Unloved Pair! 1975 & 1976 Cosworth Vegas

1975 on the left, 1976 on the right

Vegas are similar to Pintos when we bring them up on Barn Finds–they are very polarizing.  And the Cosworth variant even more so–there are those that love these cars and those that find them useless. I happen to fall into the former camp, having spent much time in a friend’s Vega GT and finding it very civilized (air conditioning, real windows that seal) compared to my Triumphs. These two are projects that have been given up on and are for sale together here on eBay. They are located in Edmunds, Washington.

Quick familiarization: the Cosworth Vega was an attempt to build a performance variant of the Vega with a twin cam, 16 valve engine and suitably beefed up suspension.  Considerably more expensive than a run of the mill Vega, the Cosworth only delivered a mild performance upgrade in stock form, largely due to emissions strangulation. They were only produced in 1975 and 1976, and all the 1975s and a lot of the 1976s came in this black and gold paint scheme. You can see the minor difference in the nose styling between the two years in this picture.

The 1976 #2596 is said to be the better car of the two, with 45,786 miles and the cylinder head still attached to the engine–unlike the 1975. Nothing about running condition is mentioned, so assume it doesn’t.  The seller rates the interior as a 7 out of 10 and reports zero rust on either car. Wait a minute, now I’m in the Twilight Zone. Two Vegas next to each other with no rust on either one? Of course, there are the usual parking lot dings and dents, but I would at least try to polish out what’s left of the original paint anyway.

The wheels on the 1976 have also been refurbished and fitted with new radials.

As mentioned, the cylinder head from the 1975 #0095 is off for an unknown reason (the seller bought it that way) but it still looks pretty good on the outside. Although this one’s interior is rated as a 5 out of 10, a new carpet set is included to be installed by the purchaser. The seller has purchased NOS gold stripe kits for both cars and is included them in the auction.

As previously mentioned, you are going to have to love these cars to take on these two as projects. My wife has looked over my shoulder this morning and expressed pleasure that they are all the way across the country–she knows me well. Are there any other Cosworth Vega fans out there? And is there anyone else that could not resist the temptation to use JPS decals and to create a non-existent Cosworth Formula One edition? It is, after all, “just a Vega” to most of you!

Fast Finds

Comments

  1. mark

    I will give Chevy credit for trying however it was nearly impossible to make a performance version of anything in 1975 or 76. The 75 base corvette had a 350 that produced a whopping 165 HP that year. Imagine the challenge of getting 100 HP out of a 4 banger with all the new pollution rules and the technology of the time.

    • Pete

      I think it would be neat to drop a sbc or a grand national engine down in one of those cars. That would be fun!

      • PAPERBKWRITER

        Pete, saw one with a sbc at a car show. The car was beautiful. I always liked the styling but bit the crappy mechanics.

      • Foxxy

        I owned a ’76 cossy back in ’81. worked with a guy that had a 350 ub a ’71 vega. Every now and then we would get together when leaving work and run them. most days we ran neck and neck, with neither one gaining on the other. My cossy would eat him up on a twisty road tho. V8 ruined the handling on a vega.

    • Lord Humungous

      This missed the hot hatch wave by a few years. It would have been great to have an American rear drive compact competitor to the stuff from Japan.

    • Bob black

      GM “claimed” emissions… But that engine originally produced about 170 hp… More than the Corvette…. Remember the “issues” gm had with the GTO out performing the Vette… And to be out performed by a VEGA,,,WELL!!!!!!!!

    • Patrick S newport pagnell Staff

      Needs a Cossie DFV. Make it a proper V8 Vega.

      • bog

        That, sir, would be a true waste of a marvelous mechanical device !

    • gary

      In 1976 I went to work selling chevys at the local dealership. There was a maroon (FIRE THORN name by GM) in color. It set there for 2 years until 1978. Could not sell it, list was a large $6,000.00 dollars for the day! A guy from upper state NY came down bought it and loaded it up on a trailer and felt. The dealer us just glad it was gone!!

