Stick Shift Wagon: 1974 Chevy Vega

As much as I like wagons, the Vega years were not high points for GM (or really, any American manufacturer at the time). The imports were doing a bang-up job of taking away small car sales, and quality control was something of a lost art on domestic assembly lines. Still, it’s impressive to see a car like this 1974 Chevy Vega station wagon here on craigslist apparently surviving quite well, and equipped with the desirable manual gearbox.

Still sporting its original dealer license plate frame and relatively shiny chrome are hallmarks of a car that has been loved and not passed through too many owners. The Vega is in California, which helps explain the excellent cosmetic condition, despite the fact that it wasn’t left in a garage to collect dust with reported mileage of 124,495.

The interior is a spartan affair, but the good news is the seat upholstery is largely preserved and the door panels look quite tidy. That may even be a crack-free dash I spy. The original radio and air conditioning are also still both intact. The manual transmission is the way to go in an econobox like this, especially since it’s a non-V8 car.

Believe it or not, there’s one of the even rarer Monza station wagons parked in the large Georgia salvage yard listed here as a Barn Finds Exclusive. This was basically a Vega with a new nose panel, but hey, if you collect GM vehicles from this era, perhaps a Monza wagon is a hard car to find – not that it translates to increased value. Still, they’re both still cooler than any modern minivan.


  1. art

    It does not have factory A/C but may have an aftermarket system. Difficult to see from the pics. If factory, it would have been integrated into the controls which show heat/vent only and under the hood is a heater-only setup at the firewall.
    This is still a bargain car, well cared for and worth every penny.

    Like 2
  2. Ralph

    “The original radio and air conditioning are also still both intact.”

    If the air conditioning is intact, it must be all intact somewhere else as this is clearly a non-a/c car.

    I’m also pretty sure that Sanyo was not GM’s preferred radio supplier in the 1970’s…..

    Bang up job…..

    What was it that you were rambling about a “lack of quality control” at the start of the article?

    Quality indeed…….

    Like 3
  3. don

    I know the Vega has a terrible reputation ( and rightly so) , but I’ve always liked the style of them . having the later and much better engine and spending its days in California certainly save this one ; they dissolved away here on the east coast along with most of the 70’s imports

    Like 8
    • dweezilaz

      Agreed but that improved engine came in 76 with the Dura Built version of the Vega engine.

      Like 1
  4. Speedy Gonzalez

    This would be a perfect first car!

    Like 3
  5. Tony Primo

    Nice find Jeff, most of these have been recycled into pop cans already. Would like it more with a healthy old school small block Chevy in it though.

    Like 4
  6. gbvette62

    As others have said, it does not have factory AC, or the original radio. AC Vegas had 3 square vents in the dash, where the block off plate that says “Vega” is, and the OEM radio was a Delco. Beyond that, it looks like a pretty nice Vega.

    I’ve always liked Vega’s, especially the Kammback (what Chevy called the wagon). During the “gas crisis”, my father bought a 74 Vega GT hatchback, and parked his Buick Electra. 6 months later he gave the GT to my brother, which I think was his plan all along. My brother drove it for 3 or 4 years, and I don’t recall him having any major problems with it. A couple friends had Vega’s too, and I ordered a Cosworth Vega in 74. In August my dealer told me the Cosworth had been delayed indefinitely, so I picked up a 74 Trans Am. In hind site the TA was a better choice, but I still think the Cosworth would have been neat to have.

    If this was a GT Kammback, and not 3000 miles away, I might be tempted to take a look at it.

