Work-In-Progress: 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega

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Over the years, Chevrolet has had its share of successes as well as a few clunkers. Most would say the Vega fits into the second category as it was hurried into production so a lot of problems would quickly surface. But one car from the Vega’s eight-year run surfaced as a bright spot, the Cosworth Vega.  Chevy had worked out much of the car’s issues by 1975 and the Cosworth had a different twist on the original powerplant. This second-year edition is a work-in-progress as the seller has been working on it in stages. Located in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, this Cosworth is available here on craigslist for $5,500. Thanks for the Bow-Tie tip, Chuck Foster!

The Cosworth Vega was a variation on the stock sub-compact and was only made for two years, 1975 and 1976. It was a limited-production, higher-performance vehicle that saw just 3,508 copies made. While Chevy contributed the car’s all-aluminum, inline-4, 122 cubic inch engine, British company Cosworth Engineering designed the DOHC cylinder head. We’re told 5,000 engines were built and the excess inventory may have been destroyed. The Cosworth Vegas cost almost twice that of a base Vega and not much below that of a new Corvette.

A plate on the dashboard of this 1976 Cosworth Vega says it was the 2279th copy of the car produced. The Chevy’s restoration is at a standstill due to some health issues on the part of the seller, who reluctantly must pass along the car to someone else to finish. While it runs, drives, and stops, the Vega requires more attention. For example, it has an oil leak that needs sorting out and the body requires paint, but fortunately, the sheet metal is solid.

More recent work on this car includes new tires, restored Cosworth wheels, brakes, shocks, and a front-end alignment. The interior needs help and one bucket seat has already been removed, with two new racing-style seats ready to go in their place. New spoilers are still in the box and ready to be installed. The odometer reading is 46,500, and that may be accurate. The sweet spot of these autos has always been the motor which we’ll summarize for you.

It’s a twin-cam engine with a die-cast aluminum alloy cylinder block with an aluminum alloy, 16-valve cylinder head with double overhead camshafts. Each camshaft had five bearings and was turned by individual cam gears on the front end. The camshafts, water pump, and fan were driven by a sturdy neoprene rubber belt. The cylinder head had cast-iron valve seats. Race-bred forged aluminum pistons with a heat-treated, forged steel crankshaft and connecting rods were also used. It put out 110 horsepower.

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  1. FrankDMember

    Now here’s a good example of a car which should have been money with that Cosworth engine. However its a train wreck! Lotus 7 guys buy the car pull the engine.

    Like 2
    • jwaltb

      The engine is junk.

      Like 0
  2. FrankDMember

    A good trade school project. Donate and write it off!

    Like 0
  3. CCFisher

    The Cosworth Vega started out as a great idea, but emissions controls and costs ruined it. Prototypes that developed nearly 300HP were detuned to just 120HP for production due to emissions controls. That rating was still considerably more than the Vega’s base engine, but it wasn’t enough to justify a nearly $6000 price tag, about $400 more than a 3-seat Caprice Estate Wagon. At that price, they were sale-proof. I remember seeing a brand new one on the showroom floor of a local Chevy dealer in 1978, when my dad was shopping for a new truck.

    Like 3
    • jwaltb

      What ruined it was disposable engines.
      These things are like bad pennies on BF.

      Like 0
  4. steve

    An oil leak…..From a VEGA??? In other news…..
    I can say that if this the VEGA bottom end, the only value is in the head. Stop me if you’ve heard this before…but you check the oil in a VEGA by pulling the head off, push a piston to one side and reaching down…

    Like 0
  5. Marty Gibson

    I worked in the parts department of a large Chevy dealer in 1974 – 1975 and remember the Vega very well. The aluminum block and cast iron head expanded ant different rates, leading to a head gasket failure. The engine overheated leading to badly scored cylinder walls. The aluminum engine block replacements kept two experienced mechanics busy full time. The factory would pay for a “fitted block”. That is a bare block with just the pistons and rings. These two guys got so good at it that each one could do 3 fitted block replacements over a two day span; that was more than 12 engines per week! The parts department always kept 25 fitted blocks in stock just to keep up. The Vega had other problems as well. The front subframe had a weak spot that would slowly bend over time. After a while it would get so bad that you couldn’t align the front suspension. The front fenders would rust through along the top the top edge because there was no fender liner. We always kept 40 to 50 fenders in stock as well. The other rust through issue was the cowl around the windshield. Knowing all this I would stay far, far away from anything called a Vega.

    Like 4
  6. Mike G

    My parents were in the market for a new economy car in 75 remember going to the Chevy dealer which was a first because pop was always a Pontiac man so we’re looking at a Vega but I remember sitting in a beautiful back with gold wheels cosworth that was in the showroom sticker was 6k needless to say we wound up with a pumpkin colored 75 GT . I used to have to put a new starter in it almost every year !!

    Like 0
  7. Keith

    I fired a guy who had one of these in 1976 or 1977 because he could never make it to work. Maybe he got a job at the dealer where he spent all his time.

    Like 0
  8. Kirk M Stankiewicz

    I am a 63 year old retired Auto Tech. Back in the 70’s when I was starting out I worked at a shop that repaired rental cars for Hertz in Hartford, Ct. We would go up to Bradley Airport and pick up the smoking and knocking Vegas- I could do a long block in 4 hours. Impacts and all. Other than that they were OK- I probably did almost 100 of them- every type and color- all Automatics.

    Like 1

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