images posted at the Cohort by c5carl
(first posted 6/4/2012)
Yes, the Cosworth Vega deserves a GM’s Deadly Sin designation. It worked mighty hard for years to earn it, so when it finally arrived, it was well deserved. It was a huge embarrassment for GM, given that it was teased almost from the day the Vega first arrived in 1971. And when it finally arrived, it was five years too late, 30 hp short, and ridiculously overpriced. About as deadly as it gets.
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 completely 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 and undoubtedly a sought-after collector item. There is an upside to Deadly Sins, if one waits long enough.
Related CC reading:
Vintage R&T Review: 1976 Cosworth Vega – A Better Vega (But Not A High Performance One) For Twice The Price Of A Mediocre One
Curbside Classic: 1976 Cosworth Vega #2196 – Muscle Memory, In Honor of the Vega’s 50th Anniversary
It is no coincidence that the H Body underpinnings would easily accept a SBC engine (and in fact did under Monza badging). I’ve always called the Vega a GM exercise in “brilliantly designed, completely botched in execution.” The Cosworth is Yet Another Example™ of what happens when bean counters run the show.
Good grief its easy to see why this wasnt foisted on our market it was seriously out classed by other GM vehicles, We had the 3.3L Victor but really the only people doing DOHC multi valve heads were Lotus with Lotus/Vauxhall and Cosworth the high tech way of making power hadnt hit mainstream yet. THe Italians were trying but couldnt make them run reliably.
I’m always a little shocked they sold any at that price. Did they get heavily discounted? Recently it as bizzarre as if Chevy had tried to sell the Cobalt SS cars at the same price as a base Corvette. I can’t see almost any takers.
They are an interesting histortical footnote and do look rather sharp in the more common black with gold accent colour scheme.
Yeah, the Cosworth was a difficult sell, and I think a lot ended up being deeply discounted after languishing for months on dealer lots. Of course, I don’t think many dealers ordered them in the first place at those prices.
There was one, a black one, that sat and sat on the lot at one of the Las Vegas Chevy dealers back then. Probably Fletcher Jones. It got pretty sad looking by the time it went away. I never saw it again. I drove one later on, and I understood why. If if cost that much, it should at least have been fun to drive, but it was just..a little quicker Vega.
Those tail lights look like they are from Harbor Freight. Sheesh. If you’ll cheap out on something that obvious, I don’t want to know what would the quality of the parts you can’t see must have been on a Vega.
The “Harbor Freight Rule” applies:
If it plugs in or requires gasoline, buy it elsewhere.
I thought the rule was “everything purchased here is a hammer, the extra cost is just for the chance to use it for something else before it reverts to being a hammer.”
“Those tail lights look like they are from Harbor Freight” – That is hilarious — but sadly true.
A very nice one of these sold at a small town Tuesday night auction in Jasper, AL about 15-20 years ago…my dad took me there & he’d pick up cheap rides..
One night when we were walking in I overheard some guy talking about one of them “Cosby Monzas”. Sure enough there was a completely original red one… this was a very nice car — it sold for 600 bucks.
Yes, the tail lights look cheap, but their functionality is even cheaper-
The lenses include a yellow element, the red portion still supports the turn signal functions, which saved the price of a seperate turn signal bulb, and allowed Chevy to carry over the wiring harness from the previous model year.
Yeah, I never got that. They spent the money on tri-color taillights; and then didn’t even USE the amber portion?
Cost would have been minimal – the front turn-signal wire circuit could have been routed to the rear as well. The additional cost of the wires and two extra lamps and sockets, would have been partly offset by deletion of the logic switch which allowed the brake circuit to be cut to let the rear bulbs flash on one side or the other.