  2. jw454

    Far more subtle differences than I would have expected. Taillights, grill, parking lamps etc. I would not have guessed that.

    These never interested me that much. I guess I’d just rather have a standard Vega with a 350 under the hood.

    Both seem like nice cars that could be brought back to life.

  3. dm

    A little country Chevy dealer got one of these the first year they came out. Higher price than the average Vega and no AC made it a tough sell. Cosworth didn’t mean anything out in the country. It sat on the showroom floor for a solid year until a couple that probably bought it because they liked the color and got a tremendous price break drove it away.

    • Vince Habel

      We had one at our dealership across the river from Harrisburg PA. We could not sell it either. We had it 2 years before we wholesaled it.

  4. ROTAG999
  5. AutoArcheologist AutoArcheologist Member

    These have a special place in my heart… When I was a youngster, I lived next door to a rather large Chevy dealer right on the strip, RT5 , in the bustling metropolis of Wallingford, CT. My friend and I would head in and plop down in many of the new cars in the show room. Mostly this was due to the super cold AC they had on… However, loving cars in general as I did and seeing as these had the same colors as what Mario Andretti was driving on the race track, they were just a little bit cooler than other cars in the showroom at the time.
    I wouldn’t go out searching for one but if one came across my desk for cheap,(really cheap) it would be difficult to turn down…

  6. ROTAG999

    I would V-6 one again bowtie 4.3 or ecotec 2.2 Turbo to keep it light and not heavy like a SBC.

    • daggers

      How about one of the aluminum Buick motors from the 1960’s ?

      • ROTAG999

        The 215 Olds-Buick Alum. was used some back in the day i had a few that i rebuilt harder to find these days they do only weigh 20 pounds more then stock 2.3 Vega motor.

    • Tyler

      Pull the not running engine out of the 75 & replace it with the 275hp 2.0 turbo 4 cylinder from the new Camaros. You would then have what was the Cosworth Vega was initially visioned to be.

      In the 2017 Camaro, 0-60 time is the same as the 70 Chevrolet with the 454. In a Vega, with some suspension tweaks, 4 wheel disc brakes, & a good set of tires, you would have one great sleeper equally capable of straight line performance or running a weekend rally course. Sign me up for that!

  7. Pat A

    It’s hard not to use profanity when writing about these. One day I stayed home sick from school, and was watching the daytime version of Let’s Make A Deal. To my surprise, my P.E. coach was a contestant and won two Vegas-his and hers, according to Monte. I remember him being really happy at the win, but I don’t know what ultimately happened to the cars.

  8. C Carl

    What’s with all the engine swaps? The best thing about a Cosworth is the motor. I’d love to get my hands on the 75.

    • tirefriar

      I’m with you Carl. If anyone here wants to do an engine swap on a Vega, just by a garden variety one and hack away. There is a great story behind the development of these cars. GM really intended to build a no hold barred Bosworth powered Vega, but after numerous revisions and compliance with federal emission requirements plus a dwindling R&D budget, we got what we have here…

      I, too, would want the ’75 but only after I swapped the 5sp out of the ’76 model. Living in Southern Commiefornia, I prefer anything older than ’76 so as to avoid having to pass smog. I owned a ’74 Vega with a regular 4 banger. Sold it just in time for the block to burn a hole in the cylinder. I have a soft spot for these cars and hope that one day I can get a ’75 Cosworth. Wouldn’t mind looking at these if the price stayed below $4k. The market on these is finicky, they go up and down but the average price is $7k on a nice one, with good paint, interior and in excellent running condition.

  9. Phil B

    I never knew anyone who owned one, but I’ve become interested in the Vegas recently, as I’ve found almost all of the body panels from a ’74 Spirit of America model with the original paint in the shed of the house we just bought. I tried selling them on ebay and CL, but only scammers were interested.

  10. healeydays

    Sad thing about these cars were they were so expensive for not much there.
    Quote from Hagerty article:
    “Chevrolet’s target was 5,000 sales but only 2,061 units were sold in 1975. Marketing stepped up in 1976 and seven other colors were available. The grille now housed three bars with integrated turn signals, and the taillights were larger. A five-speed manual gearbox was optional.

