Cosworth Powered! 1974 Chevrolet Spirit Of America Vega

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When Chevrolet began manufacturing its Vega in 1970, things were about to really change in the auto industry, and with consumers beginning to shift their focus to economical cars it couldn’t have come along at a better time.  In its early days, the Vega was praised and even took Motor Trend’s Car Of The Year award for 1971.  Then, after the cars got some miles and a little age on them, they became known for problems, including engine durability, rust, and reliability issues.  But that’s not to say that the Vega didn’t have a handful of shining moments, including a Cosworth model, a GT package, and a special Spirit Of America offering.  If you combined all three, you’d essentially have the 1974 Chevrolet Vega being offered here on Craigslist, and if you find this odd combo interesting it may be worth taking a look at.  The car is located in Salinas, California, and comes at a cost of $9,000.

Barn Finds would like to thank reader Pat L. for another great tip on this one!  Chevy’s Spirit Of America package was not limited to the Vega and was also available on the Nova and Impala, but only for the 1974 year models.  Vega buyers who chose this package got a white body with a white vinyl top, plus special red and blue striping, which created a patriotic look to help celebrate the upcoming bicentennial.  The owner of this particular Spirit Of America Vega believes it’s rarer than most, as it’s also a GT model, with his research leading him to believe that most Vegas with this package used the entry-level car as a starting point.

The fun doesn’t end here though, as things under the hood have been swapped out with the engine and 4-Speed manual transmission from a 1975 Cosworth Vega, along with its original electronic fuel injection.  Apparently, only about 5,000 of these motors were ever produced and just a little over 3,500 of them were actually used, so it’s a fairly rare engine.  There’s no mention of when this change took place or how many miles are on the drivetrain, but the seller claims that the car runs great.

The body is said to have some rust in the lower front cowl areas, plus there’s also rust around the battery box, but overall the exterior cosmetic appearance of the car doesn’t really look all that bad.  The interior is described as being in fair to poor condition and in need of restoration, but the floors are said to be very solid.  There’s also a new carpet kit still in the box that will be included in the sale.  For a Vega, this one really does seem to have some good things going for it, and I’m guessing it’s not going to take long before some buyer sees its potential.  What are your thoughts on this 1974 Chevrolet Vega Spirit Of America?

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  1. alphasudMember

    I like the Cosworth Vega but placing a Cosworth in a special edition car doesn’t make it more desirable IMHO. Looks like a $2K project to me.

    Like 21
    • Larry Lewis

      I owned one with the cosworth engine. super fast and never had a problem with it. I had the underside protected and never had a rust problem. The only problem I had was letting my wife drive it and she wrecked it. After that, shifting gears was a problem and could not get it fixed. sold it and was then deployed to England.

      Like 1
    • George

      totally agree. This is simply an El cheapo Vega with an expensive engine swap with limited parts availability.

      it has no collector value unless one is a fan of watching rust form

      Like 0
  2. HoA Howard AMember

    “Oh say can you see”,,let’s go back, shall we, Vegas aside, mid 70’s, US sentiment was at an all time low. Most Americans still upset about Vietnam, Nixon, civil unrest, those darn hippies, oh, and I graduated HS, thrown into this mess,,nope, it wasn’t our best time. What to do? Why, red, white and blue EVERYTHING, of course, cars included. Every car maker jumped on the bandwagon, offering something RW&B, none more prominent than, “AMERICAN” Motors, but GM, known for being the “All-American” car, offered plenty. Did it work? Maybe a little. Always liked the Vega, the engine being it’s biggest thorn, but with this car, you had styling, comfort, economy, and a “Limey” motor, race proven, none better, thanks to John Z. who was no fool, all in a package that visually screams “USA, USA”,,what’s not to like?
    Oh, the price,,of course, thought I forgot, eh? Be a fun project for a couple grand, a COUPLE, and “COUPLE” isn’t $9g’s either. Accolades aside, it’s still a Vega.

    Like 12
    • Ken Barker Ken

      Think back
      1976 the centennial!
      1974 it was starting & there were a few of us that still loved the USA. & still do! I was selling Chevrolet’s at the time. The owner bought 30 white Vegas & doctored them just like this. They sold like hotcakes!

      Like 5
  3. Stan

    Right Howard, I’d take a red white or blue 74 formula firebird with a 455 and 4sp and show my USA 🇺🇸 spirit.