There really isn’t any logic involved- the magic all happens in the turn signal switch itself, by clever arrangement of the internal contacts. A bit more complexity in the TSS, but must have still been a few shekels less than doing it the right way One of the odd things about the 1976-77 Vega, is that they already added cost to the production by introducing a third color to the rear lenses, so they were probably halfway there… I’m betting that the final execution was due a last minute cost chop by bean counters. I’d wager that doing it this way is ever so slightly less safe than just doing two color lenses, as I, for one, would be anticipating the amber section to light up for a lane change or whatever if I was following the car, and it’d probably take a split second longer for it to register when the red section actually indicated the maneuver.
And there’s my take a decade after the original post…
GM did some awful-looking taillights in the mid-late seventies. Our UC Toranas, for example. But these look like someone stuck some hand-coloured paper into the hole while waiting for the part to arrive.
I had one of those UC Toranas cost me $200 plus another $250 for a used 202 engine when the 5 cylinder 173 finally expired, A thoroughly disappointing car to be honest
,I rebuilt a 1 owner 63 EH sedan while I owned it and sent the UC for wrecking once the EH gained rego.
The Vega is already a sin.
So now this is a sin within a sin?……were you employed by the Vatican in past life?
Unraveling the complexities of Catholic dogma is not exactly easy, or always logical, and Catechism wasn’t exactly my favorite subject, so excuse my lapses.
So maybe it’s a sub-sin? Vegial Sin? (Cos)Worthy Sin? Sin of Emission?
Sin of Emission, since thats one of the things that made the engine ho-hum.
My Vega annointed my driveway with oil numerous times…
I’ve seen one of these in the wild, ever. Come to think of it, some of the cars I think are most cool are the cars I’ve seen in the wild only once. Of course, there should be a rule, never own anything you’ve seen in the wild only once (because that means almost no one else ever enjoyed owning one, either).
So did my dad’s ’74 GT.
Indeed- a Matroska sin.
Hey, Paul. Slap away. I’m flattered that you used the pictures.
Another Vega article? My cup runneth over… Curbside Classic is really making me miss my old orange (yes, orange) non-Cosworth ’76 Hatchback. Funny how that car always seemed to make people smile. I owned that car from 1992 to 2002, and I think I heard a million “I had a Vega” stories from complete strangers back when I had that car. From the looks of this green Cosworth, I’d say that the original owner probably bought it with the idea of keeping it as a collector’s item– it is in very good shape for a ’76 anything.
I’m fairly certain that the BMW 320i didn’t make it to the USA until some time in calendar year 1976 as a 1977 model. US market 2002tii’s were available from 1972-1974. BMW’s small car offering in the US for 1975 and 1976 was the carbureted 2002 with 98 hp that cost just as much as a Cosworth Vega due to currency issues, the price rising to $6,575-$6,850 during 1976. Transaction prices on the 2002s had been less than $4,000 only a few years earlier.That being said, the BMWs were still more desirable than the Cosworths and they didn’t give up much straight line speed.
Nevermind the Camaro comparisons… this car has nothing you couldn’t get in a ’75 Nova, including the hatchback. Makes me wonder how these cars sat side by side in dealerships.
Now, if we didn’t have pesky emissions to worry about, then that twin-cam motor might have been quite a fun drive. The high-compression prototype was good for what, 185 hp? Not too shabby.
I was wondering what the ‘real’ output of these should be! Even without the higher compression, was there an easy bump in horsepower to be had?
Regarding the price, all of the ‘exotic motor’ cars eg Twin Cam or RS Escorts were expensive. I don’t imagine this was an homologation special though!
Well, it was supposed to be a homologation special, but Cosworth ultimately gave up on the racing version because they found the block wasn’t capable of withstanding more than 270 hp without splitting, which wasn’t enough to be competitive in the 2,000 cc classes.
The big hangup with the street version was federal emissions. It actually failed its first durability test and had to be re-engineered and retested, which was the reason for much of the delay. Chevrolet had hoped to get 130 net horsepower in street form, which was not at all bad for the mid-seventies, but they finally decided to back off rather than risk failing another certification. I don’t recall exactly what measures they took to do that, but I would imagine you could get 125-130 hp from it if you either weren’t concerned about emissions certification or were very careful.
