my Dad. I traded it in (on a Suzuki Samauri - hah!) in 1986, with over 200,000 on the odometer. Both Kammbacks in the photo were wrecked and rebuilt (several times!) to soldier on for years.

My '71 in its final configuration was lowered with V8 Monza sway bars and cut-down springs, a Buick 3.8L V6 and automatic transmission, plus front seats out of a Monza (Recaro designed, IIRC), the GT dashboard and a folding rear seat out of a Kammback (I removed the metal bulkhead behind the original fixed seat to open up the trunk space). Despite its problems, it was a great first car, and our family and many select friends have numerous shared Vega-related memories and laughs.

Long live the Vega!

es

The first car we ever bought as a married couple was a 1973 Vega - leather, stick shift, nice wheels, etc. - all for three grand flat. It lasted 4 solid years with never a burp, parked it on the street in Queens, and we sold it for $1000 with about 40k miles. EVERYONE told us not to buy it in the first place, even my father's genius friends in the car business.

My next car was a '77 BMW 320i. Lots of issues (for almost $10k) and it was broken into within 6 months even though I caved and paid to park in my apartment's garage! Life is cruel.....

They are pretty. In photographs as cars owned by somebody else. I suppose at this point in my life, I could afford the slings and arrows it might send my way, but when I needed it to be a good car...

The orange one, the white one, and the wagon. None of those cars would I ashamed to be seen in now.

The Cosworth, I guess those headlight treatments require more sophistication than I can muster to appreciate. I always hated those.

"Overhead cam v8" Dang it, Chris, they make 454 cubic inch, 600 HP Gen I small blocks these days for chrisssakes. Buy Monza motor mounts, drop it in and go. Go like hell. Go so damn fast the snooties in their Mercedes AMG's will cry. If you're going to lust after something cool, cheap and stealthy don't trash it with overpriced Eurocrap.

Darn! Reading this article bring back memories of the 70s when I owned the blue Vega 2 door bound by the 2 Vega Station Wagons, one brown and the other green in the picture above.

I put umpteen thousand miles on that car while teaching off-campus classes at UGA all over the State of Georgia. I must add that I never had significant problems except for a leaky windshild and cranky engine which an overhaul fixed.

My son while at GT eventually installed the proverbial V8 plus God only knows what else. He eventually settled for a VW after seeing pictures of the VW I owned before he was born. His diesel bug is decorated with Herbie decor right down to the last stripe.

I drive a Buick LeSabre now and love it but I long for another ride in a blue Vega.

I had a 72 Vega wagon that had a few problems, Rust - yes, but the major ones were the radiator had a tendency to clog up and needed to be boiled out every two years max. The engine leaked oil like a sieve but the worst was getting it started in cold weather. I got feed up when I could not meet my dates, sold it for a song and bought a 1980 Datsun 310GX 2-door sedan. That was a dream car, 4 wheel independent suspension, 4 wheel disk brakes 4 speed on the floor good gas mileage, started every time and loaded it cost less than $6,000

Japanese cars were notorious for rust in the mid-70's as well, if what my father says is true...as bad as the Italians...so the Vega may have even still held an advantage there, for all I know.

Plus, pretty much every Vega I know of is converted to a V8...considering how awesome the LS series is in power and lightness, as long as the Vega was made stiff enough it probably would turn the thing into a real track terror.

The Vega was a very pretty shape, from that brief moment at the end of the '60s when an ugly car was rare. We then devolved into a decade of bumper-laden baroque disasters, but that's another story.

The chassis was quite good for the time. The original four-link rear was just okay, but the torque-arm design that debuted in '75 continued on with the Monza and the third-gen Camaro and provided the prototype to show the aftermarket how to fix the later Fox-chassis Ford.

That's about the end of the good. The engine was a wonderful basic idea (open-deck die-cast Reynolds 390 block) crippled by disastrous detail engineering (iron head, lousy combustion chamber design, cheap head gasket, cheesy water pump, undersquare bore/stroke and too-large displacement, etc.), the whole car was badly built, it was too big and too heavy for its interior room and it only got heavier over time (and we won't talk about the even more ponderous Monza.)

The Vega was among the most stylish of its breed, but the small cars of the pre-bumper era that we now revere - the brilliant Datsun 510, the BMW 2002, the Alfa Giulia, the Beetle, the Mini and the Mk1 Cortina - were by and large the ugly ones.

A few others like the Capri, the (real) Opel 1900/Ascona/Manta, the Rabbit, and a couple of the better Toyotas occupy somewhat murkier ground - they were by far the best of that '70s bumper-car-and-early-smog era everyone wanted to forget. The Fiats of the era were outstanding designs but mostly oxidized into the landscape too quickly to leave much of a memory. The early Mazda RX2 and RX3 drove like nothing else on the road at the time but their thirst for gas, oil, and apex seals left them rotting next to the Fiats.

The lesser Japanese product - Corollas, Dodge Colts, Datsun 1200s and B210s - were undistinguished and sometimes outright hideous but durable.

Then there's the also-rans, Renaults, Plymouth (Hillman) Crickets, Austin Americas, some truly horrid Datsuns - if they're your thing, great, but most of us are happy we never developed that affliction.

The Pinto was an awful design, a miserable piece of crap even compared to what Ford was doing in the UK and Europe, but it had the advantages of being a cheap and durable piece of crap.

Somewhere there's a '72 Vega body, a '76 Vega rear suspension, and an '09 Solstice GXP powertrain begging to be put together.

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

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