Orange Slice of Formula One: 1976 Cosworth Vega

To understand a Cosworth Vega you must first appreciate the history of Cosworth. An English engine builder of the highest caliber, Cosworth has supplied race-winning Formula One and other engines since the 1950s. The story behind the Cosworth and Chevrolet collaboration that produced this 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega goes deeper than marketing and badges. This is not simply a “Vega with a Cosworth engine” as you might expect. This well-kept specimen from Canton Michigan includes many refurbished and replaced parts. Thanks to Pat L. for spotting this listing on Detroit Craigslist with a $12,950 asking price.

Cosworth and Chevrolet set lofty goals for a durable, powerful, and fuel-efficient powerplant. This high-tech marvel cost nearly as much as a Corvette when new, and its halo effect lured sporty yet economy-minded drivers toward the regular Vega, or at least that was the plan (some details from cosworthvega.com). Bendix Electronic Fuel Injection, Double OverHead Cams, and a stainless performance header made it to production. Estimates of 185 HP and 12:1 compression were dashed by the looming pall of CAFE and emissions compromises. Production models hit the showrooms and magazine road tests with an eviscerated 8.5:1 compression and 110 HP in this 1976 model.

While most of the excitement lies under the hood, the gold trim and Cosworth-specific wheels accent the exterior, and suspension tuning and the wheel and tire package bless this American compact with nimble handling. While 110 HP may not sound like much, consider that this car’s contemporary, the ground-breaking (and also fuel injected) BMW 2002 tii, produced 130 HP. While the BMW tips the scales about 500 lb lighter, the Vega’s sportier fastback styling positioned it well as a compact American alternative to the imports.

The Midas Touch continued on the dashboard with the Cosworth models’ engine-turned accents. The seller claims this car’s rare air conditioning graced the vehicle sometime between the factory and its first sale. While not “restored” this Vega benefits from the seller’s metered refurbishment and emphasis on originality. This final-year Cosworth Vega (one of fewer than 1500 built in ’76) has a lot going for it including excellent overall condition, AC, and the ’76-only five speed manual transmission. What do you think of this mid-’70s import fighter with the Formula One connection?

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Comments

  1. Nark

    Always felt the Vega did a much better job of fulfilling its mission than its domestic rival Pinto. Then later when GM offered the Cosworth version it simply blew the competition away not only domestically but on every front. It was a complete embarrassment when a few years later they came out with the Chevette. I guess to compete price wise but I’m guessing the Chevy division woke up with collective eggs all over the entire division one morning when they realized what they built. Should have stayed the high ground with the Vega.

    • Dave at OldSchool Restorations Dave at OldSchool Restorations Member

      .Nark, the Cosworth Vega blew WHO away ???? When these cars came out THEY became an embarrassment for Chevrolet… Dealers had a hard time selling them…then pretty much gave up and they sat on lots for months..
      The few that made it to the track were trounced ……

      I ‘ve owned a 75 then a 76 5 speed … I did not keep either very long…

      ………sorry, they are an anemic novelty to say the least. …

    • DrinkinGasoline

      I’m not sure where you are from Nark but….the Vega, in “any” form never did Chevrolet Motor Division any good….ever. Sales, as well as performance was mundane, bordering on stoic. What was not stoic was the hyper-oxidation. They rusted out faster than grass grows due to imported so-called steel.
      Ask anyone who worked for GM during the time and they will tell you that the Vega was GM’s
      “Achilles Heel”.
      The Chevette is a total different animal with it’s own shortcomings and no comparability (except to prove that crap rolls downhill). The Vega was not….High ground by any means.

      • DrinkinGasoline

        With that said, I think it’s great that everyone has a thought and an opinion with passion concerning automotive heritage.
        If we all shared the same belief’s, this would be one boring world.

  2. AMXSTEVE

    OH look one of these pos again….

  3. angliagt

    Why does it seem that every Cosworth Vega
    seems to be for sale lately?

    • DrinkinGasoline

      From my own experiences…it’s because someone thought that by hanging onto what was perceived as a future collectible, unfortunately didn’t turn out that way to date. That’s not to say that in the future, things might be different.

