Car Show Classics: 1971 & ’74 Chevrolet Vegas – Two Vegas For The Price Of One (Free Admission Ticket)

1177 - 1971 and 1974 Chevrolet Vegas CC
For a week this past August, I was back home in Flint, Michigan for the annual Back To The Bricks car festival.  It’s a completely free, family-friendly celebration of all things car-related, and it takes place in the downtown area of the birthplace city of mammoth, global corporation, General Motors.  My camera shutter finger usually goes like the Energizer Bunny the entire time of the festival, and so it usually takes me about a month or so to edit all those photos, but it only adds to the excitement of rediscovering something I saw, really liked, and almost forgot about.  This pair of Vegas was one such sighting.  Despite having spotted these examples in a car show setting, I’m giving them a free pass to CC because, well, they’re Vegas.  When’s the last time you saw one?

The high(er) performance Cosworth iteration of the ’75 Vega was once infamously advertised as “One Vega for the price of two”.  The Cosworth Vega has been covered on CC before, so you can click that link and read all about it.  But what struck me about this pairing of highly modified cars (both easily disqualified from Paul Niedermeyer’s “Running Original Vega 2300 powerplant” competition) was how effective the ’74 restyle was in creating a really different look from that of the original 1971 – ’73 cars.

Cosworth Vega CC

I’ve always liked the looks of the Vega hatchback in any year or iteration.  When I was fourteen in the summer of ’89 (yes, that’s me in the acid-washed t-shirt), my family attended a car show located on the grounds of Flint’s Cultural Center.  Among the cars most memorable to me were a ’71 AMC Javelin AMX I was granted the privilege to sit in, and this all-original, low-miles, one-owner ’75 Cosworth Vega – the very first of these I had ever seen in person.  The owner was more than willing to tell this kid all about the mechanical workings of his car.  A lot of it sounded a little like Charlie Brown’s teacher to my ears, with my car knowledge at the time generally limited to basic info like engine displacement and year-to-year styling changes.

But this gentleman’s Vega was the deal, and he successfully sold me on the idea that this car was rare, special and beautiful (all with which I still agree).  All that hot, black vinyl on the inside of this car, and the “heat-lines” emanating from the roof  made the interior look like a rolling torture chamber in mid-July (no Cosworth had factory-installed A/C), but it made for a dramatic, very serious-looking little bomb of a car.

1179 - Two Vegas CC

The original, 1971 – ’73 Vega (above right) seems to be everyone’s favorite visual style, judging from comments on previous posts.  While I think the ’74 restyle (left) looks decent, I like the freshened 1976 – ’77 models as much as the originals – which is a lot.  Opinions on Jim Grey’s recent 1976-’77 Vega sighting seemed to indicate the taillights of the 1976 – ’77 models were few people’s favorite.  Always the contrarian, I think those tri-color units look fantastic, even if the amber section of the taillamp lenses were “dummies” that never blinked.  The shape of these later-model units at least followed the contours of the rear quarter panels, unlike the blocky 1974 – ’75 assemblies.  I did like the original Vega’s quad taillamp setup, and liked it when Chevy brought something like that back with the ’05 Cobalt coupe (though I felt the round units on the Cobalt should all have been the same size).

543 - 1977 Chevrolet Vega CC

The smoothed-over, ’76 front fascia with its turn signals hidden in its louvered, full-width grille, looks much better to my eyes than what immediately preceded it, and also better than the grimacing, wide-mouthed ’78 base Monza that replaced the Vega in Chevy’s lineup.  The Vega’s freshened ’76 nose seemed to fully correct any traces of the slightly half-baked, Ertl-look of the 1974 – ’75 header panel.  I also feel the 5-mph bumpers on the last models (up front, anyway) were particularly well-integrated, especially in comparison to many cars of the era.  The ’76 redesign looked much better than it had a right to, for an outgoing model with an abysmal quality record and free-falling sales (though I will acknowledge that its look was very likely locked into place years before sales started tanking after production high-watermark year ’74).

My admission is that I have dreamed of a resto-modded, stock-looking, orange-with-white ’73 “Millionth Edition Vega” replica with a modern powerplant and heavily rust-proofed everything.  It would be lightweight and probably fly like the dickens, but there would be downsides – lack of modern safety equipment, the fact that I’m six feet tall and these cars are really small, a basically unusable rear seat, and well, it would still be just a Vega.  That dream would be cost-prohibitive to probably anyone but Jay Leno or any other car fanatic with beaucoups of money, some of which could be used toward a more rational, much sexier purchase.  No matter.  I already have my Hot Wheels Vega replica, which is much cheaper to own and “operate”.

1431 - I Vega-ly Remember CC

Looking at this pair of Vega hatchbacks from a rear three-quarter perspective, I can completely understand how car shoppers in the early 1970’s would have confused these for small, sporty cars instead of basic transportation.  Perhaps I’m biased as I think these cars, especially the hatchbacks, have lines that still look great in 2015.  I wasn’t able to speak with the owner(s) of either vehicle, having made the rounds up and down S. Saginaw St. several times and not having spotted any persons in the lawn chairs on the grass behind the sidewalk near these cars.

165 - 1971 Chevrolet Vega CC

Above is another shot of the ’71 Vega by itself.  Although this particular example is anything but “stock”, from a front three-quarter perspective, it’s still easy to see just how right the basic lines and proportions of these cars looked.  It seems unlikely that a bow-tie badge will ever again grace another mass-market, small coupe that looks as downright sporty as the Vega, but if there’s one good thing that came from the era when GM was a slave to fashion (an economy car shaped like a 7:8 scale Camaro?), it’s that it left us with these pretty, if tragic, figures to ponder.  I’ll probably always be a Vega fan – even if only from a safe distance.

All photographs (except that of the ’75 Cosworth – Thanks, Mom) were taken by the author in downtown Flint, Michigan.