Cohort Classic: 1976 Chevrolet Cosworth Vega – Too Little, Too Late, Way Too Expensive

The Cosworth Vega deserves a GM’s Deadly Sin designation, but I don’t slap that on someone else’s pictures (these are by c5carl). So until I find my own, you’ll be spared that. But don’t expect me to wax eloquently over one of the General’s bigger fauck pas.

Don’t get me wrong (you never do that!); the Cosworth Vega is a gem! And like real gem stones, it was expensive: $6000. That’s 50% more than a 1976 Camaro LT V8 went for. And what did all that money buy one? The 1971 Vega as it should have been in the first place; well, the Vega GT, at least.

Instead of the ridiculous cast-iron headed aluminum-blocked long-stroke tractor engine, the Cosworth engine was a glimpse of what every small car engine would look like in a few more years: 2 liters, DOHC, 16 valves, and fuel injection. Yes, there was a time when GM was a true world leader in the latest engine designs, but in 1971, that job was outsourced to Cosworth. Well, nothing wrong with that in principle, except that Chevy kept intimating that the Cosworth Vega was just around the corner ever since the first Vega was shaking itself out the Lordstown factory door. And by the time it arrived in 1975, most Vegas were already rusting apart or getting re-sleeved engines.

The other problem is that the Cosworth Vega was a moving target, and its final engine output was nowhere near what Chevy first suggested, nor good enough for all the technology or money, or the competition. Output: 110 (net) hp, @ 5600 rpm. 107 ft. lbs. @ 4800 rpm. Sure, better than the Vega’s 78 hp (one barrel) or 87 hp (two barrel) numbers. But the Cosworth cost more than twice as much.

The BMW 2002 tii’s two liter SOHC engine had been making 130-125 (net) hp for years. Yes, the US-spec new-for 1975 320i didn’t offer the higher output engines in the US in 1975-1976, but maybe that was better than over-promising and under-delivering. Anyway, the 320i’s lo-po 2 liter four still made 109 hp, one less than the Cosworth Vega. Another GM bubble popped.

That six grand got you a nice applique on the Vega dash, and a 8000 rpm tach. With the engine’s 5600 rpm power peak, that was consistent with the rest of the Cosworth Vega: raising false expectations.

Whatever; the Cosworth Vega didn’t have a chance. It arrived at the worst possible moment in automotive history, and with a price tag out of proportion to its abilities and the competition. DOA. A total of 3,508 Cosworth Vegas were built in its short two-year run. And now it’s a 110 hp historical oddity.