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Salvage Yard Find: 1971 Chevrolet Vega

Although a salvage yard find may not sound like the most exciting find, this chrome bumper Vega is a fairly solid machine with a pretty decent body. Being an early model Vega helps with the appeal of this find as well. Despite its time spent in a salvage yard, this Vega has not been deemed salvaged through the DMV. This small, V8 swap ready machine is offered for $2,995. Find it here on craigslist out of Fairfield, California. Thanks to Jack for sharing this promising find!

Currently the engine bay is empty, which is great news for most of us, as Vega’s are great swap candidates. Small blocks, big blocks, high power 4 cylinders, you name it, the possibilities are endless. The paint in the engine bay is relatively healthy, and there is little surface rust to be found. The heater core and blower motor have been removed, but otherwise the engine compartment seems reasonably complete minus the drive-train. The seller lists the car as a 2.3l Saginaw 4 speed car, but I am not sure if that means that they have the old engine and transmission, or if they are simply stating what previously powered the car.

Despite the faded carpet, the interior is very reasonable for a California machine. The seats, dash, and door panels all look very nice with no evidence of any severe damage. The back seat isn’t totally visible in the photos but, I would also assume it to be in fair condition as well. A carpet kit and some detailing would leave you with a very nice mostly original interior.

Repainted at some point in its life, this Vega has some over spray in the door jambs on the identification stickers. The paint is a mix of good with some trouble as there is some surface rust on the rear end of the car. I cannot tell, but I am guessing that bird droppings may have contributed to the paint concerns on the trunk area. I think some of that rust could be gently cleaned away and the paint overall buffed out to make for a sharp looking Vega. This car could be restored, but to be honest it appears to be in fair enough shape to enjoy it as is. The only visible significant damage that can be seen from the exterior is a small area of rot along the rear edge of the driver side rocker, and a small dent on the driver rear corner. Overall, this Vega would make for a great swap candidate that could be cleaned up and made into a very nice machine. What heart would you swap into this Vega?


  1. Nevada1/2rack Nevadahalfrack Member

    LS2 with the corresponding suspension from the Trailblazer SS, slightly detuned for the much-lighter Vega..
    As an aside, I removed the “SS” from my wife’s SS3 ‘06 Trailblazer; as big a hulk it was, more than a few Fart Can annoyances fell to the curb and wayside both from a stoplight and along a mountain roadway…
    Alas, the Chevy-fueled rumor mill announcing a new SS based on the new Blazer is nothing more than ad feed.. too bad.
    Good catch,Brian, although $3K as a junkyard homologation beginning point is a bit steep, or am I being too Scottish?

    Like 7
  2. Moparman Moparman Member

    Correct me if I’m mistaken, but that looks suspiciously like an automatic shifter surround, rather than a four speed, AND there’s only one pedal. :-)

    Like 14
    • Nevada1/2rack Nevadahalfrack Member

      Good spot, Moparman! Maybe the seller counts the Neutral or Reverse in the PRNDL as the other speed for those folks in Saginaw, MI.?
      Then again, Fairfield, CA. IS very close to both the Napa/Sonoma vineyards AND some fertile wacky tobaccy growing plots..

      Like 5
  3. Jeremy

    I’d do a complete running gear swap from an early 2000s Z28(LS1,6speed,373 posi and toss a supercharger under the hood)and do NOTHING externally except a cleaning

    Like 3
    • Dave

      See that rust spot ahead of the left rear wheel? These are unibody cars that were never intended for real horsepower. You’re gonna have to do some serious engineering work unless you want the engine and trans to jump out of the car when you drop the hammer.
      I recall finding one like this in a junkyard near Bentleyville, PA. Looked great from the outside but the cowl was completely rotted out from a windshield leak. Yes, it rains in California, so buyer beware.

      Like 3
  4. Tony Primo

    It’s nice to dream about LS conversions, turbochargers and superchargers, but the reality is that probably nobody is going to step up and put a $10,000 drivetrain in a $3,000 car. Get a nice 4.3 V-6 Vortec out of a Chevy Blazer with the 5 speed and rear end. This car is so light that it would be a blast to drive.

    Like 22
  5. Pat L Member

    I always preferred this model of Vega. It would make a nice street/strip car. Put an old school small block Chevy stroker with aluminum heads, water pump and radiator. Muncie M22 four speed and you are good to go.

    Like 6
    • Angrymike

      That’s my thinking, small blocks are cheap and there’s millions of them. Build a mild SB put in a Muncie and a strong 12 bolt with 3:55’s. I always liked the early Vega body style, to bad they started rusting the day they left the factory.

      Like 4
  6. DanaPointJohn

    Please everyone, don’t support these junk yard finds that cost the flipper $800 and the asking price is $3K. This particular car with a running drivetrain is barely worth $2K. As others noted, you buy this thing for $3K, pay the tax, patch the rust, get new carpet, and a new engine and transmission, and this junker now is bumping up against $10K. Why do it? Guess if you need a project? But selling it for a profit is not going to ever happen.

