Enigma: 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega


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The Cosworth Vega has been an enigma to me for a long time. On paper, it really seemed like a great idea. Take one lightweight domestic compact that was becoming known for engine issues, add a massaged dual overhead cam cylinder head by the famous Cosworth racing engine design firm, add suitable induction, suspension and some cosmetic tweaks, and sell it at Chevrolet dealers everywhere. In the end, just over 3,500 cars were made, with just under 1,500 being 1976 models. All the 1975’s were produced in black, so this Dark Green Metallic one is even more unusual. It’s been in a barn since 1984 until being pulled out recently by the seller. Unusually for a Vega, the body seems to be fairly solid apart from the passenger door, although there’s a large dent in the driver’s side rear that will be difficult to put right. It’s located in Holland, New York and is up for sale here on eBay where bidding is below $1,000, but reserve has not been met. I’ve seen really nice preserved examples up for sale, and I think that’s the way I’d rather go, but feel free to convince me otherwise in the comments.

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  1. Blindmarc

    Vegas nowadays are nothing but V8 transplant material.

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  2. Vegaman_Dan

    I’ve had 26 Vega’s throughout the 80’s and early 90’s. My favorite and wish I had another was a 74 GT Kammback wagon.

    The V8’s are a bit too heavy for them up front, even with Monza springs. The 4.3L is about the most ideal powerplant to put in the and is stupid cool to do. I wish I had one today to do it with.

    Cosworth Vega’s are expensive! Even a body without engine is $5K. Find a rebuildable engine and it’s another $5K. If you can find a running streetable CW Vega for under $10K, you buy it.

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  3. GeorgeMember

    Like the Vega itself, the Cosworth is great……..on paper.

    The motor was a great idea, but it just didn’t generate much more power.

    Putting a V-8 in the car would be a travesty, though. Oh, I forgot, it’s a Vega.

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    To me they should all have a SBC They do have nice lines, were pretty fun to drive stock, and a blast to drive with V8’s … I’m an old Bracket Racer, and all the Vega’s I was in contact with were just regular Bracket Racers, some as slow as low 14 seconds, then up to S/ST 10.90 cars S/G 9.90 cars and then some much much faster.
    I raced a 10.90 Vega Wagon with a mild 406 small block, that ran easy 10.90’s with a throttle stop. All of that to say, my opinion is biased, I would love to have one for street use, but again I just would want a mild Small Block, reliable and quick. I like their looks, and Bill Grumpy Jenkins was my hero

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  5. Healeydays

    I remember after they stopped selling them Hallisey Chevrolet at that time in Chelmsford MA had 2 on the lot they couldn’t sell and they sat forever. I understand they basically had to give them away to get them off the lot

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    • piper62j

      Yepper…!! Vega’s were dropping of the end of the earth by the end of production.. The cylinder walls were silicone impregnated and would score easily causing a loss of compression and oil burning.. The cylinders could not be repaired so the cars’ popularity died due to the expense of a replacement block. Just an overall poor design from GM, much like the 350ci gas engine converted over to diesel.. BAD MISTAKE!

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      • Russ

        One of the worst engines EVER, that Vega 4 cylinder. In his book ‘On A Clear Day You Can See General Motors’ (a fascinating insider’s look at the US auto industry from the 50’s to 70’s) John DeLorean indicated that the whole Vega car was handed to Chevy by the corporate engineers. Chevy’s engineers hated the car and the engine also but had no choice other than to accept it and sell it. Yet I remember early ads for the Vega where John D said ‘the engine is destined to become a classic – it’s that good!’

        Read his book though – it’s great. A look at the development, manufacturing and design processes of Detroit cars during a very interesting timespan as well as how the corporate culture worked (what kind of car you you could drive, where you had to park, how you donated to political campaigns….)

        I had a non Cosworth Vega in the 80’s and the car was so poorly built, cheap and depressing, no engine could save it.

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  6. Slim Chance

    Time cannot heal this from memory. Given enough time where everyone who could remember them new is dead and you might get an audience.

