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EcoTec Swap: 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega

Be objective! An important rule in journalism, or so I’m told. And that sense of fairness should be extended to every vehicle post found here. I do find myself challenged with that admonition, especially in the case of a car like a Chevrolet Vega. Cosworth equipped or not, like this 1976 example, strong, adverse feelings abound. But, let’s in fact be objective and give this example its due. Does it have a surprise that is worth considering; an ameliorating circumstance perhaps? You can be the judge. This Vega is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and is available, here on craigslist for $9,999. Thanks to Pat L. for this tip!

Most know the story of the wayward Vega so there’s no reason to readdress that again. The Cosworth Vega was an attempt by Chevrolet to spruce up the image, and the sporting intentions of the Vega, by deep-sixing the miserable aluminum block/iron cylinder head travesty that sorta powered the standard Vega. The Cosworth version, besides the obvious black paint job and gold lettering/trim, harbored a completely different engine between its shocks, one that had some grunt and wouldn’t split, sending coolant all over the place before it had experienced 1,000 miles. And the Cosworth’s engine was exactly that remedy, a 2.0 liter, all-aluminum, dual overhead cam arrangement from Cosworth Engineering. This smaller powerplant was good for 110 net HP, as opposed to the leisurely 79 fluffed out of the “High-Performance” version, 2.3-liter standard Vega lump (the non-perf. version was capable of no more than a measly 70 net HP). Beyond the Cosworth engine were drive train, suspension and wheel modifications – all leaning in to go faster, handle better, and hopefully, last longer. Was there some thought by Chevrolet’s marketing department that this mash-up would help restore the beleaguered Vega’s reputation? Doubtful, the Vega had been in production since the Autumn of ’70 and its foibles were well documented and widely known.

The first time that I spied a Cosworth Vega was in the late Summer of ’74. I had finished working at a Chevrolet dealership, for good, and was headed back to school so I stopped by the mechanical shop to pick up a check. My sword-crossing with the Vega was a thing of legend and when I saw the Cosworth version, freshly driven off of the auto carrier, and sitting in the middle of the shop, I asked the foreman what was up with the black Vega. He only sort of knew and mumbled a few lines and walked off, but then, he did that with everything. A wonderful person he was, but sweating the details wasn’t in his 1974 wheelhouse. To me, this black and gold Vega was lipstick on a pig, I didn’t really want to know the details.

Two years and 3,500 copies later, the Cosworth Vega was in the breeze, and in another year, the Vega, in general, would endure the same final fate. I could say that it should have happened years earlier, or maybe never started in the first place, but remember, be objective. Turning our attention to this subject Vega, it is a sharp-looking little car, especially if you are among the Vega uninitiated. It has a beautiful, deep black finish – brilliant sheen and is still wearing, or has had reapplied, its gold trim in the proper places. The 15″ black spoke wheels are a perfect addition and change the attitude of the car entirely. Dents, scratches, dings, rust? Nope, nothing like that. It would be good to know if this Vega was this well maintained over its 44-year lifespan or if it underwent restoration. Perhaps, it has experienced a little bit of both.

Under the hood is the surprise, as the Cosworth engine, the sole element that made this version of the Vega what it was, is gone, in its place,  a 2.4-liter Ecotec, in-line, four-cylinder engine now taking up residency. What are the particulars regarding this new ticker? None revealed other than to state it has a jet-coated exhaust system in place but the power difference has to be substantial, probably another 60 HP, at least. It is impressive looking and there is an ECU, with the attendant wiring, present and installed, to make all of it work. And remember, this is an engine that was designed to go in sideways, not longitudinally. It’s really no fair that the seller doesn’t give us a hint of how this transformed Chevy motivates. Gear changing is courtesy of a five-speed manual gearbox which, in turn, supplies power to the 3.42:1 limited-slip differential. I have to believe this thing goes.

The interior looks fine, actually better than fine absent the pink floor mats. The upholstery shows as new, the dash and instrument panel are right there with the rest of it. The seller has also added VDO gauges to keep track of the Ecotech’s operation and the original Cosworth dash plaque, number 3231, is still in place.

Taking into account all that has been done to this Vega, isn’t it really now, as the seller refers to it, a resto-mod Vega, as opposed to a Cosworth Vega? And doesn’t that detract from the value? It probably doesn’t matter at this point. Whoever put this car together, didn’t do it for value, they did it because they really wanted to and could. Maybe they were thinking that this is the Vega that Chevrolet should have built so many years ago and didn’t. This car is truly a surprise, I would have expected a V8 transplant before finding something of this nature – I have to believe this one is unique. And for that reason, I like it – I’ll forgo all of my Vega angst for the sake of appreciating all of the good that a talented and creative wrench has done for this car. No, I wouldn’t buy it but someone absolutely will, and they’ll enjoy it, don’t you think?


  1. Cadmanls Member

    Looks to be nice build and someone should enjoy it. Value don’t worry about it, this car was probably saved.

    Like 12
  2. J_Paul Member

    I would be willing to bet money the engine is from a Pontiac Solstice or Saturn Sky, which had a longitudinal Ecotech setup (177 hp) with a 5 speed. That’s probably plenty to make this car amusing, though the hoon in me imagines what it would be like with the 260hp turbo version from the Solstice GXP/Sky Red Line.