    Like 12
    • Tirefriar

      I agree with you that this was acquired for significantly less than the current offer, which btw I also agree is pretty high. However consider there was time involved in locating the car, negotiated sales and processed paperwork, removed the car from the salvage yard, etc. This car was available to anyone who wanted it, including you, but the seller was the one who bought it fair and square. Since we are a free market economy (for the most part), private seller can offer it for any asking price. What he/she paid for it has absolutely no bearing on this car. What does have bearing is how much it will be worth to the new owner. Don’t hate the player…just sayn’

      Like 11
  7. Bultaco

    Early Vega GTs handled great and looked like baby Camaros. Swap in a cool drivetrain of your choice, upgrade the suspension, find a Vega GT dash cluster, and the right wheels (Cosworth Vega of Minilite replica?) and you’d have a very unique car.

    Like 12
  8. Ken Carney

    Like the V-6 idea–but with a 3800 Buick
    unit breathing fire through a turbo instead. Mate it to an M22 or a tremec
    Manny tranny, add 4-wheel disc brakes,
    and go out and have fun! Small block
    swaps are a dime a dozen, but drop in
    a turbocharged Buick V-6, and you”ve
    really got something. Or, get a set of
    plans for a Chrysler turbine engine and
    swap it to it! More fun when you think
    outside the box.

    Like 2
  9. Miguel

    If this car is still in California and the title is missing, good luck ever getting one.

    You need to have some kind of ownership history to start with to get the car in your name.

    Like 3
  10. Boatman Member

    You can’t buy a car from a junkyard in New York State, unless you buy it one part at a time.

    Like 3
  11. Ridge Runner

    Craigslist ads are misleading, this is an automatic car, pictures clearly show auto shifter console and only one pedal

    Like 2
  12. S L Barta

    Nothing but a tin can with headlights.

    Like 4
  13. Ted

    It’s got the original filaments in the headlights, guess the curber missed that.

    Get it off the trailer and put a realistic price tag on it along with knowing what you’re selling, instead of looking like a fool by saying it’s a stick car when it isn’t.

    Flipping Cars for Dummies, available at Barnes and Noble.

    Like 6
  14. Lew

    Back in the ’70s, these cars often got the small aluminum 215 cid V8 Buick/Oldsmobile engine, which later was sold to Rover in England and I think still made today. Those older Buick aluminum V8 engines from 1960 to 1963 were lightweight and made for fun, spirited driving.

    Like 6
  15. Stilbo

    Get it below $1K and this little guy would be a giggle fest with a crashed Pontiac Solstice drivetrain and adapted Solstice suspension.
    A lot more toss able than a small block Chevy.
    On a closed road course it’d make a 914 driver blush.

    Like 0
  16. sourpwr

    Put it back where you found it. Please!

    Like 2
  17. pwtiger

    I sold one like this about 6 years ago for a grand, so in today’s insane market someone might pay the ask. Don’t plan on putting more than 300 HP into a Vega without reinforcement to the unibody, after a hard launch you might not be able to open the door…

    Like 8
    • NovaTom

      I remember windshields popping out from body twist

      Like 2
  18. Little_Cars

    I want the Elco in the background of the first photo. Betcha you could get that for a steal. Looks real rough too. :) Jokester.

    Like 2
  19. Al

    These always reminded me of a baby Camaro. Any ‘split bumpers’ for the front ever made?! As teens, a friend back in ’78 built one, dropped a high HP small block Chevy V8. When I suggested putting a roll bar in it, several friends standing laughed, said ‘Maybe if he drove like YOU do, he’ll need it’! Suffice to say, he did drive like me! He ended up going through some snake like curves over 70+ on a 35mph, 2 lane main road. Rolled it 7x, over 200′ one night after 10pm. Engine flew out, so violent it was. Saw him in the hospital, banged up & bandaged all over. First thing he said to me ‘I’m glad I took your advice when everyone else laughed’. Although I haven’t seen him since, I’m glad I said that to him.

    Like 4
  20. David G

    Neat little cars for sure. I would swap to a 4.3 Chevrolet V-6 and a 5 speed manual if it were mine. A narrowed 10 bolt rear with 3.08 posi would complete the package. That way, the body structure would not have to be reinforced to handle monstrous horsepower and torque that would come from a 350 swap.

    Like 2
  21. Tom Justice

    How about a pro gas drag conversion?

    Like 0
  22. Brian B

    Put it back where you found it.

    Like 0
  23. Scott S

    I owned the 71 blue Vega, 4cly.
    Automatic with 20k miles back in late 70s. I swear it was only a 2 speed auto.
    I put an oversized Oldsmobile radiator in it to keep it from warping the head/block. Had it 2 years then it was totaled in south Seattle after a t-bone from a Firebird. The Vega driver door probably save my life.

    Like 0

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