56k Mile Survivor: 1971 Chevrolet Vega

The Chevy Vega, other than perhaps the noteworthy Cosworth Vega, are seldom seen these days, although more than 2 million of them were built back in the 1970s.  It was Chevy’s first foray into the sub-compact car market, but they had mechanical and quality problems that were worked on overtime. This Vega, from its debut season, has had just one prior owner and only seen 56,000 miles of use in 50 years. Located in Odgen, Utah, this survivor has been listed here on eBay where the bidding is up to $2,247, but there is a reserve remaining to be met. Barn Finds secret agent Larry D found another great tip for us!

Conceived in the late 1960s to do battle with the Japanese imports, the Vega was designed and built with new processes and procedures that made it look like the most advanced small car on the market – on paper. The plan was to introduce a revolutionary small car that would weigh under 2,000 lbs., cost less than the VW Beetle, use an advanced aluminum engine, assembled using automated production processes, and shipped to dealers in unique railcars where the autos would stand on end for the journey. Perhaps due to accelerated schedules or improper execution, the Vega would be subject to pre-mature rusting, gas tank fires, and engines that would overheat and leak oil.

Over time, Chevy got many of the Vega’s problems resolved, but it was saved by a public hungry for fuel-efficient cars after the 1973 OPEC oil embargo. 1974 would turn out to be its best sales year likely for that reason, with folks overlooking the negative PR the car had a couple of years earlier. Sales for the first year, 1971, were brisk at 277,700 units (even with a labor strike). 168,300 vehicles would be hatchbacks like the seller’s car. Chevrolet moved on to the more conventional Chevette later in the decade, so an abbreviated season in 1977 was the car’s last year.

The seller acquired this Vega from its original owner, perhaps as recently as a year ago. We’re told it runs great and seriously interested parties are invited to have the seller take the car to a local mechanic to have it thoroughly checked out (at their expense, of course). It was first purchased in California and stayed there for much of its life, thereby attesting to the overall good condition it appears in today. Rust hasn’t overtaken this car and the paint looks good, although it could stand a good detailing.

This Vega hatchback was pretty standard fare when new, equipped with the 2.3-liter inline-4 that became famous for the wrong reasons. It’s paired with a 4-speed manual transmission. The interior is original and could stand some sprucing up as the black carpeting has faded and the upholstery front and rear have some split seams.

If it were any consolation to John DeLorean and others at GM in the 1970s, the Ford Pinto would come under scrutiny by the public after several of them caught fire during rear-end collisions. But Ford ultimately came out ahead as the Pinto would go on to last 10 years on the market (to the Vega’s seven) and see a production of 50 percent more cars. And the Pinto would spawn the reinvented Mustang II in the mid-1970s. Except for special editions like the Cosworth, these cars trade in used car territory, perhaps as little as $2-3,000. But most are not likely as nice as this one may be.

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TN Member

    I’m always glad to see basic economy cars which have survived. Including Vegas, considering how few of them have survived. I wonder, then, what were the circumstances which allowed this one to survive. And one final survival thought, I wonder if the Vega has the lowest survival rate of any car of its general era??

    Maybe the mechanicals are service-able, so after some interior work, you’d have a car which would be a rarity at any car show or cruise-in.

    Like 17
    • Mikel st.john

      Pinto and Vega would probably be top two

      Like 6
      • bone

        Any import of the time, especially the Asian cars would be gone before the Pintos , at least in New England , where they dissolved in the salted winter roads .The Pinto was miles above the Vega for longevity

        Like 5
      • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

        A neighbor had a Fiat and another had a Datsun in the early 70’s in MA. Both of them were gone to dust in the matter of a few years.

  2. Moparman Member

    I learned to drive a stick in one of these; however, it was a three speed. This one looks to be in very good condition. They really had the Camaro styling cues! GLWTA!! :-)

    Like 9
  3. Winfield S Wilson

    In 1977, my father gave me his ’72 Vega 2 door. 3 speed stick, a very basic car. By the time I had to junk it in 1982, there was oil in the coolant (I guess the head had warped or cracked), it would barely start, and the upholstery was shot. No rust, though!

    Like 4
  4. Steve R

    For many, the small bumper Vega’s are basically shrunken Camaros appearance wise. The high bid currently stands at $3,800, without the reserve being met and is likely to go higher if it’s rust free. More than likely it will wind up with a V8 conversion, those seem to be gaining in popularity again and can be accomplished in a small budget.

    Steve R

    Like 9
    • Skorzeny

      Steve, I got to drive a ’72 with a transplanted 215 cid, and it was a TON of fun. Sure it would be a shame to modify this, but why not? It’s not worth much.

