V8 Swap? 1976 Chevrolet Vega GT

Of all the great cars that Chevrolet has built over the last 100 years, the Vega sadly is not likely to make the list. It was conceived during the late 1960s when the domestic automakers were trying to compete with the Japanese imports and the VW Beetle. With an aluminum block I-4 engine, the Vega was introduced for 1971 and would be plagued by several issues before fading away in 1977. This 1976 Vega GT looks to be rust-free (a Vega rarity) and largely complete. It can be found perched on top of a trailer in Helena, Montana, and available here on Facebook Marketplace for $3,500.

The Vega started out as a car with high hopes. General Motors called it the automobile with “innovative design and new assembly techniques to assure high quality, a vehicle that would be a pioneer in a new generation of high-quality American small cars.” For those familiar with the rest of the story, it didn’t quite work out that way. GM spent a ton of money developing a new plant to build the Vega. It was largely automated, using robots for welding. The plant was set up to produce cars at a faster rate than any other GM facility on the planet. Then the unraveling began. The new process for prepping the body by dipping it into a tank filled with primer failed, thus sections of the body weren’t coated and started to rust prematurely. The aluminum block engine was found to consume oil and complaints surfaced about excessive engine shaking, which led the valve stem seals to crack and leak oil into the cylinders. The motor tended to overheat, which sometimes caused the aluminum block to warp. Engine fires were even reported.  And then the recalls started. It’s no wonder that John DeLorean left GM to start his own company. Thank you, Autonews, for the Vega history lesson.

Over the course of the Vega’s seven-year run, Chevy built more than two million of them. But much of that was front-end loaded as sales trickled off after the first few years, even though the country was in the middle of an energy crisis by then (remember OPEC and 1973-74?).  Sales were down to 160,000 units by 1976, with just under half of that being the hatchback model, like the seller’s car. This 1976 Vega is a GT model, which reportedly gave it more creature comforts and a little more zip in the handling department. This would potentially make it more desirable than a regular Vega. We assume this car spent much of its life out west as there is virtually no rust to be found, although some may be trying to peek through around the lower extremities. We’re wondering if a good detailing would bring the blue paint back to life, at least enough to make it presentable.

We don’t get created to any photos of the interior, which is said to be red in color. Given the year of the car’s manufacture, we’re wondering if this was some sort of Bicentennial tribute model (red, white, and blue?) or just a coincidence. In the end, we don’t know if the interior is passable or a mess to be dealt with. The mileage figure is a placeholder and – given the flat tires on the car – it doesn’t look as though this Vega has been on the road anytime in the recent past.

The seller makes no mention of the mechanical health of the car, so we must assume it doesn’t run. You could surmise there was a plan at one time to do a drivetrain transplant as the car comes with a Chevy 327 V8 and TH400 automatic transmission plus an 8-inch Ford rear end. The seller suggests that all of this could be shoehorned into the Vega, which I don’t know is even possible. Other than the limited-run Cosworth Vega, these cars are not known for their collectability, so resale value isn’t considered very high. Given the overall good condition of the body, I’d be inclined to fix the motor or replace it with something closer to what it came with from the factory. I’m more a fan of originality over modification. When was the last time you saw one of these cars on the road?

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Comments

  1. Moparman Member

    Still one of the (IMO) best looking small cars! I’ve seen them in the past w/ V-8 conversions, and this one could work. Nice exterior shots, wonder about the interior? GLWTS!! :-)

    Like 8
  2. Howard A Member

    Don’t be so sure, Russ, heck, if a Toyota Tercel was featured. In the same category, a Vega, in ANY condition, ( and not Cosworths that had a shred of collectibility) is quite a find. I think it should go down as one of the great Chevy’s made. It was a stab at the booming foreign car market, it was uncharted territory and wasn’t all bad. I had a friend that bought a new ’72 GT, religiously changed the oil, and never overheated it, it was a fun little car.