      1
  4. Sam Sharp

    I worked at a Chevy dealership when the Vegas first hit the blocks. The dealer’s son challenged me to a drag- his Vegrant against my 1600 Datsun roadster. The outcome is obvious, and the dealer’s son had his dad give him a used 63 split window that was on the OK used car lot..

    The Vegrant that he raced me with had toasted it’s aluminum cylinder walls and that resulted in mucho warranty work. Then the car started to rust heavilly in the first year after it was sold.

    Which is worth more now? My roadster that I wish that I still had, or the CussWorthless Vegrant?

    • Gary

      I’ll take the 63 split window.

      1
  5. George B

    I know there is a continuing desired to blame loss of performance on the government, but in this case, GM is squarely responsible

    Cosworth told GM that the Vega block could not take the power required without reinforcing it, which GM declined to do

    Amazing, they found yet another way to screw up the Vega!

  6. Alexander

    As Click and Clack have said, the Vega, all Vega, began to rust as they rolled out of dealer’s lots. I remember considering a one year old Kammback wagon with a stick. When I felt how sloppy that crash box felt, and the fact the driver’s door dropped about a 1/2 inch when opened, I passed and bought a used Galaxie convertible instead.

  7. B Allred

    Not a goog buy new and for sure not now

  8. Will Owen

    Aside from the aforementioned, the worst problem the engine had at racing revs was that while there was plenty of oil flow into the head, there wasn’t much of a way to leave it! Return issues had somehow escaped notice … and so a few minutes of that and the head is full of oil and the bearings are toast.

    I don’t know if street-spec cars had this problem, but then as we have noted they had enough issues of their own. I used to go by a Vega parked in a Nashville alley, with a “BUY AMERICAN” sticker on the only intact panel left between the taillights. All else was a lacework of rust.

  9. JJS

    Every Cosworth Vega I have ever seen was black.

    1
    • Roger

      I saw another orange Cosworth Vega for sale several months ago and it was in better shape bodywise than this one for considerably less money,like JJS I never saw an orange one before either,my dad bought a new Buick Skylark hatchback in that same color in 1976 on it was called firecracker orange.

  10. ACZ

    Vega + Michigan Winter = disaster

  11. Mark S

    To bad they were such POS’s they had a nice appearance about them. My high school shop teacher had one that he had bought new, 30k miles and the engine was done. What a piece of crap they were.

  12. jwinters

    13 grand for a vega? what has the world come to?
    wow a pig just flew by!

    • Mr. Bowtie

      But it was a very high-tech pig for it’s day! I ordered my first new car, a 1972 Vega GT hatchback w/4-speed & HD radiator option, for my daily commute to my first job out of college. It was very comfortable, cornered and braked very well and was a lot of fun to drive.

      They didn’t offer black in the Vega line, so I painted mine, added front and rear spoilers and changed out the stock Wide Oval tires for some butt-kickin’ BF Goodrich T/A radials. I lived in snow country but hit the car wash & kept the road salt washed out of the wheel wells and never had any rust problems.

      Alas, the silicon/aluminum cylinder walls scored at around 55K miles. I replaced the block twice with the replacement short block with steel sleeves, but the rings never seated fully in either one. The head on mine never overheated thanks to the HD radiator I opted for when ordering.

      Meanwhile I had moved close to my work so I sold the Vega & went back to driving my ’55 Chevy to work. No regrets about the Vega except the engine with silicon/aluminum cylinder walls. THAT is what killed the Vega….

  13. Gearheaddroppings

    The front bumper on my brother’s brand new Vega rusted and fell clean off 8 months after he bought it. One of the worst cars ever made.

  14. Tom Smith

    I owned a Cosworth Vega. Cool concept but an anemic110HP. The motor could barely run the AC.

  15. RJ

    The steering wheel reminds me of the late 80s GM trucks steering wheels.

  16. richard singer

    vega was a real sharpe car inside and out very sporty. i bought a 73 gt millionth vega in 73 true they were gutless wonders but the 3.8 v6 fit perfectly in the car and made a big difference. why didnt gm just put their 3.8 v6 in a vega instead of cosworth trash. buick proved how good they were ive owned over fifty of these cars in many forms. i put the 3.8 v6 and the five speed in the ones i drove. great little cars

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