      Like 6
  5. Slantasaurus

    This might be your last chance to blow one of these up.

    Like 8
    • Skorzeny

      Where’s the thumbs down?

      Like 5
    • Arthur

      Or perhaps a last chance to do an LS9 V-8 conversion with either an Art Morrison or Roadster Shop chassis?

      Like 3
  6. A.G.

    Much like the Fiero the Vega suffered from needing to meet a price point. Although the Pinto arrived a year later FoMoCo’s early preproduction announcements touted a Model T similarity. Supposedly one could go to the parts counter and buy all the piece-parts to build a Pinto for the same price as the MSRP. The FoMoCo idea never happened but the big three and others confused inexpensive with cheap. Corners got cut, mils per unit were saved, and customer expectations went unmet.

    The seventies were not pretty for the industry but lessons were learned.

    Like 6
  7. Fred W

    Horrible cars in general, not surprising that most are gone. In the FL panhandle where I lived, you could count on the tops of the fenders near the windshield having huge rust holes within about 3 years- and the aluminum block engine overheating and failing in a similar time frame. This car needs to be in a museum somewhere as an example of how not to build a car.

    Like 11
  8. Charles Sawka

    We,should not try to save everything.

    Like 3
  9. AMCFAN

    Well all the bad things you have seen and heard about the Vega……..are true. GM building junk like that today would be out of business. Rightfully so. They should have been sued.

    Like 3
    • bone

      I never heard of any Vega having gas tank fires

      Like 7
      • AMCFAN

        Bone, Fires that were reported are unknown. What I am talking about are the two million cars that were sold those people were cheated.

        Cars were worth a tenth of their new car value after only a short time. These were of inferior quality. GM knew but chose to advertise an all new car and tell the world how great they were.

        They had car magazines and publications in their back pocket. This is known. We will advertise in your magazine, We would like a favorable review. Motor Trend and Hot Rod especially.

        So in essence. They spent more on advertising when they should have spent it on engineering. They should have been nearly bankrupt then.

      • bone

        I agree with you 100% , I was making a comment about the article saying they were prone to gas tank fires , which I’ve never heard being an issue . Everything else that’s bad about the Vega is well deserved. Its too bad, as a subcompact from that era I think it was the best looking , but that’s the only good thing you could say about them.

    • CJinSD

      There are some very recent Chevrolet Malibu 1.5 turbos(like 2017 or newer) that have vacuum pump failures that shoot shrapnel into the engines and frag them. The big difference is that GM cars don’t sell like they did fifty years ago, when everyone knew people who had new Vegas that were rusting and shaking to pieces.

  10. Russell

    My first “new” car … sigh. I had to take out a car loan for the 3K sticker costs.
    It was unroadworthy within 30K miles/about two years … had original engine replaced at 8K due to coolant/oil mixture … the second one just stopped (dramatically) on the road one fine day.
    No rust though.

    Like 5
    • Fireman DK

      Had a 1975 Sedan and a 1977 GT Hatchback with a Borg Warner 5 speed… I actually wish I could have the 1977 again in the same brand new condition I bought it when it was used : I would definitely drop a V-6 in it and drive the heck out of it ..it was a fun car , even though the engine was toast by 98,000 miles…

  11. NovaTom

    Anyone remember V8 Vega conversions popping the windshield out when launched hard?

    Like 2
  12. John

    A friend in college who was an engineering student and a maintenance fanatic bought his Vega new. Despite his zealous attention to the car’s needs, it started blowing blue smoke at 30K miles, and it was all downhill from there. It was cars like the Vega that triggered a mass exodus to the Japanese brands.

    Like 8
  13. Glenn Reynolds

    Nice looking cars, but made out of compressed rust and a flimsy unibody to boot. If you jacked the car up with the door open, you couldn’t shut it due to chassis flex. Aluminum engine a nightmare. Should have had iron cylinder liners. Radiator too small for an engine that could not stand even one overheating. Too bad. Missed opportunity due to penny pinching.

    Like 5
  14. George Member

    Just a dreadful car.

    I had a 1971. The Vega is proof that General Motors was not competent to launch a new product at the time.

    Like 6
  15. Chuck

    I’m impressed. My first new car was a 72 Vega GT. The engine barely made it to 30K.

    Like 2
    • Jon.in.Chico

      Like my ’76 Pinto – cam went flat at 36,035 miles – no kidding …

      Like 3
  16. Motorcityman Member

    Considering all the negative comments here I wouldnt even condone the selling of this yellow turd.

