Bone Stock Survivor: 1972 Chevrolet Vega

I think the seller is right when they say that there “can’t be very many like this left in the world!” This 1972 Chevrolet Vega hatchback is quite a car. It can be found listed here on eBay with a current bid price of over $4,000 and the reserve isn’t met yet! It’s located in Mahomet, Illinois and it sounds like it may be able to be driven home if you live nearby.

The body on this Vega looks as nice as any original car that I have seen in a long time. The seller shows a couple of spots that do have a tiny amount of rust appearing and that’s nice that they’re upfront about that. We’ve all been on the receiving end of a vehicle that was misrepresented and this appears to be an honest car and an honest seller.

I’m glad that they took a photo from up high like this, the rear 3/4 view is the best one for the hatchback Vega, in my opinion. Inside that hatchback looks good. The Vega didn’t have different generations, it wasn’t around for long enough being produced for the 1971 to 1977 model years. A feature big enough to be mentioned as an upgrade for the 1972 models was a glove box door!

With only 42,570 miles on this car, the interior also looks like it’s in great shape. I won’t even mention the rip in the driver’s seat. See, I didn’t mention that rip because it’s not worth mentioning since you can see the rip so why mention it?! (crickets) This car looks really nice otherwise and the back seat looks like it was never used. I’m assuming that it wasn’t driven in too many Illinois winters and the automatic transmission may have helped to preserve this car, cutting down on the sportiness a bit.

The 140 cubic-inch inline-four engine apparently needs some carb work because it stalls a bit when it’s pushed. The seller says that it “does run and drive, but the carburetor could use a little adjustment. Cold starts and running are fine, and I have driven the car, but occasionally it will die when you ‘load’ it (like pulling onto a trailer). The engine does not smoke or make scary noises.” The drive home may be louder than usual because the “factory stock exhaust is the worst thing about the car rust-wise, and it is functional but does have some leaks.” This looks like a nice Vega, maybe the nicest one for sale anywhere. Would you pay over $4,000 for this one?

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Comments

  1. TimS

    This could be made into a super-nice example with very little work. And no it’s not a Camaro or Nova but to me that’s part of its charm.

    Like 14
  2. Tiberius1701

    There is no such thing as ‘a tiny amount of rust’ on a Vega in the northern climes…at least, not for long.

    Like 9
  3. Z1rider

    These always make me wonder about the success of the special aluminum alloy (high silica content) developed for these linerless engines. In the case of the Vega, it was not considered to be successful at all. However, Mercedes used it for their linerless 3.5 and 4.5 V-8’s and did not take a hit to their reputation. Is that to be attributed to the meticulous maintenance most Mercedes owners adhered to? Was the Vega’s lack of success at least partly attributable to the finances of the typical buyer? Or did Mercedes benefit from additional developements or tweaking of the formula for that alloy. Inquiring minds want to know.

    Like 4
    • Superdessucke

      My guess is the main difference was in the engineering and testing put into the engine. Mercedes probably carefully analyzed, developed, and then tested their version to iron out possible defects before the engine was released, and did not spare expense in making sure that it worked right.

      It is well known that Chevrolet cut many corners during the Vega’s development. You can Google it because there’s a ton out there on this but the bottom line is it was a rush job under severe cost constraints and there were bad results in a lot of areas of the car.

      Anyway, I’m amazed the people are getting close to shelling out five grand for a Vegabomb. You’d probably have the nicest one in the country but is that saying much? I’d personally spend that money installing a hot tub in my kitchen before buying a Vega but to each his own.

      Like 3
      • Dean

        I have to call you out on some of what you said. GM invested a vast amount of money into the Vega, they never made a dime on the 7 year model run. The tooling for the silicon-aluminum alloy injection molding process alone cost over $150 million to develop, a vast amount of money at the time. The fact is, it was very difficult at the time to build a small car for substantially less than a large car, since they had essentially all the same parts…so of course they cut corners on things like the interior. I had one of these back in the day, and I remember it being very plasticky and rattley inside, but then a lot of cars were at the time.

