Econo Woodie: 1976 Chevy Vega Estate

1976 Chevy Vega Estate

We recently featured a very clean Pinto Estate that was received with a wide range of responses; some hated it while others loved it. At least one of our readers liked it, and the last I had heard one of you was in the process of purchasing it (I won’t reveal who until I know the deal has gone through). I was truly surprised by the response, I remember when you couldn’t sell a Pinto, but times have changed. This 1976 Chevy Vega Estate was the Pinto’s direct competitor and while this wagon lacks the fantastic plaid interior of that Pinto, it’s still a good looking wagon. Find it here on eBay in Vacaville, California.

Chevy Vega Estate

It’s quite fascinating how our tastes change. When the Vega was introduced in 1970 to compete with foreign compacts, it was well received. It even earned the coveted Car of the Year Award from Motor Trend. Just a decade or so later and you couldn’t give away a Vega or a Pinto. Of course at that time they were just worn out used cars, but over the past few years they have become more collectable, at least low mileage examples with some interesting features or options. This one has both going for it, it’s an estate wagon with faux wood and it has seen just 47k miles.

Chevy Vega Door Rust

While it might be a low mileage survivor, it isn’t without issues. The worst of these is the rust in the bottom of passenger door. Vegas are known for their susceptibility to rust, with many beginning to acquire the nasty stuff just a few years after leaving the factory. I’ll be very surprised if this is the only corrosion on this wagon, but hopefully this is the worst of it. The seller lists this as being the only rust and they do seem upfront and honest in their listing, so anything is possible. I would be sure to treat it and all the metal around it to inhibit any further decay.

1976 Chevy Vega Estate Interior

This Vega was well optioned, with the L11 2.3 liter inline four, a four speed manual, and the vinyl interior. The L11 wasn’t all that powerful; by ’76 power was down to just 84 horses and 122 pounds of torque. However, the seller claims to have averaged 20 mpg in it, which would make this a great cruiser and daily driver. Add in the ability to row through the gears and this could actually be a fun driver, I just wonder if there are any good suspension upgrade kits for it?

Chevy Vega Woodie Wagon

Overall, this Vega is a really clean example of GM’s first real compact car. There are a few issues I would want to address, but for the most part it could be used and enjoyed every day as is. I’ve never fully understood why so many people hate Vegas and Pintos. Sure they weren’t powerful machines, their looks were a bit questionable, and build quality wasn’t the best, but they weren’t ever built to be race or show cars. They were designed to be good daily drivers and for the most part that is exactly what they were. I’m sure in the future they will receive the respect they deserve, at least from those who drove them when they were young! So does anyone have any good stories of a Vega they would like to share?

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Comments

  1. boxdin

    I like Pinto & Vega wagons and if I found the right Monza wagon I’d buy it. I also like when they are cut up into pickup trucks, with Pintos being the better look than Vegas.

  2. cameron k

    So now it’s time to feature a Dodge Colt!

    • Moparman Member

      I agree! A 1975-76 Colt GT (or just a regular one!) :-)

  3. Tirefriar

    Both Ford and GM compacts received a warm reception from the public but unfortunately their respective major desin flaws came to a head and hurt their reputation. I used to have a 74 Vega coupe with auto. Not by my choosing. It was a dog, handled very marginally with stock sized tires. Sometimes would get tail happy at the most in opportune times. I ate a side of a hill on a canyon road trying to see how far I can push it. That was loooong time ago.

    Problem with stock Vega motors was their aluminum blocks and the holes that would burn through the cylinders. Mine suffered the same fAte at hands of the next owner.

    In spite of all that I still have a soft spot for these, especially the first generAtion. I am on the lookout for a nice Cosworth though…

    • Josh Staff

      Here is a nice Cosworth Vega, but the auction doesn’t have much time left: http://www.ebay.com/itm/191467170594

      • Tirefriar

        Thanks, the auction is over. Low mileage car but in the mid-west so a PPI for rust is a must. In general, I’m keeping an eye out for something local to do a proper PPI on the engine. That Cosworth motor was in need of proper maintenance that unfortunately not many had received. So, it’s a Cosworth or an older Saleen…

    • Barry

      I was wondering if anyone would bring up the issue of the aluminum blocks the Vega had. Even though I liked the style of the Vega wagon better than the Pinto wagon I chose the latter because of the engine the Vega had. I had a friend that bought a Vega at the same time and he had major problems with it. Still and all nice looking car though.

      • Vince Habel

        This was a good engine after sleeves were put in. I brought this up at new car showing when the said the added more silicone. I was told you could not sleeve them. Rebuilders were already doing it. GM did not want to admit the were wrong. The Iron Duke in the Pontiac was an improved Chevy 2 four.

  4. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Having been a driver of Vegas and Pintos and owner of a Pinto…I prefer the Ford over the Chevy. However…from a handling standpoint, my friend’s Vega GT with what at the time were low-profile (70-series) radials handled pretty darn well.