    Like 2
  17. Mike

    I learned to drive on a 72 Vega hatchback, similar to this. Automatic and slow as a turtle, but a nice little car anyway. AM radio and no ac. Eventually the head warped and dad got rid of it. Replaced it with a 79 Malibu 2 door landau. It was like a Rolls Royce compared to the Vega.

    Like 4
  18. CCFisher

    56K miles? If the engine hasn’t been apart yet, it’s about to be.

    Like 6
  19. Russ

    What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.

    Like 8
    • Dwcisme

      Well, except the parts that fell off.

      Like 1
  20. Motorcityman Member

    The Ford PINTO was a much better car, fires and all.

    Like 6
  21. Kevin

    I’ve always liked the looks of these,but looks surely are not everything!,so no go unless super cheap,then I’d do a v8 conversion, and proper subframe connectors etc.plus I’m a big man anyway just too small, now a 2nd gen corvair, that I would consider!

    Like 1
  22. David Bailey

    Not a very dependable car, but for my money one of the best looking, fastback the first 2 years. Reminds me of the original T-Birds in that it’s a nice looking full size car “Shrunk down” to a 3/4 car size. Again, not real dependable, but nice looking.

    Like 4
  23. John T

    Nice to see a car that gets more negative comments than my restored V8 Gremlin.

    Like 6
    • David Bailey

      John T. You’ve got a sweet ride! A 1972 Gremlin X , 304, Blue with white stripes(Levis Interior-Can’t remember) was my dream car when I got my first full time job. I ended up with a blue and white striped 1964 Dodge my Dad found. Mint shape, chrome everywhere, but 3 on a tree, not synchronized!. Dad fixed that after I hung up the gears byt tying the linkage with old rope!!! It worked well until rope frayed, but cheap synchro!!

      Like 1
      • John T

        Thanks David. Just reliving my younger years. Had one when they were new. 74 304 3 on the floor.

        Like 1
  24. Kevin

    Gremlins were probably more dependable, but ugly as sin!

    Like 1
    • John T

      High top sneaker on wheels. I am used to the comments. Part of the fun of ownership.

      Like 5
    • karl

      Not probably more , they were more dependable

    • AMCFAN

      Beauty is in the eye of the beholder Kevin. You should know that.

    • Motorcityman Member

      I always liked the “chopped short” look of the GREMLIN, and the AMX……now the Pacer was too fishbowl looking for me and too much glass.
      My aunt was a executive secretary at the AMC world headquarters on Plymouth Rd. In Detroit, and I grew up a few miles from there.

  25. grandville1

    77 may have been the last year of the vega, but it did effectively soldier on as the Chevrolet Monza, which was a lightly face lifted version of the Vega and a rename to try and lose the old stink. From what I’ve read, by 76 they’d gotten the cars sorted, but the damage was done, so they kept the car but renamed it in the hopes of a new life.

    Like 1
    • Fireman DK

      Nope, the motors were still crap in 1977 …but I still liked my 1977 GT Hatchback….. an ambulance took it out ..their fault, not mine … there’s a reason you’re supposed to slow down at intersections going code 3 , especially when the light is red …. dang meat wagon jockey !

  26. Pauldj

    The engines on these would warp on the top deck. They could not be milled flat because the pistons came even with the top deck. I went to Vega school at GM. We put the engine cam in one tooth off and took bets to see if it would run. Most there said, no. One person said, yes. It ran. Not well of course, but it ran. So sorry for the buyers of this car. GM should have given refunds.

    Like 2
  27. piston poney

    the first gen mustang had more in common with the ford falcon that the mustang 2 did the pinto, i assure you the mustang 2 was not based on the pinto there are 2 sitting in my driveway, 1975 coupe and a 1978 king cobra

    Like 2
    • karl

      The first gen Mustangs are on Falcon platforms , the Mustang II was built off the Pinto platform . Whether you have two in your driveway or not, its a known fact

      Like 2
    • karl

      After becoming president of Ford Motor Company on December 10, 1970,[9] Lee Iacocca ordered the development of a smaller Mustang for 1974 introduction. Initial plans called for a downsized Mustang based on the compact Ford Maverick, similar in size and power to the Falcon, the basis for the original Mustang.[10] Those plans were later scrapped in favor of an even smaller Mustang based on the subcompact Ford Pinto.[10] The original pony car was based on the compact Falcon and for its second-generation, the Mustang evolved from an even smaller platform, the Pinto that was rolled out in 1971.[11]

      Like 1
      • Motorcityman Member

        Whats the source for that article Karl? Keep in mind it could be wrong info, I dont think the 74-78 Mustang was Pinto based.
        I believe it was Capri based.