    None of that mattered. Sales declined to 1,447, in 1976, leaving 1,492 surplus engines. These sat around until the mid-1980s when 500 were dismantled for parts, and the remainder scrapped as a tax write-off.”

    • Tony S

      I wanna cry…

  11. George B Member

    It is true that the Cosworth Vega only produced a piddling amount of increased horse power over the standard Vega. For that 10 or 15 hp, you paid almost the price of a Corvette

    It was not actually emissions regulations that strangled the Cosworth. English company recommended to General Motors that they strengthen the aluminum block in order to handle the increased power of their engine. General Motors in its wisdom to Klein to do this, reducing the amount of power that the engine could be permitted to generate

    • Bob black

      GM did make HAD blocks for sanctioned racing..the stock blocks can handle around 200hp before coming apart,, (no deck/floating cylinders)… A few years back JE pistons produced some hi compression pistons 10.25:1(apx) and I’ve seen higher and with a set of the rally cams and free flowing exhaust you were around 170 hp which is where gm originally intended 👍👍👍

    • Dick B

      Actually the stock 140CID Vega engine came in two variations, a single barrel with 78hp and two barrel with 87hp. The Cosworth 122CID engine had 110hp, remember, as stated above, the 350CID Corvette had 165hp. The CV was GM’s first DOHC 16 valve 4 cylinder, their second EFI engine, second to the Cadillac Eldorado. It had GM’s first use of cast aluminum wheels and OEM stainless steel header.

      It was emissions that strangled the engine output for U.S. use. It started out with 185hp in early development. Cosworth of England did ask GM for a stronger block for their racing engine which was producing 260hp. Cosworth was splitting the block during the Formula 2 races that ran for 2-3 hours, those engines had a redline of 9000rpm in 1971 and rarely saw anything below 6500rpm. It was this constant range during the races that caused the block to split at the bottom of the water jacket.

    • Foxxy

      your wrong about the hp increase. this wasn’t just a normal vega engine. The block was de-stroked to 122 from 140. It was perfectly balanced and you could run up to 7 k rpm and stay smooth as glass. If you ever had a chance to drive one you would know thew diff. just sayin

  12. cyclemikey

    How desirable these are depends partly on how much storage space you have and how many years you have in front of you. Both of these non-rusty cars are worthy, and in 10-15 years from now people on internet forums (or whatever there is then) will be lamenting “Holy moly, look at the prices. I used to see these Cosworths featured on Barn Finds for a few thousand bucks!”

    • tirefriar

      Cyclemikey, the prices for Cosworth Vegas have been quite steady. Sure, you will find them in the high tens and even twenties but reality is that it had a very low level of desirability almost from inception. The generations that are familiar with these cars are getting up in age. The following generations are after fox body mustangs and such. I regard the CV as really a novelty item. Something that warms up my coil but only up to a certain price point. If you are serious about a CV, I am sure you will find a good example in the sub 10 price range. I would be a player at $7k for a clean one. Would drive it for a while and see how much I like it vs. my W208 CLK55. The Benz is faster and handles better, but there is something about vintage… The decision may not be an obvious one. I sold my 2001 XJR to make room for a 1969 Alfa Romeo Berlina (actually bought another one 6 months later). Yeah, the Jag was awesome, but so was driving a vintage Afla at full throttle

  13. Joe Howell

    I like these, exotic engines and good looks. If getting parts is the problem I think it is it could be then perhaps an exotic engine swap might the only way to go for the headless engined car. Something like the DOHC 3 liter water cooled 4 cylinder in my Porsche 944S2, it puts out 211 horses and 208 foot-pounds of torque and would really keep in the spirit of things being 4 cylinders and DOHC.

    • Dick B

      The Cosworth Vega Owners Association has been around for over 35 years, dedicated to the preservation, maintenance and improvement of the 1975/1976 Cosworth Vega automobile.

