One Owner: 1976 Chevrolet Vega Kammback Estate Wagon

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The question is: if you have a nearly perfect example of a bad car, do you have a good car? Back to philosophy class we go, to grapple with this one-owner 1976 Chevrolet Vega Kammback Estate wagon, here on craigslist. With an asking price of just $7000, and capable of driving away from its home in Phoenix, Arizona, this Vega wagon presents as if it has had a caring owner all these years. The seller notes it was parked in 1987, but still kept up; he even drove it to Barrett-Jackson’s Scottsdale auction recently. He might not have been the only one in a nice Vega – these seem to be cropping up with regularity lately. Chevy sold some 2 million examples over the model’s run from 1971 through 1977; obviously, some survived unscathed. But scathing was the opinion of these over time, as the engines overheated, starved themselves of oil, warped, scored their own piston walls, and backfired violently. Adding to the misery, axles fell apart and rust started before the cars left the factory. Is this a good moment to thank Rocco B. for this tip?

The infamous engine is a 140 cu. in. aluminum in-line four-cylinder, ironically named the Dura-Built. With just 70 hp on tap (down from 90 hp at introduction), you weren’t going anywhere quickly, but part of the point of the Vega was its gas-sipping nature, at a time when small economy cars were selling like hotcakes. This car has the Borg-Warner five-speed manual transmission; another high point is that by 1976, Chevy was improving this engine’s durability with a new water pump, valve stems, and gaskets – consequently gaining the confidence to offer an upgraded warranty to 60,000 miles. This odometer reads 98,000 miles.

The seller reports that the front bucket seats need to be recovered, but in this photo, they don’t look bad. Plaid upholstery rings that 70’s vibe, especially with the faux wood side trim, available only on the Estate. The rear seats are in good condition. Though the dash is faded, the glove box pops with its original color. By 1976 the Vega had finally received a four-spoke steering wheel from the GM parts pile.

Original literature accompanies the car, showing the purchase from a dealership in Colorado. Survival of these items is a big plus in my book; it’s a form of meticulous behavior that casts a glow on the car itself. Neither Colorado nor Arizona is known for rusty cars, and sure enough, this seller assures us that this wagon is rust-free. Scotty Gilbertson covered a Kammback for Barn Finds back in 2016; that one was priced at $7500, and many commenters howled about the price. So here’s a shocker: this one went for $11,750 at auction not long ago. If I had a yen for a Vega, I’d be on the phone pretty quickly with this seller; it’s a nice example and reasonably priced given today’s market.

Auctions Ending Soon

Comments

  1. Rex Kahrs Rex KahrsMember

    Sweet Mother of God, not another Vega! These aren’t classic cars, they’re epic failures. I have not seen one at a car show in the last 30 years, and nor would I care to. And don’t make me tell my Vega Kammback story again, it’s too painful.

    Oh yeah, I shouldn’t be negative….OK, this is POSITIVELY the worst car GM ever made, so STOP writing about it!

    Like 3
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      You could skip reading the Vega stories… but I would love to hear your Kammback story, I think I missed that. Some cars ARE just miserable, but many miserable cars have fans. I am reading Rob Seigel’s Memoirs of a Hack Mechanic, and I’ve gotten to his story about buying a Geo Metro. Now that was a curve ball I didn’t expect in this book!

      Like 9
      • leiniedude leiniedudeMember

        A great writer indeed.

        Like 2
    • MikeG.

      amen!!!!

      Like 0
  2. Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

    For me, I enjoy reading about all kinds of cars, even unloved econoboxes of their day. Give this one credit, its owner(s) took care of it. I enjoyed your write-up Michelle.

    Like 28
    • Michelle RandAuthor

      Thanks! I appreciate almost every car anyone took care of. At least this one is the estate…. gotta love faux wood sides. Reminds me of the K car Town & Country.

      Like 10
      • 370zpp 370zppMember

        Michelle, I enjoy all that you do here as well as all the writers.

        A suggestion; If one of you would open an excel spreadsheet, making it available to all of you and simply log in your reviews as you do them sorted by brand, model, color and add the date, you could eliminate the duplication of reviews by checking there first. Just a suggestion.

        Like 1
  3. angliagt angliagtMember

    This was just featured here on February 1.

    Like 2
  4. bobhess bobhessMember

    …. And it has air conditioning.

    Like 1
  5. alphasudMember

    I remember reading that a lot of the cars were improperly diagnosed with bore damage when the real culprit was valve guide seals. However if you did overheat the engine it was pretty much scrap with above mentioned bore damage. However the same can be said for any modern aluminum engine. Overheat a aluminum BMW engine and you are better off just throwing it away. The motoring public was not savvy to the special needs of this engine. Used to not be a big deal if you overheated a cast iron engine unless you drove it till it seized. Yes Chevy had a crap cooling system design. No excuse for that. My friend owned a Vega and knew it’s special needs. Sold it to a family member with explicit instructions to not run it hot. Advise was not followed and the engine was toast.

