Mystery Engine: 1974 Chevrolet Vega GT Barn Find

 

By Andrew Tanner

Reader Rocco B. sent us this 1974 Vega, and while the engine in this car is not exactly a mystery, it is a mystery to the person selling the car. To quote, “I never opened the hood so I don’t know what motor is in the car, I think they came with 4 cylinders,” and technically the seller is not wrong. If my research is correct, this car should have a 2.3 liter 4-cylinder engine, and being the GT version it puts out a whopping 85 horsepower versus the standard 75 horsepower 2.3. The GT also got you a manual transmission, which this car does indeed have. After being parked in a barn for 13 years, this Vega is for sale here on Craigslist in Augusta, Georgia. 

The seller has included several pictures of the exterior of this car, and in fact no pictures of any other part of the car. Fortunately, the pictures seem to document the extraction of the Vega from its barn and to the outside world. Though not exactly a desirable car, this Vega is in great shape as best as I can tell from the small photos. It looks like it would clean up well and perhaps be a nice fuel efficient driver for someone! A little bit of soap and water would go a long way on this car, and while I understand preserving the “as found” look, I think this car would be more valuable cleaned up and running.

The two-door compact wagon was a style that was somehow popularized by the Pinto and similar such vehicles, so Chevrolet cashed in on the popularity with the Vega. I understand the popularity, as a two-door wagon is much more appealing to me than a hatchback. Although this car is undoubtedly slow, I bet with a manual it would be a lot of fun to drive! Not to mention I have seen hopped up V8 swapped Vega wagons run with wheels up at the drag strip.  Perhaps a streetable V8 Vega would be a fun daily driver?

Although more pictures would be required before making a trip to see it, and some information on the engine would be nice, if the seller would come off the asking price of $2,000 a bit I think this could be a good buy. I don’t think I could see myself in it, but I’m certain there is a buyer for this car. Likely it will see use as a drag car, as that is the only place I have ever seen a Vega! Would you make it an economical driver, a fun driver, or a dedicated drag car?

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Comments

  1. jaymes

    its nice to see one stock, they are rare now

    4+

  2. Ohio Rick

    In other words the hood latch doesn’t work.

    12+

    • Vegaman Dan

      Cable operated hoodlatch. Wasn’t uncommon for those to snap and then you had to pry the corner of the hood up and try to reach in with a long stick or similar to pop the latch. Look for hoods with tweaked corners of the hood for that. If you were good, you could do it without damage.

      2+

    • Bus Pass

      …or the guy doesn’t know the hood opens backward

      6+

  3. Paul

    I live in the Augusta area, if anyone wants me to take a look…

    1+

  4. Vegaman Dan

    I know these vehicles inside and out. I’ve had 26 over the years.

    This is a proper 74 GT Vega Kammback wagon.

    GT Options on this vehicle include the wheels, side badging, clear front turn signal lenses, and blacked out headlight buckets. Inside you would find the GT dash with round gauges and a tach. Door cards should be vinyl covered hardboard with elastic map pockets at the bottom. Stock door cards were formed plastic only, no vinyl. Driver side mirror is the bullet style that has a cable operated adjuster on the door panel inside. Passenger side matching mirrors were not common even on the GT models and usually not present.

    Unusual item present- the radio antenna. Fun fact- Vega’s don’t have radio antennas on the body. They used an embedded pair of wires inside the windshield itself that were tiny, thin, nearly invisible. They also made windshields more expensive to replace, but certainly cleaned the look of the car without that antenna in place.

    The only option I don’t see on this GT is the luggage roof rack, which I really liked on these models.

    I really love the GT Kammback wagons. They have a large amount of usable space inside with the rear seat down, or on the Panel Express models where the rear seats were replaced with storage compartments instead along with no passenger front seat. Those are much more rare.

    2 barrel Holley carb could get the HP up to 110 on the GT. Still not a lot and anemic for the car’s weight, but then the car was designed to use the Buick 3.8L V6 originally before being rushed into production with the 2.3L inline four. The engine was wheezy and not really up to the task. As an econocar, it was fine, but no performance. Drop a V6 in there and it was crazy fun. Drop a V8 and it didn’t have the right weight ratio front to rear and was very squirrelly and could be dangerous. Put in Monza front coil springs and it helped a bit, but really these cars were meant for a V6. If I had one today, I would drop a 4.3L in there without hesitation.
    .
    These cars sell for a lot these days. I wish something like this showed up in my neighborhood. I’d find a way to get it.

    15+

    • Andrew m

      Most GM cars of the era had the embedded radio antenna in the windshield. Worked fine for AM, but stunk for FM reception, hence it’s disappearance by 1982 on most models.

      1+

      • CaCarDude

        My late Uncle and a co-worker designed made and pat’d. the embedded in the windshield antenna back when they both worked for Boeing in WA. He taught me how to make my own (external on the inner glass) which I did on a few cars I owned back in the day, they worked fine for AM as you mentioned but did nothing for FM reception.

        0

    • Mountainwoodie

      I spent my teen age years climbing in and out of a friend’s Kammback,,,,a dark green one. We were relatively tall young hellraisers…….so anytime I could drive my Packard I was happy to do so.

      0

  5. Howard A Member

    Here again, seller got this and has no idea about it. Not unusual. While the ad says “clean title”, it goes on to say, “bill of sale only”, so that tells the story. Be that as it may, not the end of the world, it is a very nice Vega wagon. Clearly, the motor is toast,( I wouldn’t waste a nickel on it) and not every car has to be a drag car, although, there’s an excellent chance, that’s what will happen.There’s a ton of options for a decent motor, and you don’t have to go gonzo, stock 4.3 would work, and you’d have a dependable Vega wagon to drive.