  5. Rancho Bella

    The engines and manual transmissions in Pintos are extremely strong. Those cross flow Ford four pots can be built nicely………….can you say “formula Ford”

    Also a Pinto can make a nice track car. On the other hand, that Vega wagon sure is a fetching design………oh’ but the engine. We had them briefly at a corporation where I was employed. The cars didn’t last long.

  6. JW454

    I prefer a nice 2 door fastback more so than the wagon but this is a nice survivor. I always liked the way GM stood them straight up on their front bumpers for rail shipment. It prompted the need for the completely sealed lead acid battery we have today.

  7. JW454

    Here’s a picture of the rail car loading.

  8. John M

    Vegas and Pintos are a testament to a low point in American Auto manufacturing. There’s a reason you haven’t seen these things on the street for a very long time. Leave them in the barn.

  9. That Guy

    I have seen this car on the San Francisco Bay Area Craiglist a few times. The asking price was in the $6K or $7K range if I remember correctly.

    It’s possible that really is the only rust. It looks like the passenger door in my Suzuki Swift GT, which lived for many years in a hilly neighborhood where it was typically parked on the street facing uphill. Rain water would collect at that corner of the door and eventually rusted it out.

    In this part of the country rust wasn’t as much of an issue for the Vega; self-destructing engines was. But with steel sleeves retrofitted I understood them to be pretty decent cars. A friend had just such a car, and it got her through college quite adequately. It was a green wagon with a white fender, and was nicknamed The Booger.

  10. jim s

    i see one of these with an automatic being use as a daily driver in my town. it makes me smile when it goes by. if the rust is limited to just the door, needs a real good PI, this car with the manual would be fun. interesting to watch the bids as reserve is not met. nice find

  11. Dolphin Member

    For DD practicality I really like wagons, or ‘estates’ as the seller calls this, and seeing this one—for the first time ever I might consider buying a Vega, but……

    Question: has anyone swapped in a better engine, maybe a 2.5 liter Toyota or something similar? Probably Toyota engine+std transmission would be the easier and better way to go.

    Too bad there’s no underside or even underhood pics, but with that inland CA location I wouldn’t be too surprised if the door bottoms were the only rust problem. Speaking of which, that inland CA terrain looks as good as this Vega to me, especially since we’re in the middle of the rainy season now.

  12. Tirefriar

    Just waiting for the SBC swap comments to start rolling in.

    • Horse Radish

      Nonsense from the B site !

      • Tirefriar

        HR, agree. However… with proper rear subframe install to handle all the added torque, these were quite a terror on the track. There was a rather nice one one featured on one of the sites with a GM V6/manual that was available on e-bay. IIRC, it went for around $5-$6k. At $6k and rust, this is not the most tempting current offering.

  13. Jamie Palmer Jamie Staff

    Dolphin, didn’t the Astre (Pontiac version of the Vega) use the Iron Duke 4-cyl? I thought that was pretty reliable, albeit not the most powerful engine out there.

    • Dolphin Member

      Yes, but only briefly. This is from Wikipedia:

      “The Astre shared the aluminum-block 2.3 liter inline-four engine with the Vega through 1976, while the final 1977 models used Pontiac’s all-iron 2.5 liter inline-four engine.”

      I did a quick web search and as expected found many V8 swaps into Vegas but no non-GM 4-cylinder swaps. If someone wanted to make a good DD from a Vega wagon like this without going the crazy 500HP V8 route a lightweight 4-cylinder aluminum engine with good reliable power might work well and would be an easy fit. The engine management things might take some time/effort, tho.

      Anyway, I hear that Toyota has made some good engines……

  14. Horse Radish

    We were shopping for a car to drive (a must in Mid-80ies L.A>), but the only cheap Vegas were ones that needed work or weren’t driving anymore……….
    …a major tip-off.
    Thanks to that we never did buy one, instead bought an old Clunker rusted out 220S ponton that still somewhat ran (needed carbs and TLC) !
    And that triggered a lifelong love for Mercedes.

    THANK YOU Chevy !!

    And for what’s bid so far you can still pick up an old Mercedes…..
    ..still a better buy !

  15. Vince Habel

    I was selling these when the were new. The wagon was a real slug. The 4 speed helps a little. I agree about Pinto vs. Vega. The Pinto had a much better ride but the Vega handled better. It felt like you were in a can with the Vega while the Pinto made you think you were in a bigger car. I would pass on this.

  16. Dutch 1960

    Even in good condition and tune, these long stroke engines are horrible shakers at idle, and not particularly smooth at speed. Can you spell NVH? One could call it a tractor engine (many people did). But tractor engines are usually rugged, as well as torquey and shaky. Rugged and the Vega engine are not generally used in the same sentence. Drive it first, before you buy it.