        Like 1
    • On and On On and On Member

      Didn’t they pioneer nicasil cylinder plating at that time? Super slick and hard coating. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    • Wayne

      The problem wasn’t with the aluminum block or its allow. Porsche also used it in the 928 and 944 with great results.
      The problem was with the cheap head gasket that they used. That added to a cast iron cylinder head that weighed much more than the block. With the differences in expansion the cheap gasket would weep coolant and the resulting aluminum oxide made short work of the cylinders.

    • Dean

      Contrary to what you might believe, Mercedes didn’t have a lot of luck with unlined cylinder bores either. You just don’t hear a lot about Mercedes problems because their customers tend to be affluent and able to afford repairs without much pain, and as you point out, most Mercedes get a high level of maintenance. Using the unlined aluminum engine was a serious mistake. The cylinders scuffed easily and many engines failed at under 20k. GM did a lot of goodwill replacements. Ironically, the failed blocks were bored out and fitted with iron liners, which solved the wear issue, (although it was still a lousy engine, sluggish, noisy, and unrefined). I can remember looking at these used, and trying to find ones with the replacement sleeved engine. Even though they weren’t great cars by today’s standards, during the first and second fuel crunches in ’73 and ’79, any car that could get over 20 mpg was highly prized, and sold for alot more than they were probably worth.

  4. Chuck

    My very first new car was a silver/black ’72 Vega GT. Great little car until the engine went at 30K. No thanks.

    Like 5
  5. gepops58

    Likely the only one left in America that still runs,or isn’t cut up and made into a hot rod. I’ve worked on a few of the Cosworth Vegas they weren’t too bad but these things they were trouble from the start.

    Like 3
    • Ralph

      You’d think, but there are currently 7 4 cylinder original clean Vegas for sale on ebay, including Cosworths and this car.

  6. Jack Quantrill

    No such thing a an honest used car seller! We all lie a little. Only honest ones are cars sold by St. Vincent DePaul Society, donated car program.

    Like 2
  7. Tom Justice

    I can almost guarantee MB did not use the same formula as Chevy used in the Vega. The sad thing is, if you sleeved the cylinders the cars did pretty well for what they were but their reputation was done by then. We had one machine shop back home that did a number of these modifications with great success but many people just didn’t think it was worth the time and money as the value of the cars was in the pits.

    Like 3
  8. Tiberius1701

    @Z1Rider. Mostly the durability issue was due to a horribly undersized cooling system, that and using a cast iron head on an aluminum block sure did not help.

    Like 8
  9. geomechs geomechs Member

    We had quite a number of these out west that suffered few ill effects. I know of a couple that went beyond the 150K mile mark and were still going when the dealership closed. We put a set of liners into two of these (well, one was an Astra). Not as much oil consumption but then, most of my customers were used to checking the oil before they ventured out anyway. Consequently very few complained. Personally, I never owned a vehicle (Chevy or Ford) that didn’t use some oil, and that still rings true today. Some were higher than others but I never thought of anything that didn’t leave a cloud behind you as being a problem. Even a blue cloud wasn’t bad as it kept the mosquitos (and people who wanted to borrow your truck) under control. I wasn’t very sympathetic to customers who complained about oil consumption. I used to tell them that if you drove from Sweetgrass to Great Falls (125 miles) and had to add oil before you came home then you might want to look further.

    Like 3
  10. Jeff

    honestly it does not have “142,570” one hundred forty thousand miles. trust me

    Like 2
    • Keefer Zeller

      I’m very confused. Where in the article does it say it has “142,570” miles?

      • dweezilaz

        142,570 miles meaning the 42,570 miles showing on the odometer has been around once as cars of the era only recorded 99,999.9 before going back to zero.

  11. G.W. Gilmore

    I had a 73 notchback I got it cause of it being different then the hatchback I was to put a 283 that me and a friend built up. They have the kits to do it but we thought we’d find all the stuff ourselves did all but the radiator either to big wouldn’t fit, or wasn’t gonna be big enough to keep the v8 coll enough. I had already changed the interior to a buckskin color and was going to paint it a light yellow. I lost interest in it when we couldn’t find all the things it needed to convert it to the 283 V8.. I eneded up in selling it for what I had in it 300 for the car and 750 in the overhaul kit. Friend told me he really didn’t wanna help me cause he tought I would have killed myself in it. I wasn’t gonna change size of wheels just try to make a sleeper which really anyone could have told it had the v8 in it by the dual exhaust. But I have always love this little cars cause they were different.