Thanks for the info Aaron, a well-rounded stuff-up by the sounds of it.
As Aaron points out in his Vega history, the first certification failure didn’t just mean that Chevrolet had to start over. It meant that the car now had to pass the more stringent 1975 standards.
And…they also had to compete with V8-powered Monza 2+2 hatchbacks.
My friend’s Vega Kammback was a neat looking car. But the seats didn’t recline or adjust. The gearshift linkage was worse than most trucks. Real crapola. My other friend had a Monza GT V8. Same crappy gearshift linkage, plus one of the most lethargic V8s ever installed in a car. And you had to lift the engine with a hoist to get to one of the spark plugs. You wonder why people hate ’70s-’80s GM stuff? Here it is.
I’d have a hard time choosing between the Cossie Vega and the Camaro Type LT.
The Vega had 110 horses vs. the Camaro 350 with 165, the Vega had to get at least a little better fuel mileage, and had to handle somewhat close to the Camaro. They both rusted at about the same rate too.
The Vega was probably a bit lighter, too. I think mine was around 2500lb. Don’t know what a Camaro of that era would have weighed…
The bone stock, carb’d Buick 3.8l in my Vega was rated at maybe 115hp, but it would really motivate that car. Can’t imagine what three times that horsepower would have been like.
The Cosworth Vegas were somewhat heavier because of the changes made for ’75-’76. Quoted curb weight at the time was 2,670 lb.
The 3.8 would have been the perfect Hot Rod Vega mill.
The Camaro with a 350/350 was about 1,000 lbs heavier than the figure Ate Up posted.
I love the second gen Camaro, but the Cossie Vega, even at it’s high price point, may have been the better performance deal.
(Just an opinion here.. I don’t think people looked at “the whole package” in the 70s and 80s like we do now. It was more about image. A few cool stickers, a duck tail spoiler and a hood scoop went a long way back then. Though there was the whole GM tradition of screwing the good stuff up to protect their money makers too..”
Back in the late ’90s I worked as a DJ and bouncer at a local topless club, and one of the other fellow bouncers was a genuine Chevy nut. He had a Monza (similar to the Vega above) that had been tubbed with gigantic slicks in the back and skinnies up front. Power? A ridiculously breathed on small block Chevy with a powerglide.
He also at the time bought a brand-new Kawasaki ZX-11R motorcycle as it was the “only other thing that could keep up with the Monza”. We all thought he was full of crap, but yet another bouncer attempted a late night speed contest against said Monza with his ZX-7R and was dispatched.
I’ve never seen something so small put out so much noise and so much speed. Screw the high tech 4, these things should have had a LT-1.
Yes, As in a combination of “faux pas” and “fuck up”. I’m glad someone noticed. It was on purpose, not a genuine faux pas.
I suspected that — you don’t strike me as the misspelling type (is that even a word?). The term fits.
I made it up, unless someone beat me to it. Although I do misspell often enough, but they’re usually typos from my stupid fingers.
I’m certainly glad they don’t come from your smart fingers…
Install spell check on your PC so your fingers don’t fauk up the correct spelling..
I’ve seen a few of these. One customer had one and when our state briefly reverted to testing all cars 1969 and newer we had to get one through emissions. The factory recomended idle speed is 1300rpm. The state standard for the max idle speed is 1100. The owner fought with the sate and got to the guy responsible for overseeing certified repair shops who had him bring it to us. He had all the factory shop manuals yet the state rep insisted on having us try to get it to idle at 1100 or below despite the specs. It would not idle that slow. It was a EFI system and being an early system in lacked any OBD features and was a nightmare to make sure was working properly. After a hour or two of him observing us and attempting to achieve that himself he finally gave it a “special exemption”. I also one time went to work on a guys car and he also had a Cosworth.
