- The Vega GT

AUTOMOTIVE ABORTIONS

First In A Series, Unless I Get Bored & Do Something Else

ABORTION noun (FAILURE) [ C ] slang a failure: This project is a complete abortion.

The Chevrolet Vega

I've always been fascinated with cars from major manufacturers that turned out to be crap. whether from bad design, bean-counter interference or just bad marketing. If nothing else it often shows that just because a company is worth billions of dollars that doesn't make them smart. Which leads me to the Chevy Vega.

For whatever reason, American car companies have never done very well with small vehicles. Up until the 80's land yachts were common. The Vega was conceived in 1968 as a GM project headed up by a man named Ed Cole, GM's executive vice-president of operating staffs, later its president and its production was then assigned to the Chevy division. It seems that GM wanted to use a new engine technology, the all-aluminum die cast block and the Vega project was the chosen path.

It's stylist was none other than the legendary Bill Mitchell, the man behind the Bel Air, the Corvette Stingray, the 1970-1981 Camaro, and the Riviera's of 1963-1967. Regardless of the car's troubled history, I still think the original Vega styling was nicely done, quite clean, crisp and simple with thin chrome bumpers and a front grill that echoed the Camaro's of the time.

The Vega Notchback model

The Vega Notchback model

The Vega had a very tight development timeline of two years, which proved to be problem later on. In addition, Chevy instituted an entirely new assembly line technique that saw the engineering team dispersed in teams and deeply involved in the line process, ostensibly for quality control. (Spoiler Alert: It didn't work out.) It also built the (recently closed) Lordstown Assembly Plant in Ohio just to manufacture Vega's. At the time, Lordstown was touted as the most automated car plant on Earth, utilizing robot welders and computer controlled sub-assembly, quality control and conveyors. Pretty far out, considering it was 1970. The plant was the fastest in the world, cranking out 73.5 completed Vega's every hour.

Vega's were shipped in rail cars, placed vertically, nose-down to reduce shipping costs. Special rail cars called Vert-A-Pac's were designed by GM and Southern Pacific Railroad just for this purpose, holding 30 Vegas packed like steel sardines, instead of the 18 that could be loaded horizontally.

Pack This End Up

Pack This End Up

Vega's really were a small car, with a wheelbase of only 97" and a width of 65.4". For comparison, a 2020 Audit TT measurements are 98.6"wheelbase x 72.1" width. The initial model year had a mighty 90 horsepower standard or 110 with the GT version to move its 2270 pound curb weight. Horsepower actually went down every year from that point as smog controls emasculated American cars throughout the 70's.

Like many GM endeavors prior to their bankruptcy, the Vega suffered from many early self-inflicted wounds that permanently damaged the cars reputation and from which it never recovered. For instance, Fisher Body dipped the body shell in zinc vats to rustproof them, but didn't realize that there was a substantial air gap occurring in the front fenders and cowl area, leading them to ultimately rot out. GM bean counters had objected to putting fender liners in the Vega because it would add $2.38 per unit cost (about $26 in today's money). The rocker panels would also rot out and even the front suspension components were prone to rust. Bad valve stem seals caused the car to eat oil faster than a fat guy eats Big Mac's. The engine would heat up and the piston cylinders would distort, after which the piston rings would literally scrape off the piston wall coatings, leading to even worst oil consumption. A poorly designed cooling system led to engine block distortion and failure. GM didn't bother to fix any of this until 1976, a year before the Vega was discontinued.

Despite all these problems, the Vega was a fun car to toss around. The manual transmission had a four-gear shifter that was about a foot tall. The back seat was large enough to actually fit a human. It got okay gas mileage. It even later came with a Cosworth option, which looked pretty spiffy.

A Cosworth Vega

A Cosworth Vega

Is that a shifter or are you just glad to see me?

Is that a shifter or are you just glad to see me?

The Vega is one of those 70's cars that are very rarely seen on the road today, even though Chevy built almost 2 million of them during its run. If you see one today it's most likely going to look like this:

It'll buff out.

It'll buff out.

GM never did seem to get the hang of building small cars. The Vega, even after it was discontinued, lived on like a George Romero zombie, re-bodied and re-packaged as the Monza, which turned out to still be an abortion. Later would come more crappy small cars like the Chevette, the Cavalier, the 5th and 6th generations of the Malibu. Today GM doesn't even really try anymore, with the money losing Bolt being the only small car they build.

I'm a Vega, living a lie as a Monza (dorks in Members Only jackets and girl are optional).

I'm a Vega, living a lie as a Monza (dorks in Members Only jackets and girl are optional).

What car would you nominate as an automotive abortion? Let me know and maybe I'll write about it.

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Comments (11)

  • Had one in high school. Dropped a 307 with a Muncie rock crusher along with a 9” Ford rearend. Car ran like a scalded cat! U could extend the life a regular Vega by installing a 4 core radiator, knew a guy who had over 200K miles on his

      9 months ago
  • My parents bought a new ‘74 Vega Wagon with the artificial wood panels on the sides. It was a horrible car but my mom liked it because it was small and easy to drive. The front wings rusted out within two years but GM replaced them for free. When the engine was cold it always took at least two attempts before it started. The back seat folded down which gave it good utility for its size. It was slow and thirsty due to the emission controls (‘74 was a particularly bad year for that). I remember GM installed an ignition cutoff unless the driver safety belt was buckled. Those were poorly designed which led to the car being unable to start. They were ultimately disconnected. Good memories though. Always brings a smile to think about it.

      9 months ago
  • The Vega was a mess on so many levels. The thing is it came out not long after the Corvair, which was an infinitely better car. The Monza "undid" a lot of what was wrong with the Vega. The flimsy aluminum 4 was replaced with the absurdly heavy iron 4 (half a V8). Therein lies the real problem. GM didn't have a decent 4 cylinder when it needed one. It didn't have one for years until the Ecotec series. Even then...

      9 months ago
    • Pre-bankruptcy GM itself, from the late 60's to the restructuring, could be said to have a been a mess on so many levels.

        9 months ago
    • I owned a '77 Sunbird with the V6. Not bad, just not good either. I rented one with the "Iron Duke" 4 cylinder that was hilariously slow.

        9 months ago
  • I had 2... a 72 (green white skunk stripe) and 74... (yellow with black stripe). Both sticks... thousands of miles between ny and buffalo in college... no probs... great car for the time... just sayin’... oh, they were both hatchbacks and often held 4 peps and weekend home or vacation bags...

      9 months ago
  • All true, and the fastest car at my high school in the late 70s was a 327 Vega with slicks. It was light, and it hooked up very well.

      9 months ago
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