  12. Vegaman_Dan

    While they weren’t called ‘generations’, there were different production model variations that identify them quickly by model year.

    1970-73: Egg crate grill, four tail lights, louvers on rear hatch. Headlights in shallow buckets. Front turn signals under the bumper. Bumpers made of steel and thin. Overall detail designs mimicked the Camaro of the same year. Available in hatchback, notchback coupe, wagon (Kammback). 70-71 models had a 3 speed Opel transmission. Later models used a 4 speed Saginaw from the Camaro. 5 speeds available on order but rare to see.

    1974: One year only. New slotted painted horizontal front grill. Turn signals moved to between grill and headlights. Headlights now in deep recessed buckets that were chromed. Hatch back no longer has louvers in sheet metal of the hatch itself. Bumpers now made of heavy aluminum with the US mandated 5 mph bumper requirements- in this case a thick rubber strip on the bumpers with vertical bumperettes. Unlike many other models that had this treatment forced on the design, the Vega actually looked better with the change. Rear tail lights now only sported two with back up lights integrated in the light. Clean design. Gas tank access changed from a hidden gas tank filler neck behind the rear license plate (COOL!) to a side access gas cap on the rear quarter panel (no gas door, just the body colored gas cap) .

    1975: Same as 74, but the rubber bumper strips removed from the heavy aluminum bumpers.

    1976-1977: No major body changes, but a few minor ones. Grill and nose top panel made more shallow. Front turn signals moved behind the grill. Headlight buckets also made more shallow. Tail lights added amber turn signals and the overall tail light assembly got bigger and quite a bit uglier with the clutter.

    Interiors didn’t change until 1975 when red became more popular. 76 saw Bicentennial edition cars that were white with red and blue striping.

    GT models were a bit more sporty with a two barrel Holley carburator replacing the single barrel Rochester. Front turn signals would have clear/white turn signal lenses instead of amber. Dashboard sported round gauges and a tachometer. Steering wheel featured a sporty spoked design. 74+ GT models had a vinyl lower stripe along the sills that arched up and over the wheel wells. Rear tail light panel would be the same color as the stripe, either white or black. GT dark gun metal wheels with GT center caps. Positraction rear differentials found their way into the GT model.

    There’s a bunch of other smaller details, but that’s the quick spotter’s guide.

    If you want to know about the rust issues, that was caused by a transportation experiment between GM and the Southern Pacific Railroad in a specialized rail car called the Vert-A-Pac where cars were loaded onto a specialized rail car that had the sides fold down, the Vega driven up on top of this impromptu rack, two side by side, then locked down and secured. A forklift would then lift the ramp/door back in place, putting the car rotated so it was standing on its nose. GM designers did not anticipate a car standing vertically like that for weeks at a time in a railroad car that was not weatherproof. Rain would get into the rail car, leak on to the automobiles and start collecting in seams and access areas on the Vega that were never designed to be exposed to. This is before car bodies were chemically dipped, so panels around the windshield had water trapped against bare steel. They started rusting quickly as a result.

    I do love the stupid little beasties and wish I could afford one now. My ideal model would be a 74 GT Kammback wagon. I’d not hesitate to drop in a 4.3L V6. I have had 26 of the critters in the 80’s as I worked through high school buying them up cheap, fixing their issues, making them reliable and reselling as good commuter cars.

    Like 18
    • dweezilaz

      1976 had the Dura Built 4: the original engine with many improvements and a 5 year 60,000 mile warrnany

  13. FordGuy1972 Fordguy1972 Member

    A nice, clean example, for sure. I see no future at all in keeping it stock. These cars were crap; cheaply made and assembly quality was pretty poor, so they wore out/rusted out in pretty short order. So this one, even with good maintenance, will require money thrown at it on a regular basis to keep it on the road. Most end up being modified with reliable engines and transmissions or gearboxes that will last a lot longer than the stock running gear, even if you flog it on a regular basis. Who would want to keep the anemic four cylinder in it anyway? Maybe keep it looking stock but put a better drive train in it. Then you’ll have a nice car that you can drive on the highway without the fear of being crushed by a Peterbilt during the 20 minutes it takes you to get up to highway speeds.