I am sure they are still scratching their heads back in Lansing about the Cosworth Vega. How could a volume maker like GM ever bother doing something like this that can’t possibly make money for them. When this thing was conceived, Vegas were flying out of the showrooms. They sold in numbers that are impossible today. I mean, would they ever bother?
I remember the hype about the Cosworth; my older brother was, and is, as cut and dried GM man that ever walked, kept me updated. It seemed to go on forever and as we went along, the reported power outputs went down a whole lot. This kind of power really wouldn’t be worth the cost but I would wager you could make it go fast really easily.
It was the Chevy Volt of its day, just one Vega for the price of two instead of one Cruze for the price of two.
…But the Volt worked and was really reliable – I had one and it was, of all the vehicles I have had, the one with the lowest running costs by a country mile.
I used it 99% electric and only lost $1,000 compared to what I bought it for after 4 years….great little car to drive, as well.
Chevy actually got the first Volt right, then failed to market it properly – almost as bad a sin as marketing a bad product (like the Vega) well and disappointing loads of customers…..
GM has probably green-lighted lots of limited-run vehicles over the years that didn’t have a strong business case.
One that comes to mind is the late 80’s Pontiac 6000 STE with AWD. One of my coworkers claims to have had one. His mechanic advised that he get rid of it, because when something brakes on that car it’s bound to be expensive.
Then there was the Chevy SSR pickup, which fought for the same very limited target market as the Plymouth Prowler.
A more recent parallel to the Cosworth Vega would be the 1990-95 Corvette ZR-1 with a Lotus-designed engine that was assembled for GM by Mercury Marine. GM sold less than 7000 examples over 6 years, with an MSRP about double that of a regular Corvette. At least the ZR-1 was pushing 375+ horsepower and had a Lotus-tuned suspension to justify the price.
Yet another Pontiac set up for low production was the Fiero. As I recall, the plastic panel/spaceframe arrangement was good for maybe 200K units a year at best. Once it was released to a tune of general Meh and/or disappointment, GM used the limited production capability as one of the excuses for
giving the car a merciful deathcancelling production.
When I worked at the Presidio service station in the early 90’s, a Navy offcer brought in-get this- a 6000 STE wagon with a 5 speed stick ! He said he special ordered it. I told him he probably had the only one. Really practical, yet sporty. Very cool.
Well, when the Cosworth was originally planned, it was not expected to be nearly as expensive as it became AND it was supposed to be more powerful and notably faster (the target was 0-60 in 8.1 seconds and 126 mph).
I think the idea was that with the right performance for the right price, they could make a Datsun 240Z fighter (the marketing feasibility study for the Cosworth — which was in 1971! — called out the Z pretty explicitly) for a very modest investment. Of course, it didn’t work out that way…
Paul, I thought you admitted in the “Cars We Hate To Love” article that you (and I) confessed to being Vega fans and if so, why would you threaten to bash this version of it?
Because I’m mean to my loved ones? My feelings about the Vega are very complicated; I should probably seek some professional help on the subject.
I really want to like this car…but It just dose not make much sense. Well it’s sorta growing on me..well almost.
If it had the pre-locomotive bumper front end it may move you a little.
Interesting comments, you have to put the car in context with the time period.
In 1976, Road Test magazine conducted a ‘Supercoupe Shootout’, with the Cosworth Vega competing against a BMW 2002tii, Alfa-Romeo GTV, Lancia Beta, and a Saab 99. RT wrote about the Vega: “It had the fastest 0-60 time, the fastest quarter-mile time, and tied with the Saab for the shortest braking distance.”
Here’s a reasonable history:
The Cosworth had all the technology boxes checked and the output was among the best of emission controlled 2.0 liters of the day. When you give people what they say they want it is supposed to come with the ability to charge for it. This proves that there is a limit.
It is interesting to speculate what premium Honda could have charged to put it into an early Accord. 111hp was a big bump over 68hp. They were already at $3995. I think they would have gotten to $6000 as well, torque steer be dammed. And also avoided being dammed for it.
