Rare Twin Cam: 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega

It’s a Chevy Vega with an engine tuned by a British sportscar company, and it comes with a tent. Do you really need to know any more than that? Pat L. you did it again—great tip on this 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega. The price asked is $9,900 and the car is available here on craigslist. You can find it in Camarillo, CA. Don’t plan to drive it home. The fuel tank, nicely restored, is sitting in the hatch with a bunch of wheels and other parts.

Chevy and Cosworth cooperated on this project, the American company providing the chassis and body components and the British the engine, also labelled the “Cosworth Twin-Cam.” You might take this for granted now, but this was sophisticated stuff in the era, when overhead valves were still a novelty. In race form, the engine was impressive, pulling 260 horsepower from its small 122 cubic inches. Street versions were detuned and had lower compression, and thus, much lower horsepower. The engines were assembled by hand, taking two or three techs per block, in a clean room in GM’s Tonawanda, NY, plant. A total of 5,000 engines were built. 3508 cars were made. Some engines ended up as service blocks. Others were destroyed when the two-year model production came to an end.

This example, which as configured would have been about double the ticket price for an average Vega, has 54,000 miles on the chassis and engine, and it has been stored for 31 years. The paint looks in need of a buff, and there’s no claim made as to its origin—factory or respray—nor correctness. The interior appears faded and worn, but happily, you get a set of very nice original wheels, so you can get rid of the black rims that the car rolls on now., providing you can find tires to fit.

So let’s ask the obvious question: when you restore this car, what will you have? A sporty runabout with a small engine that’s probably going to be a bit finicky to keep in tune. The good news is that backing that up is a five-speed, available only in 1976, the second year of model production. You’ll have a pretty rare car. In round numbers, 3500 of these were made, 1500 in the second year, which is thus more rare than the first-year model, and very rare compared to the nearly 200,000 regular-folk Vegas sold during this period of time. It’s not a muscle car, and not even, really, a sportscar (is it?). It’s a corporate idea of a conversion from econobox to something beyond. Maybe it’s for you to restore this Vega to the glory of yesteryear. Before you commit, though, it seems only sensible that you’d ask to see a photo of the engine bay.

Comments

  1. bobhess bobhess Member

    Considering that overhead valves were used on engines as far back as the 1930s and came into full play in the late forties and early ’50s I don’t think they were a “novelty” in 1976. If this car is rust free and all the parts are there it would be a good rebuild candidate and probably a rare example of the breed.

    Like 11
    • Cadmanls Member

      Thinking maybe the author got derailed and was going after duel overhead camshafts. Yeah that was fairly uncommon in production engines, not so much today. These cars have never gotten love. 10k seems to be solid number for these in decent shape. It’s a Vega with a cool engine.

      Like 10
      • Lawrence Bouray

        I think if I read the article right that was already said

  2. Dave Phillips

    Wonder if there is a complete twin cam in there – who would try to sell such a rare beast without at least one picture of the important part???? Lots of pictures of decals, labels & name plates but no motor. Vega – worth not so much, twin cam – a whole ‘nother story.

    Like 7
  3. TomP

    I’m waiting for the obligatory V8 comment to be said anytime now… like 98% of all other Cosworth Vegas out there, where they rip out the rare engine of a rare car and put in a V8. Then from there it drives the streets for a couple years and then ends up in the junkyard. I could never understand why someone would destroy a rare and historical car when there were more than a million regular Vegas out there to destroy instead…

    Like 11
    • Dave

      I don’t recall ever hearing about someone swapping out a Cosworth engine from a Vega. The Chevy four banger for a V8 sure, but not the Cosworth. I had a Cosworth Vega “clone”, it was just the iron duke swapped in, but it was sharp looking.

      Like 4
      • Pnuts

        The majority got swapped out or junked. What else you gonna do when a rare, hard to find, overpriced, underpowered engine bites the dust?

      • Mark

        Yeah who would yank a 120 hp Cosworth for a 300 hp V8?

        Like 5
      • Rico

        Of memory serves, GM bought Lotus in 73 or 74. Lotus, I believe, owned Cosworth or had a contract to supply engines for Lotus.
        That’s the beginning of the Cosworth Twin Cam Vega.

    • Carbuzzard Member

      I was told—by someone who should have known—that it was very easy to disconnect and when needed reconnect the smog stuff that emasculated what Cosworth had put together.

    • Rico

      As I recall, in 1975 the Cosworth Twin Cam Vega was the fastest production car in Detroit. Supposedly, quite a bit faster than the gutted V8 Corvette.

      • steve

        Funny thing..I seem to recall somewhere about that time the fastest production car available in the US was a Chevy C-20 pickup with the 454 4bbl dual exhaust option. The Porsche 930 being detuned or not available for a while or something. Either way, the Vega was NOT a powerful car as delivered. About 30% more than the stock engine which made it fun but not FAST.