    Like 5
    • Mood O

      I have a really similar story to yours! lol
      My Dad was commuting about 20 miles to his refinery job during the same time frame 73. He started in 1966 retired in 1990…
      But, The 66′ Bonneville Brougham that he was using at the time was a bit of a guzzler.
      Gave it to my Mom(2 mile commute) and bought a brand new 73 Vega Kammback “Woodie” Yellow with the sticker woodgrain on the sides, roof rack GT rims. Plaid interior 4 or 5 speed(can’t remember) no A/C. He was a big guy @ 6’4″ 250lbs back then! But claimed he loved driving his “Woodie” as he called it to work and back. Till he twisted his knee climbing out after a 16 hour shift!
      Surgery and 6 weeks out of work he traded “Woodie” in on a 75 Nova with the straight six 3 on the tree!
      My Brothers first car in ’79 was a ’74 “notchback” Vega that we did an Iron Duke swap on in the driveway! That got him through high school and down to Phoenix in 1980…
      Good times
      Dad’s driving a Cadillac XT5 now! 84 years young…

      Like 2
  7. Vegaman Dan

    Very 80’s AM / FM / Cassette stereo in place, but not GM. And no, there is no AC on this model.

    Nor is there any chrome on this car. None. Anywhere. It DOES have aluminum trim and bumpers which are polished, but no actual chrome finishes were available after 1973 on the Vega.

    Seats can be sourced from Camaros and other similar. But that fabric pattern is very much not available, so maybe some tan seats might be doable.

    It will have the four speed Saginaw transmission, which is pretty solid. The engine is the hydraulic lifter model, and it *should* be the newer design with sleeves that didn’t have the center two cylinders sink after overheating.

    If it were a GT, I’d be all over it. I love the 74 Kammback. But not the standard model, and while you can convert them, the effort in just changing the dash and wiring harness would be a huge challenge.

    Like 4
  8. David G

    Only a little over two hours from me. If it did have factory A/C, I would be all over it. No fake wood grain is a huge plus. I would lose the roof rack. Swap in a 4.3 V-6 and five speed manual and daily drive it enjoying every mile.

    Like 2
  9. PDXBryan

    I’ve always thought Vegas were one of the best looking compact cars ever, even better with the earlier small bumpers! What’s not to like about a mini Camaro? This little “shooting brake” would be ultra cool with a turbo 2.0L 4 cylinder and 6 speed from a modern Camaro. Light weight 275hp along with slightly wider steelies and suspension upgrades, it’d be a killer little sleeper!

    Like 1
  10. Tirefriar

    ‘74 is the latest I’d go for on a Vega (except for Cosies) plus it’s a wagon with stick. Not being a GT is a major set back at least for me but last time I checked the used car factory wasn’t taking orders,so I’ll pass…

    Like 1
  11. William

    I drove a blue Vega wagon through my college years in northern Michigan. The heater gave out, but the car kept on. I don’t know why I liked that car, but it was one of my favorites of the 30+ cars I have owned over these 62 years!

    Like 1
  12. Will Owen

    The only Vegas I ever drove belonged to a co-worker whose sideline was stuffing V8s into them, at which he was very good. Of the two I drove, the 327 automatic was the best; the 427 stick was the beast! Mostly for its brutal clutch springs, which made it no fun in Nashville traffic. But though I very much liked the looks of these I was never really tempted to look for one of my own, especially after every day passing one in our alley – the back panel was a filigree of rust, like a brown lace curtain, except for the patch protected by its BUY AMERICAN sticker.

    This one is about an hour away from me (wanna race me, David G?), and frankly very tempting. I love wagons, never owned an American one, and this just is on the same plane of attractiveness (and correct size) as my other favorite, the Pinto. And the price is right. But then I’d have to bring it home and hope my wife wouldn’t make me sleep in it … not worth the risk.

    Like 1
  13. Unobtanium Matt

    Those 5 mph bumpers sure killed some beautiful lines on the Vega. If I was putting one together, it would have to be pre-74. The manual gearbox is sure cool, though.

    Like 1
  14. dweezilaz

    “Still sporting its original dealer license plate frame “.

    Both of them ! DeAnza in the rear and Diller of Corona up front.

  15. George

    I bought a ’72 stick wagon new and had it for 3 years. I loved driving the car and its look and handling, but the engine needed a rebuild after 30,000 miles. I rebuilt it and removed the stupid bracket that crossed the carb and blocked air flow. This really transformed the performance. Unfortunately, living in the salt belt, the car virtually dissolved by the end of 3 years.