    Like 6
  4. Melton Mooney

    A Vega was never very high on my want list, but it was always on the list. Not at 9K tho.

    Like 4
    • John S Dressler

      Absolutely Melton. I’ve had many a dream of what I could do to a vega with a good body and a mildly-built 327. But like you said, $9,000? Fagedaboutit.

      Like 0
  5. Vegaman Dan

    It is a “GT” in only that it gas a steering wheel and instrument cluster from a GT put in there. It is missing the GT badges on sides and rear of the car, wrong front signals (shouldn’t be amber lenses) and head light bezel surrounds would be painted black inside, not chrome.

    This looks like a parts bucket combo. The Bicentennial promo cars typically had red and white interiors, single barrel Rochester carb, and dig dish hubcaps with beauty rings.

    Putting a Cosworth engine in here would be quite the challenge. Hopefully they got the wiring harness as well.

    Like 4
  6. local_sheriff

    ‘Spirit of America’ – with a Cosworth engine. Yeah, I’m aware they have a US based subdivision but to my knowledge Cosworth is a UK company. So much for that archetypical American moniker

    Like 2
    • HoA Howard AMember

      Uhp,, uhp, uhp, let’s not rip on our British cousins, without them, we’d all be speaking German today. The British are our “brothers in arms”, and we should never forget the sacrifices THEY made for OUR freedom, as well as theirs. Not like Johhny Z put some rice grinder motor in there, THAT would be blasphemy, but to say British is un-American just isn’t so.

      Like 6
    • GeorgeMember

      Cosworth consults for any number of companies all over the world. The engine was based on the all American aluminum Vega 2300 engine.

      Why anybody would put this complicated engine with minimal horsepower increase over a standard Vega (and much more expensive maintenance) into a non Cosworth car escapes me

      Like 0
  7. Rw

    Howard change a couple words and sounds like you’re talking about today.

    Like 4
  8. angliagt angliagtMember

    On the plus side,I like those wheels.
    I had a set of them on my ’71 Toyota 1200.
    I called it an “SR4”.

    Like 1
  9. Bamapoppy

    This may be an example of what we’ve seen time and again. Take a car (any car), read about it, add some stuff, and claim it’s a really cool vehicle. If you’ve been $9,000, good luck.

    Like 1
  10. jwaltb

    Crap car built by disgruntled hippies. Self destructs remarkably quickly.

    Like 3
  11. 433jeff

    Yes thank God Churchill bombed Berlin, and then London became the focus ( and held) of bombardment instead of the Raf factories.

    Thanks for your service

    Yuh had a vega,I can believe the 68 GTO was motor trend car of the year, I can believe in 1970 the same year as the Peak ls6 Chevelle that they chose this vega as the car of the year???? Every once in a while i hear a saturn start and i swear its the same starter as the vega,

    Like 3
  12. suprarossa

    Welp….you might have just found my stolen car from 47 years ago. During my senior year of high school in Paso Robles, CA (100 miles south of Salinas where this is being sold) my ’74 yellow GT had just been wrecked and I wanted a replacement. I wanted a Spirit of America package because my buddy had just got a SoA Nova as an early graduation gift. Couldn’t find one local, but a couple of phone calls from my local Chevy dealer found this one in Reno. Bought it at that same place in Reno in late 1974. Went into the Navy after graduation and after boot camp returned to Paso Robles, got her out of the garage at my parent’s house and headed out to party. First stop was at my buddy’s house (the one with the Nova) to get my box full of cassette tapes he was keeping for me. Left the keys in the ignition while I was inside his house, and the rest is history. We looked everywhere for that car, called the CHP, called another friend with a big CB station to alert the truckers out on U.S. 101, etc. Never saw it again.
    I have pictures of it, but not of the build plate to match the numbers in the ad. My parents worked for Farmers Insurance and all the records that went with insuring it were destroyed years ago when they passed. I have called Farmers to see if there is any way to dig up details of that stolen car to see if this is actually it and waiting for them to get back to me.
    BTW, the SoA package was available on the El Camino for that year also. The original wheels on this Vega would have been white painted GT wheels with chrome trim rings. And to Vegaman Dan, I agree that this isn’t a GT SoA, but my ’74 yellow GT had chrome headlight bezels and yellow turn signals for some reason.