  17. Roy R.

    The people I worked for in the early 70’s provided both the Pinto and Vega as ” Company Cars “. Both were disliked by everyone as being extremely uncomfortable on any trip over 25 miles. As I remember both were difficult to enter and exit since they were so low to the ground. They were not kept long enough to experience Vega engine failures or Pinto gas tank fires. A common joke at the time utilizing the Pinto’s cousin, the ‘ Comet ‘ (by Mercury) was : ” What do you get when you cross a Vega with a Comet ” ? I will let you figure it out !

  18. John A

    Had a friend growing up that owned one of these in Pennsylvania. He was driving it down a hill and it was so rusted that when he hit the brake hard one time the windshield fell forward on the hood and on to the ground. He jumped out and put it back in place with duct tape. and drove it like that till the inspection ran out.

  19. Scott Allison

    My first car was a 73 Vega. I got 32k out of it, then it started burning oil. It was a 3-Speed, and I went through 2 clutches (did a lot of burnouts). It was a fun little car, but nothing I’d ever want to drive again.. Had rust issues at the hatchback pin locations, and my Hood bracket on the drivers side broke off. I later bought a 77 Pontiac Astre with the Iron Duke 4 banger. Swapped out the 3-speed for a Vega GT 4-Speed trans, and it made driving in San Fran much better. I drove it across country twice (FL to CA, then CA to SC – I was in the Navy) The only issues I had with the Astre was going about 75mph the front would start shaking.. then at around 80mph it would stop and run smooth to 90mph (Didn’t take it any faster).

  20. Rex Kahrs Member

    In 1976, our retired neighbor was getting rid of his immaculate 1958 Olds 98 Coupe. I imagine that he wanted something more economical that beautiful fin-tailed Olds.

    He knew I was looking for a car, and offered the Olds to me for $300. I was so stoked. He later pulled up in a brand new Vega just like this one. Then he decided that he’d better not sell me the Olds, in case there was some major problem which might strain neighborly relations. I was crestfallen that the chromed beauty would not be mine.

    While I’m not a vindictive person, I suspect that the Vega punished him many times over.

  21. Fred

    I would imagine any running Vega for sale these days would have to have either a sleeved engine or retrofitted iron duke- the all aluminum block would have been gone years ago. Even then, I would never try to rely on this for a daily driver. Keep it in the garage and take it to a show 3 times a year to show folks just how low GM sank. I vividly remember 5 year old Vegas with huge holes rusted under the windshield. That being said, in retrospect, this wagon is not a bad looking car. But back then I hated it.

  22. Chris A.

    In 1973 I needed a daily commuter car to replace my MB 220S ponton sedan. I ended up looking at the Pinto with the 2000 cc OHC engine, the Vega GT and an navy blue 4 spd Opel Manta Luxus with cloth interior and the 1900 high block cam engine. $200 covered the price differences with the Opel being the highest. Loved that little car and except for the crap original Dunlop tires and the sun-rotted cloth interior (warranty replacement) it was a wonderful car. Compared to the Pinto and Vega it had a higher quality build, better seats, reliable, quieter and because the real spare tire was mounted vertically in the trunk, the trunk was huge. Once the tires were replaced with Michelins, the handling was slight understeer. That Opel was an economy car version of a Buick which is why Buick sold them. Dealer was clueless.

    The GM experience with Vegas at Lordstown was mirrored by VW at New Stanton PA with the US built Golfs.

  23. Vince Habel

    In MHO I think the Opel was the best choice

  24. retrogreg

    Compact wagons, estates or shooting brakes are a very practical conveyances – they seem to have been abandoned in favor of the ‘sport hatch’. There were several fine cars produced in the category which, properly cared for, make terrific every-day drivers for old retired farts local service – throw the dog in the back head to the parts store and on to the shop. Either a Pinto or Vega or Cortina or Saab or …. I chose a Citroen Ami 8 brake, Greg

  25. Chris A.

    Opel made a compact wagon on the 1900 platform but my neighbor had a pickup that I could borrow and I didn’t have kids yet. Drove one with the automatic and I could take a nap on the way to 60.The Manta Luxus was pretty and a bit sporty. Low on power though, I had to learn when to shift to get the most out of it without beating it into the pavement. There was a company called More Opel that had after market hop up kits to cure the emission choked 65 hp engine that would bring the engine up to 90 hp without too much work. There was also a conversion kit where you could put in an Opel 6 cyl and 5 speed. I did put in an AM/FM radio for the commute but never did the hop up. A 90 hp Manta Luxus with a 5 speed would make a nice cruiser.

  26. Chuck Foster Chuck F 55chevy

    Funny, I just saw a 1972 Pinto woody wagon on my daily Hemmings email for $6500.

  27. Robert Spinello

    Starting in 1976, extensive anti-rust improvements on the Vega’s body included galvanized steel fenders and rocker panels and “four layer” fender protection with zinc coated and primed inner fenders and wheelwell protective mastic, zinc-rich pre-prime coating on inner doors, expandable sealer installed between rear quarter panel and wheel housing panel, and corrosion resistant header panel, grill and headlamp housings.

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