    It’s a cool build, though the original car’s rarity makes me unsure how I feel about it. If the original engine was destroyed/gone, it would make it an easier sell.

    Like 19
  3. bobhess bobhess Member

    I love it!

    Like 14
  4. Elanguy

    The matching numbers crowd will have a fit. Taking the Cosworth heart out of one of there? Heresy?

    And yet this has the HP that it should have had when new, and the seller is asking a reasonable price for it’s non-original state.

    Thumbs up.

    Like 16
  5. 67GramdPrix

    I think the ecotec was available in RWD in the GM Kappa roadsters…

    Like 5
  6. JoeMac JoeMac

    I like this setup. Looks like it was done right. Clean, factory look. Body and interior look to be in great condition. Very nice. Someone will have fun with this.

    Like 9
  7. Michael

    Other then the floormats that’s what you do with a Malaise Era car: Improve it with a modern engine and technology. If memory serves the Vega was actually a decent handling car for it’s time. Especially the Cosworth edition.

    Like 14

    What to do with all the dead Cosworth Vegas posted on here. This guy gets it. Nice build. At least when one turns the key it starts and runs. A win win.

    Like 18
  9. Brendon

    This is great! I love it. Of course, being a ’76 makes it eligible for emissions testing here in CA, which would make this a hassle for those of us who live here as it would required to be BAR (bureau of automotive repair) certified, and would need to pass the emission requirements of that engine’s model year. A ’75 would be exempt…

    Like 6
  10. Phlathead Phil

    If it’s got a vin that’s newer than 1973 and doesn’t have the original power plant it’s unlikely smog-able in california.

    It looks really nice. For all the work that has been done, it’s likely a decent buy.

    Of course, IMHO.

    Like 6
    • Frank

      If it’s retained all the emissions originally installed on the engine, the engine was in a car certified for sale in California, and it meets the standards that the donor car would have to meet, then it’s OK. As pointed out above you would need to see the BAR Referee to get all this approved. If it passes the inspection then they issue a sticker that tells there smog station what to inspect it as.

      Also anything ‘75 or earlier is now exempt. 1976 and newer require bi annual inspections.

      Like 5
      • Phlathead Phil

        Perhaps, but is getting a ‘donor’ vehicle to cert worth all the hassle?

        We are not taking Jag or ‘Vette or Lamborghini here.

        At the end of the day it’s STILL a VEGA.

        Like 0
  11. 370zpp 370zpp Member

    I like it. Now where can I get a set of those Mary Kaye floormats? . . .

    Like 3
  12. Dave at OldSchool Restorations North Alabama

    Having owned two of the anemic Twin Cams years ago, this is the first one I have seen that probably has the performance it was supposed to have had originally………

    Repaint the wheels correctly, and have a real sleeper…

    ………… All the naysayer purists are just full of envy .

    Like 10
    • JOHN

      Of course, you do know that those are not the OEM wheels that CV’s came with? So, repainting them won’t make them look right.

      Like 0
      • JOHN

        I disagree. The Echo-Tech 2.4 liter, 4 cylinder aluminum OHC engine was developed from the OEM 2.0 aluminum engine. So, it should not affect the asking price. This car was fully rostissererie restored down to minute details in St. Pertersburg, FL before being purchased sans engine and trans by Scott ???? in North Carolina about 10-15 +/- years ago and CV wheels. Richard Schruefer was the previous owner now living in Dade City, FL. Richard still owns the OEM engine and trans. by John Mathe

        Like 0
  13. Elanguy

    Oddly enough this was bid to only $6500 on Bring a Trailer two years ago. And no, you cannot put stock C-V wheels on it.

    Like 2
  14. PRA4SNW

    The owner can do whatever they want, just don’t expect to get the asking price for this one.

    It is now just another Vega with a different engine thrown in. Plenty of plain jane Vega’s have had that done.

    Like 2
  15. Joe Haska

    I agree with almost all of the comments and if the conditions were right, I could certainly see myself buying it. Whats not to like!

    Like 2
  16. George Member

    I’m sure it’s a much better performing car in the original but the only thing that makes the Cosworth Vega interesting is its motor.

    Like 0
  17. ACZ

    Nicest Vega I’ve ever seen.

    Like 4
  18. Mitchell Gildea Member

    Needs a turbo

    Like 2
  19. JOHN

    This is the CV that belonged to my bud, Richard Schruefer, in Dade City, FL. Richard bought the car from a guy in St. Petersburg, FL about 10-15 (+/-) years ago. That owner did a ground up rotisserie restoration. The nose of the car was so bad that he cut it off and welded on a good replacement. Every inch of this car was painted. The car even had all of the correct OEM clips and rubber grommets installed on the bottom side of the car. Every part was either refurbished or replaced with GM OEM parts. After a number of years (?) of owning the car. Richard sold it to a guy in North Carolina. (Scott ??). The car was sold sans the engine and trans. because the new owner had a dream of putting in the Eco-Tech OHC engine and a 5-speed manual trans. Richard still owns the original engine and trans from it. The guy who bought it owns or owned an Automotive Tech shop in North Carolina. (Scott ??) Thus, the high tech build. Richard is still living in Dade City, FL.

    Like 0

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