    1+

    • mike D

      Howard: while I am not from GA, so I can’t say for sure, I think veh. b4 a certain year don’t have ( or need) titles?????

      0

    • Duane

      Living in Florida I have purchased some Georgia vehicles I believe there’s a bill of sale on vehicles prior to 1980

      1+

  6. Tom Member

    8 photos and what, you can’t open the doors, the hood or hatch just so the potential buyer can see what’s going on in there?

    0

  7. Urquiola

    A Reader’s Digest Selections joke: ‘You can live together with a woman without having a hint of what she has inside her brain, same as a woman can drive a car without having the slightest idea of what’s under the hood’

    7+

  8. mark

    So the guy wants 2000 bucks for a Vega that has been sitting for 13 years and he has never opened to hood? Bill of sale only (no title?) and really no idea if it runs. 400 bucks maybe.

    7+

    • Howard A Member

      Hi mark, I hear ya’, however, nothing is $400 bucks these days. If the show “Pawn Stars” ( great show, even if it is scripted) has taught me anything, sellers always have these lofty expectations, especially if they know nothing of the item, and usually settle for a lot less. While $400 is a bit of an insult, it is a pretty rare car now, I bet 9 “C” notes on the hood, and it’s yours.

      0

  9. Alford Pouse

    Came home from overseas assignment to find out the ex ordered one of these. Had the standard model. Within the first 48,000 miles two heads and a full replacement engine. 10.000 miles later junk yard. Bought a panel delivery version at an auction with iron duke 4cylinder and a 5 speed hooked up. Cost $250 and gave me 150,000 before selling it to a friend due to another overseas trip thanks to Uncle Sam. Wish I still had that delivery model.

    3+

  10. KevinR

    Georgia does not require titles for vehicles older than 1985. It’s annoying, but not surprising that a car that’s been sitting in a barn for 13 years doesn’t have a title.

    I’m thinking Cosworth Vega style graphics with a 4.3L V6 engine transplant…

    4+

  11. BRAKTRCR

    This one was mine… and I miss it. I don’t need another project, but this one looks in great shape. I agree a 4.3 V 6 would make it a fun economical car

    8+

  12. chad

    “…iron duke 4cylinder and a 5 speed…”
    (turbo, 7 lb boost?),
    suspension/break upgrade,
    weld 3 panels – over the driver’s side 2nd seat (1) & DS rear (2) rear (3),
    nice rally tires/wheels,
    roof rack,
    ?

    0

  13. Rock On

    These are fun cars with some decent horsepower. Most of the ones around Toronto have turned to dust by now. Two grand is a fair price.

    5+

  14. Alan (Michigan)

    ” interior needs redoing from sitting up” IOW, rodents have had at the interior, bigtime, not much left. Wiring chews are also a distinct possibility.

    0

  15. Mike

    Doesn’t look like any barn I have ever seen.

    0

  16. Travis Boggus

    GTs could have had an automatic transmission. My dad had a couple of GTs with autos.

    0

  17. Alexander

    Oh great, now the next owner will have to stick a plug in the top of the fender. Other than this being relatively unmolested, I see the price as a point to negotiate DOWN from. It’s just another used car–to use the term we in the business used back in the day when these were a dime a dozen.

    1+

  18. Q. Mong

    Vega was to originally have a rotary engine. {2-rotary} size….Worked where we were installing our 5-speed manual for it. Drove a 3-rotary engined prototype….Yes, it had performance. Before project was scrapped, we had test cars with rotaries in them that appeared ready for production. Sadly, it didn’t happen, and the aluminum 4 cyl. engine was not successful….Oil burning…etc…

    1+

    • Urquiola

      Your reference about a participation in the GM RCE program is very interesting, as GM barely published about very general Wankel issues in SAE papers.
      Would you consider adding more info here or in an specialized site as:
      http://www.rotaryeng.net ?
      I’m in the way of having installed a 1987 Mazda 13B NA Wankel, tuned by Kevin Landers, rotary resurrection, with its automatic transmission, inside a 1976 AMC Pacer Sedan base, also designed for a Wankel engine.
      This Vega would be good also for having a Mazda Wankel engine, and see how it does.
      Same about oil losses in the all-aluminum Vega engine was said regarding the Diesel engine in some old front wheel drive Cadillac, oil leaks or burning, that if present, are candidates for an engine transplantation.
      I’d consider purchasing this Vega if I had the money.

      0

      • Bradshaw from Primer

        I believe the Monza with its high tunnel hump was designed for the rotary…I did wonder why the first vegas had a v8 2 bbl for the engine …would only pull 18 mpg….with the Holley copy of a staged two barrel Weber, it would get 26 mpg. but this was 3 years later.

        0

  19. John Garrett

    I have the tool to remove the camshaft from the head of Vega motors, anyone need one?

    0

  20. Doug

    Cosworth ?

    0

  21. bog

    Hope someone on the Cosworth “4 for $6500” page buys them AND this and makes his/her very own “Cossie” Wagon in Black/Gold F1 Lotus racing colors, with the wagon as a tow car and a matching “road racer” on the trailer. Folks would go wild !

    0

  22. Paul

    Anything is better then a Pinto…..my brand new pinto got almost 25 miles per brake down, I have been told that these vegas can actually get up to 2000 per brake down. All kidding aside this looks like a solid car. Which is very rare because some vegas had a little rust on them by time they got to the end of the assembly line! Although I would buy or a least look this car if it was closer.

    0

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