    Like 1
  16. Brian Scott

    Dang, this brings back kid memories. We used to get stranded out in the middle of nowhere between grandpa’s farm and the city where we lived. On a perfect day, sans overheating issues, the Vega would make the 100 mile trip in about 3 hours. Would you believe that a few years ago I did the same trip on my BMW sport bike in 75 minutes! Two nice things I can say- 1) Kammback is infinitely more outre than simply calling it a “station wagon.” 2) When my sister rolled the thing and neither of us was wearing seat belts (we just held out our arms and whoop de doo we went), the car landed on its side, and we pushed it back onto its wheels and drove home, spidered-like-mad windshield and all.

    Like 1
  17. plwindish

    My wife and I got a new ’74 Vega Cammback of identical exterior color with the 4 cylinder with 4 speed. I didn’t drive it long as we got divorced in December the same year. I always like the looks of it over the other Vegas. I’m very surprised the motor held up on this one. Looks to be a nice example of one. I preferred the black vinyl interior our ’74 had over the tan/tweed look.

  18. Karl

    124,000 miles? That must be like a world record for a Vega!

    Like 2
  19. Alford H Pouse

    Bought a panel delivery version of one of these at an auction. Had an iron duke 4 cylinder hooked to a 5 speed. Don’t know if that was factory or what but it ran great and wouldn’t mind having it back. Ex ordered a 76 wagon new while I was stationed in Europe. In the space of 6 months she went through a head gasket then a head then an engine. Had the feeling dealer was attempting to fix while doing the least work, no machining was done on block or head.

    Like 1

    This was my partly 74… sure do miss it

    Like 1
  21. Miguel

    There should be a lot of them still around because back when the Pick-A-Part yards opened, they would take any car other than a Vega or a Rambler, so people had to keep them.

  22. Del

    These were kunk from new with GM aluminum motors melting down at about 35 k.

    Surprised GM never got a class action suit fir these and Astres.

    Unless you are gonna drop a V8 in, stay away

  23. Del

    These were kunk from new with GM aluminum motors melting down at about 35 k.

    Surprised GM never got a class action suit for these and Astres.

    Unless you are gonna drop a V8 in, stay away

  24. Will Owen

    Well, the Cosworths had their own problems too. Not so much on the street, but under racing conditions what came to light was that although there was plenty of oil getting to the head, they’d somehow overlooked the little problem of getting it back down, and the sumps were going dry.The racing teams figured it out before long and managed a solution or two, but not before having to replace some engines.

    “Not thinking things through” seems to have been the big theme here. Not as tragically as Ford’s decision to let those Pinto gas tanks hang out back with only sheet metal to protect them, but cutting off R&D (money) just because something looks Good Enough is often a really bad idea.

  25. MG-Bakka
  26. Ole Chr Hanshus

    Cut my sails it’s a Shooting Brake. Gorgeous!

  27. Mike

    I’ve always wanted a Vega or (preferably) Monza hatchback(?) since my uncle bought a brand new V-8, 4 speed Monza back in 79. Wish me luck finding a good one at a reasonable price. With that said, a close friend of mine has a Vega wagon with the Cosworth engine and a 5 speed transmission. I don’t know the year, or if anything about it is original. What I do know is that it’s a blast to ride in! I’ve been to many local shows with him and it always draws a crowd!

  28. Beel

    I was a teenager in Warren Ohio when these were built at Lordstown. My neighbor worked at that factory. He would tell stories of dumb-asses at that factory who thought it funny to put wrenches in door panels and various other acts of sabotage. He said the worst he saw was someone taking their tuna sandwich and embedding it the heater core, I believe, or an otherwise hot, inaccessible place. “Gee, I don’t understand why nobody is buying our crappy cars, whose poor quality is all the result of ‘management’.”

    Plus, these cars, in Warren, had body holes after two or three years. So did dad’s 74 Dodge Aspen, our 72 Ford LTD, and everyone else’s cars in those days. Yeah, runs great, but the body is falling off.

    Sorry, these cars cost the US unrecoverable sales to the Japanese cars.

    Like 1

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