    Like 6
    • George Member

      I had a ’71. The worst consumer product I have ever purchased…by far. “Religious” oil changes were NOT enough to save the badly designed engine with its inadequate cooling system and defective headgaskets. These cars began rusting in the showroom. The sheetmetal was low quality. The firewalls could not be rust-proofed, and the absence of inner fenders assured a constant spray of salt right into vulnerable areas. The car was very attractive but a well-proportioned turd is still a turd.

      Like 4
    • CJinSD

      This was such a good little car that GM barely bothers making cars at all now. It had serious rust issues and fundamental engine design issues. Iron head on an unlined aluminum block? Bore wear, shaking, and a high center of gravity? Where do I sign up? They were great looking cars from the most trusted car company in the world when they were released. If only they’d been any good at all.

      Like 2
      • Paul

        That’s why the Cosworth Vega was such a huge jump forward. First American made all aluminum 4 cyl Dual overhead cam, first electronic fuel injection, tuned stainless header, torque arm rear suspension plus heavier sway bars, springs and bigger brakes. Gone was the smoking engine of the early days and able to out handle it’s Camaro brothers.

      • CJinSD

        The Cosworth Vega should have been important, but it could only pass emissions durability standards by being detuned to 110 horsepower. The specifications were very exotic in 1975, but the performance wasn’t there to justify the expense.

        These days there are constantly Cosworth Vegas that were stored speculatively coming up for sale as their initial owners leave the hobby. They seem to change hands for less money than regular Vegas, since most survivors are low mileage Cosworths. Sadly, their build quality was such that they still aged poorly even when stored indoors. Perhaps the problem was that they so accurately predicted the future of econoboxes. Other than being rear wheel drive, cramped and crude, they look pretty similar on paper to something like a twenty year old Toyota Echo. Sure, the Echo is lighter and quicker with an engine two-thirds the size, but it is still impressive that the Cosworth Vega got their a quarter century earlier. Unfortunately for Chevrolet, it was the 1987 Corolla FX16 that gave consumers the first 16 valve subcompact that delivered performance and value. The Cosworth predicted cars like the FX16, but it did it while being priced against established GTs and being basically a Vega.

  3. Mitchell Gildea Member

    Ditch the V8 and drop a turbo 3.8 V6 from a Grand National backed by a TKO 600

    Like 5
    • George Member

      Cosworth Vega? Almost as expensive as a Corvette but no A/C available. 10 more horsepower than a stock Vega GT at three times the price

      First electronic fuel injection? In what universe? My 1973 Volvo has EFI.

      The Cosworth sales were dismal and lots of the unsold engines went straight to recycling

      • Paul

        Your reading comp is lacking I see. Note I said first US built electronic injection, and where you get your hp figures anyone can guess. Cosworth was 110 with 6500 rpm red line the GT was 79 hp on a good day @4400 rpm and all done at 5000 rpm while the Cosworth is still pulling hard at 7000 rpm. The Camaro with a 5.0 liter that year (2.5X the size) only was rated at 140 hp. PLus your math isn’t correct the Cosworth was only 2X as much as a GT not 3X.

        Like 1
  4. Arthur

    Since this is a 1976 Vega, it would be a perfect candidate for an LSA E-Rod installation, with a Bowler Performance 4L80E and a Roadster Shop chassis thrown in for good measure.

    Like 4
  5. Steve R

    I’d want to start with a pre-73 with the smaller bumpers. They make great V8 conversions since they are light. Either a mild LS or conventional small block wake the chassis up. Just improve the brakes and rear end and you are good to go.

    Steve R

    Like 5
    • Mike

      Nice design from the side and rear (small bumper please), but that front end looks too much like a Pacer.

      Like 3
    • Skorzeny

      Steve R, one of the most fun cars I ever had a chance to drive was a ‘73 GT with an aluminum Buick 215. Light and quick.