    Like 0
  13. Patrick M Anderson

    The heads cme from the factory in the trunk, to be installed by the dealer, or the buyer.

    Like 0
  14. matt

    I remember somebody referring to the Vega as GM’s first throwaway car. That was several years after I was out of the military and college and was trying to make my way in the world.
    We had studied the Lordstown union/management difficulties my senior year in college.
    I will not judge either side here, but I do know that as a worker, and a supervisor in both union and non-union plants a simple, important attitude must prevail…
    My Father taught me and my college production management professor were on the same page on one critical, important item, Treat those you supervise and work with as you would like to betreated yourself – – – the rest then is easy.

    Like 4
  15. Duke

    My first car at 16 in 1976 was a 1968 Road Runner. 383/4 speed, headers, cam all built by my dads friend who owned a speed shop. About 5 miles per gallon. Gas went up to .50 cents a gallon in 1977 and I sold it cuz I couldn’t afford the gas.
    Bought a 1974 Vega wagon. Regreted it my entire 61 years ! Probably the stupidest thing I’ve ever done! Although that wagon was pretty popular with the girls on a Saturday nite after a few cold drinks!

    Like 1
  16. Phil

    My father had a cosworth vega. Low number car that he bought new. It was no dream drive. As a matter of fact he used to say “the fate of the cosworth vega was known when they found rust on the aluminum bumpers in the showroom.” Needless to say it was not a good car. I suppose they could be made good but the OEM injection system is not serviceable, and they were so devoid of power due to emissions regulations that they weren’t fast by any stretch of the imagination. And they broke down constantly, and rusted. Maybe the person that modified this one went back to the unstrangled cosworth engine with performance cams, high compression, and carbs – but I seriously doubt it.

    Like 0
  17. RJ

    …. back in the late 70’s I bought a used 1971 Vega from the neighbor across the road for $75 bucks. It was some kind of light orange color (factory I believe). I bought it strictly for the gas milage as I had started a new job in the next city. It was a great little car considering what I paid for it. Unfortunately, I took the back roads to get to work and one day an elderly man ran a stop sign and t-boned me in the driver’s door causing the car to go skidding across the road on the nearly bald tires, slamming the passenger side door into a telephone pole. Since it was winter and the job was selling men’s clothing at the local mall, I was dressed in a suite and overcoat. Crawling out the still working passenger door (thankfully the car kinda bounced off the telephone pole on the passenger side leaving a little room to open the door) while hollering every swear word I knew took about 10-minutes. The Police showed up and wrote the elderly man a traffic ticket and sent him on his way…. thanks to Michigan’s “No-Fault” automobile insurance. Of course, being only 19-years old making retail wages, I was only able to afford minimum coverage. Needless to say, I thought my $75 Wonder mobile was finished! Nope, some clear plastic for the driver’s door and a crowbar adjustment “here and there” had my fuel-efficient commuter car Vega back on the road for another 6-months until I acquired a 1975 Vega repro from the Credit Union my dad belonged to. That shiny red Vega looked almost new except for a good size dent in the front passenger side fender. No problem there, it took me all of 15-minutes to remove the fender and push the dent out with my hand! My luck continued with no visible paint chips or cracks once I reinstalled the fender. After an afternoon of detailing the interior and waxing that shiny red paint I had what looked like a brand-new Vega…. for $500 bucks thanks to the Credit Union price! Drove THAT Vega for about 6-months and turned around and sold it for $1,500! I know, long story…. but my memories of Vegas ended up being good.

    Like 5
  18. TM

    I had a 74 Spirit of America Vega GT I bought new while I was in college after a “friend” (former) borrowed my 68 Z/28 and blew up the engine, supposedly driving 55 mph in 4th gear. The SOA Vega GT was a great car for me in college, it ran and handled well, was sporty for the times, and as this was during a “gas crisis”, the mileage really helped. It was a fun car and the folding back seat and hatchback came in handy for a college kid. The car had the Vega GT mag wheels, in white, no hub caps, and the red carpet with white seats. It looked nice. I was lucky that I didn’t have any engine issues, but there was some rust starting on the hatch and around the taillights when I traded it in on a brand new 77 Corvette L82 as I was graduating college. That said, I agree that this car might be a fun $2K or so project, however, you will have a ton of money in it that you will never get out of it after your do a complete restoration.

    Like 0

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