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  7. Dave at OldSchool Restorations

    By the time this motor went into production, it was no longer the performer it was intended to be…….. Chevrolet should have abandoned the US Market, and sold the car in Europe , with the power originally designed by the Cosworth guys.
    At least this is a ’76, and should have the 5 speed…………but regardless, it was an overpriced wimp, and for the most part, was a slug on the race track.
    I have had two, a 4 and a 5 speed… interesting , but hardly exciting in any respect.. even tho’ the 5 speed had dual Webers and was a ‘tuner’. I was happiest when I sold it.

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  8. z1rider

    As I recall, the reason for the Cosworth head was due to the poor performance of the stock engine (kind of obvious I must admit) so a DOHC 4 valve engine should have been a real improvement. Alas, this was very early for the development of emission controls and so much of what it took to clean up engines back then was very counterproductive for power, including this engine. Retarded cam timing and lower compression being two of the mainstays for reductions in emissions. Right there you are losing out on much of the advantage of the Cosworth configuration.

    Keep in mind that ALL manufacturers were struggling with this, including Porsche who introduced the 930 (911 turbo) as one way to maintain their performance cred.

    Given the low production numbers the aftermarket took little interest, no business case could be made. So if you want to play development engineer you could buy this and try to improve it. In the long run a small block transplant would be far easier.

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    • Russ

      Just about the time Chevy finished with the Vega, emissions controls were so bad that you could buy a new Corvette with either 165 or 185 HP. A Camry today would shame that power output.

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      • GeorgeMember

        We lost some shitty Vegas but we gained clean air and the modern computerized engine management that has brought amazing power and lower emissions from modern engines.

        fair trade

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  9. Slim Chance

    GM’s introduction into what Porsche mastered with Nikasil. The A390 (Reynolds Aluminum)Vega block didn’t fair so well and oil consumption was a problem. They also overheated.

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    • GeorgeMember

      They overheated because one of the other places they cheaped out was a grossly inadequate two-pass radiator.

      They also skimped on the original head gasket design and then the supplier delivered defective head gaskets. A recipe for disaster. Any engine, iron, aluminum, Palladium, or plastic requires adequate cooling.

      The failure of the Cosworth, as I understand it, was not to do in mission controls. The block was simply not strong enough to support engine modifications that would generate the kind of power Chevrolet initially wanted. As usual with the Vega program they would not reinforce the block or do anything that cost a buck.

      This car ruined a generation of people for General Motors products and sent them running to imports.

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  10. scottymac

    I’ve always had a thing for Corvairs, having owned my ’66 Monza since 1975. My wife bought a ’86 Fiero SE V-6, about the same time all the four cylinder Fieros were catching fire. A black and gold Cosworth Vega came up for sale locally, and I tried to convince her we needed to buy it so we could have our very own General Motors Haul of Shame!

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  11. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    Cosworth schmosworth. It’s a junky old Vega. Buy your grandmother a boob job, same deal.

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  12. pontiactivist

    There is one aspect that no body has commented on. It’s green! Most were black or white. I know they came in other colors later. But I’m betting green isn’t that common. Could be a rare car. Still a Vega though. I’ve always liked Vegas but they gotta be early little bumper cars and v-8 powdered. Would really feel bad modifying what could be a rare car with this one.

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  13. GeorgeMember

    Like everything to do with the Vago program, this was another failure.

    The expense of the head nearly doubled the price of the car yet instead of the high output version of the 2300 four’s 110 Hp, The fancy Cosworth engine only generated 120 hp

    Have they been willing to reinforce the block, they might have come closer to the original projections of 140 hp and up

    Of course, had they been willing to put rustproofing on the cars, adequate radiators and a dash of quality into anything, this car wouldn’t almost single-handedly have ruined General Motors reputation for a generation of drivers like me.

    Yeah I had one. No I will never forget the piece of crap that got out of GM’s product development in the 60s, even before EPA and safety regulations

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    • Russ

      I recall cruising car dealers on Sunday PM’s with my brother as he scouted for a car to buy. It was in maybe ’72 or ’73 at the latest and I accidentally put my thumb through the top of a front fender on a Vega that would have been only a couple years old at the time. It was rusting through that badly already.

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