      Like 5
    • Rosco

      Guessing you never had a V8 Vega from the old days! Improving the brakes and rear end are a good start, but make any kind of power and these will be bent out of shape in a hurry! More chassis strength and support is a must! This one has been for sale for close to 6 months. Wonder why?

      Like 1
  6. Jcs

    That’s actually a pretty cool looking little Vega.

    Like 4
  7. PaulG

    Had the same year and model with a stock 350 bolted to the facory 4 speed and rear differential. Ran, stopped, braked, and steered amazingly well. Enjoyed it almost every drive except rain and handling were an event. If this was closer to AZ I’d pull the trigger and put the V8 in. Good luck to the new owner…

    Like 6
  8. Vegaman Dan

    I’ve had 26 Vega’s / Monza / Skyhawk / Sunbirds. Every body style, year, option. I know these little beasts quite well.

    I’ve had a few V8 conversions. With heavier springs up front, they could level out the car and make it possible. The 4 speed Saginaw transmission was the same as in the Camaro. The GT rear end with Positraction could hold up if you didn’t just romp it into demolition. The car is so light with so much power that you just can’t get the power to the wheels as they spin so easily. It just isn’t a great combination- but it sure sounds good and the ripping of those wheels is fun.

    Today I would run a 4.3L V6. Easy fit, not hard to fabricate brackets and you don’t have to really change much else.

    I had a 74 as my daily driver in the 80’s in burgandy with this same stripe. I prefer the 74/75 for the deeper headlight buckets and tail lights without the silly amber bits.

    My ideal Vega would be a 74 GT Kammback wagon with a V6. I would be willing to actually spend some money to chase that.

    Like 6
    • Jack M.
    • paul

      I had a few in the past no where near your collection. I had 11 H-bodies and way back in 79 did a 3.8 swap then a 327 instead. The 3.8 was a much better driving car with 4sp and posi. Bought 2 of them new and never a problem with them. I still have my 3rd Cosworth a orange 76 #3087 and it’s almost rust free and original still runs great.

      Like 3
    • djjerme

      A roommate I went to trade school with in Phoenix had a 74 GT wagon. White, lowered, and still stock motor. Was clean and he had done a complete strip down and repaint in High School to it.

      Loved the look of that car.

      He was a bit of a Vega guy too, had a Cossie (I think he still has it actually) and another wagon for parts.

      Like 2
  9. KKW

    Is the trailer for sale? That would be a sounder investment. Lol

    Like 7
  10. Jim

    Please….I hope no one puts a V8 in this. You see so few non-Cosworth Vegas around. I hope whoever gets it restores it to original.

    Like 5
  11. Car Nut Tacoma

    I have to respectfully ask, why a V8 engine in a car of this size? I suppose if it fits inside the engine compartment, and everything is able to withstand the power that comes from the engine, that’s okay. But otherwise I’d install a V6 engine, or possibly another 4 cyl. engine.

    Like 1
  12. Comet

    Rust free…Vega… You’re funny!

    Like 5
  13. David G

    What a neat little car. They look like baby Camaros. Call me strange, but I would forgo the V8 swap and use a 4.3 V6 instead, with manual transmission and A/C. Buyer of this car will be very happy and fortunate to own it.

    Like 1
  14. Jasper

    Might be neat if you swapped in a late model Camaro 2.0T powertrain.

    Like 3
    • Paul

      That has been done and the car is bad to the bone :o)

      Like 2
  15. George Member

    By 1976, a new head and an actual, adequate radiator had been installed, and the rusproofing had been improved. The second post-bumper restyle removed the cheese grater front end. I’d probably go stock.

    Like 1
  16. piston poney

    put the 327 in it find a 4 speed manual and put the 8 inch in it and up grade the suspension

  17. Maestro1 Member

    A Buick 3800 with the automatic attached, vintage air/heat, clean it up with a tan interior or something, not red, and you have a wonderful driver. I think the
    price is a little high but if I had the room I would try.

