The Vega was a winner in 1974: Thanks to the energy crisis and the fact that news of its many woes had not yet reached much of the public, sales peaked at 456k. But in 1975 the Vega fell off a cliff and landed on its butt, with a 55% drop in sales. That downhill schuss continued unchecked through the rest of its short career.
But in 1974, it was still a winner, except for those owners whose front fenders had holes and whose engines were blowing clouds of blue smoke, and…
The engine woes would not have happened, at least so frequently, if people knew replacing the coolant regularly was critical. The aluminum engine block certainly did not handle overheating to the extent iron block engines did.
Another issue that contributed to the overheating was a radiator that was too small. At least by ’74 the engine had cast iron cylinder sleeves.
The Vega engine never got cast iron sleeves from the factory. There were improvements, mainly starting in 1976 with the “Dura-Bilt”, but never sleeves. That was aftermarket only.
Comming off a Toyora Corona it seemed like a nice car with a junk engine/trans (worst shifter ever?). I sometimes think “sleves” but think it probably would have been junk no matter what.
Ours was was gone before it failed. I remember labor problems at Lordstown and sabotage, but that must have been a tiny number.
So, was it ethical for Chevy to produce an engine requiring so much more care than its customers were used to? More care than other comparable four cylinder cars needed.
I can understand this in some fancy European prestige brand, but it seems to me a Chevy, being your basic American bottom-of-the-market brand, should have been as near-foolproof as possible. Normally someone at some level of management would step in and stop such a maintenance-intensive engine from reaching production, but I guess when it’s the big boss’s baby, that wasn’t going to happen. Did the owners manual (which nobody read anyway) make clear how essential the coolant replacement was? Did a regular Vega service include replacing this coolant at the specified intervals?
To answer your question, yes the owners manual did in fact emphasize the importance of checking the coolant level. I bought a 1975 Vega brand new in April 1975. It had the manual transmission, air conditioning, power steering, tinted glass, and Rallye wheels. I am one of those rare owners that always reads my owners manual, and with the Vega this was no exception. The manual, also emphasized that the car was equipped with a warning light on the dash (GM called them “Tell-Tale” information lights) that was supposed to light if the coolant level was low. I actually liked my car, but I decided after about six months that I should have bought a bigger car, so I traded it on a new 1975 Chevy Monte Carlo.
For one of my mom’s sisters, the Vega was a loser right out of the gate. She got one of the first year cars, and while it was a really nice looking car, it spent more time at the dealership being fixed than she drove it. I remember riding around in it the first summer, and thinking it was a neat car while listening to my aunt grumble about how little she gets to drive a car she’s still paying for. I don’t remember what she replaced it with, but the Vega was gone in less than a year.
In 1974, I thought the Vega a winner, too, though my experience was with a rental in Denver. Tuned for altitude, it more than held its own in traffic and in the mountains, where in the course of a week I took it to Mt. Evans, at over 14,000′ the highest paved road in the state. It handled and rode well and was reasonably quiet for a small car in that era. That Vega left a good first impression with under 5000 miles on it.
But nevertheless and fortunately, my next car purchase was a Plymouth Duster.
Usually, GM introduced the new (and often better) engine in the second year of a new body, which must have pissed off first year buyers. Too bad they didn’t have a proven 4 cylinder for the Vega in North America. They made too many Vegas to import hundreds of thousands for just one year, also a major reason why there were so many defects.
Louvers instead of a grille certainly says economy. I preferred the weak-bumpered Camaro front end.
GM always wanted their small cars to have similar proportions to their large ones, so the roof and seats were too low for comfort or space efficiency. At least it didn’t give you the Pinto’s sitting in a bucket feeling.
Another Vega article. Cue up a bunch of “most awful car ever, because…” and “not so bad, actually, because…” responses!
The dealers and service departments must have been glad to see the last of them go out the door and away. I wonder how many salesmen and service writers had to endure endless customer rants, no doubt with some truth in them, but also revved up to eleven by a sort of peer pressure driven by widely accepted public opinion.
I was a kid when the Vegas were new – and I NEVER saw a Vega that wasn’t covered in rust. Even new ones, once they were on the road a little bit, were rust buckets. You could see right through the fenders. Lots of other cars from that era were extremely rust-prone, but the Vega seemed to specialize in rusting out quickly. (Ohio, btw)
What killed the Vega in 1975 was the brand new Monza. The Monza looked like it would last longer, it was based on the Vega, but seemed to have a bit more reliability. So, at a time when Chevy needed a replacement for the Vega, they put out the Monza, saving their sales.
The Vega was a mess and not a success, but GM supported it for four years. Over a million Chevy buyers suffered from buying a Vega and GM should have given everyone who bought one a new Monza. There was no excuse for GM to keep subjecting its loyal buyers to the avoidable disaster that was the Vega. GM paid dearly for their greed, didn’t they?