Alfa Romeo had an all aluminum dohc hemi-head 2 liter engine with mechanical fuel injection that reliably put out 130 bhp while meeting pollution standards in 1975. The basic engine had been around, in smaller displacements, since the 50’s, with the fuel injection being added for the American market in 1969. The big difference? Steel sleeves.
Funny timing, as I literally this morning passed on a ’76 CV – the seller got zero bids on eBay, so I made a somewhat lower offer via email, which was rebuffed. With fairly minor mods, the Cosworth engine can be woken up sufficiently to perform as was hoped vs. what was delivered.
Wow, with all you have to do at the moment you’re offering money for another Vega? My fedora is off to you.
Interesting that with the tiny percentage of Vegas being Cosworths they are now 50% of Vegas offered for sale. The other 49.999% being V6 or V8 conversions.
I’ve been watching the market for a couple years now… can’t hurt to shoot a lowball price every so often – that’s how I ended up with the ’63 Bug for $600.
This was actually the first CV I indicated interest in; it will probably be a while before I make any offers again, though. Cars that don’t need work are hard to find at prices I can afford!
I’ve also wanted a Vega for a DD for many years now. However I am way to cheap to pay the going prices for these. I can buy 3 Pinto’s for the price of one Vega. Irritating as hell. But around here all the Vega’s are drag cars. I’ve just about given up hope.
Useless fact: The Cosworth Vega was the first car carrying an American badge to offer a 5-speed transmission, but it was only in the last year or two.
The transmission itself was not American, however.
The first American car with an American-made 5-speed transmission was the 1979 Oldsmobile Cutlass, which could be had with 3-, 4-, *and* 5-speed manual transmissions, the 5-speed being a Borg-Warner T-50.
The 5-speed was only offered as an option on the ’76, and was a Borg Warner T50.
Huh. I hate when I have my trivia wrong 🙁
Monzas and other h-bodies had a 5-speed as an option in later years, Don’t recall the designation but it was a strange dogleg 5-speed with first down and to the left. Didn’t sell well at all. I’ve never seen one in even when trolling the junkyards for pieces in the mid-late 80s (they were EVERYWHERE in the south and seemingly died all simultaneously in the late 80s).
Didn’t Ford’s first 5-speed in the Mustang have the same goofy dogleg into fifth? I wonder if it was the same transmission.
Yes it did..not the same transmission though. I use to see a service manual on Ebay for that first 5-speed Ford used, but never bought it. My interest ends at 79…except I am also a 1st and 2nd Gen. Taurus fan. Own 2 of those.
The T-50 and Ford’s oddball five speed mentioned in this article:
Curbside 5-speed article (link)
The article also includes shift pattern images and the (very small) sales volume numbers for each transmission.
Warmed up and stripped down…
I remember when the Cosworth Vega was first mentioned, Chevrolet was claiming something like 140 hp from the two liter engine which at the time sounded really spectacular. Car & Driver did a test of a pre-production Cosworth in January of 1974 if I remember correctly and the car they tested had spectacular performance. The writers at C & D could barely contain themselves…when they finally tested a production version the output of the engine had dropped to 110 hp and it weighed about 2700 pounds. They said it ran like a ’72 Vega GT with a good tune up. When I was in college around 1975, a friend of mine purchased a Cosworth Vega-he said he got a really good deal on it as it had the 4-speed manual instead of the 5- speed(the dealer was probably glad to get rid of it). He said he bought it as an investment; after college I never saw him again, so I was unable to ask how his “investment” turned out. Probably not well.
Poking around, I found a photo that’s new to me – a pair of early Cosworth Vega prototypes in 1973 (although they appear to have the ’71-72 short front bumper).
I owned # 1721, a black 1975.