        Like 1
      • Mark

        Please site your source of information. I find your statement as hard to believe.

  4. Andrew Davis

    Vega’s were cool cars back then. My parents had a ’74 with an Iron Duke in it. I was 10. I was on a weekend road trip with mom and remember her knocking it out of gear to let it roll down a long hill. It got up to 86 and started a little wobble. I had a shot at buying a Cosworth back oin ’95 for $3500. It had just come out of paint … Hugger Orange. It even still had the 8-track in it!

    Of course ….. I wasn’t 6’1″ and 300 plus pounds back when I was 10. I passed on it.

  5. John E Alm

    My First Boss Bought One And Couldnt Leave Well Enough Alone , Cars Where Screamers , I Do Know That The Pistons Had A Special Coating & The Cylinders Had Liners , Note To Newbies Dont Remove Piston Coating Cause Seizure Soon Follows , Boss Found Out The Hard Way

    Like 3
    • TomP

      My super rare Porsche 928 Weissach Edition had silicone lined cylinders. The 928 was the most under-rated super car of all time…

      Like 1
    • Dc

      If it had cylinder sleeves, it was a replacement block since NO Vega ever had sleeves from the factory

      Like 1
      • Davey Boy

        The Cosworth motor was not built by Chevrolet so the rules don’t apply with that one.

        Like 1
      • RallyAce

        Davey Boy is wrong. The engines were designed by Cosworth and, if my memory serves me correctly the GM parts were the block, crank and rods, all of which were modified and carefully selected for the engines. The head, pistons, cams, intake and exhaust were all unique parts to the engine. As was mentioned in the article, they were built in the Tonawanda plant outside of Buffalo. A friend, now passed, was one of the team that built them.

  6. Steve

    In 1986 I bought one and in a couple weeks another coswerth owner offered me another..in very Nice shape..so I had 2.loved it and was my daily driver at the time. Tried the duel carb conversion and loved it but the factory fuel injection kept the rpms up really making the engine correct. Though would have liked more horses they’re very sharp cars all black and gold.

    Like 5
    • Dc

      ‘76 was available with any of the Vega colors, not just the black and gold

      • TomP

        Ya, I’ve seen them for sale in white, blue, green and firethorn red, all with gold stripes and wheels.

    • Davey Boy

      My brother’s landlord has an all original green and gold one with black vinyl interior. Mighty good looking car.

      Like 1
  7. Rob

    Maybe a decent engine, but the rest of those cars is complete garbage. Total rust piles.

    Like 1
  8. Mark

    Okay, it’s a Vega which was certainly not a very highly rated automobile and it has a British engine which as we all know are a mechanic’s nightmare and Req constant work. So while it’s rare what other reason would you want to have this car?

    Like 1
    • Dc

      It’s not an entire British engine…the displacement (122) was smaller than a stock Vega block (140), but the head was completely different. Not available with AC, or power steering.

      Like 1
      • Glenn Reynolds Member

        Maybe the smaller displacement is due to liners being installed.

        Like 1
  9. Rico

    I actually had a 75 twin cam Cosworth Vega.
    I bought it from my wife’s cousin at a family discount, drove it home, parked it in the back yard and before I could even wash it, someone driving by stopped and offered me roughly twice what I paid for it.
    Bye, bye, little Cosworth Vega.
    Of course I regret selling it.
    I’ll probably never get another one.
    For the 8 miles I drove it, it was definitely a runner, considering it was a 1975 model with a 4 speed, but definitely, ummm, spritly.

    Like 2
  10. Max Williamson

    A couple comments. First not all Cosworths were Black in the 76 model yr you could get one in any Corvette color (I’ve been told). I personally have owned a White one and a Buckskin one. If I remember correctly both of mine had total vinal seating and not the type shown. One of mine was a 4 spd and the other a 5 spd. The 5 spd was the pits, 1st gear was so low it seemed more like a granny gear

  11. steve

    Owned one and got it cheap because it didn’t “run right” and it must be that “fuel INJECTION..”
    Yeah?, how about a bad plug wire? I actually think the chassis build quality was better (mine didn’t rattle like a “regular” Vega) and the “British Engine” was really a WORLD engine which compares well to most modern power units. When there are street driven 500HP 2.0L Ford/Cosworth cars are out there, I suspect there’s a LOT more potential in the Chevy/Cosworth. My understanding was it was going to be in the 200-250 hp range but it was detuned at the request of GM for emissions, rev limits and the ability to run on “regular gas”. At least 100 horses got out of the corral when GM was done with their tricks. If it was half the price, I’d give it a chance. It was one of those “Shouldn’t a-sold it” deals.