    Like 3
  6. Claudio

    As a canadian
    Getting this odd car to our town , would multiply by 2 the cost
    So at least $14k ca
    So the cars and coffee guys
    Would be laughing at the car
    And
    At the owner for throwing all that money away …

    Like 0
  7. Big C

    Yep. Chevy was selling their economy car to the great, unwashed masses, with special instruction to keep their “exotic” aluminum engines intact. The same public that couldn’t figure out how to air up their tires.

    Like 9
    • Bob_in_TN Bob_in_TNMember

      I’m proud that I taught my daughters some basic automotive maintenance skills (and that they listened!). One likes to tell the story about being with a college friend when a tire pressure warning light came on. The other girl freaked out and cried, “Oh no!! What is that? Is my car about to die?” My daughter calmly replied, “Probably just needs air in a tire.” The other girl’s response: “There is air in the tires?”

      Like 3
  8. Maggy

    You’re definitely gonna turn heads driving this one. I think it’s cool but priced a little high for me.It would make a neat little grocery getter .Love the 70’s faux woodgrain sides and yellow together.

    Like 3
  9. Joe Haska

    Interesting comments and I agree with them. When I saw the ad, I thought wow looks like it’s in great condition. Then I saw it was in Phoenix, great I live in Phoenix. Then I saw the price, that was where I lost interest. How do you justify 7 grand for a 100 K mile car ,that wasn’t that great ,when it was new.

    Like 2
  10. Davey Boy

    My brother has the 77 Pontiac Astre wagon. It has the iron duke 4 cyl. motor with the slushbox auto behind it. A dog that won’t get out of it’s own way…..Forever. Meaning it will run forever……At about 30 miles an hour. Damn nice looking though but begging for an “LS SWAP”. Just need to talk him out of it.

    Like 0
  11. Brian

    I owned 2 Vegas back in the day. One when i lived in Anchorage and then a GT when i moved back to the east coast. I loved both of them. Drove very well in the snow and had no engine problems at all. The body on the GT started to come apart due to the winter salt. Would not mind finding another one but prefer the earlier body style (front end). While under powered it meant you had to drive them a little hard.

    Like 0
  12. Duke

    I had one! I sold my 68 Roadrunner for $500 because gas went up to 50 cents a gallon and I couldn’t afford it! Bought this Vega! They didn’t have tint in those days so I spray painted the inside of the back windows with black paint to Black them out. Put a mattress in the back with the seats down. Sure had a lot of girls back in those days! They liked my vega! So far no kids have come around knocking on my door saying that they’re mine!

    Like 1
    • Duke's son

      Daddy, daddy is that you??????

      Like 0
  13. MikeG.

    What language does this clown employ??

    Like 2
  14. John

    If ya can’t say anything good about it, then just say nothing at all………….

    Like 1
  15. Joe

    What?

    Like 4
    • Terrry

      Typing’s a challenge for some…

      Like 1
  16. Terrry

    Talk about lipstick on a pig! That’s what putting fake wood on a Kammback is. And “just” $7000?

    Like 0
  17. George Thompson

    My mom gave me her 1964 powerglide Corvair Monza. She offered to buy me a new car as I was entering college that fall. I came across a left over loaded 1972 Vega hatch in ochre. I recall the salesman teaching me how to drive a clutch. What sold me on the car is it’s styling. Should have bought a Nova. The engine blew on San Francisco’s Bay Bridge at rush hour. Took it to the dealer and they were awful. Never bought another GM product. Ironically the dealer put in a new engine and gave it to his daughter.

    Like 0
  18. Glenn SchwassMember

    Neat car, color and interior. Would lose the 4 banger and go with something else, but just nice to seevthis time capsule.

    Like 1
  19. Dan

    I had a 1973 Vega Kammback . I loved the car but it rusted out beneath me!! At one point the engine was running bad and a friend of mine said he could “tune it up”. The car ran poorly after that. I liked the good gas millage but it did not produce a lot of heat in the winter time!

    Like 0
  20. luckless pedestrian

    Nostalgia is a funny thing… and years will make almost anything cool. However, I came of age when these things littered the landscape… a few hundred dollars would get you used one any day of the week… the days of disposable transportation that we’ll probably never see again. Great on paper, and quite stylish… particularly the early ones before they wore the grafted on insurance bumpers… and they actually handled quite well for the time. However, the Vega is a lesson in “execution is everything”… they were all horribly screwed together… engines that self destructed… if the rear end didn’t explode first… and interiors that disintegrated when exposed to daylight. Ya, it would be fun to have one to take to cars-and-coffee a couple times a year, but I just wouldn’t want to waste the garage space…

    Like 0
  21. bone

    Axles fell apart ?

    Like 0
  22. bone

    For god’s sake , please proofread your posts !

    Like 1
  23. karl

    The later Vegas, though not as good looking as the earlier models were miles better than the first ones . They still rusted like all cars, but no where near the total Asian like disintegration of the 70-73. The engines were better too – not faster, but thats true of most economy cars were at the time

    Like 1
    • luckless pedestrian

      I think the propensity to rust award is a toss-up between early ’70s Plymouth Dusters and mid ’70s Lancia Beta Coupes… Both did so violently…

      Like 0
  24. Tony

    I learned to drive stick on a 75 Vega. My car, like this one, came with a/c and because of that you got the bigger radiator. My car never had overheating issues and I think it was because I got the bigger radiator.

    Like 1

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