      • tirefriar

        @Dick, I read there were some issues with the f.i. I have been thinking that if I ever find one, I’d consider going the way of Weber side drafts. I could be wrong, hence posing this question here.

        I used to look at the Weber side drafts as the SBC for the fuel system, i.e. they will fix everything. All that up until I drove a properly set up SPICA Alfa. After that, when it comes to Alfa, I’d much rather prefer dialed in SPICA to a pair of side drafts…

  14. jesus bortoni

    For some reason (I love station wagons, I guess) I would love a Vega wagon. Love the lines. Going through it and yanking out the regular 4 cylinder for a small six cylinder would be first. Add suspension parts
    and brakes and you would have very nice cross-country cruiser for not so much money.
    A very pretty car.

    • Pete W.

      I had a 74 Vega wagon as my first new car. At 25k miles it overheated on a trip to Florida and started using a quart of oil every 200 miles (common problem).

      Chevy’s response was “Tough noogies, pal. Warranty ran out 12,000 miles ago and we never heard of you or your crappy car. Good luck and get lost” (or words to that effect).

      Popped in a V6 from a junkyard Starfire (same subframe so it pretty much bolted in) and drove it for another year.

      Made it a nicer car, but couldn’t overcome the flexible flyer chassis rigidity, particularly with the wagon design.

      If you really intend to live out your dream, the wise man would invest in some serious chassis bracing, if not a complete roll cage.

      Been there.

    • Geebee

      I know where a good project wagon is, in north Texas, if you’re interested.

  15. steve

    I bet a little technlogy like a modern EFI system and good cams would really really wake these up. The (good) bones are there.

  16. Doug

    Many of the Vegas I have seen seem to have been manufactured from compressed rust…. Back in the early 70’s, I was working at a GM warehouse, and we were unloading at least one boxcar load of Vega crate engines a week-
    it was cheaper for GM to give the dealer a new crate engine & pay to have it installed than to fix the blown head gasket ! I suggest reading John DeLorean’s book – the Vega had two things going against the engine from day one. The aluminum cylinder liners tend not to stay round, but wear in an oval pattern, and the radiator was downsized so they could sell the car for the same price as a Corrolla, so there was no reserve cooling capacity- once it got above temperature, it could not cool down again. A company named IECO did a huge business selling Vega engine blocks with iron sleeves to folks whose warranties had run out.

  17. Rock On Member

    I bought a few parts from IECO back in the mid 70’s for my 75 Vega. An oil cooler, a remote oil filter and a customer glasspack muffler with twin chrome tips that exited in the centre of the rear bumper. I still feel that the best solution for these two cars is a Chevy LS1 swap with a six speed manual transmission.

    • tirefriar

      You do understand that to fully utilize the output of the LS1 engine, a rear subframe must be welded in to handle the rear end twist. Without it, first good hook up will yank the rear end right off its attachment points. This major structural work is the real reason why it would be terrible to cut up a CV.

      • Tyler

        Agreed! I’ve seen stock 5.3’s blow the rearends & twist driveshafts into 2 pieces in square body C10’s. That’s why I suggested the 2.0 turbo charged 4 banger as an alternative.

  18. stillrunners lawrence Member

    funny…my paper route customer most likely bought one of the firsts in the Dallas area…first year Vega….you could hear my customer saying/screaming – what the stuff….the head’s bad ?…it’s only got a few miles on it….after the replacement engine it did run for a few years more….but rust it did….in Texas !

  19. JimmyJ

    I wanna hate em but i cant its too bad cosworth couldnt have run the show they could of been epic!
    The only vegas that impressed me were v8s and they ripped!

  20. DrinkinGasoline

    These are still a part of American automotive history whether they be loved or hated.
    There has to be that “special something” for every individual enthusiast…..right ? :) Live, Let Live, Restore :)

  21. Patrick D.

    What to do with these two? Easy, keep one as GM intended, fully original, and then make the other what GM should have done with them – bring the engine to its enormous potential, upgrade the brakes, suspension, etc.

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