    Like 2
  14. Comet

    “Tiny amount of rust,” and Vega are not often used in the same sentence.

    Like 1
  15. Wrong Way

    Even though it is what it is! I predict a pretty high bid on this one whoever takes it will pay dearly! Never seen original in this nice condition since I watched everyone driving them new!

    Like 2
  16. Keefer Zeller

    MY first car was a 1971 Silver Hatchback. 3 speed on the floor. It burned a quart per tank plus a can of motor honey. I paid $500 for it in 1974 and it lasted about a year before it started shooting sparks out the tailpipe. I really loved that car, being my first car at 17 years old. I put a stereo in it, new seat covers, carpet, and mags. I was heartbroken when it started dying. But I was healed by trading it on a 66 GTO in 1976! Vega? What’s a Vega?

    Like 2
  17. Ben T. Spanner

    The Lordstown GM plant is about to be closed again. It was built to construct Vegas. The vertical shipping required the development of the sealed battery. Notice above that you could buy a 1971 in 1974 for $500.
    New ones were marketed to the credit challanged. My boss had 4 kids and a brand new cheap house. He bought a later Vega with no money down and a $750 cash rebate. It was so cheap that the passenger seat was bolted to the floor with no adjustment. He attempted the first oil change and punctured the oil filter. It was then towed to the dealer.

    Like 1
  18. Comet

    Superdessucke,
    Don’t give the Germans too much credit. I have been very busy for years repairing BMW motorcycles. Often over-engineered to the point of senselessness. Widespread ABS and catastrophic final drive failures, polish manufactured SEALED bearings inside of gearboxes probably put my sons through College. Astronomic parts prices, etc.. Parts and labor to replace a clutch in an average Japanese bike 1-2 hrs labor and $125 in parts (guesstimate) A BMW…budget $1500 plus. I’ll put American engineers up against the Germans any day.

    Like 7
  19. Steve

    As we use to say, back in the day, “That’s not a car, that’s a Vega.”

  20. PAPERBKWRITER

    Saw one of these turrned into a street rod. 350 4 speed. It was beautiful. This would be a good start. As far as saving it as a stock car, I think the General would like to forget about this mistake.

    • Terry

      For a couple of years you could special-order a 350 Vega from the factory. You had to have credentials, such as being affiliated with a racing team.

  21. dweezilaz

    One of the cars I used in Driver’s Ed !

  22. JoeNYWF64

    Shouldn’t those interior side panels be green too?
    Such a handsome car! It’s a tiny subcompact & has a
    bigger rear overhang than almost any car you can buy today!! Perfect proportions – love those taillites!
    I wonder with today’s much superior 10w40 oils & oil filters & 5 yr antifreeze, would they PROLONG the life of even this motor?
    As for the carb, my friend has a ’68 nova – with a 1 barrel replacement monojet he bought for $35! at strauss discount auto in the early 90s! They were on sale 1/2 off & in stock. Carb still works perfect – STILL no hesitation even when cold! Wonder if a very simple(inside) ’68 monojet can be put on this motor.
    If this Vega isn’t driven in the rain again & covered when not in use & only washed carefully with a bucket of water on the sides, say every 3 years, the rust won’t get worse.
    I seen a ’74 firebird that was rusted on the quarters in ’78 & a bit on the lower passenger door. Never driven in the rain again. The 2nd owner purposely fixed the quarters, but not the door. To this day, the rust has not got worse on the door.

    Like 1
    • Mitch Ross Member

      I have always thought that these were some of the best styles cars in history. Yes, including Italian cars. They were junk, but so perfectly proportioned. The wheels in perfect relation to the fenders etc.

      Like 1
    • Dean

      I had a green ’73 model that had green interior panels. I think you had to order a more upscale model to get the color-matched interiors.

  23. RoughDiamond

    A portion of an article I read.

    “The engineers at GM and the Southern Pacific Railroad came up with a clever solution. Instead of loading the cars horizontally, the Vegas will be placed vertically on a specially designed auto-rack – the Vert-A-Pac. Within the same volume of an 89-foot car, the Vert-A-Pac could hold as many as 30 automobiles instead of 18.