    Like 1
  18. Doug

    I remember in I knew some people that delivered papers by car . They bought a brand new vega wagon I think it was a 73 . They used everyday and a month later they showed up for their newspapers to deliver . I noticed he had a hole in his hood . Told me the water pump went south and through the fan through the hood . That’s how well they were built

    Like 1
  19. Mike

    I learned to drive on a 1972 Vega hatchback. It was a great looking little car, and pretty comfortable inside. It was automatic with no air conditioning, and was really awful to drive in rainy weather because the windows were always fogged. It was also slow as a turtle, but probably a good thing for a wild 16 year old. I’d have killed myself in that car if it had any power!! Never had any problems with rust, because I detailed it constantly and kept it in my parents garage. We got rid of it after the engine overheated and warped the block. Wah wah. Replaced it with a really nice 1979 Malibu landau, which was total luxury compared to the Vega.

    Like 1
  20. CJinSD

    There were a few Vega-bodied cars in the parking lot of my high school in 1985, but the only one that actually had a Vega 2300/Dura-Built 140 was a GT that differed from this one in color. There were at least three other cars that looked like Vegas, but turned out to be Monza or Sunbird wagons with Iron Duke power. There were plenty of old Pintos, Toyotas and VWs. There were as many Valiants and Darts as those three combined. That there was only one real Vega was a pretty poor showing. IIRC, there were two Corvairs.

  21. schooner

    I live in a (very) small town. For the half dozen Vega / small back conversions over the years, identified by pinion snubbers and duals, were around town for no more than a couple of weeks each. I’m thinking not a weak rear but cops.

    • schooner

      “block”

  22. Paul

    CJinSD Looks like you are not following the Cosworth Vega marketplace. They have doubled in value in the last 5 years and top examples are selling for $25,000 to $48,000. A fair running car is now worth at least $6000 and non running cars are going for what he wants for this GT. Hagerty sets the average value at $10,400.

    Like 1
    • KKW

      For a piece of💩Vega? Seriously? I’m not even sure what to say, so I guess I’ll just leave it alone.

      Like 1
  23. George Member

    Actually you said it was the first US aluminum engine, without specifying the origin of the fuel injection

    In any case, the Cosworth Vega was a dismal failure and overpriced piece of crap Vega with an underperforming engine that cost a hell of a lot of money

    Like 1
    • Paul

      So I forgot to repeat US in that line of copy just shows how ignorant you are on American Auto innovation. The CV engine was out performing almost everything in its class at the time. Cosworth had them producing 280+ hp without the restriction of emission control. GM had them running 170 hp at lower compression without heavy handed emission control. On top of that it out handled the European cars in it’s class in SCCA.

      • George Member

        Unfortunately, to sell a car in the United States in 1975, you had to meet the emission standards so whether it could do it with or without them is irrelevant. The POS Cosworth engine produced a minimal power increase for double the price.

        Because it was a fancy turd, the market rejected it

        Most of the wonderful engines were sent directly to the junkyard because nobody bought the cars.

        Like 1
      • George Member

        Like everything else with the Vega, the Cosworth could have been everything that you say it is.

        Cosworth told GM that the block was not strong enough and needed reinforcement to generate maximum horsepower.

        General Motors refused to improve the ready-for-recycling aluminum block, dooming program

        Like everything else about the Vega program, stupid cost cutting in Detroit lead to product failure in the market place

        Like 1
  24. Jcs

    My take? How bout an AP1 S2000 motor and 6 speed, stock would be just fine thank you – 240HP and a 9000 rpm redline should seriously wake this thing up. Damn, the more that I think about that build the stronger the want.

  25. Paul

    George, My engineering professors would have kicked me out of class with your statement of “minimal hp increase” when the Cosworth developed over 50% more than the Vega. The standard Camaro V8 produced 29 hp/liter where the Cosworth produced 55 hp/liter. You apparently are just a hater and know nothing about engineering. I’m done with your negative dribble.

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