        Like 1
  28. Karl

    Remember that 50k miles on a vega is equal to 200k on a normal car! If this thing actually made it to THIS mileage without an overhaul it must be some kind of a record!

    Like 2
  29. MDW66

    My brother still has the 73 Vega that our parents bought new. It was my mom’s car, yellow with a green interior. I remember when the engine blew up that they took it to the local mechanic who pulled the cylinder head off. The cylinder walls were in the oil pan! Just shattered. Our dad gave it to my brother when he was 15, in 1979-1980. Most of his original V8 conversion remains, including the engine, Powerglide, 8.75 Chrysler rear, and the grey repaint. Added a black GT interior as well. In the last few years he has put on front and rear spoilers and white Motion style stripes. Drives it a bit every year and keeps it licensed and insured.

    Like 5
  30. Steve Clinton

    Where have all the Vegas gone?
    Long time passing.
    Where have all the Vegas gone?
    Long time ago.
    Where have all the Vegas gone?
    Gone to junkyards every one
    Oh, When will they ever learn?
    When will they ever learn?

    Like 8
  31. Ed VanBrabant

    My first car was a ’71 Vega. Got it used after high school in ’76. Drove it 2 years, it used a quart of oil every 200-300 miles, had 60,000 on it when I sold it (at night). Terrible car!

    Like 1
  32. Mnguy

    Wow. Lot of negative vibes here. Well deserved I guess. I had several Vegas starting with a tan Kammback with the 4 speed. Really fun to drive and yes, it blew a head gasket but I was in a position to do the work. Eventually owned a coupe which got a sweetened up 262″ Monza V8. Ran same ETs as 5.0 Mustang. Way fun until a VW GTI blew my doors off.

    Like 3
    • Steve Clinton

      I SO wanted a Vega Kammback when they were introduced. I was talked into getting a Pinto wagon and I hated it.

  33. David G

    What a clean little car, looks like a mini Camaro. If I owned it I would resist the V-8 temptation, instead going with a Chevrolet 4.3 liter V-6 and 5 speed manual from an S-10 truck. Also, the S-10 rear axle assembly swaps into Vegas without much of a hassle.

    Like 3
    • Stilbo

      Just think what a 4.3 Turbo conversion ala Typhoon would be like.

  34. Wd62vette

    Worked in our local Chevrolet dealer’s body shop in my high school years. My job everyday was to replace Vega front fenders that rusted out under warranty. In Northern Ohio they rusted through quickly. The parts dept had new Vega fenders stacked up like cord wood.

    Like 4
  35. Motorcityman Member

    Why did they have vented slats in the rear decklid when the engine was in the front??
    Must have just been for interior airflow??

    • Stilbo

      Kinda…
      It gave the rust a place to blow out of.

      Like 1
      • Motorcityman Member

        Ha! To be fair, most manufacturers had a lot of rust problems with cars in that era.
        I remember my Dad bought a brand new 73 Ford Galaxie 500 and by 75 the outer door skins were flapping in the wind with rust……only 2 tough Detroit Winters later!
        This was before they started coating the metals better before they were painted.

        Like 1
  36. Motorcityman Member

    Best looking sub compact hands down…….unfortunately worst all around quality also.

    Like 2
  37. Dwcisme

    In the 70’s, a friend had a 74 Vega and my sister had a Fiat 124 coupe. Both cars about 5 years old, you could not do body work fast enough to keep up with the rust. My 5 year old Mustang and 6 year old Cherokee have essentially no rust despite year round use in Ontario. Shows how far car companies have come. Still, I liked the looks of the small bumper cars.

    Like 1
  38. PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

    So, after 64 comments, we now know that the engines sucked, that they rusted out, and are considered ugly. This is all fixable, if you really wanted a Vega.

    Engine – Pull it and replace it with a V8, so many have already done this
    Rust – This one “looks” like that won’t be a concern
    Ugly – Beauty is subjective

    At the current bid of $4,999, someone loves it more than anyone here, myself included.

    Like 1
    • Motorcityman Member

      I dont think anyone said the Vega was ugly.

      Like 1
      • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

        Sorry, I must have gotten it mixed up with the Gremlin comments – LOL!

  39. Mitchell Ross Member

    I never quite understood why both Ford and GM didn’t go their offshore divisions. Instead of this Vega, why not “Chevrolet” Torana with the decent 2.3 Vauxhall engine. Ford had a better car with the Pinto, but it wasn’t as good as the Escort that it shared it’s drivetrain with. All they would have had to do was send tooling to Lordstown and wherever the Pinto was made.

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