After my Chevy loving brother’s SS 350 Camaro was worn out he got a Monza, but it was one failure after another, and that was the last Chevy he ever bought. Interestingly enough, my sister-in-law’s Monza was also the last Chevy she ever bought as she too had one problem after another with it (and she was a finance manager at a Chevy dealership at the time).
I find it interesting that I’m probably the one ex-Vega owner on this board who has nothing but good memories of my car. A ’73 GT (in the usual silver with black stripe), during my three-year ownership (which I’m certain is why I have pleasant memories) I did three seasons of SCCA B-sedan autocross, three seasons of rallying, and did the Erie-Cleveland round trip at least four times a month between concerts at the Agora and hitting a special record shop (name long forgotten) for picking up British pressings of my favorite band’s albums on the release day.
Yeah, I was noticing a wisp of smoke coming out of the exhaust on the day I traded it in for the ’76 Monza 2+2 that replaced it, but that’s the closest I’ve got to a bad memory or complaint about the car.
Well, there’s Ed Stembridge and I although my father owned the Vega and Ed swapped a V6 into his.
You can just about hear those Vegas rusting in the ad photo.
Count me in as another happy ex-Vega owner. My ‘73 GT had its issues but for me, at the time (1976-80) it was a fun car that took me all over the western US and Canada, plus a few autocrosses as well. In hindsight it had some real flaws but so did a lot of cars then.
As a likely competitor to the Ford Pinto,I guess GM got a few good years worth of sales from this car.
The only one I ever had experience with was a similar vintage Canadian Pontiac Astre. It belonged to a family member who left it with me in my garage while they went away or something. It reeked of gas, it dripped all manner of fluids, and it burned oil like a savage beast. It corroded itself to pieces in a short period of time, and as a successor to their previous 1970 Buick Skylark, was the last car they ever bought from the General. It was followed by Hondas, Subarus, Fords, and even an International.
I did not like the grilles on these, I thought a child had drawn them in Grade Four, they were so simplistic. They looked like the louvers on our heating vents. I think they still do.
However I know they were quite plentiful on the road back then. So lots of people drove them.
I remember reading about Vegas turning into oil burners in 1974-Road & Track had an article stating the problems were starting around 20,000 miles which were exactly when the Vega I owned started acting up. I think a combination of a three quart oil pan, a too small radiator and gasket issues between the aluminum block and the cast iron head did it in. Sometime after the Vega’s release Chevrolet issued a recall to install a coolant recovery system due to overheating. I find it interesting that Chevrolet’s advertising just prior to its introduction were screaming about how durable the engine was. I assume Chevrolet was so desperate to release it if problems were detected they were ignored or rationalized away. My experiences with the engine after 20,000 miles were one problem after another. A college friend of mine bought a ’72 Pinto about the same time I bought my Vega, he went on to drive it for almost 12 years.
In retrospect, I should have bought a Pinto, I didn’t like the slow steering and the seats but at least it was reliable.
Usually if one waits long enough around where I live and drives the overall region now and then almost every older car will show up for a moment. This was such a moment as I caught a yellow Vega out on the open road wearing it’s original blue CA plates. Obviously was kept registered all these years rather than sitting, falling out of the system, then having to get one of the newer white plates. Racking my memory as to when I last saw one driving down the road I would have to go back to the early 80s. Yesterday I passed was passed by a black and white Edsel wagon going the opposite direction when picking my son up from school.
While GM was decontenting and cost cutting Cadillacs, they were putting massive resources into a futuristic car technologically advanced “Car of the Future” which at the time was very bleak and had to be a compact. It almost mirrors what’s happening today. The difference is the future was not bleak, and the Vega’s technology (dipping the body, aluminum, ended up becoming commonplace years later. We are sure the future is not bleak, and we are sure electric cars will pan out.
Once again I’m defending GM’s 70’s turd the Vega.
Yes, my Vega had its problems which began with the engine overheating north of Palm Springs in July, 1975. But, it was garaged for quite a time when I used a 1972 Ford Custom as a daily driver while working at a country radio station. My little Vega stayed with me until 1990 when I was pressured to sell it for lack of garage space and a wife who didn’t see why it needed major engine work for a second time in our married life.
Well optioned, my GT was a great city and highway car. I still dream about it. And in 1974 it was in my young mind back then, a better alternative to the Pinto and some cheap Japanese cars in the same price range.
When I went to check the cylinder head torque on my father’s at 40,000 miles, several studs in the back were loose. We traded it on a Pinto wagon. The Pinto’s automatic fairly soon started with a jolt, kept it longer than the Vega though.
Interesting ad scene. I wonder how Vegas were in snow. My 1971 Nova wasn’t good.
Three other things about my dad’s Vega. It was the only car I ever replaced the oil filler cap on. One piece Rubber? Got hard and had to be pried. Expensive one piece air filter. Had replace the body of the filter too. Odd PITA valve adjustment. Had to relearn how to adjust valves on this one.