What a heartbreaker. Broke down in the Adirondacks (with 1500 miles, two months old), was towed to Syracuse (the first Chevrolet dealer in 150 miles that would touch FI) sat there for 3 months. Two hundred miles later, caught fire in Chevrolet’s Englewood, NJ zone office parking lot (ran rich,fuel in cat). Less than 2K on car. was there having white spots in paint inspected!
Had to take my mother to court against GM as I was 17 in 1975 and too young to sue as the titled owner!
Cars like this are why such restrictive Lemon Laws exist today.
She did run like a cat on carpet-when it wasn’t parked at a Chevy service department.
I still have the dash plaque.
Wasn’t the CV championed by John Delorean while he was at Chevrolet? It sure seems like a project he’d be 100% behind.
The 110 hp 2.0 engine in the Cosworth Vega belongs under the hood of the smaller and lighter Chevrolet Chevette, especially since such an output is roughly comparable to the related Europe-built 105-115 hp Opel Kadett C 1.9 (later 2.0) GT/E.
While a de-restricted version of the Cosworth Chevette would be roughly comparable to the related UK-built 135+ hp Vauxhall Chevette 2.3 HS/HSR (plus shelved 150 hp fuel-injected variant).
A Cosworth Chevette would have been one cool ride, particularly considering GM had supposedly stockpiled 5000 Cosworth engines, but only built just over 3500 cars.
With that said, does anyone know what kind of standard equipment came with the CV and, if there were any options, what were they? As pricey as it already was, I can’t imagine there being very many options as it would have easily taken the price into Corvette territory.
Quite a few of those final HSR Chevettes were sold with a dealer-installed stroker kit, and easily produced 200 hp from the (now) 2.6 liter engine. Those are undoubtedly a whole other animal. Even with the kit, they still redlined at 6300 RPM, and made a ton of torque compared to the 2.3
Unfortunately full-production versions of the 2.5/2.6-litre Slant-4 engines would have required a different separate block.
Interestingly the Vauxhall Slant-4 engine actually had a lot more development potential which was never fully exploited.
I concur. Actually, when I was in high school I thought the same. Also, a turbo version would have been good. Cosworth Vega, with turbo, and Cosworth Chevette with turbo. smiles all around.
After high school I stopped by Cody Chevrolet in Berlin Vermont to see the Cosworth. It was in the show room with the hood open. The salesman said it was $6000 but we could work a deal… It looked great.
I am surprised that no one has mentioned the Jensen Healey. The Lotus 907 engine 2.0L DOHC 16v engine produced 140hp and 130lbs.Compare that to the CV. 0-60 inn 8.1 secs. The JH was sold in the US from 1973-1975 with Jensen GT in 1976. So the time frame was comparable to the CV.
I remember hearing a GM fan explaining the way to tell a cosworth Vega from a regular Vega. Open the hood and look for the twin cam covers, If you couldn’t open the hood look under it for the oil puddle.
A buddy of mine bought a used one in 1977 or 8, don’t remember which, nice looking car but boy, what a stinker, drove it for about a month, broke down, wouldn’t start, sat in his back yard for about a year, then he sold it.
An acquaintance had one in the late seventies, and I drove it once briefly. At the time I owned a regular Vega GT and I was used to – and liked – the feel of the car: driving position, smooth-road handling, notchy but precise shifting. So the Cosworth with a LOT more power, especially at high rpm, felt pretty quick for the time. Certainly not as refined as a 2002, or the Alfetta I also owned then, or the Scirocco I bought to replace my own Vega a year or two later (not even close) but still quick and fun. But in 1978 the Vega was already history, and not in a good way.
My understanding was GM had a contract with Cosworth for 5000 engines. One reason was the class it was intended to be raced in required 5000 units for homologation.
The last tidbit was GM disassembled 500 engines for parts and the rest were scrapped.
Would the 500 disassembled engines be for parts to support warranty repairs?
After driving this hot mess into the ditch the GM team jumps into new top secret, on a need to know only basis project……the X-Body