    Chevrolet’s goal was to deliver Vegas topped with fluids and ready to drive to the dealership. In order to be able to travel nose-down without leaking fluids all over the railroad, Vega engineers had to design a special engine oil baffle to prevent oil from entering the No. 1 cylinder, batteries had filler caps located high up on the rear edge of the case to prevent acid spilling, the carburetor float bowl had a special tube that drained gasoline into the vapor canister during shipment, and the windshield washer bottle stood at a 45 degree angle. Plastic spacers were wedged in beside the powertrain to prevent damage to engine and transmission mounts. The wedges were removed when cars were unloaded.”

  24. Ronald

    I purchased a ’72 Vega GT silver/black GT stripe black interior with air in about 1978 for 700 dollars from the used car lot I worked at at the time as someone traded it in, It had about 25k on it at the time, the top of the left front fender quickly rusted back toward the cowl and where the aluminum windshield moulding rubbed the steel body electrolysis set in and continually rusted around the windshield after repairing it twice, It didnt take long to realize why the PO traded it in, It was using 1 quart of oil every 100 miles, by the time at rolled over to 35k it was 1 quart every 25 miles. At the time Jasper reman engines were selling rebuilt motors with steel sleeves that helped with the oil consumption, I purchased a wrecked Vega with the Jasper engine and installed it in our car. After a few miles the head gasket starting leaking on the Jasper engine so I pulled the head apart only to find that they had installed a helicoil down a deep hole of the block (no doubt where the aluminum threads came out when the long head bolt was removed. Luckily the block casting on that left side was made so that particular hole was open at the bottom so I went to the local Caterpillar dealer and purchased a long grade 8 bolt nut and lock washer ans flat washer and torqued it down and sold it asap. No one could run fast enough to sell me this car lol Another thought was it had factory a/c and when turned on at about 45 mph it sucked so much power away from the sick motor it would slow you up to about 35mph.

  25. Rob Leiser Member

    My father demanded I buy a Pinto or a Vega back in 72. I purchased a Datsun instead. Lucky me after 100,000 miles I passed the Datsun to my sister where it went another 30,000 miles before the rust took over.

  26. Terry

    The Vega did have two “generations”. It was heavily face-lifted in ’74 with a different front end and the tail lights, dash, interior and trim were changed. It also lost the aluminum/teflon-bored motor, which was replaced by Pontiac’s “Iron Duke” 2.5 4 cylinder, which was a welcome and drastically needed change.

    • JoeNYWF64

      What surprises me is that Chevy supposedly road tested prototypes/mules for a million miles or so – how could the engine problems not have come up?
      Was the iron duke avail in ’71 or ’72?
      Could 1 request THAT engine be put in, INSTEAD of the chevy service dept trying to fix the aluminum one?
      I would think a motor transplant on such a simple rear wheel drive car could be done in less than 2 hrs!

    • JoeNYWF64

      I wonder why Chevy didn’t ORIGINALLY put in the 4 cylinder CHEVY motor you could get in the ’68-70 nova, which was a bulletproof sawed off chevy straight 6 that had no timing chain or belt!! Would hook right up to the vega’s powerglide.

      • geomechs geomechs Member

        There were a number of factors that influenced that decision. The primary one was weight. The 153 that had been used in the Chevy II/Nova cars was probably 200 lbs heavier than the alloy engine that was used. That weight, concentrated on the front end, made it handle like a wheelbarrow with a flat tire. Personally I would have hoped that they would‘ve gone that way and designed around it, but the second issue was about to show its ugly head. Emissions, the perpetual automotive Achilles heel. The stuff they had to hang on that engine to make it CARB compliant added another 50 lbs and robbed some serious performance. Time was NOT in GM’s favor but it soldiered on and did the best it could.

  27. James

    This car is identical to the one I got for high school graduation in 1972. I commuted to college (about a 50 miles a day) and took it from Ohio to Florida twice. I got about 2 years out of it before it was destroyed in the tornadoes that come through our area in April of 1974. I replaced it with a red ’74 that got me through the rest of college and graduate school. That one made it about 120,000 miles and was replaced with a new ’80 Camaro. At the end, the red Vega had some rust due to the salt used in our area, but it still ran pretty well.

  28. Jay Johnson

    I’ve been scouting around for a Vega to convert to electric. I used to own a 73 Kammback and loved how it handled, but the engine was a major headache. An electric Vega would be quite a nice car.

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