  12. Howie

    Ran when parked, no engine photos.

  13. Paolo

    The local Chevy dealer had one that sat in the showroom for 3-4 years.Unwanted at any price.

    Like 1
  14. Tom Fitzgerald

    Bought 76′ bronze colored one cheap (new) from a dealer in Miami when I was there on vacation. The 75′ VW Rabbit I drove down there had self destructed for the 3rd time (valves, catalytic converter). Ended up in Oregon a year later and it started to intermittently run extremely rough. Since it was still under warranty I took it to the local dealer who had never seen one. Three months later and several visits from various Chevy specialists they finally found that one of the fuel injection chips was cracked. They replaced it and I listed in Road& Track’s mag. Traded it for a pristine 76′ Siverado 4×4 and lived happily ever after.

  15. scottymac

    I owned a Corvair, the wife a Fiero. I wanted to buy one of these, and display all three as a GM Hall of Shame. All with so much potential!

  16. Jay McCarthy

    On paper these Vega’s should have been a potent little package, but sadly the GM bean counters ruined it

    • Carbuzzard Member

      No, you can’t blame the corporate Scrooges for this. It was meeting the ever changing emissions rules that all the manufacturers scrambling just to stay in business. Ford had a non-engine problem that killed one of its cars in the 50,000 mile test for certification of its emissions systems for 1975. They needed a waiver just to sell cars. They were facing a total shutdown of all car production.

      So it’s impressive that Chevy didn’t just pull the plug altogether on the Cosworth Vega project.

      Like 1
  17. steve

    Mark, the 1975 Corevette had 165 hp. https://www.corvsport.com/the-5-slowest-corvettes/ The Pickup had the option of the non-emission contolled big block as it was classified as a truck and had different emission requirements. https://www.gm.com/heritage/collection/chevrolet-trucks/1975-chevrolet-c-10-pickup The C-20 was available with something like a 2.73:1 final drive. There was a writeup in one of the major auto mags at the time with a road test. Did you ever hear “If brute force won’t do it, you’re just not using enough”? I’ve owned a 76 Cosworth Vega and driven most everything else. Do I believe the Vega was faster than the corvette? Nope. Do I believe a big block pickup would leave most 75-76 cars in the dust? You bet.You believe what what you want.

    Like 3
    • Mark

      That makes sense to me… A stock Vega out performing a stock corvette of any yr makes no sense… Thanks for the links.

      • PRA4SNW PRA4SNW Member

        Yeah, doesn’t make sense that Chevy would allow a Vega to be faster than their flagship sports car. But IIRC, it didn’t stop them for charging more for the Cossie than the Vette.

        Like 1
  18. Steve

    About 1 to 2 years ago, There was Vega Cosworth pulled from a barn in South Carolina. It was in very good shape.

  19. jwaltb

    Crap cars built by disgruntled hippies. Engines were total crap even without “ duel” overhead cams, though that certainly sounds like trouble too!

    Like 1
  20. Wayne Thomas Member

    In the 80’s I had a 74 GT 4 speed/ Hatchback, Red with White Striping. There was a company in Chattanooga TN called Douglas Automotive that specialized in steel sleeving the original Vega Engine. I bought it from a local Radio Personality. The car had belonged to his son who had wrecked the left quarter panel. It had a Douglas rebuilt engine. I put a used quarter panel on it and painted the car in full. Drove it for 4-5 years and then sold it to someone. Later saw the body in town on a back street with the engine removed. Guess it made it to another Vega. One of the best cars I ever owned.

  21. steve

    I don’t know that it was a choice by Chevy management. The Cosworth was detuned, for sure, but due to emissions and fuel. There have been occasions where “showing up” the flagship car was not allowed. Buick GNX anyone? Faster/Quicker than the Corvette and Chevy went to GM and said “Make ’em STOP!!!!!” and stop they did. Were there disgruntled workers at the Lordstown Ohio plant? Yup. Were there many “hippies” among the UAW line workers? That’s up for debate..

    Like 1
  22. Mattster

    The vega was produced in Lords Town Ohio. It then became the Monza which became the Cavalier which became the cobalt which became the Cruise! Name me one of these that should be considered a classic! The Monza was available with a V8 and could be swapped out for something better. These Vegas made it maybe 30k then started burning oil and leaking head gaskets. The cosworth had both aluminum block and heads. The std vega had aluminum block and cast iron heads to save cost which caused the head gasket issue along with no cylinder sleeves. The design of the cowl when these cars were dipped in e coat caused this are to be missed and this are rotted quickly. A burning Pinto was still the better car!

    Like 2
  23. John

    By the way the front is up so high. I’m betting no engine at all.

    Like 1

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